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Erhu Buying Guide – Snakeskin
The snakeskin on the erhu is widely considered to be its most crucial component. It is often regarded as the instrument’s soul. The scales on the snakeskin are like its fingerprint, with no two pieces of snakeskin being identical. The snakeskin can significantly impact the erhu’s tone in various ways. Let’s explore some of these factors:
1) Real Python Skin or Synthetic Skin?
Let’s address this question upfront. A synthetic skin erhu can mimic the sound of a real snakeskin erhu, but it will never sound quite as good. If you have never played an erhu with real snakeskin, you may not realize what you’re missing. However, if you have experienced both or compare them side by side, you will notice that a real snakeskin erhu’s tone has more sweetness, more life, and more soul.
While synthetic skin erhus offer certain advantages, such as being environmentally friendly, easily transportable across borders, and more resistant to climate changes, they consistently fall short in terms of tone quality. Additionally, synthetic skin is more prone to sagging, leading to a muffled and muddy tone.
If you genuinely desire a synthetic skin erhu, we offer three excellent options:
a) Starter Synthetic Skin Rosewood Eco Erhu by Raoyang Beifang
b) Popular Synthetic Skin Black Sandalwood Eco Erhu by Raoyang Beifang
c) Professional Aged Rosewood Octagonal Erhu by Rao Yang Bei Fang with Synthetic Skin and Bronze Tuner
2) Farmed Snakes or Wild Snakes?
Generally, people believe that the skin from wild snakes produces a better tone. This is because wild snakes have significantly more exercise compared to snakes kept in cages. Increased exercise translates to better skin elasticity, which in turn enhances the tone. Additionally, wild snakes grow naturally, while farmed snakes may be given supplements to accelerate their growth.
While you may not have a choice, as most erhus are made from farmed snakes, wild snakeskins are typically used for very high-end erhus. Makers would not want to waste them on average-quality wood. For beginners to advanced players, the origin of the snakeskin should not be a significant issue as long as the erhu sounds good and plays well.
3) Big Scales or Small Scales?
The ideal scale size lies somewhere between overly small and overly large. My experience with both extremes has not been overly positive. Erhus with excessively large scales often produce a harsh and scratchy sound, while those with extremely small scales are better suited for Gaohus (Huqins with smaller resonators tuned higher at G D).
There is an old adage that the larger the scales, the better. However, we believe this is not necessarily the case. The best way to determine the ideal scale size is to play the erhu and feel the difference. However, if you cannot test the instrument yourself, choose one with larger scales. At the very least, larger scales enhance the instrument’s aesthetic appeal.
4) Thick and Tight or Thin and Loose Skin?
An erhu with thin and loose snakeskin will produce a muffled and poorly articulated sound. Starter erhus often have such snakeskin. They are thin and loose, and while they may sound decent initially, as you progress, you will find it difficult to reach higher notes or play loudly without the tone breaking.
The snakeskin of better quality erhus falls into three 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 erhus fall into this category)
These erhus sound pretty decent from the start and require minimal break-in time. Their tone will undoubtedly improve the longer you play them, but you can roughly anticipate how these erhus will sound from the outset. Someone referred to these erhus as ‘instant meals’ as they can be ‘cooked’ fairly quickly.
If you are a beginner seeking a better erhu, it is advisable to get one of these so you would not need a long time to break it in. Here are some of our favorites:
- EASON POPULAR PREMIUM BLACK ROSEWOOD ERHU BY LIU JI FENG
- PROFESSIONAL BLACK SANDALWOOD ERHU BY HU HAN ROU
- CONCERT AGED ROSEWOOD ERHU BY SHANGHAI DUNHUANG
- CONCERT PREMIUM AGED ROSEWOOD ERHU BY HU HAN ROU
b) Average Thickness and Tight
Some erhu makers prepare their erhu skin more tightly than the rest. The downside of tight skin is that it initially produces a thin and sharp sound. You will need to play the erhu for a relatively longer period before the skin softens, and the tone starts to round out. However, the lifespan of an erhu with tight skin is longer than that of an erhu with “Average thickness and not too tight,” meaning the tone stays good for a longer period before it starts to deteriorate. Having said that, we are talking in the context of “tone stays good for 10 years, instead of 7 years.”
These erhus are well-suited for players with some experience and strength in bowing. If you bow lightly, it could take a very long time to break in the snakeskin.
Examples from our store:
- Concert Aged Rosewood Erhu by Wan Qi Xing
- Concert Premium Aged Rosewood Erhu by Yu Kai Ming
- Concert Violet Sandalwood Erhu by Hu Han Rou
c) Thick and Tight
(You almost always see these kind of skin on higher end erhus.)
You will almost always see this type of snakeskin on high-end erhus. After investing a significant amount of money in a good erhu, the maker wants to ensure that it sounds good and continues to sound good for the longest possible time. Hence, they will attach a thick and high-quality piece of snakeskin and tighten it firmly, assuming that if you are purchasing a high-end erhu, you should possess some bowing ability to open up the sound eventually.
Some of these erhus sound great right from the start, and you can rest assured that there is still much room for improvement.
Some examples from our webstore:
- MING QING AGED ROSEWOOD “MOUNTAINS AND RIVERS” ERHU BY XU CHUN FENG
- MING QING AGED ROSEWOOD “MOONLIT LOTUS POND” ERHU BY XU CHUN FENG
- MING QING AGED ROSEWOOD ERHU BY YU KAI MING
- MING QING AGED ROSEWOOD ERHU BY HU HAN ROU
- INDIAN SMALL LEAF SANDALWOOD ERHU BY XU CHUN FENG
So there you have it. Some information about the snakeskin 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.