Traditional Handmade Guqin
Recently we got a few emails asking what to look for when purchasing a Guqin.
There are many different price Guqin available at market ranging from hundreds to thousands dollar. Some comes from mass production line. Some comes from traditional Guqin maker.
While it is hard for us to decide what is the best for you. We wanted to talk about Guqin from a traditional angle.
When it comes to Guqin, obviously sound is the most important thing - the beautiful clear vibrant sound makes the soul of Guqin. If you have chance to spend some time with Guqin, you will find out the sound of Guqin made by traditional method is lot more better than the one made by mass production. The reason why I said you would spend some time with it, it is because these difference are the nuance of the notes. It seems small when you just play a few notes, but it will become a big difference when you play a song.
Here are some why behinds. The sound of Guqin is normally determined by:
1) The wood - The wood used to make Guqin body will basically determine how well the sounds is. It is very important to use re-claimed aged wood. The older the wood has been aged, the better the sound of Guqin is. It is preferable to use the old wooden beams, pillars or columns from the old Chinese mansion. It is important to know that not every wood piece from these old Chinese mansion can be used to make Guqin. It has to be aged wood piece. 50 years old is just getting this Guqin reach to the bottom line of tradition standard. It is preferable to use aged 100 years old wood piece. It contains less moisture and the texture gets much lighter after aging, which make it easier for the wooden body to vibrate and generate beautiful sound. It is like the vintage violin normally is more expensive than the new one.
2) The paint - the paint on Guqin has a big influence on the sound quality. If a Guqin is made by traditional method, it is supposed to get wrapped in a fabric and covered by layers natural raw lacquer mix with antler powder. The maker will lay the customized paint on Guqin over and over. Each time after new paint gets applied, the maker will let the Guqin rest for couple months and wait till the paint works into Guqin before applying next layer. The heavy layer of paint also helps Guqin to last longer. That's why some of well made Guqin will take a long time to get complete.
3) The making and tuning - the sound of handmade Guqin is the reflection of the taste of the maker. Different handmade Guqin has a different characteristic sound. It is just like different people has different personality. A good maker knows how to bring the best and uniqlo side out of each wood piece, different with standard factory production which is more standard. The Guqin made through traditional handmade method is also long lasting than the mass production one. In the Chinese traditional, Guqin is a precious item that can be passed down generation by generation. It is important to make sure the longevity of the Guqin.
(Picture: first step of making Guqin - using axe to chop out the rough sharp of Guqin. It is also a important for the maker to get an idea of the wood texture in order to decide the next step).
(Picture: the last step of finishing process - shinny the surface by hand)
Today many cheap Guqins were made with modern production method in order to shorten the production time (i.e. use synthetic paint instead of natural raw lacquer mix with antler powder, thinner the layer of paint, or machine made Guqin body instead of handmade). Some of the cheap Guqins will also use new or younger wood piece in order to lower the production cost.
The sound of modern production Guqin is acceptable for people that is new to Guqin. Normally when people starts to know or experience good handmade Guqin they will see the difference.
Many cheap Guqin also can’t last very long. Eventually the paint will crack and fall off after a few years. Once the paint fells off, the quality sound of will go down. And because the synthetic paint can't be mixed with raw lacquer, normally the traditional Guqin maker don't offer maintenance and repair to mass production Guqin.
If the budget is allowed, it is preferable to purchase Guqin made by traditional method. Normally the market price should be at least $1600 - $1,800 (Guqin only) or more depends on the makers and craft. The sound of Guqin made by traditional method is more clear, accurate and stable. If protecting well, the paint on Guqin will last at least 30 years without any repair needed from the maker. It takes a while for people to master the skill of Guqin. Lots of people fall in love with their Guqins and play with it for many many years. It is good if you can choose a good Guqin that can company you for years.