I am from South India and am a music enthusiast. I am interested in the Pan flute, which is rarely found here. I found some info online about making Pan flutes with PVC pipes and would like to try making one. However, I wanted to get some valuable information here first.

Here are some basic questions. If anyone can shed some more light on the subject, that would be great.

  1. Is it possible to make a good sound from PVC pipe?

  2. What can the minimum and maximum diameter of the pipes be?

  3. What is the pitch that I should try to make?

  4. What is the common scale or mode used?

  • It sounds like the guide you're referring to would probably be the best source for the dimensions and so on. The minimum and maximum diameter will depend on the thickness of the pipe, and the pitches will follow. – Matthew Read Mar 21 '16 at 19:56
  • Have look at this – david strachan Mar 21 '16 at 20:21
  • I can speak to point 1: I'm pretty sure that the material a pan flute is made of has less of an effect on the tone than with some other instruments. Yes, there may be a slight loss in sound quality in making a pan flute from PVC versus another material, but I'm pretty sure the most important factor will be the actual construction and carving of the tops, and not the material. – Todd Wilcox Mar 22 '16 at 13:16

I've built PVC flutes (kind of, they're structurally more similar to tin whistles) and they sound pretty well. I think Todd's right when saying the material is not too relevant to the sound, the requirement is that it is workable to allow us to build the instrument. Electrical white pipe (the one used inside walls to carry electrical wires) is easily workable (softer than grey water pipes) and gives quite good results.

You'll need rather small gauge pipe, I expect perhaps something like 1 cm diameter, to be easier to play, specially the lower tones (longer pipes). But try your hand (I should say you mouth :-) with a beer bottle, if you can make it whistle you can probably venture with pipe of similar gauge.

DIY flutes are largely a matter of chance, like Mathew said it's more what you get than what you aim for. The good news is that a pan flute, as opposed to a "proper" flute, is rather easy to tune, just trim the top of each pipe to up the tone little by little (and cut another piece of pipe if you inadvertently go to far :-). Or, if you can adjust the position of the plugs that close the end of the tubes, that can also be used to fine tune each tube. BTW, cork is a wonderful material for this, as it is easy to work and provides good fit and air tightness, specially if you rub it with a bit of vaseline. Wood can also be used, and you can ask a carpenter to make a dowel for you with the exact diameter that you need to fill the pipe. But wood does not deal well the humidity and saliva from playing the flute.

What scale? There are "pan" flutes all over the world (or were, as apparently they have become out of use in China and Japan), so I don't think there's a specific scale that can attributed to this type of instrument. A major diatonic scale seems the more natural choice, but it's just a possibility. Why not a pentatonic, or, for that matter, why not an indian raga?

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