World Flutes

Bamboo Flutes

Bamboo Flutes

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Welcome to the new bamboo flute store! For many years I’ve had an interest in bamboo flutes, but I never pursued the craft of making them. That changed recently and I have been deeply immersed in learning the art of working with bamboo.

Bamboo is one of the most useful plants on Earth, and it has a millennia long history as being a valued flute-making material in cultures all over the planet. Crafting high-quality bamboo flutes is a delightful challenge, because each piece is unique and requires the maker to adapt to its organic nature.

I strongly encourage anyone interested in a bamboo flute to read through the entire FAQ section presented here first, and also to read my three-part blog on the subject of bamboo flute craft: Bamboo Journey.

Bamboo FAQ

Custom orders:

Please note that due to time constraints I cannot accept custom orders for bamboo flutes. I decided that I don’t want the pressure of deadlines or specific expectations around these flutes, but I will strive to make a variety available as often as possible. So whereas normally a customer can e-mail me and request that I make a certain flute for them, that is not the case with the bamboo flutes. I basically just make what I make whenever I can manage it. I recommend signing up for my newsletter and I will do an e-mail announcement each time a new batch is going online, giving 24 hours notice before they appear in the store.

Sound samples:

It is rarely possible for me to provide sound samples of individual bamboo flutes. Each bamboo flute is unique and has its own character and voice, but making an audio sample for each specific flute would be very cumbersome. Producing a sound sample requires that I sit down, get warmed up, get familiar with the individual flute, play a suitable phrase to show the range of the instrument, then go through the process of editing, uploading, etc.. To do this with each unique flute that goes into the store would be a massively time consuming task. So I mention this up front because periodically I receive requests to record a sample of a specific flute, and I wanted to explain and forestall such requests. If I make a truly unusual key or tuning, I will make an effort to create a sound sample.

Types of bamboo:

So far I only use three different types of bamboo. I use black bamboo (and some others from the same family), bambusa multiplex silverstripe, and very limited amounts of madake. The silverstripe is used for my transverse flutes because it features a natural taper in the bore which provides superb intonation throughout the scale.

Types of flutes:

I make a variety of different types of flutes from bamboo, depending upon what species of bamboo I have available (flute types are listed below).

Cost:

There is a widely held belief that bamboo is an inexpensive flute material. This is true if you grow your own bamboo. It costs some water and sunlight, and the effort to harvest it. But while the cost of the material might be minimal, the labor involved in utilizing it can be surprising. The bamboo must be prepared, which involves removing nodes, smoothing the bore, heat-curing and then drying it, all preliminary to being able to use it, so there is a substantial investment of time before the bamboo is even utilized, and then some pieces still get culled during the process. You might be surprised to hear that the time and labor involved in processing bamboo for flute making is often more than what is required for wood, even though I have to drill/ream the bore of the wooden flute.

I also take extra steps to ensure that the material is as stable as possible and resistant to cracking (see my blog titled “Bamboo Journey”). These collective steps all contribute to the time investment that goes into each individual instrument, and this is reflected in the cost of the flute.

Cracking:

As most players of bamboo flutes are aware, cracking can be an issue. I do everything I can to reduce this risk, but a great deal of the responsibility for preventing this falls to the player. Sudden changes in temperature and humidity are the problem, and this includes blowing warm air into a cold flute, leaving it in a place that is too dry, leaving it in the sun, in freezing temperatures, etc.. Many players with cherished bamboo flutes keep them in a humidor of some type. I don’t take returns or make replacements of flutes that crack, but I will repair them if possible (and it usually is possible). If you live someplace that is very hot and dry or very cold and dry, you might consider whether bamboo is a good idea. You might do better with one of my wooden instruments. But generally some common sense flute care will be adequate—just treat them as you would any cherished instrument.

Tuning:

Most modern instruments are equal tempered and use A440 as their target pitch. This is the modern orchestral standard. Many of the flutes I make adhere to this standard, but some don’t. Some flutes just don’t want to be that rigid, and I might tune to A435, or A432, etc., and in some cases (such as the xiao) I target just intonation instead of equal temper. This does not mean the flutes will not be “in tune”, because they will always be in proper tune with themselves. They just might not fit into a modern orchestral setting and may be better suited to solo play. But each individually listed flute will include this information so you know what you are getting.

All natural ingredients:

My bamboo flutes aim to be as natural as possible, meaning that I don’t use synthetic finishes on them. They are finished with shellac (a natural resin made from the excretions of the lac beetle, which is super cool) and a pure, polymerized linseed oil and pine pitch finish. This is topped with beeswax paste. On occasion I do have to use very limited amounts of an adhesive, either an epoxy or cyanoacrylate (super glue). These adhesives are inert when cured and used only in places where the player will have no contact with them (with the possible exception of a repaired crack). My binding cord is also made from nylon, since I found that the natural fibers I tried to use were simply not strong enough.

Unique:

Each piece of bamboo is different, so that means that every single flute is it’s own thing. Even two flutes in the same key will always be different from one another. This is true of wooden flutes, but to a lesser degree. Each bamboo flute will have a unique voice and timbre. I won’t sell a flute that is not a solid instrument in every sense. But some pieces will have natural marks on the surface, the result of abrasion or scarring during growth. I will do my best to fill in any such marks that are highly irregular, and usually I can do so in a way that makes them nearly invisible. Any pieces that has blemishes that are too outrageous I simply don’t use. But subtle, natural marks are left intact–it’s part of the individuality of bamboo.

Shakuhachi Flutes

My bamboo shakuhachi are not really traditional. They are not made from Madake (which I don’t have a good source for), and most often I use bamboo in the phylostachys family, which includes black bamboo. They have a natural bore, with no manipulation of it’s shape. So if you are a strict traditionalist, these probably aren’t for you. Without the modifications to the bore, it may or may not provide the entire range of pitches that traditional shakuhachi players expect to find. I can promise that it will play the pentatonic minor scale with good accuracy through the first two octaves and a good player can likely get many of the “in-between” notes that are possible on typical shakuhachi. So if you want a beautiful, well-tuned flute that you can use for personal meditation, then you’ll probably love them. But if you are looking to play traditional honkyoku, these may or may not take you where you want to go.

Xiao

All of my bamboo xiao are one-piece instruments. This is a very challenging way to make the xiao, but very rewarding. Clearing the nodes from the bore of a long, single-piece flute is a bit of an art, but I personally like the aesthetic of a one-piece xiao. I’m an avid xiao player myself, so none of these flutes makes it into the store unless it is a flute I would personally play (so the quality has to be very high).

Transverse Flutes

Most of these bamboo versions play the diatonic major scale and are suitable for many types of folk music, including Irish Traditional Music and related styles. They are made from bamboo that exhibits a natural taper in the bore which improves the tuning balance and response. The lip plates are also made from bamboo, though they are tinted with a dye.

I also occasionally make what I call meditation flutes that feature different scales and playing characteristics.

Rim Blown Flutes

This category encompasses all of the vertical, endblown flute styles and tunings that are not either the xiao or shakuhachi.

Still Got Questions?

If you have any questions that are not answered here, please feel free to contact me at geoffrey@ellisflutes.com.

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