App Review: Sanshin (三線) for iPhone and iPod touch

Following our introduction of two virtual sanshin iPhone/iPod touch apps on the 20th and our review of the iSanshin app from Pawana LLC earlier today, we continue with Sanshin (三線) from Crimson Technology.

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Crimson Technology’s Sanshin app is currently at version 1.1 and sells for U.S. $1.99. (iTunes Link) It’s nearest (or only at the moment) competitor is Pawana LLC’s iSanshin app which also happens to be at version 1.1 and is on sale for the same price of U.S. $1.99. But is it really a competition between the two apps or do both compliment each other? Read on to find out.

Upon launching Sanshin you’ll see its splash screen. Apparently, there are four divisions within Crimson Technology and Black Stream is in charge of the Sanshin app.


Compared to iSanshin’s user interface (UI) with its song mode on the main screen, Sanshin’s UI is really simple. You’re greeted with the sanshin’s sou (neck) and its notes which can be hidden by clicking on ‘工工四’ located between the ‘i’ (or info) and the image of the sanshin (which shows the instrument’s orientation) to the left of the iPhone’s screen. Sanshin app also differentiates itself by going with a real scan on the sanshin and its strings whereas iSanshin’s are CG.

Sanshin with kunkunshi

Sanshin from without kunkunshi

Next, let’s take a look at Sanshin’s settings (accessed by via the ‘i’ on the main screen).


Once again, as with the UI, Sanshin’s settings greatly differ from iSanshin’s settings: Sanshin’s is much simpler with everything located on a single screen (of course, the app itself is much simpler as a result when compared to iSanshin).

‘Effects’ is a nice touch and gives the sanshin an acoustic-electric sound which is kind of neat. As of version 1.1, you can add ‘Reverb’ and/or ‘Chorus’ to your sanshin sound as well as change each level to your personal preference.

For ‘Tuning and Scale,’ the numbers correspond to the 12 pitches on a chromatic scale with ‘4’ being the pitch of ‘C’ (like the Tombo Chromatic Pitch Pipe familiar to many sanshin players). Directly below the numbers are buttons for tuning the sanshin. ‘Basic’ is honchoushi, ‘2=Up’ is ni-agi (or 2nd string raised), ‘3=Down’ is san-sagi (or 3rd string lowered), and ‘1&2=Up’ is ichi-ni-agi (or 1st and 2nd string raised). The ‘Diatonic’ button keeps the sou on the main screen locked so you won’t accidentally hit a note outside of what’s given. On the other hand, the ‘Chromatic’ button let’s you play a note anywhere on the sou — important to hit the sharp shaku.

In the ‘Instrument’ section, you can change the ‘Tone’ of your sanshin from a fake-skin (jinku-gawa) sound ‘A’ to a real-skin (hon-gawa) sound ‘B.’ (Personally, I think this is an awesome addition to the app.) You’ll notice that the texture of the sanshin on the main screen changes depending on the tone you choose which is a nice touch. Finally, for left-handed players, there’s an option for you too.

While there’s still room for improvement, at version 1.1 I believe this to be a pretty solid app and I recommend those already familiar with the instrument to download it. For beginners of the instrument, I would recommend iSanshin from Pawana LLC with its songs and karaoke mode. But at U.S. $1.99, it’s hard not to own both — especially for sanshin enthusiasts — as both offer a very different app experience.

You’ll find kunkunshi (sanshin scores) to “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” “Asadoya Yunta,” and “Tinsagu nu Hana” at the Crimson Technology website.


  • Simple but offers effects and tone changes to customize your sanshin sound
  • Improved sanshin sound with version 1.1


  • No indicator on the main screen of the tuning you’re currently in (e.g. 本調子, 三下げ, etc.)
  • Sound of the sanshin can be improved to be more realistic

Part 1: Sanshin app demoed by Keiko Higa

Part 2: Sanshin app demoed by Keiko Higa

Video shown is of the pre 1.1 version of the app. The sound of the sanshin has since been improved to be more realistic. And kudos to Crimson Technology for having the beautiful and talented Keiko Higa demo their app.

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