Its name means "1.8 shaku", referring to the traditional size. This is 54.5cm or 21 7/16".
There are many varieties of shakuhachi. The most obvious variation are the different shakuhachi sizes, but there are material differences as well.
To understand the different kinds of shakuhachi, you have to understand what they are made of.
A shakuhachi is traditionally made from the madake variety of bamboo. Other types of bamboo can also be used. However it can be made from all kinds of materials like hardwoods or PVC (plastic).
The sound will vary depending on the material.
Root or non-root bamboo ∞
Bamboo is a tall tree. The shakuhachi is traditionally made from the "root end" - the end touching the ground. However, they can be made from parts of the bamboo which are higher up.
Professionals insist on the quality of shakuhachi made from root bamboo. They say the sound is better.
A note on material and sound. "Technically perfect" sound can be attained by using precision-crafted plastic. However, there are a few things to note:
- The material itself has a sort of "vibration" or "colour" which influences its sound.
- The hand-crafting of a shakuhachi gives each one a unique "personality".
Shakuhachi are not always tuned in the same way western instruments are. Some shakuhachi are made to be "in tune with themselves", disregarding the tuning needed for playing with others. These flutes are purely for solo play and meditation.
One or two pieces ∞
Many shakuhachi can be disassembled into two pieces. Those that cannot are called nobekan, or one-piece instruments.
Inner filler ∞
Jiari shakuhachi use a Ji filler to adjust the thickness and smoothness of the inner bore. This is done to "tune" the instrument.
Shakuhachi without Ji filler are called Jinashi.
Ji is a paste made of a mixture of urushi sap and tonoko powder. The result is a Plaster of Paris-like paste that is carefully hand applied to the inside of the bore to manipulate the resonance spots.
Outer lacquer ∞
Lacquer is sometimes applied on the outside for aesthetics (FIXME: and perhaps as a seal? - contact me for a correction).
Mouthpiece inlay ∞
The utaguchi, or blowing edge, often has a mouthpiece inlay. Ivory has been the favourite inlay material. Today, reclaimed ivory is commonly used.
Hotchiku shakuhachi ∞
One-piece flutes which are Jinashi (no Ji filler), completely unlacquered and have no mouthpiece inlay are called hotchiku and sometimes jinashi nobekan.
Kyotaku shakuhachi ∞
There is an "especially raw" flute called the kyotaku.
Kokū Nishimura is a famous practitioner of the kyotaku.
Shakuhachi age ∞
A good quality modern shakuhachi will almost always have a bigger sound, better balance between notes, and usually have a wider "sweet spot" on most notes than a pre-war shakuhachi.