PVC Soprano Recorder




About: I'm a refugee from Los Angeles, living in backwoods Puerto Rico for about 35 years now and loving it. I built my own home from discarded nylon fishnet and cement.

Recorders are fairly easy to play; much easier than side-blown flutes.   They are relatively cheap instruments to buy, but if you want some DIY fun, here's how to make one out of PVC pipe. 

To hear how it sounds, listen to the .mp3 audio file in the last step. 

Step 1: The Parts of the Recorder

The recorder is composed of three parts; the mouthpiece, the body with the fingering holes, and the standard connector which joins the mouthpiece and the body. 

The spacing and size of the holes in the body are copied from a store-bought plastic recorder. 

The mouthpiece is composed of concentric layers of different size pipe.  The pipe diameters are:  1/2" CPVC (smallest diameter used for hot water),  1/2" PVC (the layer around it with a section removed to create an air channel), and 3/4" PVC (to cap the top of the air channel).

The air channel conducts the air you blow to a sounding hole.   A wedge shape at the hole interrupts the air flow and creates vibration and sound. 

The fingering holes in the body modify the pitch of the sound by creating different amounts of resistance to the air passing through the pipe.  Opening all the holes lets air escape with less resistance by the easiest route, through the first holes.   Closing all the holes creates a longer column of air inside the body, and more resistance, which results in lower notes.   

Step 2: The Mouthpiece

PVC pipe comes with a variety of wall thicknesses.  Schedule 40 is common, and is what I used.  The 1/2" CPVC doesn't quite fit inside the 1/2" PVC, and the 1/2" PVC doesn't quite fit inside the 3/4" PVC.  By sawing a slit down one side of the pipe, it can spring open and fit tightly on the next size pipe down. 

My mouthpiece parts fit so tightly that no glue was needed. 

I cut the 1/2" PVC channel and put it in place to mark the size of the rectangular sounding hole.  Then I removed the 1/2" PVC, drilled the hole, and touched it up with an X-acto crafts knife.  You need a narrow and sharp blade to get in the hole and carve out the wedge-shaped edge of the hole. 

I put the wooden dowel plug right up to the start of the sounding hole.  Setting it further back toward the mouth changes the pitch and allows some tuning.  I used a metal drift pin and a hammer to set the plug inside the pipe. 

Step 3: Finger Hole Size and Spacing

Use a piece of 1/2" CPVC for the body.  Cut it about 12" long.  You will trim some off the mouthpiece end later. 


The distances between holes are copied from a soprano recorder.    The holes are not all placed on the center line down the pipe.  Since some fingers are longer than others, the holes have a little sideways displacement to increase comfort while playing.  When penciling hole locations, hold the pipe as you would while playing it to find and mark a comfortable side displacement for each finger hole.

There are seven finger holes and one hole for the thumb on the opposite side of the body -- the same as on a recorder. 

On a recorder, double holes at #6 and #7 help get half tones.  I elongate my holes and just half-close them when needed.


Step 4: Shaping the Finger Holes

After drilling the appropriately sized holes, I use some sandpaper wrapped around a piece of 5/8" wooden dowel material to modify the hole.  That makes it easier to seal the hole with one's finger, reducing unwanted squawking sounds.

In the raw hole, there is a pocket of air inside the hole underneath the finger.  I like to bring the finger down a little lower, thus reducing the pocket of air and turbulence inside the tootophone body.  It probably results in a cleaner sound. 

I made a special tool to get inside the drilled finger holes and scrape the burrs from inside of the tootophone body.  (A tiny knife with a bent end, made of stainless steel welding rod.)  That, too, reduces turbulence and makes the instrument easier to play. 

Step 5: Trimming the Mouthpiece and Body

The distance from the sounding hole on my store-bought recorder to the #1 hole (See step 3 for hole numbering) is about 4 inches.   I didn't want the connector piece, which is raised up some above the surface of the 1/2" CPVC to create a step that would interfere with air flow around the sounding hole.  For that reason, it is better not to have the connector located too close to the sounding hole. 

I cut the mouthpiece 2 1/4" from the sounding hole.  I cut the body 1 3/4" from the #1 hole.  No science involved there.  I just eyeballed it. 

Step 6: Hear the Recorder

To hear how the recorder sounds, click on the .mp3 audio file thumbnail icon below.  It looks like a piece of paper with the corner folded over. 



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    27 Discussions


    3 years ago

    Got it. Didnt notice that part earlier


    Reply 3 years ago

    You should read the instuctable. The table of hole sizes and spacing is in Step 3


    Reply 3 years ago on Step 2

    You don't need to know it. You just have to make sure that when you play the note played is a C4 (523,25 hertz) with a tuner (you can download one on a smartphone for exemple, or on a pc a microphone).


    Reply 4 years ago on Step 2

    I haven't made any of these in years, and have none around to measure for you. Sorry about that.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    I don't understand how to make the mouth piece. I am doing a project for school. Will someone help?!?!?!

    It was going great until I connected it all together... When I blow on just the mouthpiece I get a nice, strong, sharp note, but when I connect the pieces together and try to play, it just sounds like air. Any idea where I went wrong?


    5 years ago on Introduction

    I would use CPVC being that it's not considered toxic.


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    I just made a "great bass" recorder with 1.5" pipe. See my recent Instructable.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    I thought I was doing well and successfully creating my recorder up until the point where I tried to play it. It sounds nothing like yours, it only sounds like air blowing through a tube...help?

    1 reply

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    It sounds like your air stream is not meeting the wedge of the sounding hole at the right angle, or the wedge is not shaped with an appropriate angle to meet the oncoming air. Play with the variables.

    Variables, like sounding hole size are easier to adjust by trimming off material than adding it on. I wouldn't even know how to do that, so maybe it is best to just start from scratch if that is the problem. Start holes on the small side rather than the large side, if you are not sure of them.

    It's a balance of a lot of factors. Play with them.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Made this yesterday and playing it today. Awesome :) I used a simpler style of mouthpiece (howtern's) since I couldn't find any CPVC and so used 1/2 inch PVC pipe for the body but it plays fine that way. I think that if a person could find different configurations you could swap mouthpieces between pipes to have different ones. Might experiment today.

    1 reply

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    The mouthpiece is the trickiest part. Having it swappable saves a lot of work for trying out the different pipes, once you get a mouthpiece you like.

    Years ago, someone I knew was making shakuhachi bamboo flutes and I could never get a sound out of them. They are probably the simplest end blown flutes as far as fabrication of the sounding area goes. Lately I've been experimenting with making them out of PVC, specifically to fit my mouth and have been having a lot better luck. I still haven't got the necessary lip control for reliable playing, though. Recorder type mouthpieces take all that art out of it, along with a load of frustration.