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I visit the Musical Instrument Makers Forum infrequently, but recently I found there in the Wind Instruments section a thread "how to make a pretty good serpent..." which presented Scott Hall's design for a quick-and-dirty serpent look- and sound-alike. Tempted by the idea of obtaining a bizarre instrument, close enough to a trombone that I could play it, for a small financial outlay and two days of work, I went for it.

I had to cycle off and buy plywood; luckily the timber merchant around the corner was able to deliver a sheet later that same day. I cut out the three layers, and glued them together. That was the first day's work...

The next day, I first had to cycle out once again to purchase more supplies. On my return I was able to dril and insert the bocal and mouthpiece and test that it actually made a noise! Satisfied, then came the hardest and longest task, cutting a 45 degree bevel all along each of the four sides. It was also a little wobbly but thankfully that does not show too badly on the finished article. Here I am just over 1/4 of the way through, and tired already!

Once the corners were cut and the rough bits smoothed and sanded I carved the inside of the mouth to form a sort of bell, both to make it look better and hopefully sound louder. Then the whole thing needed a serious dusting before the next stage - wrapping the entire length in PVC tape. This picture shows where the first roll ran out. Of course I was prepared and had, despite my cynicism, bought two.

Finally, I inserted the bocal, and also made little brass inserts for the fingerholes. To bend the rim I simply pulled them with a pair of pliers, annealed, pulled again and finally neatened with a hammer. The brass binding at the bocal end is simply nailed on with two furniture nails.

The bocal was originally quite straight, as I was going to wait and use a pipe bender, but Scott Hall suggested filling the bocal with water, then freezing, and then bending. I did this and it worked but not 100% perfectly - the tube did not crumple but is slightly oval on the bend.

This is not a real serpent; the bocal is parallel not conical, and the bore is square section and rather narrow. However it is a good approximation for an amateur effort over two days. Perhaps one should think of it as a mock serpent!

Listen to me tooting it. Click the play symbol to listen. (mp3 file 68k)

Serpent links
MIMF - where I got the idea from.
Scott Hall - the inventor of this serpent-making technique
The Serpent Website - lots of info
Douglas Yeo, professional serpentist in the US, has some interesting pictures and sound clips.
My Favourite serpent in Oxford University's Bate Collection.

Simon Chadwick 9th April 2003; Last updated 11th April 2003