Monday, December 13, 2010

PVC Instrument Tutorial, part 4

It's really close to being done. The stand is almost done and I have the tubing for the last 5 notes, I may get that done today, but I need to do some shopping.

So, when last we met, I was having trouble getting the holes drilled in my particle board. I would suggest using other wood for this, particle board is heavy compared to the same size in wood like poplar or even a piece of cut plywood. But I had this piece in my garage and it looked pretty so I went ahead and used it. I like that it's white and went with the pvc pipes.

The next morning, I had two very charged batteries for my cordless drill and got the other holes drilled without worry. The neighbor forgot to bring the corded drill over before he went to his job. So, the cordless worked fine. i did go buy a corded drill though, since my husband is doing a project that required drilling into concrete and my cordless wasn't going to do that!!

You can see the holes here and you'll see this photo again since it shows how the base is going to mount onto the board. Pretty ingenious I think for using the circles that I cut out of the board.

After the holes were cut out, I got started on the base. I wanted nothing in the front, just the whole thing open so I wouldn't be fighting with the note tubes and everything could be seen well by the audience They people who will see this will be amazing and I think they should be able to see it clearly.

Here you can see that as I started putting in the notes, the board began to bow in the middle. It was just a little bowing, but not all the notes were in and I knew this was going to be a problem so I put a middle vertical brace in the back.

For the sides, it was fine and I have horizontal pipes near the top just to keep the legs steady and sturdy.

Side view of the base legs. I do need to say that I didn't do the math quite right and the high F touches the legs on the right side. It doesn't make the sound different BUT the tube doesn't sit flat on the top of the table. If I had it to do over (and I might) I would make the table top 6 inches longer (to 55 inches) and 1 inch wider to 15 inches. That way the notes could be 1/4 inch more apart and the legs wouldn't hit any notes. Nothing is glues yet so if I think it's a problem, I can always get another top board and redrill the holes for note tube.

So how does the top board fit onto the base legs? Well, let me how you! I'm actually pretty proud of the way I did it, it cost nothing and reused the circles that my drill bit cut out of the holes. I was looking for some way to use them and this hit me and I thought it was perfect.

The circles fit perfectly inside the couplings. So the circles are bolted to the bottom corners of the board and the top of each leg has a coupling. So the table just turns over and sits on the circles. I'll do this to the bottom board also, I just have to get that board cut, since it's a strange size. I may also make it slightly bigger so the bottom of the base is more stable. Here are some photos:

The progression of the way the circles are bolted to the bottom the board, I didn't want to use nuts on the bottom, the bolts are glued and circles are glued so there should be no problems later.

The cicles will be glued to the couplings when I find the perfect glue to put particle board and pvc together.

That big black thing is my dog Dee Dee

I also installed the vertical brace on that back as seen here:

It goes all the way to the floor for better support.

There is a circle and coupling set up on it too so everything is sturdy.

At this point the base stands 34 inches tall. It will be about 38 inches after wheels and that will be too tall. I will take some inches out of the legs to make the whole thing 36 inches tall with wheels at the end.
Sometimes you gotta make a few mistakes to get it right in the end. . .

So, after getting base mostly done, it was time to load it up with notes so the kids could play it. Like I said earlier, the F note touches the base leg and when the last note goes in at the left side it will touch too, but not as much. Those notes will also touch the bottom board. The lowest note I have will be about 65 inches, or 5 feet 5 inches.

The longer sharps at the top that sit horizontal have to be hung from the board and then all the hanging notes will have to be supported from each other. I used metal tape with holes in it and each tube screwed into the tape. It's a great way to make sure the notes don't bounce around or vibrate out of position.

Sorry about the light coming in from the door. Here you can see the tape. It screwed to the under side of the board, folded over so the tape doesn't come loose, and then it comes down behind the tubes and each tube is screwed to the tape. I use 1/2 inch screws so they only go into the tube slightly. I don't know if a longer screw would make the sound different.

I did this in several places both vertical and horizontal to stabilize the tubes in different ways.

I too out the short tubes, had someone hold the longer tubes and used a sharpie to make where to drill inside the tape holes. I screwed each, one at a time, and checked how it hung before going on the next one. The biggest thing is to make them hand so the coupling on the top of the board are flat against the top.

When you build yours, use supports where-ever you think they will be needed. No such thing as too much support, in my opinion.

Here is what the instrument, fondly named Thumper, looks like today. I have 5 more notes and when I get those done I will add those photos here.

All the metal supports have been wrapped in white duct tape so they blend nicely against the pipes.

So I still need to make the last 5 notes, put a board on the bottom with wheels and adjust the height of the whole thing and it will be done!!

Email me if you have questions or want to chat about Thumper I will make some videos of it being played and get them up here.

Thanks for looking! Have fun making your PVC Instrument.

Friday, December 10, 2010

PVC Instrument Tutorial, part 3

I started on my version of the base today. I wandered aimlessly around both Home Depot and Lowes trying to get less expensive ideas on how to make this portable and not so heavy that it can't BE portable.

I came up with this idea: top in a white particle board shelf, 4 feet long by 12 inches. I did the math and got myself 14 squares for white keys that I will drill out, with 3/4 inches between each
tube. The sharps are 1 inch above the naturals.

In this photo you can see how the squares came out. Each square has a center that I've found and will drill out with a 2.5 inch core bit It will take out the whole circle at once. I got all 14 white keys and 7 sharps on this 4 foot shelf.

Here are a few holes drilled out. I checked the holes with a few tubes but didn't take a photo of it. I want to surprise you with the whole thing when it's finished.

It was a gorgeous day today, 60* in Denver, when it was so cold in Miami!! Unfortunately, my cordless drill just wasn't up to the big job of drilling through 1 inch particle board. I got 14 holes done and my neighbor is lending me his corded drill to finish up the rest tomorrow.

This board will be help up by four legs of PVC tubing, the back and sides will have horizontal supports but the front will be open. The bottom will be another board, or just a base of PVC, I will figure that out tomorrow. But it will not be as expensive as the first base I was thinking of, and not nearly as heavy, either.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

PVC Instrument Tutorial, part 2

So, I got to Home Depot to pick up more bends. I got enough for 6 more notes and I also picked up black couplings for the sharps. Now they look like they do on the piano! Should make it look cool and make it easier for my youngest daughter to keep track of where the notes are.

The black couplings were exactly the same as the white ones so the change did not seem to change the sound or make the tubes out of tune. Whew!

I started on the next notes, from F down to C. As soon as I added the F, the cardboard bent and wasn't going to support any more weight so I had to move the tubes to the floor for the remainder of the project. I did wander Home Depot and a nice guy named Jim helped me out. I showed him the photos I've taken so far so he had an idea od what I was looking for in a base and we found a couple of good ideas. $75 for the base, which isn't really bad. The thing is a 4 shelving unit and I'd use two of the shelves and the other two would go in my husbands brew haus in our basement. We'll see.

Here are a few pictures of the layout on the floor. . .

On the long pipes, natural notes, the verticle pipe is exactly 3.5 inches longer than the last one. The horizontal pipe out from that is 5.75 inches and the next horizontal pipe is the one I tuned. I would take off just that small pipe and chop saw a blade width off of that and check the tuning.

The next note is a sharp and has to bend quick so it will go toward the top. This is because that pipe is in front of the others when hanging. So here is the beginning of that note:

Here you see how the vertical part is short and the bend comes quick. The horizontal section is very short, just the two bends touching each other. The piece between them is just enough to hold the two bends together.

The next horizontal section is very long. . .

Here you can see that the D# ended up being so long that it came to the same spot as the F#. The next sharp will be a C# and it's really long sideways.

Here is the layout with the C# added. It's more than 3 feet long sideways and that's as long as I want any horizontal tubing.

It's cool to see how the ends are so close. When this is hung, the tubes will open toward the audience so the sound is directed at them.

With the C natural added. It's the tallest tube I will have, also about 32 inches tall. I don't want to get any taller, as I want the base included to be about 34-35 inches tall. Any more and the instrument will be too tall to play comfortably.

I made 6 total notes today, need 5 more for two full octaves but now I have to get more creative. Where are those 5 notes going to bend? I suspect that from here I will have to 'U' bend and come beside the notes I already have. I only have one more foot to work with for the base I decided on so I have to map this out to stay within that range. it'll be a challenge!

I took the other pipes and layed them all out as they will be in the final instrument. The notes won't be quite as close as they are here, since here each one touches.

You can see the space I have to make the next notes tuck into the rest. It's only 5 notes so it should be interesting so see how it turns out.

Kind of looks like a grand piano in shape, doesn't it? I wonder if that means I'm doing something right?!? I have 25 feet of tubing left. I'll have to do the math and see if that's enough.

Tune in again in a few days. I'll see if i can get the base soon. It's Christmas and I have 4 kids to shop for! I can't spend a whole more on this until after the holiday, but I may do something temporary in order to play with it.

Email me with questions,

Thanks for tuning in!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

PVC Instrument Tutorial

So, I saw a YouTube video of Kent Jenkins playing his cool PVC Instrument ( and I had to create one. I used the Nate True how to as a guide, but that instrument that he made just wasn't quite what I wanted. Here is a guide, at least the start to it, to help you out including some math.
The math isn't hard AT ALL!! I will walk you through it.

There are pictures through this, so you can see what I've done. You can duplicate or do your own way.

I used 2 inch diameter PVC. There are also 2 inch black pipes that work perfectly well, I just liked the white better. I'm thinking of putting a bunch of stickers all over the pipes. I suggest also using 2 inch because of the math. It's much easier with 2 inch.

Tools I use:
*chromatic tuner (piano isn't quite good enough, see if you can
borrow one, or buy one for about $30, they are good to have around if you play other instruments)
*Measuring Tape
*Pipe Cutter (there are expensive so borrow one if you can, they are about $50)
*Flip Flops (these are great for playing the instrument)
*Chop Saw (for fine tuning)
*Sand Paper (takes the sharpness off the edges and the lettering off the tubing)

The very first thing you must do is get a really long 2 inch tube, 3 feet is good. And a coupling. You'll need a coupling for each tube, those keep the tubes from falling through the shelf or table you'll mount the whole thing on. You need to do all measurements with the coupling on as tight as you can get it. If you put the couplings on last, all the tuning will be off. Buy the coupling and measure with them on. They are currently .49 each. The 10 foot of tube is $5.35. The bends you see are $1.80. Those are the expensive things.

So, you have the long tubing and a coupling. You need to put the coupling on and use the tuner to see what you've got in the way of tuning. You want an A under middle C. This note vibrates at 220 and we need to have this perfect in order to do the math. Perfect A.

So, what's the math?
It's NOT hard, it's all done on the regular calculator.

Okay, after you have the perfect A, measure the tube with coupling (always with coupling, did I mention that?) and get it to the nearest 1/16th inch. We need this to be really close.

We are looking for the speed of sound. It's not the same everywhere. The speed of sound is different inside and outside your house. It's different from Tampa, FL to Denver, CO. You need the speed of sound for your area. We find it with the perfect A and the tube length of that perfect A.

Speed of Sound (SS) = (tube length - tube diameter/2) X 2 X Frequency
For this the frequency is 220 (that perfect A)

my math looked like this: SS = (29.25 - 1) X 2 X 220
SS = 28.25 X 2 X 220
SS = 12430 This means for my area, Denver CO, the speed of sound is 12430 somethings per minute.

The next math will generate tube lengths for you, but you have to find what each note frequency is. They are not linear. If you subtract one from the next, you do not get the same amount between each note, you will have to do each note's math. You can find this info on the internet, just Google 'Music Note Frequency' and you'll get lots of tables of info.

One thing I did find is that the lower notes sound much better in PVC than higher notes. I made my instrument up to an F above Middle C and will go no higher, since it sounds a bit bad in PVC above that. But you can experiment with higher if you like. Now is the time to determine how wide a range you want to do. You can get one octave per 25 feet from F down to G. The lower the note, the longer the tube has to be.

So, tube length. Since you have the speed of sound for your area, you will need to find out tube lengths for your notes.

The math is: Tube length = speed of sound/2 X Frequency + tube diameter/2

So, my math looked like this: TL = 12430/2 X 233.08 + 1 (for G#)
TL = 12430/466.16 + 1
TL = 27.664 inches (to find 1/16 inch, 664 X 16 = 10624 or 10.624 which is 11/16 rounded up)

I cut my tube just a bit longer with the cutter and used the chop saw to cut blade widths off and check it to my chromatic tuner. Be sure to clean out the inside before trying to tune, it might make a difference.

That is the math you'll need to do for each note you use in your range. Remember, do the math twice so you only have to cut once.

These are the high notes on my instrument.
Longest is 30ish inches and G# and the shortest is an F above middle C. I did make the A#, just not pictured here. Each one has a coupling so they hang well. You'll see that in another photo.

Okay, from here you will need to do math, cut, tune, chop, tune etc. After the G# above, I knew that the G natural would be too long to keep straight. From here it would be time to bend and weave the next notes. I needed to see them hang so I used a long box from long ceiling lights and cut holes in it and hung the finished tubes.

This is the musicians side of the instrument.
The couplings keep the tubes from dropping through the 2 inch holes in the cardboard.

This is the audience side.

So as the tube lengths get longer, they will have to go somewhere, like up and over. I've seen YouTube vids of instruments that look like two Giant Squids roman greco wrestling and I don't want mine to look like that. I also want to be able to port it places, like my son's Cub Scout meetings. So it can't sit on the floor at all. New notes will have to go up and over and around and around. . .

Here are two new notes, G and F# and you can see how I'm going to do this. The F# is on top. They won't hang funky like this on the finished instrument, the cardboard doesn't hold them up very well and they will have supports behind them to make them stable.

This is all I have for now, I am out of elbows so I need to hit Home Depot for more of those. And I'll have to look around for what I want to use as the top and base. I can't keep them on the chairs!

More in a few days, email me with questions at for more info.
Thanks for looking!

Here is a sneek peak at the almost finished instrument: