Caring for your shakuhachi
Caring for a shakuhachi is rather simple when compared with many other instruments. They are incredibly durable and have no moving parts to worry about. Proper storage and cleaning are the most important measures for maintaining a shakuhachi. It is advisable to store your shakuhachi in an air-tight bag or case because bamboo can crack when there is a large enough shift in the humidity. Some people twist a bit of damp cloth or paper towel into the top of their flute bags but if you do this make sure that it doesn’t touch the flute. Avoid leaving your shakuhachi out of its protective bag or case when you’re not playing it especially when you find yourself in harsh dry environments such as air-conditioning, heaters, camp fires, closed automobiles, deserts, beaches, snow, and so on.
As for cleaning, the inner bore of the instrument requires periodic attention because this is where moisture from the breath can condensate. To clean the inside of your shakuhachi, pull a swab-cloth or “tsuyutoshi” through the bore after playing it. If you do not have a swab-cloth you can make one by tying a length of string that is longer than your shakuhachi to the corner of a bit of cloth which is of a size that will not get stuck in the bore, usually about 14″ x 14″ (see video below). To use the swab-cloth drop the string down the bore, protect the tone-edge with your thumb, and pull the cloth through. To help the string drop through the bore more easily you can tie a small bead to the end.
The above video shows me tying a removable knot so that you can put just the cloth in the washing machine. Alternatively you can tie any knot and hand-wash the cloth or put it in a delicate garment bag for the washing machine which will keep the string from getting tangle around other clothing items and possibly causing damage.
You can use this cloth to periodically clean the inside with a one-to-one solution of water and distilled white vinegar in order to kill mold, germs, and remove odors. To do this, moisten the swab-cloth with the vinegar solution and ring it out before pulling it through the bore then wipe off any solution that gets on the outside of the shakuhachi. The vinegar smell will completely dissipate in a few hours or less.
You can clean the finger-holes with a baby size toothbrush, cotton swabs, or nylon bristle pipe cleaners. For a natural unlacquered bore you may need to use a dryer vent brush to periodically scrub the bore should it become moldy. To do this, dip the end of the dryer vent brush in the vinegar solution, protect the tone-edge with your thumb, and carefully scrub the bore. When you are done you can run the swab-cloth through the bore to soak up any excess solution.
Lastly, I don’t recommend oiling shakuhachi. Whether or not it helps prevent cracking is unknown. Most oils have strong odors, will go rancid, and will probably grow mold more easily. If you oil a shakuhachi it will make it impossible for lacquer to adhere to it which should be kept in mind if lacquering might ever be desirable. I don’t accept returns if a flute has been oiled.