In this episode of Eason Live, we welcome our special guest Mr Wilson Neo. Mr Neo is a zhonghu musician from the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, as well as the conductor of Cheng San Chinese Orchestra. We are honoured to be able to have him as a guest on our live session.
In this article, we will talk about how to maintain and ensure the longevity of your erhu snakeskin.
Just like human skin, snakeskin can also get flaky when it gets too dry. Singapore has a humid climate, so the snakeskin does not actually dry up that quickly. However, for countries with a dryer and more extreme climates, the snakeskin does get dry, crack and flake easily.
One method to prevent this is to apply a very small amount of oil on the snakeskin.
Mr Neo mentioned that when he was studying in Beijing where the climate is much dryer, he uses olive oil on his snakeskin to keep it from drying up. In comparison while in Singapore, the only reason why the snakeskin would get dry is if it has been kept in storage unused with dry conditions (e.g. air-con room) for extended periods of time.
Otherwise, applying too much olive oil in humid climates can cause the snakeskin to become saturated with oil and turn flaccid. This causes the erhu to sound muffled. Olive oil should be used very sparingly – one or two drops at a time, applied using a cloth.
Take a look at our video here on how to moisturise the snakeskin with olive oil.
An alternative to maintain the moisture of the snakeskin would be to massage the snakeskin lightly with your hands often. This transfers natural oil from our skin onto the snakeskin, preventing it from drying out quickly.
When tuned to the correct pitch, there is actually a great amount of pressure on the snakeskin, especially at the bridge area. Prolonged pressure on the snakeskin can stretch it even further and cause it to sink inwards, changing the tone of the erhu. For newer erhus that are not seasoned, the snakeskin is much firmer and is able to withstand the pressure better. However, in seasoned erhus, we should aim to maintain the condition of the skin as much as possible in order to maintain that optimal seasoned tone.
A no-brainer method to reduce the pressure on the snakeskin would be to remove the bridge every time after playing. However, that might not be practical as it can cause wear and tear to the snakeskin over time. Changing the position of the bridge also causes a change in tone and that is one factor to consider before using this method.
Mr Neo offers a better alternative of using a short pencil wrapped with cloth tape on both ends. The pencil should be placed between the snakeskin and the strings, cloth tape parts resting on the either sides of the body, alleviating the pressure of the bridge on the snakeskin. The pressure is instead shifted to the body of the erhu.
Keep in mind that the pencil should be thicker than than the bridge for this to work.
Use this method if you need to keep your erhu unused for extended periods of time. Mr Neo recommends that it would be better to loosen the strings of the erhu if not in regular use.
Some people might wonder – what is that white tape at the side of the erhu?
It is a fabric tape to prevent wear and tear on the snakeskin protector and the body of the erhu.
While the tape can be easily replaceable, the snakeskin protector is not so easily replaceable.
Without the tape, the friction caused by bowing can eat into the material of the snakeskin protector and eventually damage the snakeskin or the erhu body itself.
The fabric tape acts as a preventive measure and can be easily switched out any time it gets worn out. A wide enough tape should be used to be able to cover the whole bowing area.
Take a look at Part 1 and Part 3 on how to for more tips on how to maintain your erhu.