PVC Instrument

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Posted in PlayInstruments

Introduction: PVC Instrument

About: Sometimes I see something I want...so I build it!
This is a great and fun to play instrument. I will give you simple instructions to follow so that you too can build your own unique instrument. On mine, there are 3 octaves, plus an extra C. If you plan everything right, it can be easy to build. Special thanks to Snubby J who first inspired me to build one. I used ABS pipe even though I called it a PVC instrument.

Here is a demonstration of how it sounds.


 
 

Step 1: Materials Needed

Shown in photo:
-2" ABS/PVC Piping
-2" ABS/PVC Elbows
-2" ABS/PVC Couplings
-Tuner
-Measuring Tape
-Pipe cutter (a hacksaw will work too, but it makes the edges rough)
Not Shown in Photo:
-2x4 and 2x10's
-2 1/2" Bore
-ABS/PVC Cement
-Power tools and screws
-Castor Wheels (Optional)

Step 2: The "Keyboard"

I used 2 2x4's cut to about 6 feet to make my keyboard. One section was used for the sharps and flats while the other was used for the natural notes. Use the 2 1/2" bore to cut the holes for the pipes. On small gaps, the centers of the holes should be 3 1/2" apart. On the larger gaps, 6 1/2" apart. If starting on a C, space the holes correctly as shown in the picture.

Step 3: Building the Base

The size of your base will depend on how many notes you choose to use. Mine ended up being a little more than six feet wide. With the two keyboard sections, I created two tiers, placing the one with the sharps and flats on top. For comfortable playing, your bottom tier should be as high as your hand when you have your arm bent at a 90 degree angle. I installed castor wheels on mine to make it more portable, to do this, I had to put 2 2x4's side by side on each side of the base so that there was a wide enough space for the wheels. Where the wheels were placed, it is extended out so the instrument does not easily topple.

Step 4: Paddles

My paddles were purchased online but you can make your own. You need to get closed cell, dense foam similar to the foam used in flip flops, but flip flops are a little more dense than what I have. You can cut up and use the foam from flip flops. Whatever you decide to use, attach it to some sort of wooden dowel or anything you can find that would work. Experiment with the paddles until you find what you like.

Step 5: Assembling the Pipes

This is one of the trickiest parts of the whole process. The pipes will hang by the couplings, the pipe is small enough to pass through the hole, but the coupling is too large to pass through. As you add more notes, you will have to add turns to the pipes so you have enough room. Once a note is installed, use the tuner to fine tune it, making minor adjustments to do so. I recommend starting from the bottom because the notes get shorter as you move up. My lowest note was about 8 feet long, which required it to go down, travel across the instrument, then go forward. My highest note was around 1 foot long.

I got an equation from nate true that will give you the length of the pipe you need when you plug in the frequency: Tube Length (in) = (13300/(2*Frequency))+(Tube Diameter/2)

For the frequencies of the notes in the range of the piano go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piano_key_frequencies
My low note was number 16 (C2) in the list on the wikipedia page.

Remember, if a note is too sharp, it is too short. If it is too flat, it is too long.

Step 6: Finishing Touches

You do not need to glue every single joint. The best places to glue would be at the couplings or anywhere a joint is bearing weight. When not glued, notes can fall off while playing. This becomes very annoying! You might also want to consider installing something to hold your paddles when you are not playing.

Please let me know if you have any comments or questions.

2 People Made This Project!

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79 Comments

Anyone find a good cheap source for the pipe & fittings online?

Seems like a lot of pipe work!!! CALL THE PLUMBER!!!

is it with an open end or closed end? im so confused about it. what is the difference between them? is it better with an open end or closed end??

Which octaves do you have? Please give me an answer ☺

On your excel spreadsheet, you have column's. A,B and C. A, is the note but what is column B and C

1 reply

A: Notes

B: Frequency (Hertz)

C: Length of Pipe (Inches)

Cardboard tubes would wear out really fast because you have to hit them over and over. As for the length of pipe, use this equation provided by Nate True
Tube Length (in) = (13300/(2*Frequency))+(Tube Diameter/2)

At the 2*frequency is that 2 times frequency or is that frequency squared?

It's 2 times the frequency.

I will be using 2-inch diameter for the example
Ex. for a 'C#' it would be (13,300/(2*69.3)) + (2/2)

which gives the total length of 96.96 inches (8.08 feet) (2.46 meters)

Because I can, I'll go more in-depth

(13,300)/(2*69.3)+(2/2)

(13,330)/(138.6)+1

95.96 + 1

96.96

Inches --> feet: (total inches)/12

Inches --> meters: (total inches)*(127/5000)

Inches -->meters: (total inches) * 0.0254

How did you layout the notes?

Just to save everyone the headache of making it your self, or for those who don't just want to wing it, I've created an Excel spreadsheet that includes the lengths of all the notes from C2-C4. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B8chX-9UkDN2bGJIRFRzcXE1cXc/view?usp=sharing

1 reply

Hi Drew, Thanx so much! Are your measurements metric or imperial?

ok so just one crazy question. Would you by any chance know how much it can cost to make just one of these?

2 replies

quick estimate, at Home Depot, 220' of 2" PVC pipe with 45 couplers (1 per note) and 100 90 degree elbow, on August 1, 2016 is little under $190.

I have never built one Elbow quantity needed is a guess and design dependent, also the largest cost on PVC at nearly $1 each. Bore cutter approximately $30. Assuming you have rest of tools needed, should be able to build in the $300-400 range, possibly under $250 if you already have lumber. Another $20- $50 if you mount on wheels. Cadenza chromatic tuner app on iTunes is only $1, should be good enough. StubbyJ paddles, $50, with $15 US shipping. Might DIY early ones.

Hope this helps.

what is the significance of the study?