Introduction: 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

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.

Comments

author
RobertG194 made it!(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

author
MichaelN297 made it!(author)2017-07-09

A: Notes

B: Frequency (Hertz)

C: Length of Pipe (Inches)

author
tmcfarlane1 made it!(author)2013-07-18

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

author
tallman1996 made it!(author)2013-07-27

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)

author
JoesephS1 made it!(author)2017-06-07

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

author
MichaelN297 made it!(author)2017-07-09

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)

author
MichaelN297 made it!(author)2017-07-09

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

author
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.

IMG_3993.JPG
author
hnathan made it!(author)2017-05-22

How did you layout the notes?

author
SteveC324 made it!(author)2017-05-17

Is there a way to do minor notes?

author
DrewB53 made it!(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. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B8chX-9UkDN2bGJIRFRzcXE1cXc/view?usp=sharing

author
Nicoledew made it!(author)2016-11-28

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

author
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!!

IMG_3993.JPG
author
ZachS58 made it!(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?

author
JohnD559 made it!(author)2016-08-03

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.

author
Mexicanfishstik made it!(author)2016-10-25

Yes it does

author
Enzoie made it!(author)2016-08-13

what is the significance of the study?

author
anava2016 made it!(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!

author
JohnD559 made it!(author)2016-08-03

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.

author
Jay1210 made it!(author)2016-06-27

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

author
TheVortex made it!(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!

author
tallman1996 made it!(author)2012-09-04

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.

author
TheVortex made it!(author)2012-09-05

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 :)

author
tallman1996 made it!(author)2012-09-15

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.

author
TNU2002 made it!(author)2016-03-30

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

author
RobertR155 made it!(author)2016-02-03

How tall is it?

author
RobertR155 made it!(author)2016-02-03

How tall is it?

author
RobertR155 made it!(author)2016-02-03

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

author
wooac made it!(author)2014-06-15

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

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1oP1tDTiKqxpraNtrazLQQFcmaE_Cu4iPdGQIA2cAImw/pubhtml

author
tmoney475 made it!(author)2015-12-20

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

author
WanderingE made it!(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": http://makezine.com/projects/pvc-pipe-instrument/ 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.

author
tallman1996 made it!(author)2015-07-25

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.

author
WanderingE made it!(author)2015-08-26

Thanks for the help! Really appreciate it :)

author
WanderingE made it!(author)2015-07-09

Sorry I forgot to add:

What was the thickness of the pipes that you used?

author
DeadlyDragon323 made it!(author)2015-02-23

How much ABS pipe did you use? (Length)

author
Cam35 made it!(author)2014-12-16

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

author
Ricardo30 made it!(author)2014-11-05

AWEAOME

author
ToriLynn32 made it!(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?

author
bobironman made it!(author)2014-06-30

Do they have specific notes?

author
Drewbie-dooby-doo made it!(author)2014-03-10

How many different octaves did you use?

author
haydendessommes made it!(author)2013-11-17

how do I calculate the lengths of the elbows?

author
krillebille made it!(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.

author
tmcfarlane1 made it!(author)2013-07-18

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

author
johnman747 made it!(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?

author
tallman1996 made it!(author)2013-05-31

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.

author
TheVortex made it!(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

author
tallman1996 made it!(author)2012-10-29

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:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piano_key_frequencies

author
nszenderski made it!(author)2012-05-21

how much piping did you have to get total? my friends and i are doing this for a project and we need to know soon if you dont mind. thanks

author
hungyhipo+2 made it!(author)2012-08-14

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=215625978450662&set=a.164474316899162.40695.147661245247136&type=1&theater

This chart will show you all the lengths of pipes you need so you dont have to build exactly what you see in the ible.

http://www.seventhstring.com/resources/notefrequencies.html

This link will give you note frequencies so you can calculate pipe lenghts if you want to use different notes that aren't in the table.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piano_key_frequencies

Id use the google sketchup to see how to get pipe to fit in

author
ShaunHill made it!(author)2012-10-20

How do you use sketchup for this? I have never used it before. Please help.

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