How to Make a PVC Quena

By Kochava R. Greene
A painted PVC quena

The quena is a traditional flute from the Andes. Quenas can be made from bamboo and other natural materials in addition to PVC pipe. PVC quenas are durable, waterproof and easy to make and play. In this article, you'll learn how to make just such a PVC quena in the key of G.

Cut the PVC pipe to 17 inches long. You will shorten it later to tune it to G, but you will want to start with it longer than it will end up.

The notch at the top of a quena

Cut a U-shaped notch at the top end that is 0.3 inch wide and deep. Sand the notch so that it is smooth.

A schematic for quena hole placement by Dan Bruner

Drill the holes. It is important that the holes be in precisely the right places for the quena to be in tune, so always measure twice with the precision rule before drilling. Start with the top hole, positioning it 7.56 inches from the top of the quena. The second hole should be 8.62 inches from the top. The first and second holes should be .44 inch in diameter. The third hole is positioned 25 degrees off to the left (as you look down the quena from the notch) of the center line created by the notch and first two holes. The third hole should be 9.81 inches from the top of the quena and .38 inch in diameter. The fourth hole is positioned 11.14 inches from the top and is back on the center line. It should be .25 inch in diameter. The fifth hole is 12.03 inches from the top of the quena and is .47 inch in diameter. It should also be on the center line. The sixth and final hole is 13.25 inches from the top of the quena. It should be .25 inch in diameter and is 25 degrees off to the right (as you look down the quena from the notch) of the center line. Finally, drill a hole .27 inch in diameter in the back 6.87 inches from the top. The illustration here shows these dimensions in a chart created by Dan Bruner.

Sand the holes so that they are smooth all around.

Blow through the quena with all of the holes covered. All of the notes will be flat until you tune them. Set the tuning machine to G. Shorten the quena in small amounts from the end until the sound you make with all of the holes covered matches the G on the tuning machine. Lifting one finger at a time, continue to tune each note, going up the scale. To raise the pitch and bring notes into tune, enlarge the holes a tiny bit at a time using the reamer.

Sand the holes for a final time. This PVC quena will play two octaves from G to G.

Warning

You can round the measurements for the placement of the holes if needed, but the resulting quena will not usually be in tune the way it will if you are able to use a precise small-unit rule.