Build a Serpent or Ophicleide

See the bottom of this page for pictures of home built instruments that were made from the instructions on this webpage!

Added feature - build the Sqworm, a soprano Squarpent (see bottom of page)

The Squarpent, a Serpent-like instrument
(construction article starts on this webpage)

The Squarpent, a plywood serpent/bass horn  (download PDF/Acrobat construction article 2.8Mb)

Hear The Squarpent play the tune "The Lost Chord''
 during its very first tests (MP3)

Not very good, right? Hardly surprising! After
more practice, here is the tune
"Lead Kindly Light" played in honor of
serpent maker Keith Rogers

The Box-O-Cleide, a wooden Ophicleide  (download PDF/Acrobat construction article 4.5Mb)

Hear The Box-O-Cleide play the tune "In the Bleak Midwinter'' during its very first tests (MP3)

"Patrick", a Contrabass Squarpent
 download PDF/Acrobat construction article 4.9Mb)

Hear "Patrick" play the tune "Annie Laurie"
 during its very first tests (MP3)

Build a Squarpent: The Concept


The Serpent Website receives many requests from individuals who wish to obtain a serpent in order to satisfy their enthusiastic urge to get better acquainted with it. For the serious, this site provides links to serpent makers. However, there are still many others who have the desire, yet are without the funds necessary to purchase an antique or reproduction serpent. There are also the casually curious who never want to bother with a real serpent, yet would like to try their hands at playing one, perhaps for a school project.

To accommodate folks in the latter categories, the editor of the website has designed an original serpent-related instrument, dubbed the Squarpent (pronounced Square-pent). It can be built for very little money (less than $30 US) and with minimal skills and only about a weekend's time. Refer to the Construction Guide document linked below for a list of required materials and tools.

The Squarpent design gets around the difficulties inherent in fabrication of all real serpents, bass horns, and other related instruments. See in the adjacent picture of a Monk church-style serpent how it would be very difficult to build satisfactorily at home

The Squarpent uses a square cross-section instead of a round one. It  uses square 'bends' instead of curved ones. It avoids metal work by being made solely from wood. It uses a common brass instrument mouthpiece instead of a proper serpent type. See the complete Squarpent prototype in the adjacent picture.

Still, the Squarpent uses typical serpent fingerings, has serpent-like playing characteristics which are acceptable but not as good as might be expected from better antique serpents or the best reproduction serpents, has the sound quality of a typical serpent (which can be made even better by using a real serpent mouthpiece), and responds like a typical keyless church-style serpent to the extent that a seasoned player can immediately play it on first attempt.

The Squarpent construction article is divided into nine pages, each with appropriate photos to accompany the text. A more comprehensive construction article and two drawings in PDF (Acrobat) format are available for download below.

Note that the original version of the downloadable Detail Graphic 2 had an error that might result in the bocal facing the wrong direction; this has been corrected, although certain views on this webpage will still show the incorrect angle and patches used to fix the prototype.

Construction Guide
Detail Graphic 1
Detail Graphic 2

Construction Article (includes enhanced instructions & all photos and drawings), 2.8Mb

All photos made using a Kodak DC240 digital camera.

Go to next chapter


Some of the instruments built from these plans
This Squarpent was made by Guy Smith, an amateur luthier (maker of violins, lutes, etc) in the Seattle area. Instead of Oak plywood, he used 'ApplePly', a very high grade plywood with many thin layers of premium veneer. Instead of using the external jigs, as recommended by these instructions, he was successful in using only the internal jigs plus masking tape outside to hold the trapezoids together during gluing. Guy made his Squarpent as a mirror image of the original.
This Squarpent was made by Paul Horner, an amateur tuba player in North Carolina. 
This Squarpent is one of several made during the 2003/2004 instrument making workshop at the Bate Museum, Oxford, England. The makers were encouraged to adapt the plans into more fanciful designs, and colorful finishes were also used. Another example with a red finish can be seen in the background. David Harding, who actually manufactures real serpents and is also a player, is seen holding the instrument during his visit to evaluate the completed instruments and discuss their playing characteristics.       

This Contrabass Squarpent is the first known instrument to be based on the plans for "Patrick". Made by Bill Broom of Sheffield, England, "Sylvester" has been modified from the plans to have a straight-ahead tube arrangement, and the keywork has been simplified.Sylvester was made in the year 2004. 


The Sqworm, a soprano Squarpent  (download PDF/Acrobat construction article 2Mb)

Hear The Sqworm play the tune "Amazing Grace'' during its very first tests (MP3)

Watch this Space!

What kind of plywood instrument will be next?

The Serpent Website: Return to Index

Copyright Paul Schmidt 2002
revised February 2012