Shakuhachi Diary #3 - "I see you have constructed a new light saber"

This week, I made a 2.8 shakuhachi from a length of PVC pipe and a pipe coupling. I spent about 500 yen (four pounds-ish) in total, not including tools which I've accumulated over the years, which bought enough bits to make three or four flutes.

I think a 2.8 shakuhachi is about the longest standard size.

I won't go into too much detail on how I made the flute here, suffice to say I obtained most of my information from this site - an excellent and entertaining resource for cheapskate instrument builders like myself.

Very briefly, I cut the pipe roughly to length, attached the coupling and cut/rasped/filed the mouthpiece, and checked that I could blow a ロ (RO - the lowest note on a shakuhachi). Then I measured where the holes should be, and applied stickers which I then moved around the pipe (keeping the same distances from the end) until I could comfortably reach all of them. The length of the flute means that it's a bit of a stretch. After that, I drilled and filed the holes until it was roughly in tune.

I also inserted an experimental "Choke Point" - a smaller ring of PVC pipe, about a centimetre long. This is supposed to imitate the effect of the tapered bore of a real shakuhachi, and I wanted to see if it would help with the tuning - with a perfectly cylindrical bore, an end-blown flute is flat when overblowing to the second octave. I pushed it up and down the main tube using a dowel, until it was roughly in the right place (about 9cm from the bottom of the flute) - I used a lot of guesswork here.

Playing the flute with a tuner shows that most of the notes aren't more than 10 cents out. The bottom RO seems quite flat, which could be a result of my "choke", but it also could be my technique as I'm finding that note quite difficult to play. Longer shakuhachis require a great deal of control when playing the deep notes.

Overall, considering the negligible cost and the short time (about three hours) it took me to make this shakuhachi, I'm extremely pleased. It's great fun to play, and very robust.

Here's a short demonstration. I'm playing the honkyoku "Honshirabe", which I've been studying recently with my teacher. Apologies for the mistakes, huffing and puffing, squeaking etc...


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