Step One: Getting Started
Step Two: Cutting Holes for the Fipple Slot
Step Three: The Fipple
Step Four: Finishing the Fipple Edge
Step Five: Using a Cork to Create a Bridge that Separates the Chambers
Step Six: Making the Windblock
Step Seven: Drilling the Finger Holes
Step Eight: Finishing Your PVC Flute
For those who are reading the Flute Forum for the first time, this is the educational area of the web page, where we share ideas that will improve your experience with the flute. As always, the Flute Forum is here to serve your needs. If you have questions related to flutes, comments about this column, suggestions about how we might better address your specific needs, or the needs of flute players in general, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org (Scott) or email@example.com (Dennis).
Of all of the questions we've received from Forum readers, questions about flute construction have been the most frequent. Some of you are interested in instructions for building your first Native American Flute. Others have made several already from wood but would like to try PVC flutes as an inexpensive and quick way to try out ideas for improving sound quality.
In this issue of the Flute Forum, Scott and Sam share their method for making PVC Native American Flutes in G#. Sam Kurz is a talented performing artist who also makes a very high quality PVC Native American Flute. Scott developed this technique to demonstrate the basics of Native American flute-making for students and flute players at the Northwest NAF Gathering in Seattle.
This issue of the Forum will present the basics for PVC flute construction. In the next installment, watch for Scott's tips for fine tuning your finished flute. You can find additional information for instrument makers, including PVC instruments, on our Links Page.
STEP ONE: Getting Started:
What you'll need to make your PVC flute:
A two-foot length of 3/4" PVC pipe--thin-walled
A drill and a drill bit set in graduations of 64ths of an inch
A wine bottle size cork
A ruler or tape measure
A marking pen
A 1/4" square file and a 1" half-round file
220 grit sandpaper to clean marks and stray fibers off your flutes
"00" steel wool for polishing
String or leather strips for tieing down your windblock
Measure, mark, and cut the 3/4" PVC pipe to a length of 19". As you proceed, keep in mind that attention to detail and taking the time to do things right will mean a better-sounding flute.
STEP TWO: Cutting Holes for the Fipple Slot
Measure and make a mark with a marking pen 4" from the end of the pipe. Here you will put the slot (fipple). Mark four consecutive holes. With a 9/32" drill bit, drill the four holes as close together as you can.
STEP THREE: The Fipple
Using the half-round file, smooth the side edges so they are flat. Use the 1/4" square file to square the ends of the slot. The slot should only be 1 1/4" long. Try not to exceed 3/8" wide. This is an area you can experiment with, varying the width of the slot from 9/32" to 3/8" to compare the effect on the sound produced.
STEP FOUR: Finishing the Fipple Edge
To cut the fipple, use the square file to carefully file the front edge of the slot at a 45 degree angle, making a wedge. Be careful not to increase the size of the slot.
STEP FIVE: Using a Cork to Create a Bridge that Separates the Chambers
Cut the cork to 1/2" or 5/8" length. Take the cork, rounded end first, and put it into the end of the flute and push it down. Center it in the slot, leaving approximately 1/4"-3/8" between the front of the cork and the sharpened fipple edge. This is another area that you can experiment in. Try a 1/4" space and a 3/8" space. What's the effect on the flute's sound?
STEP SIX: Making the Windblock
Cut the 1" diameter pipe lengthwise to make two even pieces. One of these will be your windblock. Using the round file, make a notch in one end of the windblock. The notch should be the same width as the fipple slot on your flute. Try to match them as closely as possible.
STEP SEVEN: Drilling the Finger Holes
Measure from the cork to the front of the flute 4 1/4" and mark the flute. Then from that, make a second mark 1" from there. Make one more mark 1" further on the flute. You now have three marks. The next three marks are 1 1/16th" apart from each other. Carefully drill the center of each mark, starting with a 7/32" drill bit. You can gradually enlarge the holes, increasing by 1/64" until each hole is in pitch.
STEP EIGHT: Finishing Your PVC Flute
Using your 220 grit sandpaper, sand all the rough spots and markings off of your flute and windblock. Use the "00" steel wool to polish them. Put the windblock over the slot, with the notch facing the front of the flute. (Also try it the other way around--which sound is more pleasant to your ear?) Tie it on securely (do not glue). Line the back of the notch with the front of the cork. After you have sanded your flute, you can paint or decorate it any way you like.
Remember that you can adjust the sound by moving the windblock, slightly enlarging the finger holes, varying the width of the fipple slot, and by moving the cork to vary the length of the fipple slot.. Have fun experimenting--it's not too expensive so let the tinkerer in you come out!
Do you have questions about caring for or playing your Native American flute? We"d love to hear from you. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org