Introduction: PVC Instrument, Portable Pentatonic

About: I'm a professional entertainer, mostly educational shows for elementary schools. I have one great wife and one great child, (3 years old). My proudest project is a Model of the Wright Brothers plane with a 2…

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This is an instrument I designed for stage performances. 
It had to be portable, so it sets up and breaks down and fits into a golf club bag. 

I made it Pentatonic to make it musically versatile without having too many notes which would make it complicated.

This is tuned in the key of E because I play with a guitarist and you know how they LOVE the key of E.

This is one where you just need the general concepts and then make it to suit your own needs.  Well, maybe all Instructables are like that.

If you are making a PVC instrument for the first time, I encourage you to use a pentatonic scale.  It's  easy to make lots of great music, fits in nicely with percussion, and, well, it's five notes and not 8 or 13.

Check out all the rock tunes based on the pentatonic

Also amazing grace and almost every other spiritual.  Great musical/historical lesson here,

Step 1: What You Need

3/4" schedule 40 PVC pipe.  about 3-10' sections.
2" schedule 40 PVC pipe about 3-10'sections..
8 T slip connectors 3/4" 
1 X slip connectors 3/4".
10 slip elbow connectors 3/4".
6-  slip elbows (female /female 2".
6-  slip elbows(female/male) 2" .
2 feet of 3" schedule 40 PVC pipe.
12  2" x 1/4" bolts and wing nuts.
Velcro, industrial strength.
Ping Pong paddles.
Foam padding, 1/2" thick, heavy. for paddle playing sticks. 
Miter saw, Tip: use a metal cutting blade on your miter saw for minimal PVC dust [very nasty] and clean squared off cuts.
Dust mask because PVC dust is nasty.
Safety goggles.
PVC primer and cement.
Method of tuning, piano, pitch pipe, tuning gizmo, etc.

To make it pretty...
Sand paper
Spray paint primer and spray paint

Step 2: The Frame

The frame is a two tiered system, the back is higher then the front allowing the pipes to sit at an angle.

Mine is 4' tall and 6' 5" wide. and 15" front to back.   These directions are for 6' because it's easier and that's what I wish mine was.

Build from the bottom up, except save the feet for last.

Blue prints are in photos. (made on PowerPoint.)

Step 3: Tuning the Pipes.

My plan was to make this portable, so I made each pipe in two sections,
The first section of each pipe is 3' long 2" round schedule 40 PVC. with a 2 inch slip elbow cemented to the end.
Make 5 of those.
To these we add the tuning part, and extra length of PVC that brings it down to the right note.
on the end of these you add the fitted elbow, they have one small size the size of a pipe which fits into the other elbow.  The other side goes on the pipe.

Tuning is the tricky part...
I went to

and on there is a great explanation of tuning, but mostly he has an excel spreadsheet that you can download and figure out how long they should be. 

The elbows make it tricky, the lengths he give are for straight pipe, guesstimate what the elbows add, compensate and cut long.  Then you use your miter saw to trim off sections until you are in tune.  Takes a while, but tuning with a miter saw is awesome. 

Just for reference my pipes were;
low E see next step
F#   3' pipe, female/female elbow, Female/Male elbow, 29.5"pipe
G#, 3' pipe elbow, elbow, 22"pipe
B,   3' pipe elbow, elbow, 12.5"pipe
C#, 3' pipe elbow, elbow, 6"pipe
High E (made with a 1.5" PVC pipe) see next step

the two missing pipes on next step:

Second warning: start long and cut short to tune.

Step 4: E Pipes (high and Low Octaves)

The low E made the whole rig front heavy, so I mounted on the back along the top cross bar.
Elbow, 3' pipe, elbow, 15.5" pipe, elbow, 20" pipe, elbow.

Since the 3' piece was horizontal I added one more elbow to make the playing surface vertical.

The picture is the best way to get what I did. 

I tried just a five note scale but it was always missing something so I added an octave E. 
Partly because the octave E in 2" pipe starts to sound bad, is too short, and also just to add some variation I went with a 1.5" inch pipe still using the 3 foot section with a tuning tip. for this I made the half pipe Velcro connector with 2" pipe.

For the measurement I just adding in the figures to the spreadsheet link listed on the previous step.

Step 5: Joining the Tuned Pipes to the Frame

Cut your 3" ABS pipe into 3 inch sections and cut those in half length wise.
Drill a 1/4 inch hole in the middle.
Place a 1/4" bolt through the center and add the wing nut so you don't lose it.
Cover the inside with soft side (the loops) of the Velcro.
Make 10 of these
and two more that are made from 1-1/2" PVC pipe. for the high "E"

Drill 1/4 inch holes in the top cross bar and the front cross bar.  You want them to line up evenly with each other both left and right and top and bottom.    I had drilled several extra holes to make sure I had some flexibility in where I mounted things.  I just drilled every two inches.  The extra holes do not take away from the structure or aesthetics.

The cross supports will need to be twisted front or back to align the half-circle in a straight line with each other.  they do not need to be perfect to hold the pipes.

Place the 3' sections of pipe and and see where you need to add the Hooks of the Velcro.  I wrap them all the way around so that I can repositions them for best sound production.

Step 6: Paddles

Many use flip flops, some add sticks to flip flops.
I used (table tennis) Ping Pong Paddles. with a sturdy foam glued on one side.

Step 7: Final Assembly

Take the half pipes and screw them into the top and bottom cross supports.
Take care to rotate them so they line up top and bottom. 
Place the 3'pipes into their slots, add the smaller tuning extension.

Rotate the tuning extension so it points toward the mic or audience.

Step 8: Making It Pretty

You're at the point to make the big decision; Do I cement or not?  You could get away without cementing. If you are planing on making it apart, oddly you want to glue as much as you can together.  You don't want to small connectors coming off, and then have to figure out where they go later. 
Just make sure it is exactly how you want it before cementing.

PVC does not like paint. 

First clean off all markings with Acetone.

Then sand with 320 grit sand paper.  this is not to make the plastic smooth, but to make it a little bit rough to hold the paint.

Use painters tape to cover the parts that will fit into connectors.  If paint gets on those parts it will be VERY hard to get it on and off.

Use plastic primer spray.

If you really want this to be a masterpiece, then use a Dremel and remove the raised PVC markings and injection pips on the connectors.  And bevel all the connector edges. 

Something really fitting about painting PVC with metallic colors.  I choose to paint all vertical pieces with gold spray paint and all horizontal pieces white.  I did use white spray paint for the white, other wise PVC would leave a dirty, off white look.