I started making my own native flutes from bamboo almost a year ago. I've since made some Native American style flutes, South American style flutes (Quena, Quenacho, Quenilla), Chinese Dizi and drone flutes but one thing I've never really tried yet but that is dear to my heart is the pan flute.
Making my own pan flute in the C major scale
My main issue was to find bamboo that is long, straight and round enough. However, after a long time of waiting, I thought I'd give it a try anyway with what I have and deal with any imperfections:
- I didn't have any bamboo with long enough internodes so I just used multiple ones and broke the internal wall to make longer pipes
- the pieces of bamboo were not very straight so I sanded them down as much as I could
- the internal bore was not regularly round but I chose pieces that are round enough
After cutting the pieces of bamboo and adjusting their length to get them to the correct key thanks to a tuner, I glued them together using hot glue which allows me to re-adjust them if needed by just heating up the glue. I used a 16 gallons plastic drum as a curved support to shape the flute:
Once the glue has set, I decided to use some vinyl plank off-cuts to make a frame for my prototype. The vinyl is pliable so it makes it easy to bend around the pipes:
This first pan flute prototype had 14 pipes (notes) which was enough to play quite a lot of tunes. For my first test, I recorded "Memory" from Barbra Streisand, a quite popular song to play on the pan flute:
One thing I realised was that using vinyl made the pan flute so heavier than it should have been. So couple of days later, I decided to replace the vinyl frame with one made with black bamboo. In the process, I added 4 more pipes for a total of 17:
The end result was exceeding my expectation and I turned that prototype into something more permanent by hiding the excess hot glue and gaps between pipes using some dark wood filler. It's not as shiny and smooth as professional pan flutes but it does have its character:
And more importantly, it sounded great and the extra four pipes allowed me to play songs that have more notes. My next recording on DIY pan flute was "Hello" from Lionel Richie:
I'm pretty stoked with how this pan flute turned out to be and lucky for me, not long after I completed this project, I managed to find a bamboo nursery not far from me that has a species of bamboo that ticked all the boxes for a pan flute. I collected a few but now have to wait from 3 to 6 months for them to be dry enough:
Fixing a broken Zampoña
In my previous post about pan flute, I showcased a song I recorded on a Zampoña (aka Siku), a two-row Andean pan flute, I bought recently. Shortly after, a Peruvian friend of mine gave ma a Malta (smaller Zampoña) which had one of its pipe totally smashed in storage. With some superglue, I managed to reconstruct the pipe and had to treat it for mould using fire, essential oil and a lot of sun.
I already owned a large Zampoña and also made a small one for my son from colouring markers:
So I decided to turn this Malta into an Antara, a single row Andean pan flute. Using some black bamboo again, I made a new frame for the Antara and used waxed thread to tie the refurbished pipes to it. After some tests, I realised most of the pipes were out of tune, almost half a step flat which as an easy fix using beeswax beads. By stuffing the inside bottom of the affected pipes, I virtually shorten the pipe and raise their pitch. This Antara is now sounding great and is tuned to the key of D.
Now, I need to wait few more months in order to make another one. This time I will probably make one that has 23 pipes. I'd like some more lower notes and a couple of higher ones.