Hey there, this is my first post here. I hope this is the right place to ask this kind of question.
TLDR: How long does a new dog skin typically last on a tsugaru shamisen before it needs replacing? I live in a pretty humid (but not too hot) environment. Unfortunately I'm busy, so the shamisen won't be getting very heavy use. Is it worth paying around 130USD more to get an artificial skin, for the extra durability?
I've been living in Japan for a year, and practicing the shamisen for about 6 months now. I'm returning to my home country soon and want to buy a tsugaru shamisen to bring with me. I've been eyeing up a 94,500yen (~850USD) shamisen. The store normally skins them in dog skin, but can use an artificial skin instead for an extra 15,000yen (bringing the total cost to 109,500yen or ~984USD).
I'm not unhappy with the dog skin (I've been playing on dog skin up until now) but I am worried about how long it will last. In your experience, how many years can I expect to get out of a new dog skin? If I can only get around 3 years out of the dog skin before it bursts or starts sounding unbearable, I'd upgrade to the artificial. If I can get ~7 to 10 years out of it, I'll get the dog skin.
For reference, where I will be living is pretty humid, but not too hot (~80F in summer). Although I really enjoy the shamisen, I'll be busy so won't be able to play it more than a few times a week, so it won't be getting a heavy amount of use.
Thanks for your help, and sorry the post is so long.
Natural leathers can last up to around 10 years with proper care, but your mileage is going to vary.
It's important to remember that, even with proper care, the sound is going to change over time. A freshly skinned instrument vs. one 6 years on are different beasts.
By contrast, artificial leathers don't really change.
Concerning humidity and storage: If you've been living in Japan, I'm sure you're aware that it's extremely humid in the summer (and in the winter if you're in my neck of the woods). You could keep doing whatever you've been doing to protect your gear.
Or, If you really want to stretch the lifespan, you'll need to manage the humidity of your storage space. Invest in a humidity monitor/dehumidifier don't let it get too dry or too moist.
Just my experience, but my first dog skin lasted 2.5 years, plus however long it lasted before that (bought it second hand). It became loose and sounded dull.
The second one burst in under a year (played everyday, always stored in a rice paper bag). I think, as its real dog skin, the mileage varies greatly from skin to skin. At least with artificial you have more of a baseline gaurentee.
Hey guys, thanks for the info! From what you've both said, it sounds like artificial is a safer bet. Especially since I'm going to be living in some pretty old houses, where it is difficult to control the humidity and temperature, and from what I've found so far re-skinning it would cost me a few hundred dollars.