PVC Percussion Pipe Organ Sounds Surprisingly Good!

PVC Instrument

Using over 20′ feet of PVC pipe, a whole bunch of 2 x 4’s and a few nuts and bolts, [Jeremy] and his cousin put together a rather unique percussion pipe organ.

[Jackson], his cousin who is a musician is always looking for different ways to make music. They had a rough idea of what they wanted to do with a few sketches, but after a day of tinkering, they ended up with something completely different — but it sounds awesome.

The frame is made of a combination of 2 x 6’s and 2 x 4’s which hold the PVC tubes in place. PVC elbows and varying lengths of pipe create a wide range of rather deep bass notes. It can be played with just your hands, or even a pair of sandals for better effect. You’d be surprised how good it sounds.

For other non-intentional uses for PVC… how about a child’s roller-freaking-coaster?

31 thoughts on “PVC Percussion Pipe Organ Sounds Surprisingly Good!

    1. Blue Man Group notwithstanding, these were featured at Bay Area Maker Faire a whiiiile ago too. Glad to see more people are doing it. Maybe the next style will be as a true whistler / pipe organ.

      I read a study of clarinets, wherein people attached clarinet headform to a variety of materials including pipe, hose, turned wood, and when tuned properly, musicians were not able to hear the difference – and a clarinet has a complex sound!

      I’d like to see it converted from percussion to wind!

  1. I recently built a marching version out of 4″ PVC that I can carry over my shoulder on a strap. I take it to maker fairs and other events and kids love it. I use pool noodle pieces as drum sticks. The best part is it’s all dumpster-scored materials.

  2. Sharp elbows slew the wave front passing down the pipe, it is considered poor pipe organ building practice. Thermal bending is way cooler. Some of BMG’s look like organic forms, a slithering mass. I have done 1 inch and the next size up and down with a nice gentle radius of 6 inch or so.
    Next hack:
    Make one movable wind way for an organ pipe with a big hand bellows or blower and move it from pipe to pipe. It must fit airtight or it will not give full tone.

    1. Second. The whole point of plastics is what happens when you apply heat. I’ve been a HUGE FAN of hot nailing, hot screwing, hot bending, hot stapling for 20 years. Basically you can do anything with plastics. I adore their performance under heating. I suggest making a frame in the shape of a frustum of a cone so they can bend it — but the material should be thin sheet metal so they can put a flame under it. rotate the metal around and around on it until it starts to sag, then give it the desired shape. One tool will work with all pipe lengths, sizes, and any curve based upon a conic section!

      1. Also I used hot bending to build a pagoda-top greenhouse this season, from 1/2 inch sched 40 pvc. Anchors are 3′ sections of the same pvc, put in at weird angles. Used hot screws to attach at the collars, attached the vertical parts, then used a final hot bend to make each piece perfectly vertical. After putting the cute bends in the top, I did some general bending to even out the tension and I’m really happy with it, and even though it’s crazy lightweight, it never seems to blow away in the wind!

        Plus, the beauty of hot screwing versus pvc cement is: if you decide you want to pack it up, you can. If you decide you want to modify or reuse the parts, you can. It’s really way better than gluing.

      2. A proper linear extrusion heat chamber would be much more ideal. Sure it takes up a lot of space, but if you do more than a few projects with bent pipe, it is totally worth it. I worked with one (and eventually designed a replicant of) and they make things like this super easy. It is basically a long tunnel with a door on one end. Both ends have ducts dropping below, to a second tunnel filled with heaters and blowers. Essentially a race track for hot air. The factor that makes REALLY clean bends is that hot air not only wraps around but travels through the extrusion to be bent.
        That, and MUCH more precise control over air temperature and ‘soak time’ means that the entire extrusion is at the same bend temperature.
        Open door, pull out extrusion and wrap around your form. Blow cold air from a compressor into one end to ‘freeze’ the shape. Repeat.
        Fantastic for any long length of plastic.. acrylic, pvc, flat bar, tube, rod…

    1. vonskippy, you’ve asked a good question. I think I can at least partially answer it:

      “mechanical” musical instruments == musical instruments, in the classical sense. And I think really these days the only differentiating factor between electronic / synthesized and traditional instruments is:

      it is person-powered

      It also seems to me that from my experience studying music since I was eight, while *you* can’t hear the difference because it’s being demoed on your speakers, if you were to stand next to this machine you’d be able to differentiate it from a synthesizer 100% of the time, no matter what synth and what speakers.

      Think about it: there is no speaker that’s quite as fast as a real percussion instrument at beginning to vibrate. This is especially obvious about drum kits and other such instruments (this one would be as well, though not quite as fast). Its emanations will sound audibly more clear and feel different as vibrations.

      Now, if your definition of “better” is “I can make more changes to the sound as I perform on it,” then the synthesizer will be “better.” You could probably do some stuff to offer a few effects, like pitch bending with a telescoping segment, but not as much as you could do with a synth.

      That said, though, if you’re looking for an instrument to sound in person like a live instrument, you need a live instrument. This will count as one.

      1. Thanks for the explanation. Wonder if we’re heading for a “singularity” where electronically synthesized “sound” will be indistinguishable from mechanically generated “sound”.

        1. A huge part of what makes traditional instruments distinguishable from synths is that human musicians make very squishy, organic inconsistencies as they play. There’s the obvious stuff like minute variations in note length and volume, but it gets more complicated than that. For an instrument in the violin family, for example, the sound is affected by the angle of the bow on three axes; bow speed; where the bow is on the string (ie whether it’s closer to the bridge or the fingerboard); where on the bow it makes contact with the string (eg playing near the frog produces a harsher, louder sound than playing near the middle); the exact timing of how the strings are pressed (ie how soon before the note is played do the fingers finish pressing the string down); how the musician holds his/her arms (which affects efficiency of transmitted force and thus how smoothly the bow is drawn and how nimbly the strings are pressed); and so on.

          Now, you generally can’t listen to a performance and get a complete picture of technique (“his bow is at X degrees from the the string and the right elbow is at Y degrees and the wrist is this bent”) but taken together in various combinations they have a dramatic effect on sound. These factors in concert (pun intended) are what makes it easy to tell a novice from a pro even on the same instrument. A master musician is able to control all these variations for the purpose of expression.

          What I’m getting as is that even given a synth capable of producing output indistinguishable from traditional instruments (and indeed some of those variables can already be simulated) it would take an enormous amount of time and care to actually *use* the expressiveness the synth affords you, rather than just adding procedural “jitter” to make the recording indistinguishable from a rote, “mechanical”, but real live performance.

          It seems to me that in practice most people will tend to fall into one of two camps: either they want to use synths *because* they’re synths and can do things that so-called mechanical instruments can’t; or they see the human musician as an integral part of the artistic process, and synths as merely a stand-in for composers who can’t afford to hire musicians, and a stand-in that is second rate for reasons that lie at least in part outside of the audio.

          tl;dr: It’ll probably be possible, but I don’t think it will dramatically change the course of musical history.

      2. Sometimes the groove or feeling you get from physically playing an instrument can not compare to a prerecorded sample. the strumming, finger picking, drum beating actions create a euphoria for me and im sure many musicians and artists can agree.

    2. Why not both? I’ve used my tubulum to make loops on my KP3 sampler and build grooves around it. I could use a sample on a keyboard, but I get way more control and variation of the sound by using different beaters and hand positions on a physical instrument. Everything has it’s place.

  3. Why don’t churches and other places dump those expensive, shrill, hand bells and start using these instead. It sounds much better and you don’t have to wear those stupid white gloves. (you just have to hold sandals in your hands. :-) )

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