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Construction of the Persian ney

A potential ney Searching in a bush of Arundo Donax
Searching for the right piece of Arundo Donax

The Persian ney is made out of a piece of Arundo Donax, a bamboo-like grass. A piece is selected containing seven segments, which defines the length of the ney. Conditions must be just right to procude the right thickness and length. For this a hot dry climate such as in the area's south of Esfahan Iran is needed. The cut piece is dried for several years, and cleaned out, and 6 holes are burnt in it at the right spots. It has been said that only 1% of the neys produced this way actually sound good, so it is a time consuming process despite the simplicity of the instrument.

It is also possible to make a ney out of other materials, with excellent results. I've made some neys out of PVC and acrylic pipe which are as good as a nice cane ney, though not quite as good as the best neys I have.

The best materials I found so are:

  1. The light PVC pipe used for electrical conduit in Europe. The pipe I use has outer diameter 19mm, inner diameter 16mm, so the walls are 1.5mm thick. This is called "16mm PVC pipe" in Holland, where I bought it. The exact thickness is not so important, but this is the material I used.
  2. Extruded acrylic pipe from http://www.tapplastics.com. Look under the plastics section under "Rod, Tubes, and Shapes". Under clear acrylic tubing, they sell a size that is 1/16 wall, 5/8 ID, 3/4 OD. In millimeters, this works out to be 1.58 wall, 15.87 ID, 19.05 OD, which is very close to the dimensions of the PVC from Holland.
Cut a piece of length 610mm. File out one side from the inside, to make a sharp edge (it is not so important to make it very sharp). This side (the filed outside) is called the TOP of the ney.

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file to something like:

        
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Now take a cylindrical piece of steel (I use the back of drill bits) of diameter 9mm and heat it up over a candle. Make it hot enough to melt, but not burn the plastic. Melt in the finger-holes of the ney with this.

Alternatively you can use a "Forstener drill bit", made especially for making circular holes, for use with a power drill. For the acrylic this works better.

Front and back view of ney
Finger-holes of the ney. Also shown are a sari and a bottom cover. The nodes, where the braches were attached, are wrapped with red rotan
One hole at the back, 324mm from the top (i.e., the center of the hole is 324mm from the top), and 5 at the front, at distances 385mm, 407mm, 431mm, 484mm, 527mm from the top.

Heat the ney gently above the candle, at the area 48mm from the top, rotating the ney above the candle. When the area becomes slightly soft, take a piece of cord (not too thin, or you will cut the pipe), wind it around the hot area, and tighten it, making a notch with inside diameter slightly larger than the finger-holes. This is to imitate indentations where the side branches on the cane are. Do this at places 48mm, 172mm, 289mm, 396mm, 504mm, 595mm from the top.

The last thing to do is to widen the top. I do this by warming the top over a candle, and pushing a cone shaped metallic thingy in (about 2-3cm), thereby stretching the ney. I do this several times, until the top is a little wider than the rest. In the end you can insert the bottom of a the unstretched pipe into the top, very tightly. This last step improves the sound a lot. A better way to do this exists but I have not discovered it. If you do, let me know. (A hint: use a "taper pin" and a "tapered reamer".)

This ney plays in Bb (B flat). You can scale the length, to make neys in different keys. If interested, ask me for measurements from neys in other keys. They scale approximately linear (i.e., all proportions remain the same), but not completely. Smaller neys than C don't play well in the upper register. The longest ney I've made is F (C-kuk).

F ney (C-kuk)
F ney (C-kuk)
This ney is so long that I can't reach the fingerholes. However bending the ney at the nodes a bit, making a kindof zig-zag pattern brings the holes within reach. I've also offset the holes from the center to bring them within reach of the fingers. The sound is very good.

Brass sari
Sari from brass
Finally make a sari. Cut a piece of flexible plastic, X-ray film material is popular. The plastic from inside the collar of men's shirts is OK too. Or a soda-pop bottle. Wrap it around the top, sticking out slightly. This is your mouthpiece (called "sari"). It is sometimes made from brass, but this is very bad for the teeth and does not improve the sound in any way.

Top of ney Preparing to wrap a sari Plastic sari
Making a sari from X-ray film
Some players who have no gap between their front teeth to insert the ney in prefer to make a small cut in the sari, allowing the ney to enter further in the mouth. I've experimented with many shapes of cuts but in the end prefer to play without.

Below are measurements of several neys. Keep in mind the lengths can vary by about 1 cm depending on the inside structure. Narrower nodes give a lower pitch, smaller fingerholes give a lower pitch too.

Key LTBH h1 (back)h2h3h4h5h6 n1n2n3n4n5n6
F (C-kuk) 87720169 475552587619689749 52242409570717847
F> 82421179 450514548576643701 70240390535660765
F# 82820139 458523553584649704 92255400538665785
G 77219129 415486519546608660 62208357498632760
G> 75720119 405476509536601655 74225364490615730
Ab 72920159 388453483508568613 75210344468582694
Ap 72020129 392455486511570624 70213347473587690
A 69919139 374435464489546592 72198325450560656
A> 64521139 351405432455504550 72200315423523615
Bb 63320139 343398428452501543 67198311415515610
Bp 61519139 32838841243548853 49173290403505603
B 58819129 321368395419459550 60178283387479562
Cp 57720149 308358386408454495 58173280373468548
C 56019149 300347373395437478 61172270363453542
C> 52421149 279320346368407448 63157245335422500
C# 51619129 273320344363400443 41150245330412486
D 49020129 260299322342377414 57153238317389455
Eb 46019118 236280303322355393 47132215293370448
Ep 42819148.5 230265288307334369 50133210280345408
E 42419129 221252275293323357 50123195265334400
F 39118159 21024326427830333 47123190254315376
Dimensions (in mm) of various neys. L total length, T inner diameter at top, B inner diameter bottom, H diameter finger hole, h1,...,h6 center of finger hole from top (where you blow), n1,...,n6 center of node from top.


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