Saw sam sai

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Saw sam sai
Sō Sām Sāi, Thailand, 19th century.jpg
Saw sam sai at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
String instrument
Other namesซอสามสาย
Related instruments
Sound sample
Recording of saw sam sai demonstration sound.

The saw sam sai (Thai: ซอสามสาย, pronounced [sɔː sǎːm sǎːj], RTGSso sam sai, also spelled saw samsai, and occasionally called simply sam sai; literally 'three-stringed fiddle') is a traditional bowed string instrument of Thailand. It is in the saw family of Thai fiddles, which also includes the saw u and saw duang, but unlike the other two, has three strings, with a bow that is separate from the instrument.

The saw sam sai is made up of three parts: the neck, the bout, and the bow. It has a three-lobed coconut bowl for a body, and a hardwood or ivory neck that has been cleaned and polished with wood varnish. The coconut bowl is covered on one end with animal skin, and it has three silk strings. Its bow is constructed of horsetail and hardwood. Other the elements include the pegs, nut, bridge, gem, lasso, and strings. Typically, the player glues a jewel onto the skin before playing, to reduce the skin's resonance. The instrument is regarded as one of high stature, and is often ornately decorated. It is believed to have been used since the Sukhothai period, and is related to a very similar Cambodian instrument called tro Khmer.

Three strings make up the saw sam sai: The note sol is on the upper string (sai ek, สายเอก or sai bon, สายบน). The note re is on the middle string (sai nai, สายใน or sai klang, สายกลาง). The lower string (sai thum, สายทุ้ม or sai lang, สายล่าง) contains the note la (low-pitched).


Saw sam sai is a bowed-string instrument with the bizarre design of having only three strings. Usually played in Mahori and string band. From pieces of evidence, saw sam sai is identical with several instruments of the same kind in many aspects.[1] All of the proof leads to the conclusion that the origin of this instrument could be from the Arab world, Cambodia, Indonesia, or Thailand.[1]

Saw sam sai also identical to salo, a Thai bowed-string instrument from the northern region.[1] The features that these two instruments share are having a foot to support the instrument, having three strings, and having the same method of playing.[1] The only aspect that difference is saw sam sai is created with exquisite, unlike salo.[1]

After studying the origin of saw sam sai, the research found that middle-east countries have more advancement of musical instrument culture.[1] Many of the musical instruments are resemble to saw sam sai, for example, kamancheh from the west of Persia, rebab from Egypt and Turkey, rebab from Indonesia and Malaysia, saw Khmer from Cambodia, saw rung-kee from India, and saw mon from Myanmar.[1]

Many researchers came up with different theories of the origin of saw sam sai.[1]

Thanit Yuupo (ธนิต อยู่โพธิ์) explained that saw sam sai is similar to the Japanese shamisen and the Chinese san xian, both of which feature three strings like saw sam sai. Both the Chinese san xian and the Japanese shamisen are fretless string instruments. While the shamisen's body is square and flat, the san xian's body is smaller and covered in snakeskin. Furthermore, the saw sam sai is a bowed-string instrument.[1]

Jenjira Benjapong (เจนจิรา เบญจพงศ์) Stated her opinion that Persia (Iran) gave birth to saw sam sai. Because it is more suitable with singing than other musical instruments of the same sort, Rebab in Indonesia and Malaysia commonly directs with the lead vocalist, much as saw sam sai in Thailand. Thai saw sam sai, Khmer saw, and Malay peninsula rebab are all influenced by Middle Eastern rebab, which is derived from Persia's kamancheh.[1]

Pongsin Aroonrat (พงษ์ศิลป์ อรุณรัตน์) presumed that saw sam sai evolved from the Persian rebab, which is the root of numerous bowed string instruments, including the saw sam sai and violin. Rebab has an effect on musical instruments around the globe, and these instruments typically look the same as the original. Jawa[disambiguation needed], for example, has a rebab instrument that appears identical to the original. Cambodia has a similar instrument called tro that is similar to rebab.[1]

David Morton supposed that saw sam sai's original look is thought to have originated in India's east. Following then, the saw sam sai culture spread over various trading routes. The nan-chou, a bowed string instrument with a sharp point on the body, kamancheh, and rebab were the most common bowed string instruments discovered there.[1]

Udom Arunrut (อุดม อรุณรัตน์) said we obtained saw sam sai from Persia and used it in numerous rituals in the same way as the Persians did. Both nations are tightly linked by language, culture, and art in that era. Even the music we use at royal events comes from Persia.[1]

Suksant Puangklad (สุขสันต์ พ่วงกลัด) explained that the Islamic cultural group has a musical instrument that resembles the Thai saw sam sai. For instance, masenqo of east and west Africa, goje of Niger, rebab soussi of Morocco, joze of Iraq and Iran, Kamaicha of India, guaychak of Afghanistan, rebab of Jawa's gamelan, rebab of Malaysia, saw Khmer of Cambodia, and salo of Lan Na of Thailand.[1]

Saw Sam Sai is an instrument that has been played in Thai bands since Sukhothai. Because of the king, it is utilized in royal rituals. They mix it with Mahori after that. Thai people had a tiny orchestra instrument called a "saw," according to "Du Royaume de Siam." This demonstrates that saw sam sai was highly popular among Thai people throughout the "Ayutthaya" period, although its look was not as good as it is now. Until the "Rattanakosin" phase of King Rama II's reign. Because of King Rama II's passion for saw sam sai, he reimagined the new "saw sam sai" as exquisite, and it evolved into the saw sam sai we use today.


Back of a Sō Sām Sāi, Thailand, 19th century

Component of Fiddle[edit]

Bow (in Thai called "Kaun Chuck", คันชัก) has the string that made of horsetail or string for 250-300 pieces.[1]

From top to down, the body (in Thai called "Kaun Saw", คันซอ) including of

  1. Pegs box (In Thai called “Tuaun Bond”, ทวนบน) is top of the fiddle and it has a length around 1 foot. Pegs box has an appearance like a cylinder that passes the shaping with a lathe. It has a hole at the bottom to connect to the neck of the fiddle and 3 holes on the side for the peg.[2]
  2. Pegs connect to pegs box by an alternate in a zigzag form. It has a physical appearance like a sphere at the head and the stick has a length of around 6 inches.[2]
  3. Upper Neck (In Thai called “Tuaun Graang”, ทวนกลาง) has duty for connecting Pegs box with a lower neck. It has a cylinder shape and makes from metal. It has a diameter of around 1.125 inches and a length of around 9 inches.[2]
  4. A nut is used for tying 3 strings at the upper neck because we have a condition that we need to tie it tightly for stable sound quality. it locates at the upper neck. Normally we use silk or upper string for nut.[2]
  5. Lower Neck (In Thai called “Tuaun Laung”, ทวนล่าง) has duty for connecting the lower neck with Bout. It has a length of around 1 foot. We lathe into a sphere shape arranged in a row from small to large.[2]
  6. Bout (In Thai called “Kalogue Saw”, กระโหลกซอ) makes from 3 coconut shells combined with the wood and goatskin.[2]
  7. Bridge made of bamboo sharpen into a curve shape. We put it in front of a fiddle for 3 cm from the top edge and the height of the bridge is around 2 cm. Its use to support 3 strings.[2]
  8. Jewelry was used to decorate the fiddle and it improve the sound of the fiddle.[2]
  9. Lasso is silk that uses for tying and holds 3 strings located at foot of the fiddle. Normally we use the middle string because it has the fit size to tie the upper string and lower string.[2]
  10. String made of spiral silk. It has 3 strings which are upper string, middle string, and lower string. The upper string is the biggest string and the Lower string is the smallest string.[2]
  11. The foot of fiddle (In Thai called “Town Saw”, เท้าซอ) has a physical appearance like a headdress (Chada). Its duty is the base of the fiddle.[2]


Bout is the main component of making a fiddle. It has a great sound, so we are serious about finding the good material for making the bout.[1] Normally we used a coconut shell that has 3 lobes for building the bout.[1] The properties of coconut shells are 1). Symmetry 2). The thickness of the coconut shell is around 0.5 cm.[1] After we get the coconut shell then we peel it and drill the hole to bring the coconut water.[1] Then, scrub it and dry it at room temperature for 1-2 weeks.[1] We bring the dried shell to determine the scale for cutting and bring it to the bending process.[1] Then scrub inside the shell by electric polishing machine and use sandpaper to scrub for detail.[1] After that coating, it by gold for decoration and cover the front of the shell with goatskin or cow leather.[1] We use cow leather that is thick around 0.15 mm and drills the hole to cow leather.[1] Then bring cow leather to soak into water for 3-4 hours.[1] Then we apply glue to the edge of the shell and combine cow leather to shell.[1] Then we decorate and finish.[1]

Pegs box, bottom neck, and foot of fiddle[edit]

Size of pegs box, bottom neck, and foot of fiddle depend on the bout of the fiddle.[1] If the bout has a big size, then the size of the pegs box, neck and foot of fiddle will big size.[1] Pegs box, bottom neck, and foot of fiddle use the same method to build which is shaping with a lathe.[1] Normally they are made of hardwood or tusk.[1] Pegs box has a duty for tunning moreover it has a duty for increasing the sound frequency.[1] For the pegs box, we drill 3 holes to tusk for 3 pegs and drill 1 hole at bottom of it.[1] For the bottom neck, we lathe the upper part of the tusk in the shape of marble and drill the lower part like the shape of an elephant's mouth.[1] For the foot of the fiddle, we divided it into 2 parts are the upper and lower part which the upper part we will drill the hole like the shape of the elephant's mouth and in the lower part, we lathe-like shape of the pagoda in Thailand.[1] For pegs, we have 3 pegs and connect them to the pegs box.[1] The left-hand side of the player has 2 pegs and 1 peg on the right-hand side.[1] We use the same process to build the peg which is shaping with a lathe.[1]


String made of silk which we use 4 procedures to build the sting is 1). Spinning 2). Silk tacking 3). Gluing 4). Silk stranding.[3] After we collect the silk from the silkworm.[3] We use a spinning machine to collect silk into a thread spool.[3] Then we use 20 cm of nylon lope to do the lasso.[3] Then bring the lasso hook to the stranding machine and we use 8 thread spools of silk for the upper string, 14 thread spools of silk for the middle string, and 20 thread spools of silk for the lower string.[3] Then we tack silk to stranding machine and strand it.[3]


The first thing that we do before tuning is stand the bridge.[4] We set it into the middle of the fiddle and away from the top of bout around 1-2 inches.[4] We look at the bridge corresponding to the foot of the fiddle and head of the fiddle or not for checking its work.[4] For tuning, we turn the pegs to the front of the fiddle to make the string tight.[4] Normally tuning of fiddle, we move the bridge not turning the peg because it is harder than moving the bridge to make string tight or loose.[4] We use Khim for the initial sound of the fiddle.[4] We use note Sol, note Re, and note La for upper string, middle string, and lower string respectively.[4] Then we check it by bowing the fiddle. Finally, we attach a jewel to the fiddle for upgrade sound quality.[4]



The saw sam sai is played seated.[5] There are two sitting postures for playing saw sam sai.[5] Sit with legs to the side and Vajrasana (Diamond Pose).[5] Sit with legs to the side is a sitting posture where one leg on top of the other, stretches the player toe to the side while folding the knees.[5] Vajrasana, also known as Thunderbolt Pose or Diamond Pose, is a kneeling hatha yoga and contemporary yoga workout posture.[5] In the early stage of playing saw sam sai, start with sit-with-legs-to-the-side posture first when playing.[5]

Saw sam sai holding posture[edit]

Standing saw sam sai[edit]

Use the iron needle on the bottom end of the saw sam sai stick it to the ground.[5] Hold the body of saw sam sai with the left arm, keeping it at the same level as the left thigh.[5] Face the saw sam sai outside, put the knob on the third string.[5]

Saw sam sai holding posture[edit]

Turn the palm of the left hand to the front a little bit.[5] Lean the neck of the saw sam sai against between the thumb and index finger.[5] If holding the saw sam sai correctly, the pinky finger will not reach the string comfortably.[5]

Bow holding posture[edit]

Hold the bow with the right hand.[5] Put the right hand around the area where the gap between the horsetail and the bow is about 4 centimeters.[5] Put the ring finger in between the horsetail and the bow.[5] Use index finger and middle finger to support the bow while the wrist is parallel with the right arm.[5] The performer needs to be careful not to bend the right hand skew with the right arm.[5] While performing the bow needs to always parallel to the ground.[5]

Bow handling[edit]

Use the right arm and right hand to control the movement of the bow.[5] Have the bow parallel to the ground and have the horsetail touch the string above the body around 3 centimeters.[5] To increase the volume, use the ring finger to push the horsetail towards you.[5] The most important thing is to balance the volume of the upper string and lower string.[5]

Finger gesture[edit]

To determine the sound of the upper string and the middle string.[5] The performer uses the index finger, middle finger, ring finger, and pinky finger.[5] While determining the sound of the lower string, use the index finger, middle finger, and ring finger.[5] To press the upper string using a finger to "Chun Sai" is needed.[5] "Chun Sai" is using the fingertip to stick to the side of the upper string.[5] The finger that is used in "Chun Sai" can be the index finger, middle finger, ring finger, and pinky finger.[5]


One of the uniqueness of Thai instruments is melody conducting which every performer has to conduct together harmoniously.[5] For saw sam sai, music conducting can be divided into two types, conducting as a band and conducting with a lead singer.[5]

Conducting as a band[edit]

The performer needs to understand the melody that their band is performing, needs to be knowledgeable of types of band performance kinds of music.[5] The most important thing the performer needs to commit to his memory is that the heart of playing as a band is harmonious.[5]

The performer needs to play in the "Chou Chou" rhythm (ทำนองจาวๆ) that imitates "Saratta" rhythm (ทํานองสารัตถะ) as close as possible.[5] The performer needs to be mindful not to overuse the uniqueness of the sound of the "sol" and "re" notes.[5] Bring the potential of the sound of three strings to the fullest and use fingers to control the pitch of the sound.[5]

Conducting with a lead singer[edit]

The performer needs to recognize or be able to sing the lyrics of the performing song as knowing it will be crucial in conducting the music together with the lead singer.[5] The main role of the player is to support the lead singer.[5] Another role for the player is to support the lead singer in singing, but the player needs to be cautious not to distract the lead singer and be wary not to be more notable than the lead singer.[5] The performer must harmoniously perform together with the lead singer.[5]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al Karnnongyai, Anansit (2017). การสร้างซอสามสายของครูศักดิ์ชัย กาย [Making process of saw sam sai by Kru Sakchai Guy] (Master's thesis) (in Thai). Chulalongkorn University.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k ศรีสาคร, ประชากร; หมอกอ่อน, อมรินทร์ (2018). "หลักการบรรเลงซอสามสายตามแนวทางของอาจารย์เจริญใจ สุนทรวาทิน". Journal of Humanities Naresuan University (in Thai). 15 (3): 89–106. ISSN 2672-9547.
  3. ^ a b c d e f ปิยะพิพัฒน์, สุภาสิรีร์ (2019-06-27). "การอนุรักษ์ "วิธีการทำสายซอ" ของช่างมนัส สุริยะรังษี". UMT-POLY Journal (in Thai). 16 (1): 382–395. ISSN 2673-0618.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h "ซอสามสาย | สาระ ความรู้ ข่าวสาร ความบันเทิง ของชาวมัธยมศึกษา และประถมศึกษา : Knowledge for Thai Student |". Retrieved 2021-11-21.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am ห่วงประเสริฐ, วีรศิลป์ (2019). การสืบทอดความรู้ด้านซอสามสายของครูเจริญใจ สุนทรวาทิน (in Thai). จุฬาลงกรณ์มหาวิทยาลัย.

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