“Why do shakuhachi crack?”
Shakuhachi crack because of an imbalance of moisture loss or gain which is usually caused by a changes in the level of humidity. While lacquering the inside helps prevent mold and cracks from the sudden introduction of warm breath, it actually increases the chances a shakuhachi will crack at rest. This is because lacquer creates an imbalance by making the inside impermeable while leaving the outside permeable. You can read more about urushi lacquer here.
“How can I prevent my shakuhachi from cracking?”
Since bamboo can crack when there is a large enough drop in the humidity it is advisable to store your shakuhachi in an air-tight bag or case. Generally speaking, around 50% humidity is desirable for preventing cracks. If a shakuhachi should crack it can almost always be repaired without any loss in sound quality. To help prevent cracks, avoid leaving your shakuhachi out of its protective bag or case especially when you find yourself in harsh dry environments such as; AC, around heaters, camp fires, in closed automobiles, deserts, beaches, snow, and so on. Too much humidity can be as detrimental as too little so it is best to regulate humidity. One elegant solution to this are silicone humidity regulating beads.
“Should I oil my shakuhachi and does it help”?
I do not recommend oiling shakuhachi. It can possibly help prevent cracks in shakuhachi but very few oils will actually work and they have to be applied expertly. Furthermore, these oils have strong odors which I personally do not find pleasant. If you oil a shakuhachi it will most likely prevent it from being able to be lacquered. I also may turn down returns or trades if a shakuhachi of mine has been oiled.
“Can pre-binding prevent cracks?”
From extensive experience, pre-bindings will prevent cracks in most cases. Sometimes small cracks may form after a flute has been bound but will often not go far or require further repair.
“Do cracked and repaired shakuhachi sound different?”
Cracked and repaired shakuhachi usually sound the same because the bamboo will join back together like two puzzle pieces. Pictured below is a 1.8 “D” shakuhachi I made for a student of mine which suffered a crack. He lives in Arizona and he was very concerned that the crack would be an issue, however, I assured him that it would be just fine. To date, the instrument has not suffered any more cracks and the existing crack has not moved.
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Below are images of a jiari type shakuhachi which cracked. Thankfully none of the plaster on the inside came loose. As you can imagine, cracks in jiari can be much more troublesome due to the plaster (ji), lacquer (urushi), and blowing-edge inlay or utaguchi. This customer chose a nice deep burgundy binding cord which resembles the cherry bark used in many fine Japanese crafts. I added brown kijomi urushi and buffed it out on the center joint rattan for a nice effect that would blend well with the new bindings.
“What bindings do you offer?”
I offer quite a few color choices for topical bindings and the traditional rattan veneer for inlaid bindings.
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