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Comments on Mark Shepard’s

Plumber’s Pipe


You are a life saver!!! My 8th grade daughter came home from school today to inform me that she had to make a homemade woodwind instrument. . . . She had known for 2 weeks and somehow she forgot!!!! It was due the next morning!!!! I went on the internet and found a site on how to make a bamboo flute. I just happened to have tiki lights made out of bamboo and tried. . . . We tried bamboo, 2 different bottles, a paper towel holder, and I thought of PVC pipe. I had a piece. All miserable failures. My husband just so happens to be a plumber. What luck!!! I had already searched science project website and Ask.com with no luck and decided to just type in “making a woodwind instrument” in my search engine. Lo and behold, there you were!!!!! We had some supplies and went to the local hardware and in about 1/2 hour had 2 flutes!!! That WORKED!!!!!

She was so grateful and relieved. . . . So were we!!! I want him to make one for me so I can learn how to play. THANK YOU SO MUCH. . . . For you to share that with the world and not charge anything for it, is a gift! A very much appreciated gift, Mark. . . .

Pam Leffakis


I know nothing about music, *BUT* your website saved me and my Daughter. She is 11 years old in the 6th grade. Her “music” Teacher assigned her the task of making an instrument. The Teacher (I must use caps with “teacher”....) gave her four catagories: “Basic body construction, Sound Source, Playability, Beauty”. I had no clue what to do. I figured we could get some hard sticks and varnish and stain them, smack ’em together and she was done. No. My Daughter says she wants to make a “flute.” Anyway, in desperation I typed into Yahoo search something like “simple flute” or “making a flute.” I don’t remember. We find you and your wonderful web site. Anyway, we tried to buy the book at B&N in Temecula, California. No stock, can get in 7 days. They checked other stores with the same result. Amazon wanted my first-born to have it here on Tuesday. No way, even if the assignment is due on Thursday. I went back to the web. By the above searches or some very close we found you (again). I went through everything and found the pdf for the “Plumber’s Pipe.” We followed the directions and when finished, I gave it a go: “whooooooogggggg”, “whoooooooogggggsssssssh”. Frustration. I go back to the drawing thinking maybe on the mouth part you reversed the “Hole Distance” and “Hole Size” numbers as the hole I drilled (accurate) took out part of the wall of the end cap and did not leave a clean cylindrical hole, nor did it look centered in the end cap like the illustration on page “4 of 4” as the hole was much closer to the end of the pipe. I figured after 3 hours (we had to go to the hardware store), I had just blown it or it didn’t work.

Enter my wife: Apparently, her Sister played the flute and my wife had some experience also. After 5 minutes of trying, suddenly there was music in my house ! It was coming from the pipe. My wife could play the first “octave” up and down. I was transfixed. Next my Daughter tries and she can get the first two notes. I could not believe it. I tried again - “whooooooooooggggshhh”. Some people may just not be able to play the flute....... Anyway, we are thinking of ways to decorate the “flute” so she can get the “Beauty” portion of her grade, but the grade dosen’t really matter anymore because my Daughter is so happy with her flute and the “music” she is making with it . I suspect she will have that “Plumber’s Pipe” the rest of her life and we had fun making it together. She is determined to get the first octave, up and down, by Thursday. Thank you, Mark.

The Honeycutts


I am recently retired (as of June 2005) after spending 44 years playing in the flute section of the Cleveland Orchestra. I made several Plumber’s Pipes a few years ago and gave one each to the other members of the flute section. At my retirement party, I was amazed that our piccoloist, Mary Kay Fink, had her husband, Nick, arrange “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” for three Plumber’s Pipes, which they played magnificently! Bravo to you and to them!

John Rautenberg


Mark, I just received your Plumber’s Pipe and must say it’s a “Gas.” . . . I play both Boehm, wood, silver, etc., flute and simple system vintage pieces. . . . Your Plumber’s Pipe is the most fun I’ve had in some time. . . . I also do music programs for preschool children and see over 400 kids a week. . . . Needless to say, I will be bringing my (your) Plumber’s Pipe to visit all these young talents. . . . THANK YOU FOR THIS SUPERB CONCEPT!!!!!

Jerry Schurr


I use your PVC pipe flute guide as an additional reference for Professor Dave Douglass’s physics class at University of Rochester. Every year, one lab project for “Physics of Music” is to make a PVC pipe flute. I’m the honorary assistant who has been “teaching” the students to play (blow, finger) after the flutes are made. Your guide is helpful, a nice supplement to the more detailed lab manual in this college physics course.

Sally Ann Hart


My daughter and I made one of your PVC flutes for her 5th grade science class. It had an amazingly on-pitch scale. I gave it to a local science museum that does outreach programs at schools about a variety of topics including sound, acoustics and musical instruments.

THANK YOU for the fantastic PVC flute patterns!!!

Meg Noah


As a lifelong fan of the group Jethro Tull, I always had a yearning to try to emulate Ian Anderson’s wonderful mastery of the flute. Unfortunately, I have never been able to justify spending the requisite amount of money needed to acquire an instrument. Several months ago, however, whilst searching the ’net for Tull-related material, I found your website. I was immediately intrigued—a flute made from plastic overflow pipe, surely it could never work!

Intrigued, I ordered your book Simple Flutes, and on its arrival proceeded to my local D.I.Y emporium to acquire the necessary materials. Some improvisation was necessary, as we have abandoned inches here in the U.K., therefore I purchased a length of 22mm pipe and a coupler (we do not seem to have ‘stop ends’ for this size pipe—therefore a modification has to be made to add a closed end to the coupler).

On my return home I immediately set to work converting your imperial measurements to metric and proceeded to construct a ‘metric’ version of your design. On completion, I blew the instrument as instructed by your book...... first nothing.... then..... a note, absolutely amazing! [See the plans at www.geocities.com/plasticflute.—Mark]

Since then , I have progressed to playing a few bars of tunes which are familiar to me (over and over again, to the obvious annoyance of my family).

The greatest thrill was on Christmas morning, I opened a parcel from my wife, and found .. A Trevor James Student Model Flute!

I am now grappling with the ‘real’ flute, safe in the knowledge that I CAN blow a note.

Gary Hardman


I am a high school junior, and our most recent physics project was to construct a variety of musical instruments and play them/explain them to the class. My group used the plumbers pipe as one of our instruments, and we have been very impressed. A little hard to get the hang of playing, but it clicked real soon! It sounds so grand and pure. Thanks Mark!

Chris H.


Many months ago I found your site on line and made a six-hole flute based on one of your designs. I have since then built many more and even have a big bore eight-hole flute that sounds great. This is just a thank you for the journey you helped me get started. I am even looking to make a wooden flute in time. Thank you.

Steve Morley


I was so eager to try out your design, I rushed off to the Do-It-Yourself store. Not all the things seemed to be available there, but I will probably find them at proper merchants—i.e. I could not find a suitable end cap. They all seemed to be the speed-fit type, not at all suitable. So I jammed a piece of broom handle about an inch down the pipe and took the measurement from there. I also could not find all the drill sizes, so had to use what was available. We have gone all metric, and the sizes seemed to go up in about 1/16ths, skipping some of the sizes. Anyway, I have just been playing a simple tune on what was a piece of plumber’s pipe an hour ago. I am a complete beginner, but I got as good a sound out of it as out of my £400 flute. Not bad for less than £1.

George Dyson (United Kingdom)


I found your site yesterday. Last night I went home and made a “Plumber’s Pipe” from your instructions, it works great! I have never touched a flute before in my life, and I am already playing simple melodies. Thanks for introducing me to this wonderful instrument!

Daniel B. Wilson


I am an adolescent person and I play first flute in a slightly deranged but very talented band. I’m also very handy and creative and like to work with my hands. The plumber’s pipe is a great creation, you designed it very well. The deep embouchure hole is a very good idea, it helps create a richer, darker, “creamier” sound whereas many flutes have a birdish airy tone. The material (PVC) is a good idea too, I think the player has a lot more influence on the timbre of the flute than the material. Not to mention that polyvinyl chloride is much easier for someone like me (i.e. someone with very little money) to get their hands on than African blackwood. I also don’t think that a nearly extinct African blackwood tree should have to sacrifice itself so that I can have a flute. Thank you for the plumber’s pipe.

PS: This is interesting, you can bend PVC or CPVC if you soak it in acetone, which is used as a nail polish remover.

Justin Lake


After reading the Web page on the Plumber’s Pipe, my dad and I went out and bought lots of CPVC pipe from the local True Value store. I didn’t expect much at first, and my trumpet teacher was certain I wouldn’t get the math right for placing the holes. Well, we followed your G-flute instructions exactly and ended up with perfect-sounding flutes. I even took one to school and showed it off in all of my classes! Some friends of mine who play in a rock band thought it was so cool, they want me on a song with the PVC flute. My chemistry teacher was discussing long organic molecules that day, mentioned the structure of PVC, and said to the class, “You can make flutes out of this.”

My Spanish teacher wanted some flutes for his entire family, so we made some “junior flutes” with smaller finger holes. They’re getting pretty good with their sounds. Next I tried varying the hole sizes on mine to get more accurate cross-fingerings for B-flat and the other notes. I made piccolos in C (1/2 inch pipe), soprano flutes in G (3/4”), alto flutes in D (1”), and even a bass flute in low G (1.5”)! Even on the bass flute, I can make good sound from low G up to second-octave B, just about the range of the vocal bass. The high notes don’t come out at all on the bass, so I’ll try a 1-1/4” pipe next time.

Anyway, I really want to thank you for having the information available. It was easy, satisfying, and gave me something to do on the weekends when all my friends go up to the mountain to snowboard. (I’d do it too if not for a bad knee.) With a little experimenting, I’ll be able to play Quantz and Bach on these flutes—they’re so wonderfully versatile!

With great thanks and wishes,

Eric N. Gross


Hi, I’m a middle-aged guy with moderate skills with tools. I closely followed your instructions for making a flute out of CPVC pipe. Frankly, I wasn’t expecting much as far as tone or playability go, but, boy, was I pleasantly surprised! I’ve only been playing for three months, so maybe I’m not an expert, but it is the best-sounding, loudest, and easiest-playing flute I’ve tried. I have a couple of bamboo flutes which sound great but don’t have much volume and are very difficult to maintain a good tone with.

I laugh every time I look at it, because it is such a simple thing, easy to make, and cheap, yet it’s such a joy to play. I just had to say thanks for making it available, and tell you what a good design it is.

Allan


My wife was planning to have her high-school physics students build PVC flutes, so we tried a couple of search engines and found your Plumber’s Pipe instructions. We built one at home and it works great. I think it will be a good project for her students. I’m enjoying playing mine, too.

Keith


I’ve just got to tell someone, so I decided to tell you. When I came home yesterday, my hubby surprised me with a flute he had made himself!! Now, I’ve played clarinet/flute/sax for about 22 years but haven’t done so lately (as I have recently acquired two young children, and my (Yamaha) flute needs a major repadding job). My hubby, on the other hand, has never successfully played anything other than a tape recorder, but has always had secret dreams of playing flute. Well, last night he made FOUR flutes (Plumber’s Pipes) and is actually getting some tone out of his!!!

Michelle


Thanks so much. I was attempting to justify purchasing a “real” flute when I ran across the “Plumber’s Pipe.” At a party last night, they were a real hit! About US$20,000 (at least) of guitars around, and I’ve got a top-notch concert guitarist (who shall remain namesless) sipping single malt and tooting a 50-cent flute!

You’ve made a real musical contribution here. I’m going to whip up as many flutes and piccolos as I can today and put them in my car. I’ll give them away. So many people think playing music is something other people do.

Steve


Thank you for putting your Plumber’s Pipe on your Web page and sharing your knowledge with everyone. I have been collecting simple flutes, but haven’t had the info necessary to construct my own. Was planning on buying some books (well, I still will, as I would like to learn the math involved and a few other things), but it was going to be a little while before I could dedicate the time and money. (I don’t go into things halfway.) Now I’m just itching to make more.

Made three flutes yesterday. One for myself, one for my daughter, and one for a little friend of hers who was spending the night. Both girls plan on playing flute in band next fall, and I think the experience with your Plumber’s Pipe this summer will be great for them. Also, they had an incredibly fun time decorating their instruments. (Well, actually, so did I.) All three instruments turned out nearly perfect. (Only minor adjustments for tuning purposes—they were just ever so slightly flat.)

While at the plumbing place, one of the employees just had to know what I was doing with three end caps and that small amount of hot-water pipe. Next thing I know, he’s telling another employee what I’m doing, and they beg me to bring a flute back for them to see. This morning, they were so impressed. Turns out the original employee who was questioning me is studying to be a teacher. He wants interesting ideas to get students involved in music and wondered if I could get a copy for him. Several others want one for themselves. (They wanted to hear it, and that sort of drew a crowd, which led to quite a few people becoming aware of this flute.) It looks and sounds really great for less than US$2 worth of materials. So I guess they’ll have to make photocopies for everyone. Gee, I wonder if this town has enough pipe? Many people around here are musically inclined and are into making things themselves, so I don’t doubt that this will soon be a common instrument at various local celebrations.

Similar experiences happened at the place I got the odd-sized drill bits and at the two places I purchased the stuff to decorate the flutes with. Tonight, who knows how many people in our town are making flutes?

Anyway, I wanted to thank you for all the fun you’ve brought to everyone here and to future generations of beginning music students. These flutes are such a kick!

* * *

[Two days later:]

What did you use to decorate the flutes?

The CPVC is an off-white (pale yellowish-tan) and looked sort of like wood to us after it had been sanded. My daughter chose to go with a Native American theme (leather strips, pheasant feather and wooden beads dangling from the end, little blue glass “jewels,” and a small sunflower). It’s “cool” looking, as her friends say. Her friend went with a more classic look—black and gold ribbon wrapped around the length (sort of candy-cane style), and gold cord on both ends to finish it. It looks quite elegant. I chose to paint mine to look as though it is wrapped in ivy with gold-trimmed leaves. (BTW, it wasn’t easy to find a fixative spray for that pipe.) Three very different looks.

It’s really unbelievable to people that they are made out of hot-water pipe, and when you play one, their mouths drop open every time. (I don’t think they expect them to sound like “real” flutes.) Of course, I’ve been playing woodwinds for years, so I can get the flutes to sound like something, but the girls are still working on their embouchures.

The local Internet provider (whom my husband works for) wants me to display the flutes at the next merchants’ fair, in their booth. Hmm, free booth space, make a little money, and have fun doing it. . . . I’m sure I’ll have no shortage of little helpers.

Lynn H.


Plumber’s Pipe Instructions