If you are considering purchasing a new or second-hand shakuhachi through an auction site or from a private party on the worldwide web, careful scrutiny is recommended. Bear in mind that most any flute will play and produce a sound. The question is, how well and is it worth the price being asked by the seller?
In Japan, students of the traditional music usually rely on their teachers to pick out instruments for them. Because a shakuhachi is old or the bamboo looks nice does not assure that it will perform well or even adequately. With so many flutes being offered via the Internet nowadays, it is difficult, if not impossible, for folks to make accurate assessments and informed decisions.
Over the last few years, I have been asked to make such evaluations for several prospective buyers as well as for players insuring their instruments. If you are considering a purchase and would like to know more about the flute, I would be glad to provide complete assessment of its acoustical and aesthetic qualities. Every effort will be made to be as thorough and objective as possible. A signed, dated statement will be provided.
There is no charge for this service other than the cost of return shipping.
In evaluating a shakuhachi two criteria are considered: bamboo aesthetics and craftsmanship along with performance and acoustical issues. The latter criterion takes into account pitch, timbre and resonance of the flute.
Pitch is a simple determination of whether the instrument is in tune or not with standard Western frequencies. If not, which notes are sharp or flat and what can be done to correct the problems. Generally, pitch is determined by the relative size and position of the finger holes, but can be affected by resonance issues as well.
Timbre or tone color ("neiro", in Japanese) is largely determined by the overall design of the bore and essentially a matter of personal taste. Timbre translates into harmonic configuration or the spectrum of frequencies that make up each individual tone. Not much can be done to alter this aspect of the a flute without completely redesigning and rebuilding the bore. Each traditional maker tends to have a recognizable quality of sound in this regard.
Resonance is clearly the most important issue involved in assessing acoustical and performance qualities of a shakuhachi. It is the domain in which most instruments are likely to exhibit problems, but also one that is most correctable. Resonance governs how much air the flute will accept and how hard the sound can be pushed. Any shakuhachi, including the most primitive plastic plumbing pipe models, will perform adequately in this area if the player blows softly. As more air is introduced into the bore and blowing becomes more intense, the higher partials or overtones of the sound are exercised giving the shakuhachi its distinctive ringing tone. If the bore profile of an instrument is not properly designed and rendered to a very precise shape, there are acoustical consequences. Unwanted vibrato, notes jumping into higher octaves, instability and weakness of tone and, in extreme case, the inability to produce a clear sound at all are just a few manifestations of resonance problems. This is an aspect in assessing and grading the quality of a shakuhachi that represents the greatest challenge to traditional makers.
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