Introduction: PVC Instrument

Picture of PVC Instrument
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

Picture of Materials Needed

Shown in photo:
-2" ABS/PVC Piping
-2" ABS/PVC Elbows
-2" ABS/PVC Couplings
-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"

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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:
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

Picture of 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.


2022AdaZa (author)2017-12-04

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

asmallgirl (author)2017-09-06

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??

Gery TV Studio (author)2017-07-29

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

RobertG194 (author)2017-04-06

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

MichaelN297 (author)RobertG1942017-07-09

A: Notes

B: Frequency (Hertz)

C: Length of Pipe (Inches)

tmcfarlane1 (author)2013-07-18

Also how do you know what length of pipe makes what note?

tallman1996 (author)tmcfarlane12013-07-27

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)

JoesephS1 (author)tallman19962017-06-07

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

MichaelN297 (author)JoesephS12017-07-09

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)

MichaelN297 (author)MichaelN2972017-07-09

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



95.96 + 1


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

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

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

Skip123 made it! (author)2017-06-25

I really am having fun playing this!! The pirates of the Carribean theme sound terrific!! I think that is my favorite so far!! Star Wars theme is really good too.

hnathan (author)2017-05-22

How did you layout the notes?

SteveC324 (author)2017-05-17

Is there a way to do minor notes?

DrewB53 (author)2016-11-23

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.

Nicoledew (author)DrewB532016-11-28

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

Skip123 made it! (author)2016-11-25

Thanks for the pointers on how to make a pvc instrument! It turned out pretty good. Very hard to get tuned perfect. I could not figure out the mathematical formula. I did a lot of trail and error, but it sound good to me. Addams family theme, crazy train, Shout, pink panther sound awesome!!

ZachS58 (author)2016-06-20

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

JohnD559 (author)ZachS582016-08-03

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.

Mexicanfishstik (author)JohnD5592016-10-25

Yes it does

Enzoie (author)2016-08-13

what is the significance of the study?

anava2016 (author)2016-05-16

Hi, I just have one question! Where did the guy buy the white board that has all the holes from?

Thank you!

JohnD559 (author)anava20162016-08-03

the boards were unpainted construction lumber. He drilled holes in the boards with a bore cutter sized 2 1/2 inches in diameter. He then painted the boards.

Jay1210 (author)2016-06-27

Hey I was wondering if I could get any tips on price ranges

TheVortex (author)2012-09-04

Amazing instrument, thanks for the instructions!
I just have 2 questions, if you don't mind;
1: What did you use to fine-tune the PVC pipes?
2:where did you get those gorgeous paddles?
Thank you for your time!

tallman1996 (author)TheVortex2012-09-04

To fine tune each note, I just used a digital tuner which basically just tells you if you're sharp, flat, or right on. You can get one at pretty much any music store. You can also download a tuner app to an iphone or iPod. As for the paddles, I purchased them from snubbyj. If you have watched PVC instrument videos on youtube, you have probably seen one of his. I just emailed him and asked him about his paddles. If you don't want to buy any, you can make your own too, just experiment with different types of soft materials. Let me know if you have any more questions.

TheVortex (author)tallman19962012-09-05

Actually, what I was wondering is, when you fine-tuned, did you approximately chop out pieces of tubes, or did you use some kind of sand-paper to be really precise?
Thanks again
P.S. I might have other questions when I actually start building :)

tallman1996 (author)TheVortex2012-09-15

I mostly used just the pipe cutter, at the scale of this instrument using sandpaper would not make a big enough difference for even the digital tuner to notice. If you want to make a small change just cut off around a quarter inch.

TNU2002 (author)tallman19962016-03-30

what if you need to make the tube bigger again???

RobertR155 (author)2016-02-03

How tall is it?

RobertR155 (author)2016-02-03

How tall is it?

RobertR155 (author)2016-02-03

How long is the total length. Also how long are the 2x4's.

wooac (author)2014-06-15

The speed of sound changes with air temperature. These numbers are for 72 degrees F.

tmoney475 (author)wooac2015-12-20

Wouldn't a good idea be then to build in a way to "tune" the instrument if you so need to?

WanderingE (author)2015-07-09

When you actually started to cut the holes for the pipes in your frame, what size did you cut them? My dad says that the drills come in specific sizes and that the pipes might not fit if its too small.

Also, I read an article on the website "Make": about a 12 year old kid who made this and he says that you put couplings through the holes of the frame. Have you done this as well? If not please explain how you managed to fit them tightly so that they could withstand vigorous beatings.

Thanks for your help.

tallman1996 (author)WanderingE2015-07-25

If you use a 2 inch (outside diameter) pipe, you should be able to use a drill that is a 2 inch diameter as well. That way, the pipe will be able to slide through, but the coupling will not, holding the pipe in place.

WanderingE (author)tallman19962015-08-26

Thanks for the help! Really appreciate it :)

WanderingE (author)2015-07-09

Sorry I forgot to add:

What was the thickness of the pipes that you used?

DeadlyDragon323 (author)2015-02-23

How much ABS pipe did you use? (Length)

Cam35 (author)2014-12-16

how did you cut the holes out?? To put the pipes in?

Ricardo30 (author)2014-11-05


ToriLynn32 (author)2014-10-26

I read that capping the ends of the pipes would require the lengths of the pipes to be half of that if they were not capped. Would that affect the sound?

bobironman (author)2014-06-30

Do they have specific notes?

Drewbie-dooby-doo (author)2014-03-10

How many different octaves did you use?

haydendessommes (author)2013-11-17

how do I calculate the lengths of the elbows?

krillebille (author)2013-09-03

Where did you buy your ABS pipes? I live in Sweden and here they are very expensive, so I am looking to buy them somewhere else at a lower price.

tmcfarlane1 (author)2013-07-18

Do you think PVC sounds the best or could I use cardboard and get the same sound.

johnman747 (author)2013-05-20

I was wondering how many pvc elbows/couplings you used? Where did you use the bore's? and what did you use the 2x10 for?

tallman1996 (author)johnman7472013-05-31

I used probably around 50 elbows, and the bore was to drill the holes for the keyboard. The 2x10's were for the side and bottom of the overall frame.

TheVortex (author)2012-10-27

how did you calculate the tube lengths that were not in snubby j's list? did you use a formula? Thanks for the help

tallman1996 (author)TheVortex2012-10-29

I found a formula online from a guy named Nate True. He gives this formula:

Tube Length (in) = (13300/(2*Frequency))+(Tube Diameter/2)

You can get the conversion from note to frequency here:

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Bio: Sometimes I see something I I build it!
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