Bamboo Irish flute?

Bamboo Irish flute?

Beginner question alert!
So today I ran across a lady who makes Irish Flutes from bamboo. They’re all one piece and very lightweight, but they produce a really nice sound. (This may get me into playing the flute, I tried out a couple and she’s making a high D right now). I’m wondering if anyone’s played a flute like this and if they can hold up to session use? Bamboo seems like it’d be a bit brittle and would deteriorate faster than some other wood. What’s the care for a simple, one-piece Irish flute like? These are handmade and hand tuned. I could get a solid 2 octavesn. High c and d were a bit hard to get but again I don’t really play the flute.
The lady also knows a few folks who play music around here and I can finally (maybe) find folks to do a session with.

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Re: Bamboo Irish flute?

Never used one, but they have been made and used. Sarah Allan of Flook played one for a while, I think, and Olwell made them for a time.

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Re: Bamboo Irish flute?

Bamboo is a decent material for a flute, if it’s carefully selected and dried. One problem you might run into is intonation between the first and second octaves, where a conical bore "Irish" wooden flute can do a better job. Since it probably doesn’t have a tuning slide, you’ll want to make sure you can play reasonably close to A440 pitch, to match everyone else in a session. Sometimes "ethnic design" flutes aren’t especially well-intonated, and designed more for solo playing than in a group.

If you have a digital tuner, or a tuner app on your phone, try checking the frequency of the first octave A note, and see how close the notes match in both octaves. It can be tricky to check the pitch of a flute on a digital tuner because it can vary with your embouchure, but that should give you a rough idea of whether it’s a good session flute.

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I have a few Bamboo flutes by Billy Miller, and found them to be very good players. Also a couple of ones made by Patrick Olwell, which are nothing short of exceptional. I believe Barna Gabos makes a range of them, and although highly recommended, I have no experience of his flutes personally. They kick out much more power than a low whistle for example, on par with many hardwood flutes, and are suitable players in sessions. Other than a very occasional drop of bore oil, I find them very easy to maintain. Here’s a clip of Brian Finnegan showing what can be done with an Olwell Bamboo flute in F. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MW18di2WhL4

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I have no idea regarding the quality of the flutes made by this lady you encountered, but my point is they can be wonderful session flutes if professionally made, but there are many out there that are not. If you know an experienced flute player, you could ask him/her to give an appraisal before buying. Another thing to bear in mind is that the stretch between tone holes on cylindrical flutes is greater than on the conical bore ones, especially on the lower pitch examples. Good Luck.

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Don’t buy bamboo. It does not provide good tone, pitch or volume, which is why few make them and few play them for Irish music. If you are not willing to spend at least what you would for a decent bicycle, flute is not for you. Delrin is ok; hardwood is better. You don’t need to go all out, but bamboo for Irish is, imo, the bottom of the barrel.

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I would disagree, Ailin. I have owned and played a Barna Gabos bamboo in E. I was perfectly in tune, had a tuning slide and solid tone. Easy to play and very responsive. But I also wonder if the OP actually mean whistle not flute. There’s mention of the lady is going to make a high D. I have never heard of a high D flute..

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I don’t what is wrong with Ailin. He must be a contrarian. I have been playing bamboo flutes, among others, for over thirty years now. No problems. Not a single crack or warp. My Olwell bamboo flutes are in tune and have great tone.
I doubt that Ailin followed the link to Brian Finnegan playing his Olwell bamboo flute. Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull) also plays bamboo flutes. Maybe Ailin should tell Brian and Ian that bamboo isn’t any good for flute material?
Ailin seems to be a continual source of confusion and contradiction.

(Ketil: Ralph Sweet made a high-pitched maple D flute. It is very shrill and very loud but it plays fine for what it is.)

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I agree that bamboo as a material is no reason to avoid the flute the OP is talking about (although most of us will still prefer wood for one reason or another).

I think the main thing to be sure of, is that it’s actually in good enough pitch and intonation to play with others in an Irish session. There are a lot of "ethnic" bamboo flutes being sold that don’t fit that description.

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Come, come, David. There are certainly better and worse bamboo flutes, but I think it is safe to say you don’t play one routinely. I am emphatic because I hate to see a new player encouraged to buy something few of us would use at a session and virtually none perform with. Ian Anderson only uses bamboo occasionally for its ethnic quality, not because it compares to his other flutes. He also plays ocarina and Chinese flute, but not on Locomotive Breath! Lastly,
I would never evaluate a flute on YouTube. A superior player can make anything that functions sound good. Suffice it to say bamboo is not the accepted wood for Irish flute playing. You are deceiving the op to state otherwise, so don’t accuse me of being contrary.

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Patrick Olwell made a large number of bamboo (actually cane) flutes.

I think he knows a thing or two about Irish flutes!

Having owned and played a couple of them, I can attest that they the equal of the best wooden flutes in tone and tuning.

That includes the octaves. I don’t know why somebody would imagine that cane flutes have inherently out of tune octaves. Patrick’s cane flutes are made without a cork; the natural node forms the stopper, and because the cane tapers as it approaches the note the flutes have a tapering head just as a Boehm flute does, explaining the in-tune octaves.

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And still, Richard, I have never seen you playing a bamboo flute. Need I say more?

Didn’t Olwell stop making bamboo flutes some time ago?

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I’ve a bamboo F flute by Billy Miller. It’s a great instrument. Will it still be around in 100 years like a Rudall & Rose? I have no idea. But for $75 or so I don’t care if it does degrade into unplayability many years from now.

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I’m sure you got your $75 worth, but I submit that we wouldn’t spend what we spend and discuss what we discuss if a $75 flute would cover it. I have some good cheap flutes, too. But they are not my primary instrument.

Btw, a good F is a lot easier to make than a good D.

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Patrick told me that he stopped making the Bamboo flutes mainly because of the 2,000 mile round trip and having to source depleting stocks of suitable cane length sections himself. He did not mention that he thought the material was in any way inferior for keyless flute production. Some of his Bamboo flutes sound just as good as many hardwood flutes I’ve encountered, ( and better than quite a few ) although a different approach is required to play the cylindrical bore. I believe Barna Gabos makes a Pratten model with tuning slide in Bamboo, which has been met with some considerable approval. I think an important factor when it comes to flute making is not so much the medium, as the maker. There are a great many people making Bamboo flutes Worldwide, but you could probably count the number of people making really good playing ones on one hand.

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That’s as may be, but no one here is addressing why, essentially, no one is playing them. Richard Cook notes Patrick Olwell has made many bamboo flutes. Where are they? I would think good bamboo flutes would be a hot item, not to mention somewhat revolutionary.

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Patrick Olwell discontinued the Bamboo flutes many years ago, and used examples still command a good price on the used market to this day. Had he continued making them, who knows how far he would have developed them. Maybe something along these lines - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=40vCzru15Ys

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Thanks for posting. I played a flute in Sebastopol, CA & the shop owner said it was black bamboo.
It’s the one that got away. The tone was great. Only reason I did not buy it was because it was
made with pentatonic tuning. The following year I wanted to find the maker but the music store
no longer carried his flutes and I never found out who he was.

Alan, I think you probably are biased a bit against Patrick Olwell’s flute making abilities.
It’s well known that good trad fluters play his bamboo/cane flutes regularly.

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I wasn’t talking about PO. I’ve never heard his bamboos. However, what you say is well known ain’t well known to me. Why are you guys trying to make a case for something that is, at best, on the distant fringe of this music. It’s getting silly. I’ve been at this for over 35 years and don’t know a single artist that plays a bamboo flute as a primary instrument. I don’t know where you’re going with this.

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I think the answer is in the first sentence of the O.P. where GDeka states "Beginner question alert!" Some Bamboo flutes are certainly up to the job, but from what I can see, your scope of makers is limited. A flute from Billy Miller is both affordable and available for a beginner. Sometimes, if you are patient and lucky, you can pick up a used Olwell, but that would generally be a much more expensive option. I would suggest that Ailin has a good point when he notes that very few players use one as a primary instrument, but this member is looking for a beginner’s flute. How many of us are still playing the first flute we picked up, no matter what material it was made from ? I would venture that the main reason you don’t see more players with them is that apart from Barna Gabos, I cannot think of one other maker other than Patrick who has actually taken the time, and made the effort to seriously develop the medium as a flute making material. As I mentioned earlier, if Patrick had continued with the medium, who knows where and how far he would have taken it ? It would be enlightening to hear from someone who has actually played one of Barna’s Pratten models. I think we could safely call his work on Bamboo flutes adventurous and pioneering.

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Sorry, Ailin. I inferred something which you were not implying. My bad.

This was the part I misinterpreted, "Richard Cook notes Patrick Olwell has made many bamboo flutes. Where are they? I would think good bamboo flutes would be a hot item, not to mention somewhat revolutionary."

I apologise for my unfounded assumption.

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I have some Indian bansuri flutes, which I often play when I want or need flutes in unusual keys. I just can’t afford buying wooden flutes in several different keys, so I have my B, Eb and E bansuri flutes for that.
I’ve had these flutes for more than 20 years now and they’re still good.

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That’s fine. My posts are strictly concerning Irish trad. There may be some passable bamboo flutes for such and likely Olwell’s are the best, but I just wouldn’t send a novice in that direction given that they are an extreme (And I stress "extreme") exception to what trad flute players play.

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There used to be a vendor at the Portland Saturday market who sold bamboo flutes. I played probably over 100 of them one morning while visiting to find a couple in high-D and low-F that actually played easily and were in tune to the point where one could use them in sessions. They were very inexpensive, I think like $15-25. I still have them. I’m not sure if he’s still around.

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I agree with Ailin, my first flute was bamboo, not too good with a gruesome right hand stretch. I didn’t play it much before getting a more playable instrument. I have other nice bamboos now, but I wouldn’t reccomend one for a beginner to Irish music. I’d reccomend an affordable conical bore delrin.

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I think the OP is actually looking at purchasing a whistle. I know we are discussing flutes (transverse) but I think the original post was about a bamboo "whistle" (fipple flute).

edit: I’m not sure which instrument the OP is referring to. It is bamboo. The high D threw me. Now I think it is not a whistle, not a low D, but may well be a bamboo high D (transverse) flute.

And the OP has found a local session. It is good to hear this bit of news.

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About my Olwell cane flutes, I sold all my flutes over 10 years ago when I had to give up fluteplaying.

I had nice 19th century 8-key flutes in D and Eb, and Olwell cane flutes for E and F.

They really honk! Super-powerful "Bottom D" and rich loud tone throughout the scale.

The main problem with cylindrical-bore flutes is when they get to a certain size, like the normal D size, the finger-spacing on the bottom hand gets splayed out (just as it does on Low D whistles) making it difficult for many people to finger them.

Garry Somers addresses that on his flutes with aluminium cylindrical bodies by adding extra wall-thickness around the E hole, allowing him to move that hole higher on the tube.