bviously before you can start to make a bamboo flute you need to get some bamboo. So the first step in making a bamboo flute is to select the bamboo you're going to work with. Now bamboo in itself is a huge topic. There are thousands of diverse species growing all over the world. It's size also varies immensely. So where do you start?
Since the whole purpose of this book is to show you how to make a good bamboo flute, the bamboo you chose to use will need to be very durable so that the flute will last a long time in widely varying climates. The bamboo will also need to have the right dimensions for optimum sound.
Before we get on to the dimensions of the bamboo let us start with a brief discussion of the species of bamboo to use. Now I am far from being an expert on bamboo. But basically there are two main categories of bamboo. One is the clumping species and the other is the running species. Within these main categories there are thousands of sub species.
The main difference between the two bamboos is that once planted and left to its own the clumping variety will not spread very far but concentrate it's growth into a "clump". The running species however will continue to spread endlessly and if left unchecked can rapidly take over huge areas of land within a fairly short time.
Like everything there are advantages and disadvantages. If you want to grow an ornamental garden with little maintenance you would most likely plant clumping species. If you have a large area of land and want to make a "Bamboo Forest" you would plant running species.
My personal favourite bamboo that I use is a running species called "Phyllostachys Aurea". Another name for this is "Golden Bamboo". It is the common green looking running bamboo that you see growing almost everywhere. It gets it's Golden name from the mature culms which take on a golden tinge. You can find it all over the world from tropical to cold climates. It is also extremely strong and if cured the right way will virtually last for ever. The following pictures show typical stands of Phyllostachys Aurea.
With all my flutes I make a guarantee that if a flute ever cracks (under reasonable usage) I will replace it free. And over the years I've been making flutes I've never had one returned that has cracked. This is testimony to the strength of this bamboo. But it has to be cured correctly which I will explain a bit later.
One thing about this bamboo and running bamboos in general is that because it grows so profusely almost anywhere it very easily gets out of hand. In many places it is actually considered to be a pest and people usually want nothing more than to get rid of it. This happens to be a great plus for flute makers because it means that you are likely to be able to get it for free.
Keep your eyes peeled and on the lookout for patches of this bamboo. Approach the owner of the place where it is growing. Ask them if they would like their garden "tidied up" for free. I'm sure they will be glad to help you out. Some people will even pay you to take it away!
If you can just build up some good will with a few owners of such patches, you will virtually have a permanent supply of bamboo forever. Because it grows so fast you can keep coming back to the same patch every year for a new harvest.
Another great thing about flute making is that to make a living with flutes you don't need to be harvesting massive quantities of bamboo. For years I made and sold flutes at local markets and festivals. I was running a one man show and in one day I could go out and harvest enough bamboo to last for six months or more! Not bad I say.
Well there are no doubt many other species of bamboo that can be used for flutes. I have not had to look further than the golden bamboo since it has worked so well for me.
Just by the way, for your interest the bamboo that is used for the traditional Japanese Shakuhachi is a running species called "Madake". This is a very nice bamboo. The only problem is that it is very hard to come by. And usually very expensive. It is not uncommon to pay $500 for a one good piece. It is also nowhere near as hardy as Phyllostachys Aurea. This is why you see so many Shakuhachi made from Madake that have bindings around them. And even with bindings lots of Shakuhachi still develop cracks.
I have never had to use any bindings at all on my flutes and they DO NOT crack. A bold statement you might say. But it's true. Purists may disagree with me on this point. I am just sharing my experiences.
Bamboo Dimensions For Flutes
For a flute to sound good bamboo of the right size must be used. A good sounding flute is one that performs well in all musical ranges or octaves. As a flute maker you'll want to be able to make flutes in a variety of keys. For your information the deeper the key the longer the flute. And the longer the flute the wider the bore. The bore is just the cross section inside diameter of the bamboo. For example:
A Shakuhachi in the key of high G (above middle C) is about 300mm in length and 14mm bore.
This is a bit of an over simplification. Things are not quite that easy of course. Actually a good sounding Shakuhachi will need to have a tapered bore! The bore gets narrower as we move away from the mouth piece. But that is another story which I will explain in detail in a later chapter.
However for the purpose of this discussion the above dimensions are a good guide. The bore is the most important measurement to consider when choosing the bamboo for harvest. Don't worry about the length of the piece. You can usually get two to three flutes from one piece of bamboo.
Bamboo also has a certain wall thickness. For a piece of running bamboo a good estimate of wall thickness to go on is 5mm. When you are in the grove all you see is the outside of the bamboo. So going on the above figures and taking into account the wall thickness of the bamboo it can be worked out that the bamboo you select will need to be between 20mm to 30mm in outside diameter measurement.
This takes into account that thinner bamboo will likely have a a wall thickness a bit less than a thicker piece. So If the bamboo you cut is between 20mm to 30mm you can't go far wrong. This will enable you to make a wide variety of flutes in different keys. For example if want only to make deep flutes in the key of G say then you would select bamboo about 30mm diameter. If you want to make a C flute then your bamboo needs to be about 25mm etc.
Again this is a bit simplified since a piece of bamboo is wider at the bottom than at the top. And also the wall thickness of the bamboo will vary depending on climatic and soil conditions. But it gives you an idea of what to go for. Remember what I said about Intuition. It plays an important role in all phases of flute making including harvesting in the grove.
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