Q7: Should I be concerned about my flute splitting? What are the advantages of ordering a shakuhachi with the optional binding?
A: An all-too-common scenario is for someone to purchase a very expensive shakuhachi in Japan, return to the States and - within a week or two - have the flute not only crack, but virtually self-destruct! I've handled many a telephone call with an urgent request for help and the caller nearly in tears. Most often, the instrument can be fixed, but occasionally it is beyond repair.
Bamboo is one of the strongest natural fibers on Earth. Cohesion between those fibers - along the grain of the culm or stalk - however, is quite weak. The columnar structure of bamboo, which expands and contracts with changes in temperature and humidity, add to its propensity for splitting. Shakuhachi are particularly prone to cracking due to the thick-walled structure of madakÈ. (The coefficient of expansion varies considerably between the interior and exterior circumference of the culm.) One of the reasons shakuhachi are not often found in music stores is this tendency to self-destruct when imported to the relatively dry climate of North America. (Not to mention the curse of central heating.)
Shakuhachi can be oiled, kept in a case or humidifier and otherwise handled with care, but binding the bamboo is the only real insurance against splitting. Bands applied at great tensile strength along the length of the flute keep the bamboo from expanding beyond its natural tolerance to split.
An unanticipated benefit of the precision casting method has been to provide greater structural integrity to the shakuhachi. The bore all Tai Hei Shakuhachi are cast with epoxy resin which has a far greater stability and internal adhesion than tonoko (a compound of grout and plaster) which is used in traditional Japanese flutes. The bore and bamboo literally bond into a single, solid mass. Since coming up with the precision cast bore method in 1987, not one of the bound flute I have made has been returned in an unplayable condition. (Even unbound instruments appear to be highly resistant to cracking.) Tai Hei Shakuhachi bound at the time of purchase are guaranteed for life against this occurrence. This guarantee is unheard of for shakuhachi made in Japan. While the bamboo itself my crack, the instrument will not leak air into the bore rendering the flute unplayable.
The only objection to binding occasionally expressed has to do with aesthetics and a preference for the unencumbered look and feel of natural bamboo. Quite recently, I have offered an option for inlayed binding which mitigates some of these objections.
Click here for information about caring for your shakuhachi flute.