An Siaguthaidsidh Gaidhealach—“The Gaelic Shakuhachi”

Vertical Flutes with Adapted Fingering for Highland Music~Handmade in Uist….


The shakuhachi, the classic bamboo vertical flute of Japan, has a beautiful and distinctive tone with a wide range of colours in the hands of an accomplished player.

The sound has been variously described as warm, haunting, soft, arresting, pure, natural, and evocative, and is nowadays to be heard not just in the classic canon of Japanese folk and art music, but also in new less traditional contexts including jazz and many film scores.

Traditionally a five-holed instrument, it is ideally suited for a pentatonic scale – and so is able to carry many Gaelic airs effortlessly. However, in its five-hole version it lacks the flexibility and agility of the six-holed whistle or flute to successfully cover the full range of strathspeys, jigs, reels and other tune types in the Scottish tradition.

In a bid to introduce a sympathetic new timbre to an old tradition Gordon Wells, working from his home in Benbecula, has been experimenting for some years with new hole configurations.

He has now settled on a basic seven-hole system which maintains the characteristic shakuhachi sound, while enabling a greater melodic flexibility to facilitate easier control over the full range of Scottish tune types. You can hear a sample, 30 seconds into a BBC interview by Gordon here.

The Gaelic Shakuhachi : View Image Gallery


Gordon Wells taught English in Japan in the Seventies and Eighties, during which time he took shakuhachi lessons from Ikeda Seizan II in Osaka. Gordon’s mother, Anna Sheonaidh ‘ic Ghilleasbuig, was from North Uist, so he was pleased to land up in Benbecula in the mid-Nineties.

As Development Officer, he was instrumental in establishing Colaisde Bheinn na Faoghla, the Lews Castle College Benbecula Campus, and setting up its innovative courses in Gaelic Language and Music.

He now works as a Projects Officer for Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Gaelic-medium college on the Isle of Skye. Flute-making is a sideline which he puts to use in the band he plays with – Bi Beò.