Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Lesson "Checklist"

Teachers are surely quite familiar with this scenario:  A student walks into the lesson, picks up the flute, and nothing comes out.  Not a single solitary note.  The student turns to you and says, "Something is wrong with my flute -- it won't play..."  Hmmm...where should you start to help diagnose the problem?  Well, we recently caught up with Christina Guiliano-Cobas, our Marketing Manager here at Powell.  Christina has managed a studio for several years and spoke with us about a "checklist" for this common situation.

1) Dirty Tenons - The tenons on students’ flutes can become quite grimy if they are not regularly cleaned.  In turn, the build-up of dirt will make the tenon and headjoint fit too tight.  This tight fit could cause the mechanism to bind (the keys won’t go up and down) or over time cause the joints to go out of round.

2) Cork alignment - You'll want to check the cork alignment with the swabstick.  Proper cork alignment can make all the difference.  However, if the cork is too easy to move, it may need to be replaced.

3) Leaks - Student flutes normally have felt pads, and it may be possible to detect an air leak simply with an initial visual inspection.  However, this would not be possible with Straubinger pads.  In the case of felt pads, if you notice a gap between the pad and cup, there is most likely a leak!

4) Spring tension - This issue could be present even if sound is produced and the student is able to play.  Feel the keys to see if something is too heavy or difficult to press.  In this case, the spring may be too tight, which could impact the student's technique.  Obviously, the key could be too light as well, in which case the spring would need more tension.

5) Swabstick - Oddly enough, it is possible for a student to leave the swabstick or cleaning apparatus in the flute.  This would certainly be detectable by a visual inspection!

If you detect an issue that demands specialized attention -- or if you are not sure -- it's always best to contact an authorized flute repair technician.  Clean, well-adjusted flutes make for happy students and teachers!

Begin with an overall visual inspection - just like we do with brand new flutes!
Checking for even key height.
Checking spring tension.
Checking the overall feel of the mechanism.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Steamy Topic: Taming Tenon Corks

By Windworks Studio of Philadelphia
Bev and Linz (“The Girls in Philly”)

Musical instrument makers and repair technicians don’t need to be reminded that quality cork is hard to come by. In fact, it is pricier than fine perfume. Good cork has to be hand-picked and there are industries who, like ourselves, find few or no workable substitutes. Cork is alive, it breathes, it wicks moisture and is forgiving on tenons and tone holes. Cork can also tear, burn and crack when we place it - particularly if it is not premium cork. In fact, the quality designations seem to have shifted as cork commodity has become harder to access with rising demand. What used to be considered a “moderate” grade is now often labeled as “premium”. 

Torn piccolo tenon cork in need of replacement.

What do you do when you are replacing a piccolo tenon cork and the cork you have is less than ideal?

Ideal premium sheet cork on left, and less than ideal cork on right.

We all know that cork to be placed on a piccolo tenon has a tendency to crack, especially with less than ideal cork.

Well, here is a simple tip that just might make your day easier!  Cut your cork, sand and adjust the fit. To ease the strain on your cork and improve workability, place your prepared cork over a whiskey glass filled with steaming water. 

Cork strip placed over a whiskey glass filled with steaming water. Notice the curling.

As the cork steams, it rehydrates, curving just enough to make a flawless placement much easier. Be sure to apply your adhesive of choice after the cork has been steamed. You are now ready for some Stars and Stripes!   

 Adapting cork to piccolo tenon with ease of workability.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"Play" In Mechanism

Have you ever heard the term "play" when speaking with your repair technician?  They may have mentioned that the mechanism had a little "play" in it -- which actually is not always a bad thing.  But, what exactly does this mean?  Flute finisher Karl Kornfeld discussed this term with us as it applies to flute repair.  He explained that play usually refers to lateral movement of keys within a section or of an entire section (of the mechanism).  Depending on which key or section, a small amount of play may be necessary for proper function.  Play can be caused by normal wear and tear, loose or poorly-fit screws, or damaged posts.  Different flute types (for example - pinned or pinless) have different rules regarding how much and where play is acceptable.  Excessive play -- especially to the point of rattling -- is definitely not good.  If you think there might be excessive play in your flute's mechanism, make sure to take it to your technician for proper evaluation.

Arrows indicate the lateral motion of "play"
Another area on the mechanism where "play" may occur

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Lost Motion

You may have heard the term "lost motion" from your repair technician and wondered what exactly that meant.  We met up with flute finisher Karl Kornfeld here at the Powell shop to help shed some light on this term.  Karl explained that lost motion is a delay between pressing a control key and movement of the slave key.  For example, when depressing the left hand second finger, both keys should move together in unison.  If there is a delay before the slave key is "caught," then you have lost motion.  Lost motion can be caused by faulty adjustments or incorrect key-height settings.  As always, if you notice lost motion in your mechanism, the best solution is to take your flute to an authorized repair person.

Karl is depressing the control key, and the "slave" key is directly to the right (looking at the picture from the front).
Both keys should move together in unison.
If the slave key is delayed in closing, there is lost motion.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Binding Issues

If you've ever taken your flute in for adjustment because of the mechanism not feeling resistant or just not "quite right," you may have been told that the keys were "binding."  What exactly does that mean?  Well, in simple terms, it means that something is preventing the keys from moving freely.  Binding happens when things are interfering with each other that should normally not be in contact.  Often times, two pieces of metal are rubbing against each other, which would cause the key mechanism to bind.  This could happen if the posts are misaligned or if the steel inside the mech tube is somehow bent.  Posts and other parts of the mechanisms where pieces of metal come together are areas that are susceptible to problems that could cause key binding.  The photos below identify a few of these areas on the footjoint.

Another culprit of binding keys is simply dirt, grime, or corrosion.  Key mechanisms need to be cleaned out properly, so make sure to take your flute to a qualified repair technician for regular maintenance.  You and your flute will be happy you did!