Attention Flute Players - Please Read!

Attention Flute Players - Please Read!

This may be a remarkable post for some of you. This especially affects vintage flutes as well as some modern copies of 19th Century flutes with a metal-lined head joint that pulls out around half an inch at the tuning slide to achieve A=440 tuning.

When the head joint is pulled out at the slide, a chamber is created about two-thirds of the way down the barrel, extending to the tenon of the body right above the hole for B. The diameter of this chamber is a bit larger than the bore of the head joint and body, and thus creates a trap for moisture to collect. I find that blowing into the embouchure hole whilst covering the tone holes is insufficient to get all the water out, so during a session, I may swab out the entire flute multiple times. I have often thought a small tube of silver (the length by which I usually pull the head out) inserted into the barrel would, in effect, add to the length of the tuning slide, thus eliminating the chamber. The extended slide would now start at the end of the head and go all the way to through to where the barrel meets the body. The bore would now be uniform until it reaches the point where it tapers gradually to the end of the flute.

After some years of this concept marinating in my brain, I became friends with a jeweler who said he could make the sleeve (or insert) for me. I received it right before last night’s session and the results were remarkable. First, it definitely solved the water problem. I only swabbed the flute once during 2 1/2 hours of constant playing. Best of all, however, was how this small tube of silver affected the playing itself: Faster warm-up, faster and easier response, cleaner articulation, warmer tone and better projection were all evident. I called a set of Oyster Wife’s Rant/The Gravel Walk, and at the end, there was quite a strong response. One of our members said, "Alan, you really drove that set!" In the four years I’ve been with this session, I have been complimented on my choice of sets, but not on my playing. This was a first and no one knew my flute had been modified (it is, of course, invisible - the added tube of silver is inside the barrel). I had some small hope that the addition of the silver might have some affect on tonality, but nothing this dramatic.

As you can tell, I’m keen to share this with my friends on this site. Reply as you wish, but I would appreciate knowing how many of you have lined heads that are pulled out more than maybe a quarter of an inch. I am a very happy soul today!

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Re: Attention Flute Players - Please Read!

Alan, I pull my slide out about 1/2", and although I don’t notice any problem with sound quality, condensation is a much greater problem than it is with my other main flute, which has no tuning slide and which I don’t need to pull out at all for. I have a flute making friend and will ask him later in the year to make an insert for me. Will let you know the results. Can you post a picture of your insert? Thanks.

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Re: Attention Flute Players - Please Read!

Cac, I can’t post a picture, but it looks exactly like neatly sawing off a half inch from your tuning slide, except in silver rather than brass.

I didn’t have problems with sound, either, but better is better. Keep in touch.

Btw, the insert does not have to fit snugly, since it will be sandwiched inside the barrel. But if it is too large, you will have to start over. Use caliper measurement so you don’t need to be without your flute.

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Re: Attention Flute Players - Please Read!

I’m trying to picture how this works. I think I see the gap you’re talking about in my fully-lined headjoint (Aebi modern Rudall copy), when the tuning slide is pulled out for A440. Is the insert something you leave in there all the time, storing the flute with the tuning slide pulled out, or you add the insert when assembling the flute for playing?

This flute doesn’t need much pull-out on the tuning slide for A440, maybe 1/4" or less. So I’m not sure it would benefit. But it’s an interesting idea. I know there is an argument to be made for keeping the interior bore as smooth and unbroken as possible.

Re: Attention Flute Players - Please Read!

Conical, you are probably not a good candidate.

Since the insert is small, I’ll be careful about storing. I have an original case with a cubbyhole for cork grease. The insert fits neatly in that. I just drop it into the barrel before I attach it to the body and then push the head in until it stops. At that point, it is sandwiched in place.

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Re: Attention Flute Players - Please Read!

Yes, Kevin, and of course you know I have a Siccama flute, so imagine how intrigued I was when I read that my idol (Abel Siccama) had, 170 years ago, been the lone maker to have the same idea I had (of course he had it first, but I only knew of it recently). Funny how those two things came together. I lead a charmed life.

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Re: Attention Flute Players - Please Read!

I have my 2 part Burns folk flute fitted with a plastic ring to fill most of the gap left by the tuning tenon when set for me at 440Hz. It is a bit of slightly oversized plastic pipe of the correct thickness and cut with a slanting slot to allow it to compress and fit in the socket of the headjoint. Where it lives permanently. I think it helps, though I have not tried the flute without for so long, that I am not really sure. I have never seen a problem with the thin gap left by a tuning slide. YMMV.

Re: Attention Flute Players - Please Read!

The previous owner of my Metzler Siccama supplied just such a ring. It looks like a piece of tuning slide. He said it made a slight improvement in the playing characteristics. I can see it would also fill a gap where condensation would accumulate, but I don’t have much problem with that.

Re: Attention Flute Players - Please Read!

This post assumes that the tuning is fixed during a playing.
Clearly if the temperature warms up or you have just played a cracking 4 reel set you will need to pull out a bit.
Or if you don’t happen to know a set of tunes and sit it out, you might need to push the head back in as your flute will have cooled down and gone a little flatter.
Moisture is a problem I have glued many barrels during Willy week as players have been playing for hours and hours and the barrel has swollen. A bit of wiping out now and again during the session would help this.

Re: Attention Flute Players - Please Read!

The first joint on a wooden flute has the potential to be the largest condensation sump on the entire flute, and is at its most capacious where the L.H. tenon has shrunk. This problem often, understandably, goes unnoticed by the player. As Jon Dodd points out, swabbing out will help alleviate things during extensive periods of play. Being the largest diameter joint and first point of contact, I would surmise that this is where most moisture will undoubtedly end up, adversely affecting the flute’s performance, whether or no it is fitted with an additional sleeve extension.

Re: Attention Flute Players - Please Read!

I fitted and old retainer with a dehumidifier and I don’t have any water condensation in my breath when I play.

Re: Attention Flute Players - Please Read!

A couple of comments though I’m not sure how helpful, Alan.
I clear moisture by blowing down the flute when I feel soggy. That said I do think there is some some loss of tone when the slide is extended. I find it more of an issue playing antiques where more slide must be exposed to hit A440.
In general due to my physical playing characteristics I would tend to close up the slide some and then achieve my tuning through rolling the embouchure in and out. I move the embouchure backwards or forwards while playing where as many would use the slide. This maybe arose from my time playing slideless flutes (Olwell, Monzani, Burns). I have a pal I grew up with that had an opposite style of embouchure to me. I would hand him my flute and he would automatically extend the slide. He might be considered a sharp player / me a flat player? He is a slide extender / I’m a roller. We both make decent music.
When I owned a set of flutes with one headjoint and no slide I often considered plastic rings as have been mentioned above.
So many things at play here.
Individual embouchure: as above, we can play the same flute but get different tunings depending more on our individual physiology (if that is the right word?)
Paranoia : (early on I was a slide fiddler and coming from stringed instrument thought of it like a tuning peg) Surely you blow and check the slide position blow again/ where as now I blow and check myself.
Panacea : it may be that if one thinks having less slide exposed (or ‘minding the gap’ in this case) helps tone than you are right even if it is negligible to others.
Above all the most important think is to keep an open mind about all aspects of playing from flute design to stance.

Glad you’re playing has improved as a result. Certainly others have noticed this as a good few folk have had longer or shorter heads made for antique flutes.

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Re: Attention Flute Players - Please Read!

Patrick,

I agree that more pull-out equals more compromise to the sound. I have come to feel, however, that addition of the ring (I just learned that maker Chris Abell calls it the Missing Link) does much to mitigate that. Because the ring is a fixed length, I use your technique to fine-tune the pitch, as needed.

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