An old Qin
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An old guqin
No name or inscription
  無名琴 A qin with no name 1                      
At right are three close ups of one of the two instruments shown together on the top of this section's main page (the instrument on the left). Currently it is on loan at the Music Instrument Museum in Phoenix. It is said to date from the Ming dynasty but it has no inscriptions, either on the back or inside.

When I first saw this instrument it had two problems affecting the sound,2

  1. The sound posts inside the sound box had been eaten away, presumably by worms, making the qin sound somewhat "empty".
  2. The lacquer below the 13th stud was rather uneven, causing a buzzing sound (zayin3) when playing certain notes.

After new posts (made of old tong wood) were inserted in what seemed to be an optimal position, and the lower lacquer had been repaired (by an expert on Japanese lacquer repair), the sound, though still delicate, became much richer.4

Another problem, found on many qins both new and old, was "extraneous sounds" that could occasionally be heard when playing certain notes. These sounds have a much higher pitch than ordinary zayin. The source of this problem is unclear, but near the top of the image of the qin back you can see a piece of silk string running under all seven strings.5 This was put there to prevent the high pitches sounds.

Meanwhile, in the image of the top of the qin you can see some extra silk string running along the bridge under several strings; this is to eliminate or reduce the normal zayin sound. Here the extraneous noise is usually a buzzing sound caused by an unevenness in the qin surface under the strings. In such cases it may be necessary to use something thicker than string, such as part of a toothpick (for aesthetic reasons you might consider coloring it to the same shade as the bridge), or even having the bridge professionally raised by the addition of a matching piece of appropriate hard wood.

With both the high-pitch ringing sound and the normal lower-pitched buzzing sound re-stringing the qin or simply tuning it slightly higher or lower may cause this to go away. In some cases it might be better to insert the extra piece or pieces of string close to the feet, or simply to take the end of a string (it must be somewhat long after wrapping it around the foot and tying it) and tuck it underneath. It may be necessary also, or instead, to isolate the strings from each other by threading the piece of string so that it goes between them.

See also Qin storage and note that most of these solutions could be considered as non-invasive.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. 無名琴 A qin with no name
The display at the MIM with this qin includes two video recordings, one by me using this actual qin, one by Wu Wenguang using a qin with nylon metal strings.

2. Qin damage and repair
The damage on this qin was probably a natural result of much use, but here it should be noted that the modern use of nylon metal strings can cause such problems to occur much more quickly. For example, nylon-metal strings much more easily put divots in lacquer and the only way to repair this is to relacquer that part of the instrument. But people who allow this sort of damage to happen to antique instruments have also been known permanently to alter the antique, for example by re-shaping the nayin on the inside of the sound box, or permanently lowering the bridge, since nylon-metal stringed instruments play better with a lower bridge. This latter alteration is largely reversible, the former is not.

3. Extraneous sounds (雜音 za yin)
Also translated on this site as "disorderly sounds". For more on what causes this see "buzzing sounds". Related terms include "buzzing noise flaw" (㪇病 xian bing), and "beating the surface" (拍面 paimian). Note that these problems can mostly be addressed by temporary/reversible measures as well as more permanent ones.

4. String/thread
The silk string I use here is from old broken silk strings. I use such string under strings on top of the bridge following a theory that perhaps it will affect the sound less that would a material not already used elsewhere on the qin, such as cotton or soft wood; I have no scientific basis for such a theory. Using it underneath the string may be a sentimental choice as much as anything else.

5. Two solutions for za yin Closeup of the bridge on the qin above.    
To prevent buzzing of the strings the bridge may also have to be raised. Here the bridge under strings one and two has been raised by the addition of a piece of wood glued to the top of the bridge. For the area under strings three to seven it was sufficient to slightly raise the strings by inserting a piece of string underneath them.

Return to the Qin as object, or to the Guqin ToC.