From 2017, I started working on restoration of old damaged shakuhachi.
This is a way for me to improve on different repairing techniques and also to learn more the construction by studying different maker’s flute.
I’m able now to offer repairing services on your beloved flutes !
Repairing cracks and splits
Bamboo is by its nature is likely to crack even after decades. Any kind of split is repairable with care and patience.
As soon as a crack appears on the surface of the bamboo it needs to be fixed before it gets worse.
In case of an open crack (opening until the bore), the sound of the flute disappear; the repair then consists in closing the split (without any glue) and bind tightly the flute to avoid reopening.
There are different types of bindings all of them strengthened with Urushi lacquer in order to last longer in time :
External Binding with poly-coton extra strong thread
(cost : 10€/binding)
Inlaid thread binding for a nicer finish with several coats of Urushi
(cost : 25€/binding)
Inlaid rattan binding – The most aesthetic of the traditional Japanese binding; thread sealed with Urushi with a extra thin rattan thread on top. It requires precision and patience.
(cost : 40€/binding)
When a cracks opens the bore, the urushi coating is usually also cracked the shakuhachi then also needs new lacquering whose price depends on how bad is the crack.
Inlaid silver pledges
There is also a traditional Japanese technique for repairing splits in a shakuhachi by inlaying silver pledges in the crack. This method is no longer used nowadays because it is not securing properly the cracks.
We can often see how the crack moves toward the edge of the pledge. (see picture)
However, I find that technique interesting in the case of cracks on the foot in between two raws of roots. (see picture)
Cost for one silver pledge inlay : 25€
Work on the Utaguchi
The inlay in Utaguchi is a delicate part hat is likely to be damaged in time which directly affect the flute in its sound production.
It exists therefore two solutions to repair :
In case of small chips, it is possible to fill them with a mix of bamboo powder and glue.
(Cost : 10 to 30€)
When the embouchure is badly damaged, the inlay should be replaced and the Utaguchi reshaped. It’s a thorough work; a new Urushi coating must be applied to the embouchure.
(Cost : 50€)
Work on the Nakatsuki joint
It often comes that in time, the joint of two parts shakuhachi gets loose causing a leak of air that affects the sound.
The usual symptom being a loss of sound on the Ro (the deepest note) which tends to jump in Kan (second octave)
The solution is to apply several coats of Urushi to give the joint its perfect sealing back. Generally, 3 layers of Urushi are enough but sometimes not. The process can be long with several days of curing between each layer and fine polishing.
(Cost : from 40 to 60€)
Complete lacquering of the Shakuhachi bore
The Urushi coating protecting the bore of a shakuhachi can be altered in different manners. Mostly cracks due to bamboo splitting, chips or flakes and bubbles due to long time storage in bad conditions.
When the lacquer inside the bore is cracked, even if the split is closed with bindings, the sound can be affected. Several layers of Urushi are needed. Sometimes, Ji is added in the gaps; and again, several days of curing and fine polishing.
The cost may vary from one type of Urushi to another. Black and glossy Roiro Urushi is the most common the red types Bengara and Shu no moto are more expansive and with longer curing.
(Cost : from 50 to 80 €)
Re-tuning a Shakuhachi
Some shakuhachi might need adjustments of their tuning.
It can be either the overall tuning of the instrument or only some specific tones that are too low or too high.
The process of re-tuning then consists of modification of tone-holes or bore opening at the foot (for adjusting ro).
Adjusting the overtone tuning is much more complicated; it is necessary when there is a difference of tuning between 1st and 2nd octave.
It is therefore needed to modify the bore design which is highly tricky because acting directly on the acoustical characteristics of the shakuhachi.
Cost for tone-holes modifications : 10 to 40€ /hole
Cost for bore modifications : 50 to 150€ depending on level of complexity.
It is important to remind that there can be tuning problems due to the way of blowing. Typically, a beginner is generally playing in a lower pitch because the embouchure control which enables playing in tune requires quite a long regular practice.
The essence of shakuhachi making lies in the search of good balance; The choice of knowing when to stop improving the bore is up to the maker. Thus, in restoring a shakuhachi it is also needed to respect the balance decided by the maker. On older shakuhachi for instance, the tuning was different from nowadays; in those cases, I prefer not to change it in respect of the ‘spirit’ of these shakuhachi.