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Differences between traditional hookah pipes and modern hookah pipes

You probably already know that hookah pipes come in many different shapes and sizes, but all shisha pipes generally fall into two main categories: traditional hookah pipes and modern hookah pipes. Most people new to smoking shisha are curious which type of hookah pipe is better, but both traditional hookah pipes (also called classic shishas) and modern hookah pipes have their pros and cons. Let's explore both types in greater detail so that you can decide which shisha pipe is best for you.

Traditional hookah pipes

As the name suggests, traditional hookah pipes are the oldest (existing) form of smoking shisha and the various designs follow cultural origins and access to certain materials. While this article aims to look at the design differences between traditional and modern hookahs, those interested in the history of shisha can read our earlier blog article titled What's In a Name? – Shisha, Hookah, Nargileh and the Evolution of Water Pipes. Traditional shisha pipes can be further categorised by the country or region where the design originated from (but not necessarily where the pipe was manufactured); the main ones being Egyptian shisha pipes, Syrian argileh, and Turkish nargileh.

Egyptian shisha pipes

Since Egyptian shisha pipes are the most common type of traditional hookah pipes, you've probably come across them many times either at hookah lounges, shisha shops, or a friend's house. The open draw synonymous with quality Egyptian shisha pipes is the standard that all other hookah pipes are measured by. Egyptian hookahs come with a hand painted glass or ceramic vase, and coiled metal hoses with a woven leather exterior. Metal parts such as the stem are usually machined from brass or copper, and can have a tendency to rust and crack along welded joints.

Syrian argileh

Proper Syrian argilehs are extremely rare nowadays, and can easily be mistaken for Egyptian shisha pipes. The main difference is that Syrian hookah pipes are primarily made to accept "male" hookah bowls (bowl sits inside stem), while Egyptian shishas are designed for the more common "female" hookah bowls (bowl sits around stem). Although requiring more frequent cleaning, the upside is that the draw is more restricted which produces more intense flavours from the smoke. Syrian shisha pipes are more likely to feature a cast brass vase (as opposed to glass or ceramics), with decorative engravings made in the brass exterior.

Turkish nargileh

Turkish nargilehs are the "no frills" variety of traditional hookah pipes, with less individual components and a lack of decorations and engravings compared to other classic shisha designs. But don't let the appearance fool you, Turkish hookah pipes are also designed to fit "male" shisha bowls like Syrian argilehs, but don't have a breather / purge valve, resulting in an even tighter draw again.

Pros of traditional hookah pipes

  • Best looking
  • Unique designs
  • Choice of open, restricted, or closed draw
  • Generally cheaper than modern hookah pipes

Cons of traditional hookah pipes

  • Air sealing
  • Durability
  • Harder to clean than modern hookah pipes
  • Consistency

Modern hookah pipes

Modern shisha pipe designs exploit modern manufacturing techniques and materials to create a superior product, at least in most aspects. While not as authentic looking when compared to traditional hookah pipes, modern hookah pipes come in all shapes and sizes to suit any shisha smoker's requirements. There are compact, table top modern shisha kits, right through to large, free standing modern shisha kits for a more enjoyable smoking session. In terms of the smoking experience, modern hookahs most closely resemble Egyptian shisha pipes, but with far better consistency. The culmination of superior parts and design generally produces a cooler, smoother draw. We're talking silicone hoses, breathers / purge valves, downstem diffusers, marine grade stainless steel components, plus better seals and joints. In fact, you may need to read our How to use a hookah pipe 2-part guide just to get your head around all the extra parts found in the modern designs. That's why a modern shisha pipe will generally cost more than a traditional hookah pipe upfront, but the on-going maintenance costs will be a lot less with a modern hookah pipe.

Pros of modern hookah pipes

  • Limitless designs
  • Air sealing
  • Durability
  • Easy to clean

Cons of modern hookah pipes

  • Not the classic look
  • More expensive initially
  • Only open draw
  • Conclusion

    While we love and use all types of hookah pipes, we have distinct uses for both modern hookah pipes and traditional hookah pipes. If we're out of home at a mate's place or Melbourne shisha bar, we'll take the opportunity to smoke a traditional shisha pipe (providing it's been well maintained), especially if we come across a Syrian argileh or Turkish narghile. But for home use, the modern shisha pipe is easy choice due to its consistency, durability, and ease of use.