****Deciding what you want****

There are many kinds of panpipes, panflutes etc.
Generally, they can be divided into two traditional categories, straight, and curved.

1) Straight style includes traditional South American (Andean) pan pipes, (siku, rondador, zampona etc.) These are much easier to make, and harder to play than curved ones. They are usually more primitive than the good curved ones, but quite appropriate for South American music.

2) The curved ones match the turning of the head, allowing faster, more accurate and more comfortable technique, and they are stronger. However, they are harder to make and therefore cost more. Romanian style pan flutes are almost always made with the bamboo scraped, to remove the natural "enamel". This is to give a smoother, creamier, more consistent appearance, and it does not affect the sound, however, it does make them more expensive, because of the labour involved.

Below are some straight panpipes and a curved one on the right.

South American panpipes tend to have narrower tubes and less change in diameter than the Romanian style (on right). This helps give them their special windy quality, emphasizing the overtones of a tube, by softening the fundamental (main) tone. Such a pan flute may have very windy low notes.

Note: ALL traditional Romanian/European-style pan flutes have tubes with varying diameters which go from wide to narrow, as you go up the scale! This is to maintain the volume/length ratio of the tube and produce the best consistent tone quality. Too thin low tubes tend to have very weak and windy fundamental tones (the main note), and too thick high tubes tend to get unstable and also too windy. The pan flute is the only hand-held instrument that can do this with. (the organ is another non-hand-held) Such pan flutes normally have at least 20 tubes. You can make a pan flute with all tubes the same, but then it is NOT a Romanian-style pan flute. Such pan flutes take more work for the player to maintain consistent tone. Tube cross-sectional area, therefore, should vary on any pan flute of more than about 10 or 12 tubes!

The Straight Goods about Straight Panpipes

Most South American ones are straight and made of a lightweight cane. They can be single row, or double row. The double row often has pipes for the accidentals, (sharps and flats), like a piano keyboard, requiring jumping from row to row to play all the notes. They can have anywhere from about 8 up to 25 or more tubes. You may have to re-tune these, as they can be sold as souvenirs more than for playing. Watch for cracked tubes! You can test by covering a tube with your mouth and blowing into it while listening for leaks. You can feel a pressure build-up in this test if there are no leaks. Cost for these can be from $10 - $50 or so. Often they are available in specialty stores selling South American items. Be careful that the blowing edge is smooth, or you can hurt your lip.

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  • Andean wind instruments,,

    A nicely finished edge of a good curved panflute. Note that the tubes are not just "rounded side to rounded side", but have been flattened to fit together closely. They are glued, not tied together, too.

    Notice the curves and the diameters on fine pan flutes.

    NOTE: You can play South American music on a curved Romanian/European panflute, but it would be very difficult to play much classical or Romanian or fast popular music on a South American one. Of course, each music requires a different style: vibrato, tonguing etc. Romanian style pan flutes are tuned in a regular "diatonic" scale, but by tilting and angling the lips and instrument, you can play a full chromatic scale.

    * How Much? For a decent 22 tubed panflute you can pay from $150 (minimum) up to $1500 or so, depending on the store, the maker, the decoration etc. A few hundred should get you a very good one. $1500 should get you a masterpiece! A 29 tubed one can more than double that, as the large tubes are harder to find and take more work.

    * Are all good panflutes bamboo? No. There are very good ones made from drilled wood, but again, the quality is variable. Be sure that there are smooth variations in the diameters of tubes, inside and outside. Still, the "best" panflutes are mostly made from hard bamboo. It is also possible to make a decent panflute out of plastic, or brass, or glass, or other materials, each with its own sound and its own challenges.

    * Are they tuned with corks? Some yes, some no. If the bottom has a base, it will be very difficult to change the tuning if there are corks. Panflutes tuned with wax (the traditional and probably best way) can be retuned fairly quickly. Some unusual pan flutes have sliding plugs in the bottom to change keys. These are fairly rare, and there are good ones and bad ones...! Take a look at this maker's tunable pan flutes. Panex

    * What musical key should it be tuned to? Traditional panflutes are tuned in G major, and some books are written for that tuning. However, C major is the other logical choice for most people, and perhaps best for people not playing traditional Romanian music.

    *Are the long tubes on the player's right or left? With Romanian-style, they are usually on the right. Some makers, (such as Kevin Budd) make them both ways. If you already play piano or harmonica, you will already think of low notes as being on the left.

    * Does a panflute need to have a base? No. Having a base, (bottom, front and back and ends) will make it stronger and give some area for decoration, but there are very good panflutes with only a bottom piece, and some (less attractive) open on the bottom too.

    * What else should I look for? Consistent construction, (no tubes that are very different than the others) a knowledgeable maker or seller who can respond to your questions.

    * Any warnings? Beware of stores that sell many instruments...they may not know much about anything. Very few people know much about pan flutes...especially if they are self-taught. Ask questions! Try it if possible! Some "experts" may really be flute players who think they therefore can easily play a panflute...they can't. I say this since I was a flute player for many years! I also played trumpet for some years, and playing trumpet can actually help more with focus and lip control than flute playing.

    Beware of sound samples that have a lot of reverb, vibrato, and short notes. You can only tell an instrument's sound with no reverb, no vibrato and good long tones.

    * Do I need several panflutes to play in different keys? Not unless you are doing a lot of playing in unusual keys. A good player can can play in several keys at least. This is a big challenge with the instrument, but worth it!

    Do tubes split or crack? Rarely. If you oil the inside of the tubes once or twice a year, (almond oil) the pan flute should last many years. Keep it away from sudden changes in temperature or humidity and especially extreme dryness. Badly damaged tubes CAN be replaced. Don't sit on it, or leave it in a hot car on a sunny day!

    *How do you do vibrato on a pan flute? South American style is throat or stomach tremelo. It varies (mainly) the volume but not the pitch. See this little picture for Romanian style vibrato. It sounds more like a singer, and varies the pitch, or frequency too. The hand holding the short tubes does the rhythmical movement, after a tilting/angling shift.

    * How do you make a panflute? This is far too complicated to explain easily. The best resource is to look in the "panflute_world" message base. See my main page for the link, or go to "" and search for the name. Also look at David Pighills' fine page:DP


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