In this part of our Erhu buying guide, we will talk about the snakeskin covering the resonator.
The snakeskin on the erhu is what many consider the most important part of an erhu. It is like the soul of the erhu. The scales on the snakeskin is like the thumbprint of an erhu – no two pieces of snakeskin are exactly alike.
The snakeskin can affect the tone of the erhu in various ways. Let’s look at some of them:
1) Real Python Skin or Synthetic Skin?
Ok lets get this out of the way first. A synthetic skin erhu really sounds like an erhu with real snakeskin, but it will never sound as good as the real thing. You might not know what you are missing if you only have a synthetic skin erhu. But if you have played an erhu with real snakeskin, you will know that the tone of a real snakeskin erhu has more sweetness, more life and more soul.
The pros of owning a synthetic skin erhu are 1) Its environmentally friendly 2) It gets you across borders without hassle (We have CITES certificate to resolve this problem if you want a real snakeskin erhu) 3) It is more resistant to climate changes.
Having a better tone is never one of them.
If you really want to get one, we have 2 very good sounding options for you:
Environmentally Friendly Synthetic Skin Rosewood Erhu
Environmentally Friendly Synthetic Skin Black Sandalwood Erhu
2) Farmed Snakes or Wild Snakes?
Usually people will say that the skin from the snakes from the wild gives better tone. That is because the snake from the wild has much more exercise as opposed to snakes in cages. With more exercise means their skin has better elasticity which translates to better tone. Also, the snake in the wild grows up naturally while farmed snakes are said to be given supplements to make them grow faster.
Not that you have a choice though, as majority of erhus are made from farmed snakes. The wild snakeskins usually end up on very high end erhus. The makers would not want to waste it on average quality wood.
3) Big Scales or Small Scales?
Not overly small and not overly big. My experience with both extreme ends is not too good. For those in between, not neccessarily snakeskin with big scales will sound better than snakeskin with small scales. You really have to play it to know which is better. But if you do not have the luxury of testing it (or do not have me to test it), choose the one with the bigger scales.
At the very least, bigger scales look better aesthetically.
4) Thick and Tight or Thin and Loose Skin?
Definitely not thin and loose. The tone will be muffled, soft and the high notes will not sound.
We’ll break it down into just 3 categories: a) Average thickness and not too tight b) Average thickness and tight c) Thick and Tight
a) Average thickness and not too tight
Most of erhus fall into this category. These erhus sound pretty decent from the start and requires not too much break in time. Their tone will improve no doubt the longer you play them but you roughly know how these erhus will sound right from the start. Someone referred to these kind of erhus as ‘instant meals’ as they can be cooked fairly fast.
b) Average thickness and tight
Some erhu makers do their erhu skin more tightly than the rest. The problem with tight skin is that it sounds thin and sharp in the beginning. You have to play it for a relatively longer period for before the skin softens and the tone starts to round. The lifespan of an erhu with tight skin is longer than a) Average thickness and not too tight, i.e. the tone stays good for a longer period before it starts to deteriorate.
c) Thick and Tight
You almost always see these kind of skin on higher end erhus. After investing quite a bit of your money on a good erhu, the maker wants to make sure your erhu sounds good and sounds good for the longest time. Hence they will slap on a thick and awesome piece of skin, and do it tight, making the assumption that if you are buying a high end erhu, you should possess some bowing ability to open up the sound eventually.
Some of them sound great already from the start, and you can be sure there is a lot more room for improvement.
So there you have it. Some information for you to consider when you are buying an erhu. Do free feel to email us at [email protected] if you need more advice in choosing an erhu.
If you want to hear how the erhu sounds before you make your purchase, we will be glad to make a demo video for you too!