Walking Staff / Flute

(something i wanted for a while)

     Ever since i saw a film called, "Circle of Iron", with David Carradine, i have wanted a walking staff with a flute built into it, like the one the blind mystic in the film carried.   I knew nothing about making one, so i just satisfied myself to wanting one and biding my time.   When i walked around the earth long enough to pick up the knowledge to make one i never considered using bamboo, which is now a puzzlement to me.   I guess i always thought of a staff as solid oak, or hickory, or some other hard wood that would also make a good weapon to defend one's self if attacked.   However about a week ago my wife went to the craft shop to pick up some supplies for a project she was working on and brought home a piece of bamboo that was thick enough to make a good staff, and also a good flute.   I had never tried to make a Native American style flute from Bamboo before and thought that it would make a good one, so i went to work and built this one you are about to see.   Later on, i will make another one and photograph all the steps involved so you all can make your own, if you want one.   For now i will just show you the features and provide a couple of sound clips to let you know what it sounds like.   I can tell you that it is an excellent walking staff that has proven itself on my frequent walks with my dogs down at the wilderness area of the San Diego Bay.  You can decide how good a flute it is yourself by listening to the clips. I am pleased with the results of my first attempt to make something i have wanted for so long.   

Jean-Paul Déry

(click here to listen)

From the photo on the left you can see the size of the staff. It measures about 5½ feet long (1.7m) and consists of five sections with the center one made into a flute. It is very easy to play as i did not make it a standard side blowing flute mouth piece. Instead there is just a ¼ inch diameter hole in the section above the sound hole and no special embouchure is needed to play this instrument, just blow in the hole.
You can see at right, the flute section of the staff. It has only 6 holes that function for playing tunes. The ring of holes at the right end of this section are what sets the fundamental tone ( in this case 'G' ) of the flute. The sound hole is to the left in this shot.

     Here at left is a detail of the sound hole arrangement. You will notice it is very close to the "node", or separating wall that is found between each section of bamboo. This wall is the key to the functioning of this style flute as it separates the blowing air chamber from the finger hole chamber and provides a means of directing the air flow from the blowing chamber to the sound hole edge, which makes the basic sounds.
     The flat area extends all the way to shoulder on the right and a separate piece with an air channel routed into it covers the right side of the flat area. A hole is drilled in the top of the air chamber section and the flow passes through the routed groove in the "modifies" fetish piece. The traditional fetish is much larger and is not glued in place but tied with a bit of rawhide or sinew, but i like the neat, permanent arrangement i designed for this project, no loose pieces to tie down and become lost while using the walking staff in rough terrain.

Here, at right you can see the blowing hole of the flute. Notice is it just a simple one quarter inch diameter hole drilled into the bamboo section on the left, which is separated from the one on the right by the node wall, which is inside and out of sight. The design of the fetish and the sound hole do all the work for the player and there is no need to develop lip muscles to play this one, just blow into the hole.
At left you can see the lower end of the flute section. The ring of holes Determine the fundamental tone of the flute. That is the lowest note that the instrument can make. In this case it is a "G" note and the flute is pitched in that key. The distance from the top of the closest holes to the beveled edge of the sound hole, is called the musical length of the flute and it is this that determines the pitch. To make the flute higher pitched simply elongate these holes before putting in any finger holes, and you will raise the key of the flute. Of course the distances for the hole will change if you change the fundamental length, so the dimensions i will give in my instructions will not apply to a different pitched flute.   In effect, these holes are making the length of the resonating column of air longer or shorter, depending on where the holes are in relationship to the sound hole. Putting a hole , or ring of holes has the same effect of cutting off the tube at that length. However by using holes, in stead of cutting the tubes to a different length for each note, we can make do with only one tube, filled with holes, representing many tubes tucked into each other like telescoping sections. Cover the holes, and the tube becomes longer and the pitch lower, open holes and you shorten the tube, making the pitch higher. The small holes shown here are purely decoration as they do very little to the sound, however they do provide more air flow which results in a little louder sound from the flute.
   In order to make the walking staff suitable for walking on all sorts of terrain without splitting the bamboo end of the staff, i decided to add a hard wood heel to the instrument so it will take hard use and not fall apart on me. I used a piece of rock maple, that same stuff they make bowling pins from, and oriented the grain so that it would be the strongest. This heel only shows half of itself, the other half is a smaller diameter and is inserted up the end of the staff just as far as it shows here, extending out of the staff. It is really glued in there solidly and is very strong, adding a lot of strength to the end of my flute. I don't have to ever worry about splintering the end now that i have this cap to protect it.


Want to hear what it sounds like?   Click here.

(music menu)
(building instructions)