Saturday, August 18, 2007

A Tale of Two Snakeskins

I thought this is an interesting thing to share. Ever looked at the back of the snakeskin on your Erhu under light? You should see something like this:

You can see a thin layer of flesh or veins or whatever you call those things underneath the snakeskin. This is the how the traditional 'Erhu skinners'(people who attaches the skin to the Erhu) do it.

Recently, I came across a Erhu with the back of the snakeskin that looks like this:

The back of the Erhu is 'cleaned' and stripped of all the fluffy sinewy things on the surface. This is the work of some new 'Erhu skinners'.

So said the new 'Erhu skinners' about the traditional 'Erhu skinners': "They are quite sloppy in their Erhu making. If you look closely at the back of the snakeskin, you can see a lot of leftover flesh, sinews, veins still attached to the snakeskin. If you look closely at our Erhus, the back of the snakeskin is cleaned thoroughly. We took pains to remove all the excess parts using our bare fingers."

When I showed the work of the new 'Erhu skinners' to a Erhu performer from China and he has this to say: "The fluffy, sinewy things are the soul and life of the snakeskin. It is what gives the Erhu its richness and characteristics. Without that, the Erhu is nothing."

So which do I think is better? I sell Erhus by both new and traditional Erhu skinners so I'm going to give a politically correct answer - both have their own pluses and minuses. The 'cleaned out' Erhus does seem to sound cleaner and the traditional Erhus does seem to have more character.

Ultimately, there are a lot of factors that affects the sound of the Erhu besides the snakeskin.


  1. very educational. Never even thought to look! *haha* Ah boy's erhu has changed skin once since he started learning 1 year.

  2. You mean you had the Erhu re-skinned after only 1 year? Did Ah boy poke a hole in the snake skin with his pencil?