KOTO Maintenance

Tips for koto restringing and maintenance

Terms to know :

Araito (新糸)

Replacing old strings with brand new strings


Approximately 20 cm of each string on the Ryuukaku (playing side) is snipped off and discarded, then the newly snipped end is pulled across and restrung. No new strings are used.


“Reversing” the current strings and restringing – The strings are inverted so that the Ryukaku side (playing area) ends up on the Ryubi side (non-playing area with the excess strings) and vice versa.

Frequently Asked Questions :

Is there a big difference between Araito and Tenchi?

With Araito, the strings are more fresh. So the elasticity while doing presses is better and the resonance of the tonal quality is longer.

When restringing, how do you decide between Araito, Tenchi, or Tsumagire?

It should be decided based on the conditions of the current strings. Exposure to sunlight and wind will make the strings deteriorate, and depending on the circumstances it will make it easier for the strings to snap. Putting the koto in its case and being careful of how you store it will help the strings to last longer. Overtime, the strings will lose elasticity which affects the resonance and quality of sound. So Araito would give you a better sound than Tenchi. As for Tsumagire, the strings are stretched less as they have already been stretched in the first place. So compared to Araito and Tenchi, the pitch of the strings tend to be more stable (usually for Araito and Tenchi, the strings are more pitchy at the start before they settle). However, because the strings are already stretched, pulling and restringing them will make the strings feel hard. For those that like this feeling, it’s possible not to do Tenchi and just do Tsumagire all the time. The basis of koto restringing are Araito and Tenchi, but there are some who think that it would be a waste to do so and opt for Tsumagire instead. An example would be schools with not a lot of budget. However, this reduces the life span of the strings and they will tend to snap more so it is not recommended. Also, restringing old strings is hard, and their tendency to snap easily is something it will be afraid of. Especially if they snap at Ryubi area where the strings are tied. If this happens, the only thing to do would be to get new strings as the remaining length of string would not be enough.

When restringing, how do you decide between Araito, Tenchi, or Tsumagire?

In Japan, it’s usually once a year. For professional players, usually once every 3-4 months. If you’re overseas, even if you hardly play, 3 years would probably be the limit. Of course this is also affected by how the koto/strings are stored.

How frequent should Araito be done?

It largely depends on the conditions of the strings. To avoid wastage, Araito would be used for good performance kotos, and the old strings from that performance koto is then used for one’s practice koto.

How should it be decided on how strong to restring a koto?

It depends on the physical strength of the player and how hard the koto is. For people with not much physical strength it would usually be more loose. The basis would still be the hardness of the instrument itself. If the wood of the koto is soft, restringing it tightly will not give produce a very good sound.

What is the best way to keep newly bought strings?

If you have a chest drawer specially for kimono, storing your new strings there would be the best. Some professionals store the strings in a special box available from tea shops that keep out moisture and dryness. If you’re overseas, choose a dark place that does not get much sunlight and has low dryness and humidity. Putting the strings in a zip lock bag and storing them in the closet is a good idea.

Right after restringing, is it better to leave the bridges on for a while?

This varies depending on who is doing the restringing, but it might be better to remove the bridges. If you feel that the strings are too tight, then leaving the bridges on for half a day or a full day before taking them off is a good idea. On strings where a lot of presses are done, there are cases where they snap at the point where the strings meet the bridges. It is a good idea to clean the groove of the bridges occasionally. The markings done with pencils on the strings during Tencho (moving a bridge while playing) tend to leave some residue on the groove of the bridges. This will then file against the strings and can cause them to snap.

Any advice for everyday koto maintenance?

If you don’t play an instrument, its sound will die. This is especially true for higher grade kotos. After buying a new high grade koto, it is good to play on it right away for a period of time in order to bring out its full potential. That way, even if you don’t play it for a while, when you start again its sound will come back rather quickly. So it is when you first buy the instrument thats the most important time. Regularly playing on a high grade koto is good, but I understand the fear of having the strings snap. So finding the right balance is the key.