Qin qin

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Description: Hi.

I recently purchased a Chinese Qinqin (秦琴), a modern version of the instrument which is a bit more like a banjo than the original (traditional) instrument. I purchased it after noticing the wide spacing of frets on the fingerboard, and it reminded me of a McNally Strumstick or mountain dulcimer with a diatonic fretboard. So, I bought it thinking I could probably tune it to D-A-D and have a Strumstick with a lot of acoustic power / projection, if that's the right word for it. Anyways, no matter how I tune the instrument, almost none of the fretted notes are in tune according to my digital chromatic tuner, nor my ear. Many are really flat or really sharp. I have replaced the strings, I have moved the bridge this way and that way across the drum head starting around about 1/3 the way up the drum head from the tail piece, but no matter how I re-tune it, it sounds too bad. I can, however, find the right position of where the fret(s) should be placed by taking a small screw driver and using it to lift the string and different positions between the fret and plucking the note and look at my chromatic tuner. All I can conclude is that the instrument is not fretted by any Western standard for fret spacing. The instrument is likely diatonic in nature, but the notes in their scale do not seem to correspond to any scales we are used to in the West. So, I thought this might make a good discussion topic.

By the way, the instrument I purchased is Romance/朗鸣 (lǎng míng) 3-string Qin-qin with a round wooden sound box (body) and a 6.5 inch (diameter) white sheepskin drum head (minus the wool, of course). It was made by a Guangzhou based company called "广州朗鸣乐器工艺厂" or "Guangzhou Long-Ming Musical Instrument Factory" (actually it's: "lǎng​ míng​", not "Long-Ming"). They also make a few other "Qin-qins", including a 4-stringer with an all aluminum resonator instead of the wooden body and drum head like what I have, and they make a similar 3-string Qin-qin with a more guitar shaped body with the 6.5 inch drum head. They also have versions of these same 3 instruments with snakeskin drum heads. You can sometimes find these instruments in music shops that sell traditional Chinese instruments, or you can buy them on the Internet (taobao.com) for a usually cheaper price (just search on 秦琴). It helps to be able to read Chinese or at least have an online Chinese translator program on hand.

I did do some Internet research on Chinese Web sites about the Qin-qin and all the sources seem to be the exact same article, or portions thereof, reprinted at every site that talked about Qin-qins and without any additional comments. It's like there was one man who wrote some article about Qin-qins who was so well respected that no one dare change one word of the article, not even to question anything about its accuracy. Well, I have found the article to be inaccurate. They say the instrument should be tuned to "g1-d1-a1". I had no problems tuning the first two string, but I popped (broke) the third string three times trying to make it tune to the first A note I could get to without having an extremely loose string. I breaks consistently at G#. I double checked this with a Chinese musician friend I know who speaks a fair amount of English to verify the names of the notes that I should be trying to tune to, and, on the piano, they are called G3, D4, and A5. But since A5 (or actually G4#) keeps breaking my first string, I recommend using G3-D4-G4 tuning instead. The other alternative is to go to a thicker string. In addition, this "G-D-G" tuning preserves the tuning ratio of the Strumstick (which is usually "G-D-G" or "D-A-D". However, it still will not produce a decent sounding song as so many notes are either sharp or flat. My ultimate solution will likely be to have the instrument re-fretted, but there seems to be no Luthiers in China (or skilled crafts people of any kind - if you look at my B&Q decorate flat - but that's another story).

The folks at 广州朗鸣乐器工艺厂 (Guangzhou Long-Ming Musical Instrument Factory) might be able to double their production if they were to provide a version of their instrument with fret spacing like the strum stick (aka "stick dulcimer", and a dozen other names this instrument is marketed other because there is no standard name for this instrument in America, either.) They can use the mountain dulcimer as a model and use an Internet fret spacing calculator (with a little experimentation) to arrive at the best fret positions for their instruments, and then market it the product internationally. Keeping the current fret positioning will limit the market to just China, but much of China is learning guitar and other western instruments which do not use this old traditional Chinese probably diatonic/pentatonic/odd-ball scale. That's probably why the popularity of this instrument has fallen by the wayside in the China as well. They could market the improved version of the instrument to Chinese as a learning instrument for folks who don't feel they are up to learning a 6 string guitar; they way McNally does. But I suspect this factory doesn't even have a marketing department. They certainly don't have much of a Internet presence.

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