Sheng – servicing and maintenance / Sho (Japanese Sheng) – tuning (Part 1)

Re: Questions about the Sheng
From: Chris Lim
Friday, 7 September 2007 5:50:19
To: Steve

Hi Steve,

You are welcome.
“what do you do when a reed is bent INTO the pipe”
=> you can use a very thin razor blade to “dig” out the part of the reed which is bent into the pipe. BUT the best method is to remove the reed and re-align it. After that, you need to “glue” the reed back to the pipe by using the “yellow” wax which contains bees wax.

Answers to your questions:
1) A cup or glass of hot water. (NOT boiling water, hot water which you normally use to make coffee or tea) The water chamber is NOT connected to the air chamber. That depends. If the “response time” of the reed is ok, then you do not need to fill the water chamber with hot water. Yes, you can put small moisture-collecting bag of silicon (used in food packaging) in the Sheng case or box. Alternatively, you can use the “Thirsty Hippo” dehumidifier. But if your room humidity is not too high, you don’t really need to put these stuffs.

2) The water on the reed will not actually cause any problem even when the Sheng is put into the case immediately after use. But it is recommended to “air” the Sheng after use. The greenish dust is able to increase the performance of the Sheng in some way as it helps to “narrow” the small gap between the small part of the reed and the whole reed. The greenish dust also absorb the water droplets in some way. (this is to prevent the reed from getting wet). Yes, you are right! Try not to touch the dust with bare hands, it will remove some of it. After a few years, you will need to replace the coating of the greenish dust if the performance of the Sheng goes down.

3) Sometimes if you apply to much force while blowing, you might slight bent the reeds. The main reason is the reeds of a new Sheng need some time to “settle down”.

There is no special tips to take care of the bawu. But there are 2 points to take note:
1) You can only “blow” the bawu, don’t “suck” the air out like the Sheng. You will damage the reed.
2) Don’t touch the reed of the bawu. Thank you.

Chris Lim

From: Steve 
To: Chris
Sent: Monday, 20 August 2007 4:33:15
Subject: Re: Questions about the Sheng


Thanks a lot again. I used your method and found the pipes that are the main culprits. Sure enough, when I examined their reeds, they were protruding ever so slightly from their frames, unlike the other reeds which are totally flush. I will try gently bending them back into their original position. For future reference, what do you do when a reed is bent INTO the pipe?

I have a few more questions, but they are not of immediate importance.

1) What temperature and general amount of water should I put into the sheng in the winter? Is the water chamber connected directly with the air chamber, or completely sealed off from it? I am curious because I want to know if the reeds will get wet if the sheng is laid on its side while water is in the lower chamber. If I perform with the sheng in a home heated to normal temperature during the winter, will the hot water actually be necessary? Also, do you recommend storing the sheng with a small moisture-collecting bag of silicon, such as are put in with food or other musical instruments, to keep them dry?

2) I have examined the reeds just after playing and have seen that a great amount of moisture does accumulate on the reeds. I understand the best way to get rid of this is to let the Sheng sit out, especially near an air-conditioner, but if the water is left on the reeds when the Sheng is put back into its case, will this cause problems at some point? I have noticed that the reeds are covered with a thin layer of bluish dust, which as I have heard is made of pine sap, wax, and sometimes mercury. I assume this dust is to keep the water from rusting the reeds. What is the real story behind this coating? Also, I assume it is very bad to touch the reeds directly with the finger, and that touching them might remove some of this dust. Does this dust need to be changed at regular intervals (like once a year), or does it generally last indefinitely until disturbed?

Thanks so much for your advice. I am going to try to fix the 2 or 3 reeds that are causing a problem. Is it forceful, one-way blowing that causes these reeds to get ever-so slightly bent out of shape?

I also bought a ba-wu and it is very interesting to note the completely different structural properties of the two instruments. Any tips on ba-wu care, while on the subject?

Have a good trip, wherever you are going! I was just in Shanghai and had a great time.

From: Chris Lim
To: Steve
Sent: Mon, 20 Aug 2007 1:22 pm
Subject: Re: Questions about the Sheng

Hi Steve,

You are welcome, As for the Sho, you are still able to tune it to 440 / 442 Hz.

Oh, it’s great to know that you have bought a good Sheng.

Solution for Ques 1:

1) Try to blow into the mouth piece softly and cover the holes one by one. When one of the “soft” sounds disappear, that is the reed which got problem.

2) Remove the bamboo pipe and use a mini screw driver to gently depress the reed (that small part which vibrates) until it is “flat” with reference to the whole reed. This should solve your problem.

Solution for Ques 2:

1) The hole of the pipe must be fully covered in order to achieve the correct pitch.

2) For the higher notes, you can produce an interval of 2nd or 3rd by covering 1/2 or 3/4 of the hole. That means you can try to use your finger to control the notes produced by opening (1/2 or 3/4) and covering the holes. For example, the A2 note (pipe/reed) is able to produce a note up to C3 by covering the 1/2 of the hole. However, the sound produced sound is a bit “thin”.

3) It is not good to heat the Sheng. This is a common problem for the Sheng. Try to leave the Sheng on the table to let the interior of the air chamber dry naturally. You can switch on the air conditioner for a while, so that, the air chamber will dry faster.

I hope I have answered to all your questions. By the way, I will be out of town due end of this August, therefore, I won’t be able to check my email frequently. So, I may take a long time to reply emails.

That’s all and happy blowing (Sheng)!!!!!!!


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