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PVC Shakuhachi Style Flutes

PostPosted: Mon Feb 27, 2017 11:52 am
by Hans Bezemer
Lately I've been intrigued by making flutes, in particular the shakuhachi, due to it's simplicity on one side, but it's complexity to master it.
Furthermore being a science teacher I'm always on the lookout for cool educational projects, and (the science of) flutemaking has a lot to offer!

What I think is cool is that making a simple flute is as easy as it gets (In the Netherlands it's even a saying when something is easy to : "It's like making a flute of a cent", similar to "a piece of cake").
Just drlll some holes in a pipe, making it either a side blown flute (be drilling an extra hole as a blowhole), or endblown by cutting, carving or sanding a sharp edge on the side.
On the other hand, calculating the right spot were to drill the holes involves some hardcore sience, which even led to a PHD-research to create a mathematical model.
Last but not least studies show that the material of which a flute is made isn't really affecting the tone quality. So a well made flute from a commonly available material would yield a good sounding instrument.

I've used PVC water tubing (mostly 1 inch outer diameter), because this is commonly available in Europe (but I think in most parts of the world) and used the model which was presented in the research.
I noticed that using a wood drill works the best.
Now I've got the hang of it I can easily build a flute under one hour, including wetsanding everything.

I use a coupler with a piece of pipe glued in for the mouthpiece, making it interchangeable with other flutes.

It's not a new concept because there's a lot of information on the internet, but I thought it was nice to share at.
It makes a great educational project / (grant)parent-child project or an easy way to experiment with playing flute.

If someone is interested I can share the spreadsheet with the model in it.


Re: PVC Shakuhachi Style Flutes

PostPosted: Mon Feb 27, 2017 3:31 pm
by Jim McConkey
I have built a lot of PVC flutes, and they are a lot of fun. How do you make such a nice, clean notch on the end? That is the key to shakuhachis. Did you color the pipe, or did it come that way? Almost all plumbing pipe in the US is white with printed markings all over it.

Re: PVC Shakuhachi Style Flutes

PostPosted: Mon Feb 27, 2017 4:00 pm
by Hans Bezemer
The color is dark blue here in the Netherlands, when it is used for clean water. They use a lighter grayish blue for sewer pipe.
It has printed markings on them but I (wet) sand them of.

As for the notch: I make an approximate 30 degrees cut with a hacksaw and then sand it flat with 240 dry and 320, 500 and 800 wet.
I lay the sandpaper on my kitchen desktop and move the mouthpiece angled back and forth.
As you probably noticed, the mouthpiece is made out of a coupler with a piece of pipe glued on the side were notch is.
This gives the mouthpiece a thicker rim. Although it's slightly more comfortable with a coupler, creating a notch with only the pipe works fine also.

What kind of flutes did you make?


Re: PVC Shakuhachi Style Flutes

PostPosted: Tue Feb 28, 2017 4:14 pm
by Jim McConkey
I used to make transverse flutes, but I haven't made one in a while. I am an engineer, so I was at first drawn to all the calculations for finger hole placement and size, and was always disappointed with the results. Once I figured out where to put the holes, I just tune them incrementally and it works much better than any amount of calculation. I will have to try an end-blown one of these days.

I like the blue pipe. I have never seen that here. We do have a cream colored pipe for hot water, and gray pipe for electrical conduit, but no colors. All pipe of that size is assumed to be for water supply. Dirty water return is always in a bigger pipe.

Re: PVC Shakuhachi Style Flutes

PostPosted: Wed Mar 01, 2017 6:42 am
by Hans Bezemer
The blue is great, it helps to make the plastic flute looks less like, well plastic...

I've heard that traditional shakuhachi makers weren't that much bothered by exact tuning, they more less made holes at certain distances and fine tuned while playing (which is easily done with a shakuhachi mouthpiece).

After some tweaking to find the right mouthhole correction, the model presented by Nederveen seems pretty accurate, I simply mark the holes, drill them to size, sand the burr of and done... I've used it for several bore diameters and flute lengths.

Did you make bansuri style flutes?


Re: PVC Shakuhachi Style Flutes

PostPosted: Thu Mar 02, 2017 2:50 am
by Jim McConkey
More like Irish wooden flutes (mostly in D), except plastic, but the bansuri (had to look them up) seem to be almost the same thing.

The problem with our white pipe is it looks like plumbing pipe no matter what you do to it. It is really hard to get the printed writing off of it. I wonder if it can be dyed somehow.

I always tweak each note individually, even if I cut to a pattern. The main scale is always right in tune, but I have never quite mastered how to get all the double-finger accidentals in tune. Have you?

Re: PVC Shakuhachi Style Flutes

PostPosted: Thu Mar 02, 2017 5:07 am
by Hans Bezemer
No I haven't tried to make double finger accidentals. I've only made minor pentantonic, major scale (and one major pentatonic) tuned flutes.
Some notes on the shakuhachi are played with double fingerings, but always require some adjustments while blowing the tone.
From what I understand that there is always a trade-off and even the best flutes require some fine tuning adjustments from the player while playing.
If you're interested: Nederveen discusses how to use his model for double fingering, but from what I recall he uses a "accidental" hole which he only opens and closes in combination with other holes.

BTW, I've also mounted an alto saxophone mouthpiece on a piece of tube, and it sounded pretty cool. For now I discarded this track, due too lack of time, but it is cool to invest it later on.


Re: PVC Shakuhachi Style Flutes

PostPosted: Thu Mar 02, 2017 10:34 pm
by Jim McConkey
Someone posted a PVC "sax" here a few years ago. I have an extra mouthpiece and always meant to try it, then we moved and the parts have been buried ever since. One of these days...

Re: PVC Shakuhachi Style Flutes

PostPosted: Sat Mar 04, 2017 5:51 am
by Hans Bezemer
Sigh... Yes one of these days, when all started and thought of projects are finished... Will that day ever come.... ;-)

There's a Chinese gentleman how made a instrument which he called a little sax which I think is a cool instrument.

Re: PVC Shakuhachi Style Flutes

PostPosted: Mon Apr 03, 2017 9:03 am
by Thomas Hottinger
Hi all,

I'm currently also experimenting with Flutes. There is one more thing I would like to mention.

When a coupler is used to have a broader head, it is much easier to play. It gets even easier when a cut on the backside of the coupler is made.
For me as a non-flautist, this helps a lot to find a good position where a can produce a sound. Most likely, it's a bit too far from the traditional shakuhachi, but it should remain a "shakuhachi-like" flute.


One more thing:

Does anyone of you have experience with sideblown flutes? I made a few but I'm struggeling as soon as I use an coupler as lip plate. I have no Idea in what way the plate affects the pitch of the tone. But it's definitely easier to play with a plate.

Have a good day


Re: PVC Shakuhachi Style Flutes

PostPosted: Mon Apr 03, 2017 2:01 pm
by Jim McConkey
I have made side blown flutes, but have never tried to add a lip plate. The plate increases what is called "chimney height" in the literature, and effectively makes the flute slightly longer, lowering the pitch. The overall length of the main tube has to be shortened slightly to compensate and the finger holes may end up being slightly different sizes.