What is a tunable pan flute?
Customers often ask me about what the difference is between a tunable and a non-tunable pan flute. Since there is little information about pan flutes online and pan flutes are themselves rather uncommon musical instruments, I will discuss some precisions about this aspect of them.
First, it is important to understand how sound is produced. As you might have seen, pan flutes have many pipes and each of them has a different size. We have long pipes on one side and small pipes on the other side. The size of a pipe determines the note it plays. Different lengths produce specific frequencies that give us the desired musical notes.
I make this precision because a common question customer asks is if the airflow should go through the pipes. The answer is no. Each cork is placed at a specific point inside the pipe according to the length requirements to produce the desired note. Sound is produced when the airflow reaches the bottom (in this case the cork) and is redirected outside the pipe.
Difference between tunable and non-tunable pan flutes
In a tunable pan flute each pipe contains a small cork inside it that you can push to adjust the tuning of the instrument, for example, if you have a pipe that plays F, you can push the cork from the bottom of the pipe and make that F an F sharp.
Conversely, a non-tunable pan flute can be made in two ways. The first one is cutting the bamboo pipes in the exact length required to fit the frequencies that will give us the desired notes. The second one is using beeswax. In this case, pipes are cut slightly longer and then the tuning is adjusted by pouring beeswax inside the pipe.
An advantage of having a tunable pan flute is that you can adjust the instrument to play a specific song that you want to work with. For example, many customers want to learn the pan flute because they like a particular song or album and they want to be able to play it. A quite common song that customers want to play is “The Lonely Shepherd” by Zamfir. This song is in the key of D minor. It is possible to play accidentals with a pan flute by tilting it. However, this a skill that takes time to develop in order to play fluently. With a tunable pan flute, you can adjust the tuning and play without having to tilt it. This is especially useful for beginners and amateur pan flute players.
Another advantage of tunable pan flutes is that pushing corks is a quite easy way to adjust the tuning of the instrument. Bamboo is sensitive to extreme weather. It can contract and the tuning is sometimes affected. If by any chance a beeswax pan flute gets out of tune, it usually requires a luthier to tune it. It is difficult to tune those kinds of pan flutes by yourself.
An advantage of beeswax-tuned pan flutes is that the reverberation can be richer in comparison to tunable pan flutes, but that is relative to the material and construction. Another advantage is that the tuning is fixed, and you do not need to adjust it at all. However, a tunable pan flute can make your instrument more versatile.
I hope this post was useful. If you have additional questions, you can contact me at email@example.com