Agaves are perhaps best known as a source of tequila. If allowed to live to their full life-cycle, certain agaves produce a large flower stalk which is perfect for making didgeridoos. They work so well because of their thickness, tapered shape, and resonance. The flower stalk turns to wood after about a year baking in the Arizona sun. Some of the extremely strong can survive numerous years through extreme heat, rain and cold and comprise my “old soul” collection. I am extremely careful in the harvesting stalks in the wild. I collect only those that are old enough to have dropped their seeds. This helps insure their future survival.
Collecting the best stalks is extremely rigorous — hiking up and down mountains, passing up many along the way, and only collecting those perfect for didges. For the didges with bells I have to pull off leaf after leaf from the base of the plant in order to expose the bulbous base (the part that would have produced tequila).
The collected agave stalks are later analyzed and individually cut to the length best suited for use as a didgeridoo. I carefully bore out the softer interior leaving the hard resonant wooden exterior. I then sand the inner walls to make sure the entire softer interior is removed.
The advantage of boring out the interior instead of splitting the agave is that the strength, integrity, and curves of the stalk are preserved. Although the method I use to bore out and sand the interior is time consuming, I strongly believe that the sound quality is superior.
The next step is to carve and attach a wooden mouthpiece with various domestic and exotic tone woods. This allows for the player to have closer contact with the wood and takes away the need for beeswax. This is more sanitary and requires no real maintenance. I have researched a great deal different tone woods to add immediate resonance to the didge and not take away from the agaves tremendous resonant qualities.
I then seal the inside with an extremely strong epoxy resin. This waterproofs the inside of the didge so it will not crack and is a necessary step to increase the resonance of the agave. I then strip the thin bark from the outside of the stalk and sand the entire exterior to a very fine grit to bring out the character of the stalk. Since I am using older stalks it is very rare not to have many bug holes from its time in the desert. I have filled these and then carve them out again to inlay crushed stones wether it be turquoise, malachite, or lapis to add contrast and beauty to the wood.
This is followed by the final finishing of the exterior again with an epoxy resin. Many use two exterior coats but I prefer one as you still create a glassy beautiful finish but does not take away from the wood being able to resonate. With too much epoxy it starts to dull the sound and the instrument becomes less explosive and more plastic sounding.
Many agaves I collect fall into my “old soul” collection. I like to leave many of the cosmetic exterior cracks as well as bug and bee holes which add to the character of the instrument and give it a weathered and rustic appearance. No need to worry as all the cracks and holes that are visible are filled on the inside and don’t effect the sound quality. These have always been my favorites and those of repeat customers.