Olwell flutes

Olwell flutes

The other night I was at a session in Dublin and got the chance to briefly play a keyless Olwell flute made from what I assume is blackwood. This instrument left me stunned and at that point I would have traded my own grandmother for the flute, (if the flute’s current owner had any use for a granny who makes a great apple pie).

This instrument just seemed to sing as soon as I blew into it. I’ve never found a flute that seemed so easy to play (apart from maybe a couple of Grinters that I tried). My technique is definitely not at all developed, but the low octave stayed intact and strong for me without any difficulty right down to the bottom D.

I started thinking I’d love to get my hands on such an instrument myself (keyless, to keep costs down!) and had the following questions:

- Do most Olwells play similarly, or does he do several designs that play very differently?
- How likely am I to find one second-hand?
- How much should I expect to pay?
- If I was to order from him, how long of a wait am I looking at?
- Are there other makers who make flutes that play/sound in a similar way to an Olwell that would be worth considering?

I know I could probably find most of the answers with enough googling, emails and phone calls, but I figured I might get some useful advice/opinions if I posted here! Last time I bought an instrument after just my own research I got stuck with a real lemon!!

Re: Olwell flutes

Pat, I own a keyless Olwell, a Pratten, and wouldn’t trade it for all the pie-baking grandmothers in the world.

Patrick Olwell also makes what he calls a Nicholson model, modified from a Pratten (I think).

I’ve played maybe a dozen different Olwell’s over the years and while there are some differences, every single one was a great flute. He’s very consistent with quality and overall characteristics.

The latest sales of used keyless Olwells I’ve seen (and it’s been a while) where in the $1,600 USD range. They do come up now and then on ebay. Also, Doc Jones at the Irish Flute Store (http://shop.irishflutestore.com/) occasionally gets one in. They don’t hang around long.

I’ve also owned and played blackwood flutes by Dave Copley, Hammy Hamilton, and Paddy Ward. All very good flutes, but none of them had the Olwell mix of qualities.

Posted .

Re: Olwell flutes

Thanks for the response Will. I just did the currency conversion, and I wouldn’t mind paying that price for a flute like the one I played the other night. I might have to quit paying rent and go live in a dumpster for a while, but it would be worth it (and I wouldn’t have to worry about disturbing housemates with my playing).

I guess I will have to keep my eyes peeled and start asking around in trad circles here…

Re: Olwell flutes

Be wary though Pat of the phenonemon of picking up someone else’s flute and thinking, hey that’s much easier that what I’ve got. Then when you play it or similar for a while, you find not a whole lot of difference. I think it’s a common enough experience but others here can fill in.

Posted .

Re: Olwell flutes

Yes, I wondered about that too. It seems to work the other way too - I’ve heard several people make amazing music with Sam Murray flutes, but when I tried one recently I sounded terrible :-D Probably just a matter of getting properly acquainted with the instrument.

Re: Olwell flutes

Well you know the wait for a keyless Olwell isn’t too bad, about a year or so now if you wanted keys you’d be looking at about 6-9 years. I think he makes a Rudall model as well as the Pratten and Nicholson ones but don’t quote me on that. Olwell does make great flutes, but there are a lot of other great flute makers out there.

Posted by .

Re: Olwell flutes

Yes, Patrick Olwell does make 3 models:

Pratten, the largest holed flute and most popular

Nicholson, medium holed flute (Seamus Egan plays a cocus version of this model I believe)

Rudalll, his small holed flute.

I’m about at the year mark and should be getting my Nicholson soon, hopefully.

Here’s his email address. He has no website: olwellflutes at gmail dot com .

Can’t go wrong with one of his flutes.

Re: Olwell flutes

I would just get on Olwell’s list for a keyless pratten. Should only take about a year. In my experience, the Rudall and Nicholoson are of course great, but don’t have that "magical" quality to them. So, unless you have your heart set on a rRudall or a Nicholson style, the Pratten is the way to go (from Olwell, at least).

I disagree with the wounded hussar: if you get used to a flute better than your old flute, become a better player, and then find your old one easier to play, it doesn’t mean they are the same.

Posted by .

Re: Olwell flutes

There’s a lot to be said for learning to play your specific flute to get the most out of it rather than chasing after the magic bullet flute that will make you a better player. The only way to become a better player is through lots of attentive playing.

That said, it doesn’t hurt to find a flute that suits you well. And to get a quality one as soon as you can afford it (poorly made flutes are a hinderance).

I was fortunate in that a friend let me play the Olwell I eventually bought for some time, while also still playing my Hamilton. As I grew accustomed to the Olwell, I found that I preferred it because it was more responsive—for me. But there are qualities of the Hammy that I miss, in particular a lovely, buttery tone from the unlined head that I’ve never gotten from any other flute. (Not that the Olwell isn’t capable of lovely—as well as reedy, barky, etc.—tone. It’s a matter of a small degree of discernment, not a huge difference.)

I’d go so far as to say the Hammy made me a better flute player because the embouchure was less forgiving than the Olwell. But since flute isn’t my main instrument, I like have a more forgiving flute. It lets me play even when I’m rusty.

Posted .

Re: Olwell flutes

I played a keyless Olwell in New York briefly in 2008, and it blew my socks off. The only other one I’ve played is Shannon Heaton’s and that blew my socks off as well. I’ve been on the list for a keyed flute from Pat since 2006. I can’t WAIT to get my own Olwell. If you’re happy for a keyless, then don’t hesitate to get in touch with Pat. He seems like a lovely guy.

Will’s description of his Hamilton as being "buttery" is odd/funny. There’s a recent thread about bodhrans which were described (by the maker) as having a "creamy" sound, which is causing no end of sarcasm and hilarity on that thread. Probably rightly so. Surely bodhrans can’t sound creamy any more than a flute can sound buttery? Butter doesn’t sound like anything AFAIK, and neither does cream. It’s funny the ways we try to describe things for which there really are no words, isn’t it?
m.d.

Re: Olwell flutes

heh
"buttery" was how another fluter player described it; I was just passing that along. Because it’s apt.

Some sounds are harsh: edgy or brittle or metallic. Other sounds are smooth: velvety, creamy, buttery. Butter doesn’t have to make a sound to provide a frame of reference. The metaphors work because anyone who’s ever eaten dry toast and then toast with ample butter on it can understand how one is edgy or brittle and the other is smoother. Using metaphors, we can at least approximate the feel of different sounds so even a deaf person could, to some degree, understand.

And we *do* feel sounds. They are vibrations, and our whole bodies are receptors. So the ruckus of a jackhammer *feels* very different than Samuel Barber’s Adagio in Gm on cello, not just in our mind’s ear but also against our eardrums, cilia, and our very skin.

Posted .

Re: Olwell flutes

Quite right, Will. I think Pat’s own flute info describes boxwood as having a buttery sound. Presumably meaning smoother than, say, blackwood. For some reason, we’d prefer to say "buttery" rather than "smoother than blackwood". I’m not having a go at you or your choice of words - it’s just an aspect of human behaviour that can lead to odd comparisons. I’m definitely not accepting "creamy" as a description of a bodhran, though :)

m.d.

Re: Olwell flutes

So … boxwood sounds greasy and blackwood sounds brittle? These metaphors are about as useful as telling a blind person that clouds look fluffy or red looks like danger.

Posted .

Re: Olwell flutes

"synesthesia-like mappings" seems relevant.

Re: Olwell flutes

You ever kissed an Italian?

Italians have no use for the consonant "K". They shudder at the word "kiss". They have "bacio" (pronounced with a soft "ch" of course. I love Italians

Posted .

Re: Olwell flutes

Oh yeah… lovely Italians. Beauty, poise, style. And that’s just the men. The women are even lovelier :)

Good on you, Llig
m.d.

Re: Olwell flutes

I’m late to the party. Pat’s flutes are all fabulous. I’ve played easily a half-dozen plus my own and all were great. If you can get a used flute you probably won’t go wrong. I’m playing 1850s Fentum Wylde with an Olwell headjoint now and I’m not likely to ever switch.

Kind of indifferent on Italians though…

Re: Olwell flutes

"These metaphors are about as useful as telling a blind person that clouds look fluffy or red looks like danger."

If I may (ahem): What a daft thing to say. You’re mixing apples and orangutans.

(Kinda fun to through Llig’s brunt approach back at him. :-) )

Michael, the metaphors I gave all rely on our senses. You can *feel* buttery or creamy or edgy, you can taste metallic. A blind or deaf person would gain some degree of comprehension from those metaphors. But "…red looks like danger" is just abstract nonsense. It’s so daft it’s not even a good straw man….

Posted .

Re: Olwell flutes

"Pat, I own a keyless Olwell, a Pratten, and wouldn’t trade it for all the pie-baking grandmothers in the world."

Of course not. What would you do with them?
For that matter, where would you put them?

Re: Olwell flutes

That, and I’m a touch OCD about how I make my own pies….

Posted .

Re: Olwell flutes

I think its partially to do with adjectives being shared between the senses. Maybe ‘smooth’ in the case of buttery and creamy. They are not smooth in the the same way and someone choosing to use one to describe a flute is an attempt at making a finer descriminatiion. May describe a voice as silky (smooth) or gravelly (rough), although the last might be onomatopoeic.

I have seen it suggested that yellow and black stripes are hard-coded as Danger in many species.

No run across an Olwell flute yet, but I will be tactfully angling to get a blow on one when I do.

Re: Olwell flutes

"fluffy clouds"

You could say that this metaphor relies on your senses … except it’s nonsense. It might give some sort of an impression of what some clouds superficially look like, but there’s the rub … it’s purely superficial. Look up at the sky and appreciate the astonishing diversity of clouds. Or better still, get yourself up in a microlight and fly round and through them, experience the turbulence and the disorientation.

"fluffy clouds" is the reserve of the dimwits who manage to get the window seat on a passenger jet and spend the whole flight reading a book instead of looking out of the bloody window.

Posted .

Re: Olwell flutes

What sort of clouds do you think are meant by ‘fluffy clouds’ ? What sort would ‘fluffy’ not apply to ? Describe them using no technical terms or references to pictures.

‘Bubbling up’ seems to be an accepted term for use in BBC forecasts these days. As in "some cloud bubbling up later in the day". Is that an analogy or an actual reference to convection ? If the latter would your dimwit know ?

Get to check-in sooner.

Re: Olwell flutes

That cloud,
That cloud,
It looks like Ireland.
Diddley Aye Diddley Aye Aye

Posted .

Re: Olwell flutes

Clouds are dynamic, turbulent, monumental, awe inspiring, ephemeral, life giving. Does any of that equate with "fluffy"?

Posted .

Re: Olwell flutes

Fluff: soft fibres accumulated in small light clumps OED [does that kill the thread ?] Found under the benches/beds in bothy’s, student rooms and other such places. Great balls of the stuff sometimes. Less so since the introduction of synthetic fleece.

"Small clumps". Its a description of form. Cumulo-nimbus say.

Not all clouds could be called fluffy. But not all clouds are awe-inspiring, or turbulent or particularly dynamic.

Re: Olwell flutes

I’m wondering if when used for flute tone "fluffy" is onomatopoeic or a tactile analogy.

Re: Olwell flutes

Wrong, all clouds are dynamic and turbulent. Though whether they inspire awe in you is, I suppose, dependent on your willingness to see them and not just look.

Posted .

Re: Olwell flutes

My awe is rarely inspired by stratus that has been hanging around all day, there is usually something more interesting happening; calling it turbulent would be unhelpful if you wanted to use the same term for, say, cumulus and as clouds go I think it is well on the un-dynamic side of average.

Re: Olwell flutes

Are noctilucent clouds turbulent or laminar - or can they be both? Whatever, you could be quite willing to see them, but without the right conditions you don’t have much of a chance.