Type: Chordophones > Lutes.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.322.6
Specimens: 2 in collection from Sarawak, Malaysia.
Country: Borneo, Malaysia.
Region: South East Asia.
Description: The sape [alternate names include; sampet, sampeh, sapeh] is a member of the boat lute family. Whose lutes are mostly found throughout South East Asia primarily Malaysia, Indonesia and the southernmost regions of the Philippines. The Sape featured in this article is played among the Orang Ulu or Up River people, who live in longhouses aligning themselves parallel to the rivers of Central Borneo. The Sape is also played on the Indonesian side of Borneo in Kalimantan.
Repertoire: The music played on the sape is relatively complex, with many ornamentations varying techniques. There are two common modes, one for the men’s longhouse dance and the other for the woman’s longhouse dance. There also is a third rarely used mode. Sape music is usually inspired by dreams and there are over 35 traditional pieces with many variations. The overall repertoire is slowly increasing.
Construction: Sapes are carved from a single bole of wood, with many modern instruments reaching over a metre in length. Frets are carved and in a triangular shape. Placed in with a makeshift adhesive from beeswax and burnt ash. This holds the frets in place while allowing them to be individually adjusted to the scale, a musician may prefer playing in.
Originally the sape had only two strings and two tuning pegs, over time sapes had three strings and now four or six stringed sapes are common. Usually the frets are arranged in a aa pentatonic [five note] scale. As for the frets on my second specimen was designed with influence from the guitar having a couple extra frets added to create a diatonic scale [this is not found on traditional sape’s]. With guitar tuners added rather then friction tuning pegs. Traditionally they had two or three strings, currently sapes three up to 6 strings [influenced from the guitar] although sapes are tuned in fifths and octaves including the use of a thumbtack to increase the octave.
Citations: Bibliography: Discography: PAN 2068 Masters of the Sarawakian Sape, Featuring Tusau Padan ; Websites: Randy Raine-Reusch @ asza.com [sape article] ;