I’m building a Japanese bamboo flute, Noh-Kan, used for the Noh theater in a self-learning way. I’d like to ask some advice about the wall thickness and the hardness of the material.

In Japan, among the bamboo flute makers, heavy, hard and densely-fibered bamboo tubes with bigger wall thickness seem appreciated for some kinds of flutes (Noh-kan, Ryuteki, Shakuhachi, etc): 3,5-4,5mm. I can understand the strength must be certainly interesting. However, are there any other consequences or advantages when we use heavy and hard material with bigger wall thickness? I know that there is an endless discussion about the impact of different materials to the musical timbre and that the size and the shape of the bore, blow hole and tone holes influences the timbre mostly.

Talking to a western concert flute made of metal, the wall thickness is 0,35mm-0,45mm, which is by far thinner. Considering the metal can be more conducted than the wood (bamboo included), the difference between is really big.

Another background which should be taken into account is in Japanese music in general, the noisy sound is often appreciated, which could be seen by the structure of the music instruments and/or by the way to play. When playing the Noh-Kan flute, the atmosphere is more important than the accurate pitch. I don’t know this is related to the story of the wall thickness of the material…

In addition to the wall thickness, I’d like to know as well about the interest of using hard wood/bamboo. For example, Shakuhachi makers use traditionally a Madake (Phyllostachys bambusoides), which is the hardest bamboo available in Japan, and they use the hardest part of the plant: root.

With my own experience of Noh-Kan making, I can feel more or less that the flute made with less thick wall and light bamboo sounds brighter and lighter.

What are the differences I should expect from differing thickness walls and different materials for flute building?


There will be a difference, but probably a subtle one. What you're hearing from a flute is overwhelmingly vibration of the enclosed air column. The body's job is to define the size and shape of that air column.

Experiment. Results may not be intuitive. I recall an experiment using different materials for a trumpet bell section. One made of stainless steel proved dull and unresponsive, one the same dimensions made of lead was rather good! (This was some time ago, before lead was thoroughly demonized :-)


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