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How to Buy a Shakuhachi
Be an educated buyer. A little research goes a long way.
If you are planning on buying an expensive shakuhachi, ask the seller for an audition period to have the flute evaluated by a professional, or experienced teacher. Contact me for a free evaluation to ensure that you are buying a well made functional shakuhachi instrument.
Have your flute evaluated by a professional teacher
The shakuhachi flute, as known in Japan, is a finely tuned instrument made by highly skilled craftsmen, using methods built on centuries of informed experience. The art of making shakuhachi evolved side by side with a demanding music tradition that defined the instrument’s unique timbres. Traditionally speaking, each aspect of making a fine shakuhachi was considered and executed carefully so that the instrument would be suitable for a particular’s schools style of playing - Myoan, Kinkyo, Tozan etc… However, many contemporary craftsmen make flutes that are “friendly” to most players regardless of musical style. In order to understand, judge, or make a shakuhachi, one must understand traditional Japanese shakuhachi music. An experienced shakuhachi player will have an in-depth understanding of traditional Japanese shakuhachi music. This is why I went to Japan to study under four accomplished and highly renown traditional players of contrasting styles.
As a serious traditional craftsman, I proudly stand behind my instruments 100%. I offer buyers 30 days to audition my instruments. If you try out your flute and decide that it’s not for you, you can exchange it for another flute of equal value, or I will make one that’s right for you, or I will refund your money back with a smile. That’s for ANY reason. In addition, all my instruments come with the unique YUNG Flutes One Year Upgrade Guarantee. Within one year, you can trade in your flute and apply the purchase cost towards a higher grade flute. This includes my refurbished Japanese made shakuhachi. And, of course, I offer a lifetime of free customer support. No other seller or maker in the world has ever offered this kind of commitment to the purchaser. I’m proud to say this is The best guarantee in the world.
I make three models of the shakuhachi - YUNG, CHIKUSING, and EARTH models. I also provide refurbished vintage and modern Japanese made shakuhachi I call Tensei shakuhachi.
YUNG Model - for professionals
The YUNG shakuhachi is made to today’s standard in Japan for shakuhachi used for traditional or modern music. The tuning set at A=442 (today’s standard in Japan). Yung shakuhachi are made to play with fixed pitched instruments such as a piano so any experienced player can play with other musicians in multiple contexts. Each flute is custom made for the player’s approach or understanding of their particular school of shakuhachi music. I can make Kinko Ryu, Dokyoku and professional level Jinashi according to how it was shown to me by Kinya Sogawa. These flutes can also be used for Tozan Ryu and Minyo. Because of the demand and waiting period, YUNG Model Shakuhachi are made to order only. The wait is about one year from the time of order to delivery.
The YUNG hanko is also used on my CHIKUSING Models.
Chikusing Model - for Honkyoku
Chikusing shakuhachi are made to play Zen Honkyoku music but are technically proficient to play in pitch at 440 - 442hz for professional musical applications also. The timbre is more “hollow” or “bambooey”. Chikusing is a Chinese and Japanese word that translates literally as hollow bamboo. But, the connotation means “transplanted” in America. The Chikusing method is an approach I developed while studying making both the Hocchiku all natural style along with the modern Jiari style. It utilizes the shape of the natural bore but with my Spot Tuning Method applied to select resonance spots to enhance playability and balance. This produces a quality Zen instrument with tone holes that flows smoothly from one to another and with relatively equal or dynamic volume - from a whisper to a scream. Chikusing flutes can be made in lengths ranging from 1.8 (D) - 3.0 (bass F). The wait is about 1-3 months from the time of order to delivery.
Earth Model - for solo meditative solo playing
Earth shakuhachi are usually all natural flutes with very little or no bore manipulation. They play very well in A at 440hz - 442hz or in between pitches. These flutes are well in tune in themselves and able to play a variety of simple music. EARTH Models have a warm and lively tone when blown with a beginner’s breath. The main difference is that EARTH flutes do not have the dynamic range of the higher grade instruments that can take the more forceful breath of experience players. The wait is usually 7 - 10 days from the time of order to delivery.
Tensei line - refurbished
I come across damaged Japanese made flutes every now and then and take the unique opportunity to refurbish them. I call these the TENSEI Line. Tensei translates as rebirth through music in Japanese. All Tensei flutes go through rigorous testing to ensure that they are solid playing instruments in the way the original maker intended. All hand made bamboo flutes are unique sound and old flutes even more so. With deep respect for the original craftsman’s work, I try to maintain a high level of integrity by not adjusting the tuning unless there is a real technical problem. I am proud to be able to provide these wonderful instruments a new lease on life.
Shakuhachi is the quintessential bamboo flute of Japan made famous by Komuso Priests of Emptiness. They wandered the Japanese countryside playing the shakuhachi for alms. The Shakuhachi epitomized the ethereal world the Komuso lived in - a world of chants, meditation, and impermanence. The sound is sublime. The playing a ritual. Daily practice will introduce the player into a new world.
For more about the history of the shakuhachi, visit the Shakuhachi History section of my blog
Hear a bass Chikusing shakuhachi!
This sample is played in the Zen Dokyoku style created by the famous Komuso Monk Watazumi and is based on the oldest Zen Honkyoku music known as the Myoan or Miean style. It is raw, organic and sublime. There are many styles of shakuhachi music let alone Zen music.
I make all my shakuhachi flutes from MADAKE bamboo either hand picked by me, or for me from Japan and China.
Here I am just outside of Tokyo in the winter time harvesting bamboo. Madake is the only species of bamboo used by professional shakuhachi makers in Japan. Other bamboo species are used sometimes but are not acceptable for making quality shakuhachi. We harvest in the winter because there is less water in the bamboo.
Madake bamboo has a density and wall thickness that is necessary for the utaguchi blowing edge to split the air stream properly and for the finger holes to have the correct “chimney” for the desired tone color. That being said, the bore of the flute usually also needs shaping of some kind to produce the desired dynamic response and functionality.
Madake has beautiful mottling on the skin.
There are basically two kinds of bamboo shakuhachi these days - natural bore called Jinashi and JI filled bore called Jiari .
Ji is a paste made of a mixture of Japanese urushi lacquer and tonoko powder. The result is a Plaster of Paris-like paste that is carefully hand applied to the inside of the bore to manipulate the resonance spots.
My shakuhachi are mostly jinashi (my chikusing style) because I like the more natural bamboo timbres, but a good shakuhachi requires at least some addition and subtraction from the bore so that the flute will play with more dynamic response. This is a time consuming process and this is why full Jiari shakuhachi cost thousands of dollars.
First of all, there are shakuhachi instruments and then there are bamboo flutes that are shakuhachi-like. My discussion here is about well made shakuhachi instruments.
In general, root end shakuhachi usually have a tapered bore profile that narrows towards the bottom. This helps the second register play in tune and adds to the dynamic shakuhachi sound. However, not all root end shakuhachi display this tapered bore profile nor may they be tapered in the desired way so the luck of nature plays a small yet significant role in Jinashi making. Shakuhachi made from the upper part of a bamboo may play well if it has bore work done to it. This is something I call Spot Tuning. In General, every shakuhachi needs some Spot Tuning. Only the maker knows how much.
All well made hand tapered bore shakuhachi sound different. Even if they are made by the same maker. A great maker can produce shakuhachi within a trademark sound. But still, each flute is distinct within that ballpark. Having said this, a well made antique (at least 100 years old) shakuhachi should have a more open, warm bambooey sound. This is the sound I try to recreate with my shakuhachi. The modern shakuhachi has a painstakingly hand worked bore so that the pitches can play at exact western standard pitches. This is so the flute can play with other western tuned instruments. It is usually a louder and brighter flute than the antique shakuhachi.
Most old shakuhachi made in Japan were not made to the Western pitch standard of the orchestra (A=440hz). Modern shakuhachi is made anywhere from A=440hz-444hz. So, if a flute is not tuned to what is acceptable, it is said to be “in tune with itself” (assuming that the maker drilled the holes in the right places to begin with). This means the scale of the notes (the finger holes) all respond with integrity in two octaves and in relation to the natural pitch of the shakuhachi. Well made shakuhachi, old or new, are in tune with themselves. If the average player has to adjust more than two notes across two octaves with Meri or Kari to play in tune, that shakuhachi is not considered in good tuning.
If one wishes to study formal shakuhachi with a shakuhachi teacher, then a full Jiari flute is need. This is the standard 1.8 length pitched in D ( A=440-444hz). Teachers in America usually only teach on 1.8 flutes. This is mostly because the Japanese Gakyoku or Sankyoku court music with Koto and Shamisen is based on the D pitch. Root end or non root is OK. As long as the flute is pitched properly with a tuned bore. If the beginner does not want to learn Japanese court music but would rather to play the shakuhachi for meditation only, then any shakuhachi is fine (as long as it’s in tune).
What Goes into a YUNG 1.8?
Each 1.8 that I make, from student to professional level, starts with shaping the internal bore profile to specific measurements. Each maker has his own. Mine was given to me from Kinya Sogawa. There are two main types of traditional shakuhachi makers in Japan, those who shape the bore only by measurements and those who combine shaping to measurements but allowing for flexibility for a unique sound. I’m of the latter type. Making a 1.8 is much more than gauges and measurements, it means letting the flute reveal itself like a piece of art work. This is why it takes a year to produce a high quality hand made shakuhachi that plays at a professional level.
YUNG Professional models take time to make. There is no other way to make shakuhachi in the traditional way I studied in Japan. During the tuning process, I play every piece of shakuhachi music I know so that I would have confidence in knowing the flute can handle the intense shakuhachi blowing techniques at a professional concert level. Obviously, these flutes can not be made unless the maker understands shakuhachi music. My shakuhachi lessons are my most valued tools in making shakuhachi.If you can not wait for one year for a commission, you can purchase one of my refurbished Japanese 1.8s. They are the best bargains in the world. These flutes play perfectly well for any shakuhachi application yet are a fraction of the cost. Because of my Low Impact approach to repairs, I can keep the cost affordable to new comers. If you can wait a year, I suggest the commission option because you will get the finest modern shakuhachi I can make.
This is often very misunderstood. In Japan, Zen Music is a form of music known as Koten Honkyoku - the largest and oldest collection of solo shakuhachi music that was written centuries ago by unidentified Komuso monks. It is not soothing, new agey music. Zen Honkyoku music is a cultural music form and are specific, individually named and written pieces of music. It is played with demanding technical requirements from both the player and the flute. Not all shakuhachi flutes are suitable or capable of playing Zen Honkyoku music. It is complex in timbre and pitch and uses many shaded fingerings that do not work on lesser shakuhachi-like flutes. Honkyoku can sound atonal to Western ears because of the micro-tonal pitch bends and old Japanese musical intervals. The term Zen music is often mistakenly interchanged with “SUIZEN”, which means “blowing zen” in Japanese. Suizen is a non-technical way of playing the shakuhachi for Zen meditation. Suizen is is about meditating, not playing music. It does not require any musical playing techniques. Suizen is an individual’s approach to meditating with focus on breath control and can be practiced on any kind of flute. The simplest of bamboo flutes will work for “blowing Zen” but only a fine shakuhachi instrument will work for Koten Honkyoku. The modern shakuhachi is a well-tuned instrument great for playing with a Western orchestra or jazz band but some may feel it is not well suited for the original Koten Honkyoku music. To me, it boils down to a personal preference developed over many years of exposure to master players and experience.