Electric Phin (or Pin) from Isan – Thai Instrument

Last Updated on March 1, 2021 by Hervé Senni

Electric Phin (or Pin) from Isan

Electric Phin

The Electric Phin is a three strings traditional instrument from the Isan area in Thailand. Since the Thai language is written in a different alphabet, their names’ occidental writing is somewhat surprising. You always have much different spelling for any words, even on official street signs.

The instrument Phin is also written Pin, and the province Isan is also written Issan or Isarn. Every writing is good, or wrong since the real writing is พิน for the Pin (Phin) and อีสาน for Isan (or Ihsan, Issan, Esarn, Isarn, Isaan, Issan, or Esan).

The Phin is also refered as: Harp, Thai Harp, Thai Guitar and Isan Harp, using all the spelling already mentioned… 😉

Isan is a province located in the northeastern region of Thailand. It is the country’s largest province, close to Laos to the north and east, and Cambodia to the southeast. Language, food, and traditions are different from the rest of the country. It is also the most impoverished province.

The Pin (phin) is a traditional instrument coming from Isan. It is a three strings diatonic instrument that allow you to play in different keys depending on the tuning.

Electric Phin Tuning

The most used tuning is E, A, E. It allows you to play in the key of Amin and in the key of Emin like I do in the video. Using it to play in Emin gives you the #5. It provides an oriental dissonant sounding that I like. That’s why I went for this approach in the video.

It was the first time I played the instrument, and because I love dissonant intervals, I didn’t even try it in Amin. It was natural for me to play in Emin with that #5 interval that is unusual. In jazz, altered notes on minor chords are the major 7, the #4 played in a blues approach, and the 6th.

You can also play on other chords to have a jazz altered approach. Playing in Amin gives you an A Dorian scale that is much more normal.

The strange thing is that the neck to not reproduce the same intervals on the octave up. After the twelve frets, there is no F# but an F natural. Therefore if you play it in Emin, you have a flat nine interval, and if you play it in Amin, you have a #5 like when playing in Emin in the root position.

It is a strange instrument indeed. It needs time to get used to it. I could fool around right away, playing by ear, but it needs work to master it, even if it is easy for a guitar player to adapt.

We have to get used to the diatonic fretboard. It can be tricky at first, but you can get used to it quite rapidly, helped by the fact that notes are written on the fretboard.

Alternate Phin Tuning

The most common tuning is:

  • E – A – E = Am

But you can also use:

  • D – G – D = Gm
  • E – B – E = Em
  • F# – B – F# = Bm

Check the outboxing video and the first attempt at the Phin.

Here are some links I could find on Lazada if you want to get one
The offer I got is not available anymore, but the ones accessible are quite affordable too.

Electric phin (Pin) @ Lazada

This post is also available in: French

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