Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Sticky Pads, Tarnish, and Other Icky Things

By Steven Wasser

Yes, it’s sad but true – your flute is what you eat.  Gross, right?  But if you don’t like sticky pads or tarnished silver then this article is for you.

Coca Cola is sweet and acidic.  The sugar that is delivered via your breath can coat your pads and make them sticky.  So can cookies and pretty much anything else with sugar.  Sticky pads not only make that “smacking” sound but can get so bad that the flute key won’t come back up when you lift your finger.

Acids?  Not just Coca Cola but many foods are acidic.  Coffee, barbequed potato chips, and plenty more.  What you eat manifests itself in multiple ways – not just your breath, but your sweat as well.  Acids and sterling silver do not get along.  Want to do a test?  Get some sulfur from your local drug store and drop a flute key in it.  Check the next morning.  The key will likely be black.  In fact this is the highly scientific approach we use to test potential new alloys for tarnish resistance. 

The body chemistry of people also varies.  Some people just touch a flute key and the next day it’s black.  Other people can fondle a flute for hours and the silver remains shiny and clean.  Even the air you breathe can tarnish silver.  If you live in an area near salt water or with high levels of pollutants, your flute is more likely to tarnish.

This is not a call for a special flute diet or for you to relocate from your home.  But if you are noticing sticky pads or tarnished silver on your flute, be aware that diet might be a contributing factor.

Here are some tips for prevention that don’t require a diet change.   
  • Wash your hands and brush your teeth before you play your flute. 
  •  Carefully wipe down your flute with a lint free cloth each time you finish playing.  Be careful you do not become so diligent you rub the edges of the pads and tear the pad skin.  The cloth does not need to have any polishing compound.
  • If your pad gets sticky you can try blotting it with ungummed cigarette paper.  Blot, do not pull!  If you don’t have cigarette paper a $1 bill will do.
Your flute loves good hygiene.  Be nice to your flute.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Keeping Pads in Place

So you have a flute with French (open hole) key cups...   Have you ever wondered how the pads stay in the cups?  It's quite different since there is no center in which you can insert a screw.  With the closed-hole cups, there is a screw in the center of the pad that sits on top of a washer and the pad.  The screw is then tightened and secures everything in place in the cup.  But, with an open hole cup, there is a part known as the "French bushing" that keeps everything together.  French bushings can be either metal or synthetic, and both work in the same fashion.  Many people claim that the material has an effect on tone, but that is very subjective.  You'd have to try both and see if you hear a difference.

Just what exactly is the bushing, and how does it work?  Well, it's simply a small ring that is flattened at the top.  You slide it over the "chimney" of the key cup (and on top of the pad) and press it into place.  It keeps the pad secure by the force of friction.  Similar to the "chimney" in the open hole cup, a closed hole cup has a central "spud."  To hold a closed hole pad in place, the screw is fastened into this "spud" (with pad and washer in between).  With both types of keys, shims are used at the very bottom of the cup to seat the pads correctly.  Regardless of whether the key is open or closed, the shims are the same.  So if you've ever wondered just how a pad can stay in a key without a center, now you know!
Metal French bushings, pad washers, pad screws
Open hole key has a "chimney" in the center.  Closed hole key has a "spud."
Key shims to seat pads.  Shims are the same for both types of cups.
Just about to place metal French bushing in key cup.  Closed hole key pad in place with screw and washer.
Bushing in place! 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Dented Tenon - Part II

In our last post, we saw a badly dented footjoint tenon.  We'll now take a look at the steps our repair technician took to reshape the tenon back into its original form.  Because silver is a soft metal, you do not need to heat the tenon for this repair.  Our technician initially placed the joint onto a body mandrel.  She then tapped lightly around the tenon with a small plastic hammer, pressing the metal of the tenon against the mandrel.  The goal is to press out any gaps between the tenon and the mandrel.  After tapping out the gaps, she then burnished the tenon -- smoothing the metal along the mandrel once again.

Although it may look like a simple process, it is always best to take this type of a repair directly to your repair technician.  Theoretically, it is a simply process to reshape the tenon.  However, because the metal is soft, it is also very easy to cause more damage to the instrument if one attempts this repair without the skill and experience of an authorized repair tech.  As you can see, a successful repair with leave your flute's tenon as good as new -- perfectly cylindrical and sealing properly.

Gap between tenon and mandrel is visible on the left
Reshaping begins by tapping tenon against mandrel
Gap is now closing from the tapping process
This side is much more flush against the mandrel
Final step is burnishing tenon along mandrel
Tenon is round again -- good as new!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Dented Tenon - Part I

Ouch!  Someone's flute did not have a very good day.  But, never fear -- it can be fixed!  In fact, it is quite common according to our repair technician.  She said that the most frequent culprit is a music stand.  So, young flutists should be especially careful when putting their flutes together and taking them apart -- especially in the band room amongst the metal stands.

The dent on this particular flute is on the center joint at the footjoint tenon.  This is problematic because the dent will cause improper tenon fit and air leaks.  Without the tenon fitting properly, there is a risk of having the footjoint fall off -- which could certainly lead to greater problems.

We spotted this dented tenon in the repair shop and will follow it through repair.  Our technician plans to re-round the tenon to gain the right size and shape.  During the re-shaping process, the ultimate goal will be to have a straight, non-flared, non-taped tenon.  We invite you to join us again a week from today for the results!