What is the sound of bamboo shakuhachi or jinashi. Compared with many other instruments, jinashi shakuhachi present a staggering amount of variety. For this reason, I’ll talk about the sound of most bamboo jinashi shakuhachi when compared to many jiari or human-made bores. In short, most jinashi sound rustic when compared to many jiari which sound more refined. We can really leave it at that. However, some wonder why this is. Taking an “everyday Zen approach”, we can simply look at what’s physically different between the two, rather than getting into metaphysics or spirituality.
For example, if we fill a shakuhachi up with water and compare the amount it holds to its length we get a very useful bit of information. For instance, if we take an average jiari and jinashi of the same length and do this, we will find that the jinashi holds more water. If we look down the bore we’ll see that the jiari is smooth and uniform while the jinashi is less so, maybe even rough. For simplicity we could say narrow-smooth and wider-rougher.
The narrow-smooth bore of the jiari focuses the air and lets it flow. It will sound loud, clean, and feel easy. Conversely, the wider-rougher jinashi will be less focused and will resist the air more. It will sound more mellow/dark, textured/rough, and it will feel a bit more difficult or effortful to play. Very wide jinashi shakuhachi will be quite difficult, often resulting in an “airy” sound when played. With that said, the utaguchi blowing-edge and fingers holes have a huge affect on the tone as well.
For example, small finger holes can make a narrow bore jiari sound a bit more like a jinashi while big finger holes on a jinashi can make it sound a bit more like a jiari. The angle and size of the blowing-edge has a similar effect and the largest impact on the shakuhachi for the smallest amount of change. In the end, shakuhachi are complex, and simple. Everything is interconnected. The most significant attribute of a shakuhachi is of course us, how we play it, and our mood, if any, while we do so.