Dimensions for a PVC F3 flute

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010 | Uncategorized

Hi everyone! A few months ago I told you how delighted I was after building my first bass/baratone flute in F3 (175 Hz). Several folks contacted me from my Native American Flute Wood Working Yahoo group or at my blog asking for dimensions. I must say that every flute seems to have a mind of its own, so if you want a finely tuned instrument you are going to have to start with smaller holes and tune carefully… however, these dimensions will get you close! These dimensions are from my 6th F3 flute, so the hole sizes are getting pretty consistent after tuning – Yea!

I made my F3s from 1.5″ Sch 40 PVC. The kind I bought is about 1.6″ true inner diameter with .15″ walls. It has a tough, shiny white exterior unlike some “flat” finished PVC that easily scratches and gets dirty like flat paint. This stuff is easy to wipe off and does not scratch easily. I belive the brand is Cresline (hard to read…).

In a recent exchange with Mike Jones from my group, he mentioned that an average human can not easily play holes spaced more that 1.6″ apart… so, if you glance at the finger space chart below, clearly there is something going on here! I accomplish the 3.38″ reach by moving the holes around the circumference, by skipping fingers and by placing holes 3 and 6 180 degrees around to the back! I play them with my thumbs. The right thumb plays easily, but I am still fairly sloppy with the left thumb. For some reason the left thumb is just not so eager to jump off the hole, so I get a pitchy note or sloppy transition. I am hoping to add a support ring or hand strap like bassoons have to convince the thumb that it can let go!

Keep in mind that almost every flute I make is tuned to a diatonic scale… Even my shakuhachis! So, these will not work with traditional fingerings. Nor are they like recorders. They are really like Irish tin “whistles”. In steps it is whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half – just like the white keys on a piano in the key of C. To play in various “modes”, such as the minor pentatonic, I keep some holes covered and play some together (e.g. 2&3 together and 6 covered). (6 hole NAFs also keep certain holes covered except for cross fingering.) Of course, some other NAF/NASF builders also tune to a diatonic scale. I am sure that the flute builders group members could use flute-o-mat to redesign this for a more familiar NAF tuning schema if you want to.

There is no way I could reach the holes if I was trying to blow into the end of this thing! After all, the kids call her Big Bertha… So, I used a couple of 3/8″ 90 deg elbows and some white 3/8″ tubing to make a 9″ blow tube. I drilled a hole in the SAC and pressed the elbow in. I use a little heat to install the elbows onto the tubing and I put a little soft tubing on the very end to avoid the sharp ridges on my lips. I can pop mine off and put on a new one if some one else wants to try playing it – fun! It is nice being able to adjust the position and tilt of the blow tube. It turned out that an end cap for 1″ PVC makes a perfect end cover internal plug for the SAC! I routed a little channel and installed an o-ring to make a tight seal. I pop the top off to blow out condensation and for drying out. You can see more pics of F3 #1 a few posts back and I have not changed it much.

F3 (175), 1.6″ Dia, 32.17″ bore, K1=.5, k2~=3″, Flue 1″, 3/8″@45deg SAC vent

hole       4 winds   1       2       3       4       5       6       TSH
Pitch                G 196   A 220   Bb 233  C 262   D 294   E 330
From end   3.50      9.75    13.13   14.44   18.06   20.72   23.22   36.09
Finger Span          3.38     1.31            2.66    2.50
Hole Dia    .53       .50      .57     .48     .56     .50     .50   .22x.60
Hole placement       R.65            Rear     L.60           Rear

I took about 25 hours work to create my first “cheap” F3… my wife wants to know what I pay myself per hour… ya’know? Someone asked me how much I would charge for one and I said $1250. After the guy picked himself up off the floor I said, “well you have to remember that the PVC only cost $2, so I can keep the materials charge way down.” I had to duck after that…

F3 Bass Flute 70

F3 Bass Flute 70

C4 VT001_SouPine
OK, so now I am able to crank them out at the astonishing rate of only 6 hours, so maybe $300? Some how I doubt people will pay $300 for a $2 PVC pipe… oh well… this is art, not business… They would probably walk away if I said $25! Now, I could probably build a $25 PVC flute in 30 min, but I would not guarantee that it would sound like an instrument!

Here is a little sound sample of my 3rd F3 playing a background and my new C4 (wood veneer) playing a lead over it. Very fun.

(Click to play mp3)

C4 and F3 Duet (Improv)


2 Comments to Dimensions for a PVC F3 flute

Tom Zimmerman
August 18, 2010

Hi Charlie,

Your link came up on my daily search for all things NAF related.

Nice work on the Big Bertha flute. Your comment about the amount of time and effort required reminded me of my buddy who just built me a cigar box guitar to accompany me on NAF (loops, or digital samples).
Thought you might enjoy reading about how “simple” it is to build – http://www.folkcafe.com/?page_id=280

Tnaks again for making the world a better place.



Cool Tom! Thanks! I think we forget that time is our only real currency. The beauty we spend it on is the important thing. The cigar box turned out nice! I will be making some bass flutes from walnut veneer tubing soon… stay tuned in a month or so.

michael beck wilkins
August 18, 2010

they sound beautiful! I will be attempting to make one of the low flutes,

I have made Uilleann pipes for 30 years now retired disabled and just like to plod away making flutes, we timed the making of a full set of Uilleann (Irish )pipes and it came out at 400 hours that is with all tooling jigs reamers long boring tools etc. already made just working on making them, it is hard to price something you just love making,


Thanks Michael! Be sure to get a good fundamental tuning with the sound hole and “4 winds” before trying to tune the monster! Do not be discouraged if you have to build a few… make one then use what you learn to improve the next one. It is part of the beauty of cheap PVC!.

I fell in love with Uilleann pipes when I saw River Dance… I realized that I loved them already but did not realize that the sound I loved was not a soft “war pipe” – ya’know? I looked at plans to build some (PVC of course) but never got around to it… I did get a practice chanter… can’t play it worth a toot! Charlie

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