All About the Shakuhachi Flute

The shakuhachi is a Japanese end blown flute that is normally made with 5 holes and tuned to the pentatonic minor scale.  It originally came from China and is traditionally made of bamboo, but modern makers sometimes use plastic and hardwoods. It was used by the monks of the Fuke School of Zen Buddhism in the practice of suizen (blowing meditation).

There are two different types of shakuhachi: jinashi and jiari

Jinashi means “without paste” and in the context of these modern flutes indicates that the bore is “natural” and is not built up in the way that the jiari style are. 

Jiari flutes have a bore profile that tapers down and flares out. With traditional, jiari-style bamboo instruments the makers used an urushi paste to shape the bore (hence the paste references) but when the flutes are made from wood this shape is created using special reamers to cut the bore profile.  

A tapered bore allows for more precise upper octave tuning and a distinct type of voice.  Jiari flutes are more often the choice when playing in ensemble settings but many players choose them for their character.   All of my flutes are jiari-style, featuring a tapered bore profile.

The Wooden Shakuhachi

I’ve spent the last year researching shakuhachi making and meticulously measuring the bores of a number of high quality shakuhachi flutes.  The shape of the bore is a crucial part of what makes the voice of the shakuhachi, and most quality instruments have very similar bore profiles.

After gathering the needed data, I set about manufacturing special reamers that would allow me to replicate the classic bore shape in a wooden instrument.  My goal was to make an affordable wooden shakuhachi that could match the quality of high-end bamboo instruments.  I believe that I have succeeded.

Some of the better quality bamboo shakuhachi can cost thousands of dollars (sometimes tens of thousands).  The reason for the cost is due to the high level of skill required to meticulously shape the bore using traditional methods and the years of experience required to do it well.  This often means that for many players a high quality instrument is far out of their budget.

By using wood and special reamers to recreate the bore of a high end shakuhachi, it is possible to offer an instrument with superb performance characteristics at a small fraction of the cost.

My wooden shakuhachi also have some advantages that bamboo does not have, most notably stability.  Bamboo is highly sensitive to environmental conditions and is prone to cracking.  A treasured bamboo instrument can come to harm in a dry environment (for example) if it is not properly stored and cared for.   My wooden instruments are specially treated to make them nearly impervious to environmental conditions.  I often use a resin-stabilization process on special woods, and all of the bores are treated with a clear coat epoxy resin for maximum smoothness and moisture proofing.  

Shakuhachi come in various sizes and tunings, but at this time I’m only offering the 1.8 size (key of D).

Listen to World Flute virtuoso Peter Phippen improvise on one of my 1.8 shakuhachi.


Shop the Store for Shakuhachi Flutes

Geoffrey Ellis Flutes

Contemporary World Flute Store

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