New Bamboo Flute

Parabolic Headjoint - Cylindrical Body - Tuning Slide – Extended Range

Most bamboo flutes have an irregular shaped bore. This makes producing two identical flutes or creating a matching set of flutes a very difficult task. The bamboo’s somewhat irregular inner bore geometry makes each flute unique; each has its own sound, intonation tendencies, dynamic range and general playing characteristics.

My new bamboo flute is nothing new. The one in the picture above was made in 1996. It is based on Boehm’s bore design that he invented for his metal and wood flutes in the mid-nineteenth century. His design is simple: Put the smaller bore near the mouth hole and the larger bore at the end of the flute. Traditionally, the large and small ends were reversed.

In the key of D, this new flute has a headjoint that is connected to the body by metal tenon and socket. The dimension of the headjoint is the same as that of the modern silver flute headjoint with a taper that Boehm called a parabola. The body is cylindrical throughout and 19 mm in diameter. There are six large finger holes; each represents a step in the diatonic scale. The embouchure hole measured slightly less than the 10 mm x 12 mm Boehm suggested. The preference for a smaller embouchure is personal.

What this new bamboo flute could do is amazing. It has better internal intonation and octave tuning than a regular bamboo flute. On a regular bamboo flute, the octave becomes smaller as one goes up the scale. The high notes are flat compared to the same notes an octave lower. The flattening effect becomes more pronounced after G. The player must adjust the pitch by changing his lip opening, air pressure, or blowing angle. Although pitch correction is something that all good players do constantly, my new bamboo flute allows for less work.

The new flute is also louder and has a wide dynamic range. The tenon and socket design allows for headjoint exchange and fine-tuning. The range extends to the third octave A and beyond.

Well, the ultimate question is: Does it sound like a bamboo flute?

I must be honest. It doesn’t exactly sound like a good old bamboo flute. It wouldn’t because its tone production is based on a completely new set of acoustic rules. Boehm was asked the same question when he invented his flute in 1847. His flute sounded nothing like the flutes in his days. His intention was not to copy the sound of those flutes. He wanted to create something new and different. It becomes an innovation that changed the landscape of music. My new flute is different than the regular bamboo flute; it has a very unique sound, a clean sound with stronger higher-overtones than the regular bamboo flute; it also sounds less breathy and more open.

Canadian flutemaker Jean-François Beaudin makes a “modern traverso” based on the same basic bore acoustics by Boehm. It’s worth checking it out.

For more information please e-mail david at sideblown dot com