Making your own Panpipes
(an experiential guide, by David Pighills)

This basic guide is born of my first ever attempt at making a Romanian style Panpipe. As such it contains tips and "on the hoof" solutions to the sort of problems associated with a first-time project. Please believe me , it is possible to make a good playable instrument at the first attempt. Above is a picture of my first flute halfway through construction. I hope you give it a go....it is a rewarding endeavour.

Tools and materials.


Let's start with the basic tools and materials you will need. Firstly, some fairly standard tools:

A good quality coping saw (to cut the bamboo to length and to cut and shape the base of the Panpipe)

A number of small clamps (to hold the base in place while the glue sets)

A round file (approx. 1/4" , 6mm diameter , to file out any furring or debris inside the cane tubes).

A curved form or base (can be made from bent poster-card or similar or from a block of wood. A piece cut from a large drum would suffice , but in all cases the curvature should be regular and not too severe).

A sharp utility or modelling knife (to scrape the natural coating from the bamboo for a more pleasing finish if preferred).

......and materials ,

A selection of bamboo canes (external diameters between 1.2 & 2.2cms . Try to select bamboo which is as straight as possible , is not cracked or holed nor overly discoloured. The wider canes should have at least 25cms between the nodes in parts. All the canes will need to be relatively thin walled to avoid the need for drilling , which is to say the middle of the cane should be predominantly space and not bamboo wall)

3 Thin (approx. 2mm) sheets of wood measuring at least 50cms x 8cms (the harder and tighter grained the wood , the better). The wood should be thin enough to bend to the curve of the Panpipe without the need for steaming. The sheet size quoted above is about the minimum needed to provide a curved front , back and base for the instrument after cutting to shape.

Epoxy or PVA glue (epoxy is more effective to start with , it is more forgiving of inaccuracies in joining , especially the tubes which , when joined , will have to withstand a curve being cut along the bottom edges. PVA is "joiners" glue and is used by professional instrument makers but usually requires accurate joining).

A selection of wooden (preferably balsa) dowels of diameters 1 to 2cms (required to plug the tube bottoms. Any wood will do but balsa is lighter and easier to shape).

Natural beeswax (available in sheets , two to three per flute will do , this is used to seal and tune each tube...there is nothing that does the job better).

Varnish , lacquer or polish (for finishing)

Abrasive paper sheets (coarse, medium and fine). The coarse sheet should be stuck to a solid, flat surface using double-sided adhesive tape. This provides a method for accurately flattening the tube sides.

Construction.

Now hopefully you have the tools and materials at hand and have been guided as to the fine detail by the photographs.

So your first step is to cut the bamboo to size. For a 22 tubed Romanian Panpipe range G1 to G4 you will need to cut bamboo tubes to more or less the measurements shown in the table at the bottom of this page. Do not try to follow them precisely and remember that the tubes are better too long than too short. There is NOTHING you can do about a tube that is too short except replace it.The table starts with the lowest tube G1 and progresses up the scale. Diameter refers to the EXternal diameter of the bamboo across its widest part.

To scrape or not to scrape-To bake or not to bake......

Now you have your 22 tubes cut to length you have a couple of choices to do with the finish. Bamboo is naturally coated with a hard shiny layer which can be heavily discoloured in places. This layer can be scraped away using a sharp knife held at right angles to the tube. This will reveal the natural beauty of the bamboo's linear grain structure. You may also consider baking the tubes in a moderate oven for half an hour or so. This has the effect of driving off some moisture and darkening the colour. There is a school of thought which states that this process also improves tonal quality. If you are "baking" the tubes , this should be done after scraping.

Joining the tubes......

Remember that from the player's position the largest (lowest) tubes are on the right and the smallest (highest) on the left. To join the tubes , the sides have to be flattened (just one side on the lowest and the highest tube and both sides of the other 20 in-between). This is achieved best by rubbing the tube side along coarse sandpaper stuck to a level and firm surface. Try and mark opposite sides of the true diameter of the top of each pipe and sand along the length of the tube at these points. Keep sanding at least until the tube side rests flat on the level surface without any gaps in-between. You should aim to have a combined wall thickness at a join which is about the same as the thickness of the wall of a single un-sanded tube.

Where the sides should be flattened for joining

Flattening tube side on abrasive paper

Having completed all the tubes in this manner , lay them player's side down on your jig or form with the longest tubes on the right. You can then glue the tubes together. I recommend using a slow-drying two part epoxy (e.g. Araldite). This will hold the tubes in place whilst you temporarily fix them with adhesive tape and will also allow plenty of time for adjustment before the glue starts to go off. Leave them to set for at least 24 hours.

Tubes glued together on curved form

Cutting the bottom of the Panpipe to shape.

Once the tubes have set you will need to cut a graceful curve at the bottom to facilitatethe fitting of the base or "shoe". To do this , mark 2cms from the bottom of each tube and then join these marks with a sweeping curve. Carefully cut the shape out of the bottom of the Panpipe following the line with a coping saw or bandsaw. Be careful!!!!

Tube bottoms cut to shape

Plugging the tubes.

This needs to be done in the first instance by glueing in wooden dowels which have been sized to fit the insides of the bamboo. Although a perfect seal is not essential at this stage you will need to be able to get some sort of sound from blowing across the tube top to be able to roughly tune the tube.

Coat the plug in epoxy glue and insert into the bottom of each tube. Position the plug such that when you sound the tube the tone is about a semi-tone below that ultimately required for the finished item. Thus the G1 tube needs to be plugged so as to sound around F#1, the A1 tube around G# etc. An electronic keyboard , tuning device or other properly tuned instrument will suffice as a tuning guide. Once all the tubes are plugged , sand the plugs themselves where necessary to bring them flush to the cut tube bottoms.

Fitting the base or "shoe".

Use a cardboard template formed around the bottom , front and rear of the Panpipe's base to achieve the widths and curvatures you will need to shape the wood to. You can then transfer this pattern to each of the three pieces of wood. One each for the bottom , front and back of the instrument.

Bottom front of "shoe"

The two end pieces which are joined to the base can be made by cutting lengthways in half small pieces of bamboo , the internal diameters of which match the external diameters of the lowest and highest tubes. These pieces are then used to "sleeve" the outside edges of the top and bottom tubes.

Top front of "shoe"

Bottom end piece

The front and back of the shoe should now be glued to the bottom of the Panpipe and clamped into place as shown below.

Back of shoe (player's side)

When these pieces have dried (24 hours minimum) the base and ends can be glued in. The joins do not have to be perfect as they can be sanded into shape later. Be sure to shape the botton and top end-pieces to match the shape and curvature of the base of the shoe.

Base-end shape (lower).

Once all the shoe is fitted , take some time to sand it all into shape and make it smooth and pleasing to the eye.

Shaping the tube tops.

To ensure a smooth point of conact for your lower lip you will need to sand a "bevel" into the tube tops at the player's side of the instrument. To assist with tonal clarity you may also wish to bevel the "audience" side of the instrument a little (some top players have their panpipes like this and some don't). If you do decide on an audience-side bevel , the amount of material sanded away is greatest for the lower tubes and becomes progressively less for the higher ones. You should experiment with this and find the best tonal quality for yourself.

Bevelling on lower tube (player's side is left)

Bevelling to high tubes (player's side is right)

Tuning and Oiling.

Tuning each tube is achieved by inserting small amounts of beeswax which are pressed into the tube bases using a dowel which will fit into the tube in question. The wax needs to be pressed firmly home , a little moisture at the dowel end will prevent the wax from sticking to it. Again , adjust tuning by using a tuning meter or another musical instrument known to be accurately tuned itself. Always leave tuning until after any bevelling or shaping of the tube tops (as such modifications will alter any earlier tuning). Where a tube has been tuned too high , a little wax can be removed using a dowel with an end shaped into a "cutting edge" which will remove wax when it is inserted into the tube and twisted gently. Professional tuning sticks as shown below are available but if you look carefully you will see that it is relatively simple to make something similar yourself using dowels of different diameters.

Professional tuning sticks from "Preda"

Once you have completed tuning the tubes , make sure each is properly sealed by closing your mouth over each one in turn and blowing hard. There should be no seepage of air from the tube. A weak solution of detergent in water brushed onto the tube surfaces when using this procedure will reveal the smallest of leaks in the tube wall , although these are rare , if encountered they will probably necessitate replacement of the tube unless the leak is due to a clearly visible "hole" which can be filled with wood filler.Leaks at the tube bases can be remedied by introducing a heated metal rod to the wax plug. This should cause the wax to melt and seal any gaps. The tube will then have to be re-tuned using more beeswax.

If you are going to varnish your Panpipe , do it now before your oil the tube interiors as any oil which finds its way onto the outside of the instrument will mean that the varnish will not adhere properly.

Finally , a natural oil (not mineral oil) such as almond oil swabbed into the interiors of each tube will keep the walls moist and prevent deterioration.Oil the insides around every week for the first month and then around every month , particularly if you are playing the instrument regularly (the breath contains acids which will attack the bamboo if it is not protected by the oil).

I hope you enjoy your first home-made Panpipe.....this guide is by no means definitive....you will need to practise with the sequence of construction and assembly methods to suit yourself. If you have any difficulty with techniques or materials , please e-mail me and I will do all I can to help. Good Luck.

Tube Length-(cm)L Diameter-(mm)
G1 28 23
A1 25 22
B1 23 21
C2 21 20
D2 19 19.5
E2 18 19
F#2 16 18.5
G2 15 18
A2 14 17.5
B2 13 17
C3 12 16.5
D3 12 16
E3 11 15.5
F#3 11 15
G3 10 14.5
A3 10 14
B3 10 13.5
C4 9 13
D4 9 13
E4 9 12.5
F#4 9 12.5
G4 9 12.5