Making a quena

A little about the Quena  (kee nah)

I have to pick the Quena as the queen of all the flute style instruments.  In the hands of  virtuoso who's soul is in the playing, no other instrument in the flute family (my opinion only) can come anywhere near the range of sounds that can be coaxed from the Quena.  True the universal thumbnail view that everything worth while is involved with a paradox, this instrument not only is the most expressive of the flutes, but it is also the simplest construction.  I can build one in a matter of an hour or so.  Of course the more work you put into it the better your results will be.  The Quena can be made form anything at all that is hollow.  Some of the fastest, and easiest of the construction materials is PVC pipe.  The white stuff, not the gray or black pipe.  That is not as suitable because of the toxicity of the chlorine used in the mfg. of the gray and black PVC pipe.  The white pipe is ok to use for this and makes an excellent quena, due to it's straight smooth bore.  You never find this degree of accuracy in a bamboo or wooden quena.   However the bamboo quena have their own sound that is not the same as the plastic ones.   The quena, in essence is nothing but a straight pipe, open at both ends with six holes drilled into it  and a little notch in one end.   The notch can be rectangular or rounded as long as it is beveled.  The simplest of construction and the most magnificent of voices.  In the hands of a South American native of the Andes, these flutes come alive and can wrench the tears from you.

The sound notch

The notch in the end of the quena is very important.  If you make it too shallow you will be able to play the upper octaves ok but have a tough time in fundamental octave.  If you make it too deep it will play the lower octave loud and clear but you will have to really use your embouchure to squeeze out the upper octave high notes.  I have tried several and regardless of which way you make it, you will learn to adjust to having it that way.  When i play on the quena, and switch from one to another that is built differently, it always takes me a bit to adjust to the feel of the new one.   The same embouchure does not work to produce the same quality of note.  The reason is that the mouth and lips specifically become part of the instrument when you play it.   Every thing you do effects the sound: the distance of the lips from the notch edge, the width and thickness of the air stream, the angle the angle of the air stream across the notch, the velocity of the breath  and how much of it intentionally is blown past the notch, etc...  all have a big effect on the resulting sounds.   And there is something else that i can not define that comes up from inside and allows the sound to happen.  it is more of a confidence that is so natural you pick up the quena and the first note you blow is true and clear and sweet sounding.  It is a strange thing that i can not get by trying hard.  Another paradox here.  The harder i try, the less often it happens.  When i almost unconsciously pick it up and start playing, then that is the time it happens.  Being logical and thinking of all the little things that effect the sound never help me find the "spot" when playing.  It has to be intuitive for me and automatic.
    The notch can be as shallow as 1/8" or as deep as 3/8" and vary in width from 1/4" to 1/2", so there is no set rule here.   Experimentation is the best way to develop what is easiest for you to play.  Keep in mind however, that you will automatically adjust to which ever one you are playing.  A good starting place would be to make the notch rectangular, 3/8" wide and 3/16" deep.   The bottom edge of the notch must be filed to a wedge shape.
  File the inside and the outside so that the resulting knife edge is straight and even, not curved up, from the inside bore intersecting it.  You will soon find that by filing more on the inside of the bore, you can position the sharp edge of the notch closer or farther from the center of the pipe.  I like to put it in the middle but it does not matter because you will adjust to it no matter.

  Once again, apologies for not having this section finished. Until i get around to it
you can use the information from the penny whistle data to locate the holes.

(music page)