Picking a Decent dizi

To play a dizi, one must first have a dizi at hand. Often, this means buying a new dizi from either an instrument shop or an online store.

This guide is tuned for the amateur dizi player.

As an amateur player, we strive to look for a dizi that is a jack-of-all-trades that can provide good intonation and timbre for the widest varieties of pieces that one might want to play.

This differs from the professional player who seeks the single best dizi for a narrow set of pieces that he/she intends to play perfectly.

In a later article, one will find that under the ``total'' dizi philosophy, this criteria of looking for the best all-rounder dizi is the one that adapts the best to the new demands of modern compositions for the dizi.

Naturally, we will assume that one can actually test the dizi oneself in this set of articles.

The tl;dr

Here's basically a run-down of what the articles in this section is trying to say:

  1. Intonation is important. Use A442 on a tuner to test them.
  2. Dense bamboo tends to provide a better tone.
  3. Jointed dizi are easier to tune; tenons should be snug and firm but not stuck.
  4. A decent dizi is one whose timbre is most neutral---rely on self to impart additional tone colour where needed.
  5. Ensure that the dizi is comfortable to play.

While these articles are immediately relevant to the first dizi player, some of the content may require more familiarity with the technical handling of the dizi before their value can be appreciated. As such, do not hesitate to return to this section again in the future when looking for a step-up instrument from the beginner's dizi.

Buying dizi from the Web

Not everyone has the opportunity to be near a place where an easy access to a stock of dizi is available for the selection process described above. These days, there are many dizi sellers on the Web that can provide a service that was once nearly impossible.

The short answer is, it's a hit-and-miss at times.

Generally speaking, the quality of the dizi is directly proportional to the price that is paid for it. The general price range (in 2016) for dizi is anywhere from USD10 to USD500 per piece. The extremes in price tend to be for very large and very small dizi, partly due to relative rarity, and partly due to the increased material and workmanship costs. The material cost comes from the difficulty of sourcing for high [but even] density bamboo at the right sizes---it is as hard to find a small high and evenly distributed dense bamboo as it is hard to find a large one.

According to NTS, a local dizi maker, the material costs are expected to increase over time as the population of viable bamboo for good dizi is shrinking due to increased growth rates from higher annual temperatures. Increased growth rates mean that the density of the bamboo will tend to lower over time.

Back to pricing: a starter dizi that is barely decent by this article's standards shouldn't cost more than USD20 (at 2017 prices). Anything that exceeds the USD80 price point can be considered of a more decent quality. The best commonly used dizi (i.e. the bangdi and qudi) should not exceed USD300.

Pricing issues aside, even the most competitively priced dizi can still have issues in other ways. The most common one is the season in which the dizi was made. The tuning of the dizi is sensitive to the temperature and humidity of the environment, and having a dizi made in an environment that is either too hot/cold or humid/not humid can affect the accuracy of intonation quite drastically. While the best makers take all these variables into account, sometimes there can still be miscalculations, especially due to temperature/humidity extremes.

According to NTS, the ideal temperature/humidity pairing for the dizi should be that of the concert hall, where the dizi is used the most often these days. For regular ``room temperature'' playing, taking note of how much of the tuning slide that one has move to get the intonation right---if it is more 10mm and veering close to 20mm (roughly the diameter of longest axis in the tone holes), then the dizi has not been made for the particular climate it was played in, and will need a replacement.

There are many sellers who sell dizi made of materials other than bamboo. I have seen (and played!) a titanium one and a perspex one. I have also seen dizi sold on the Web that are made of various hard woods, brass, glass, and even stone. I do not recommend getting any of those dizi for anything serious at this point. I may change my view point when I have enough data to understand the effects such materials have on the instrument itself.