It’s estimated that over 80% of didgeridoos around the world are fake replicas. This guide is aimed to help those who want to buy a genuine didgeridoo.
It doesn’t matter if you are a collector, a performer or just want to learn how to play one of the world’s oldest instruments, you want to be sure that you are purchasing an authentic didgeridoo (also known as Yidaki). With a little knowledge this article will help you to buy a special didgeridoo that is perfect for you.
Weight & Length
When you tap or pick up the instrument is it heavy? It should be. A genuine didgeridoo usually weighs between 2 to 4 kilograms. Genuine ‘entry level’ didgeridoos which are under 120 cm may weigh less than 2 kg but we don’t really see the point in buying something of this size. Although these shorter didgeridoos are a popular seller in stores, we feel the best sounding didgeridoos are normally well over 140 cm long.
When you knock on the didgeridoo, does it sound like you are knocking on a plastic pipe? It shouldn’t. Fake didgeridoos are usually quite thin and often made from bamboo. A genuine wooden didgeridoo should sound quite solid when you knock on it. This strength is your guarantee that you are holding an instrument that is going to last for a long time.
Traditionally, didgeridoos / Yidaki are crafted from hardwood eucalyptus species. The material is something that should be listed clearly on the tag or the buyers description of the instrument. In recent years, you can find both entry level and performance level didgeridoos made from alternative materials such as PVC, Hemp & Agave. All of these materials can create a clear and smooth sound and are often used by those seeking the most musically correct sound. However finding the balance between a traditional instrument and musical purity is up to the buyer.
Keys / Sounds
Didgeridoos come in many shapes and sizes and it is this difference that produces a wide variety of tones. Didgeridoo keys range from A to G and are determined by the internal width of the didgeridoo as well as the overall length. Didgeridoo’s in the Keys of A/B produce very deep and chilling sounds where as instruments in the Keys of E/F/G produce a much more higher frequency. The most popular didgeridoos are ones in the key of C and D as they are in the middle of the range and are considered easier to play with a flexible range that allows for both deep drones as well as higher frequency sounds. The key of the instrument is something that should be listed and known by the seller.
A unique feature of a didgeridoo is the ability for a number of different keys to be played on a single didgeridoo. Creating a different key tone or overtone can be done by increasing the air pressure as it enters the instrument (blowing harder or tightening the lips). When blowing harder and tightening the lips at the same time, you will be able to create a toot sound which will also have its own key.
Another way to differentiate a real didgeridoo from a fake is by trying to see how it was made. When you look inside the didgeridoo, does it look like someone simply drilled a hole through the middle of it? A long straight internal column without any natural bumps and curves is usually a sign of a cheap replica (but not always). Authentic didgeridoos start out as naturally hollowed trees, hollowed out by termites. Many didgeridoos will still have signs of termites visible in the form of long worm like grooves in the wood which can be seen most easily at the bottom end of the instrument, often referred to as ‘the bell’. However these grooves are sometimes removed by authentic didgeridoo makers as they try to create the perfect sound when making higher end ‘performance’ instruments.
To find an authentic didgeridoo at the lowest possible price, you would need to find a maker who is selling them directly. These could sell anywhere between $80 and $1500 AUD. While you may be purchasing an authentic didgeridoo, you may not be getting an instrument with great sound qualities. This varies by instrument and also the skill of the craftsman. Naturally, the best didgeridoo makers are well known and usually sell there work direct to specialist didgeridoo retailers (see below). Purchasing from these retailers, gives you the assurance that you are buying both an authentic and great sounding instrument. These didgeridoos are usually priced between $250 & $2500 AUD.
Maintenance & Storage
When you spend upwards of $200 on a didgeridoo, you want to make sure you know how to look after it. In terms of maintenance, you may need to replace the beeswax mouthpiece if it becomes too dry or dirty. Depending on where you live, this could be done every 2-4 years. Replacement beeswax is often sold by major didgeridoo stockists for around $5 – $10 AUD. It’s interesting to note that Traditional Yidaki from Arnhem Land don’t have any beeswax mouthpieces. Apart from replacing beeswax, the only other things you need to do is make sure nothing is living or growing inside the instrument. You can clear out anything inside with a long thin stick.
Leaving your didgeridoo in a car is also something to be aware of as high temperatures can lead to cracking. If you live in a hot or humid place you need to make sure the instrument isn’t affected by sudden changes in temperature which might happen after switching off an air-conditioner. This can cause a build up of moisture on the inside of the instrument which can lead to cracking. If you are in this situation you may want to consider storing the instrument in a bag and keeping it in a cupboard or a room that isn’t air-conditioned.
How you store your didgeridoo is definitely something you need to pay attention to. Leaving your didgeridoo standing up against the wall may result in the didgeridoo tipping over. Depending on the surface of your floor this could result in the instrument cracking. If you want to display the didgeridoo in an upright way, you should consider making or purchasing a didgeridoo stand which is usually a wooden base that has a long upright piece of wood which goes inside the didgeridoo. This will also protect the didgeridoo from getting wet if something spills on the floor. Another way to display a didgeridoo is by placing it horizontally on a wall. This is how many didgeridoo shops display their instruments and it makes a great feature in homes too.
We hope this guide has helped you learn more about one of the world’s oldest instruments. We also hope you are now even more excited about owning, playing and displaying one of the most iconic cultural symbols we have in Australia. Hopefully your purchase will be one which supports Aboriginal artists and craftsmen too.
Didgeridoos for Sale
- Didgeridoo Breath – Perth, Australia – Online Store
- Spirit Gallery – Sydney, Australia – Online Store
- Yidaki Vibes – Coffs Harbour, Australia – Online Store
- Wandoo Didgeridoo – Perth, Australia – Online Store
- Hollow log Didgeridoos – Darwin, Australia – Online Store
If you’re a stockist selling didgeridoos made by Aboriginal craftsmen and would like to be listed here, please get in touch via our Facebook Page.