As the new year begins, I thought it would be a good time to post an inventory of my shakuhachis. Last year, I had four shakuhachis, and have acquired new instruments since then, and sold one.
The shakuhachi seems to be an instrument that inspires acquisitiveness. Many players have multiple instruments (my teacher has about three dozen). In some cases, this is more or less necessary; there are pieces that are supposed to be played on instruments of different lengths.
A different length shakuhachi has different tones; not exactly like western keys, but since shakuhachi music is scored using a sort of tablature, and you play the same fingerings for a piece on a flute of any length, this means that the same piece of music on a different length flute is effectively in a different key.
I currently have six shakuhachis (click the photo to see a larger version):
From bottom to top:
- This is a 2.2 jinashi by Jose Vargas. I wanted a longer flute, but it’s a bit long for me to play with my limited skills. The right-hand position is a bit hard for me to get used to. (I should probably have gotten a 2.0 to start with longer flutes.)
- This 2.0 flute was made by my shakuhachi hero Kodama Hiroyuki. As you can see, it is as thick as the 2.2, and has very dense bamboo. Its sound is rich and full, and it is my favorite flute.
- This 1.8 shakuhachi was made by Jose Vargas. When I bought it, a couple of months ago, I had been essentially playing the 2.0 and 2.2, and wanted a 1.8 jinashi. I love the subtle curve in the bamboo; it gives it a sexy look. It is very light, and very easy to play.
- This is the first flute I bought, a 1.8 jiari by Jem Klein. It’s a bit heavier than I would like, but I very much like the feel and the sound of this instrument.
- I bought this 1.8 Edo period jinashi shakuhachi very cheaply on eBay. It’s probably not a great shakuhachi, but I wanted to have an old instrument out of curiosity. I haven’t played it much, but I do like the esthetics of this darker flute.
- This is Jon Kypros’s Bell shakuhachi. It’s a 1.8 copy of a jinashi flute, and I very much like it. It’s very inexpensive, and would be the ideal flute for a beginner. If it had existed when I started playing, I certainly would have gotten this first. (I actually sold this to someone who is just starting out shortly after I wrote this post.)
I really only play the top three flutes, all jinashis. I prefer the sound of the jinashi, and all three of these have really grown on me as I have played them. It’s interesting how the sound of a jinashi changes as it gets played; as the bamboo absorbs humidity from the breath. This was especially noticeable with the 2.0, which sounded a bit dry for the first month or so.
This year, I want to try to get a longer flute: perhaps a 2.5. I tried out a 2.4 by Kodama, but it was uncomfortable. I have large hands, and with a long flute, I need the holes to be offset, which was not the case with the one I tried. I know some makers will make a flute more or less to measure; you trace your hands on paper, and they can use that to position the holes.
I would also love to get a flute by my other shakuhachi hero, and my teacher’s teacher: Okuda Atsuya. He makes a lot of flutes, but doesn’t seem to go out of his way to sell them. I’ll have to try to convince my teacher to get me one.