Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Headjoint Fit

We all know how important the headjoint is on a flute, and obviously, so is the headjoint fit!  Our repair department and flute finishers are all quite familiar with fitting headjoints -- whether it is for a new flute on its way to a customer or for an instrument coming in to us.  For flutes coming in, a customer may send the flute for repair and need a headjoint fitting or s/he may have purchased a new headjoint that needs to be fitted to the flute.  What are the scenarios we come across?  Well, it's pretty straightforward.  Most of the time, the headjoint is either too loose or too tight in the barrel.  In the case of the headjoint being too loose, the headjoint is placed on a gauged arbor to expand the tubing.  If the headjoint is too tight, the headjoint tenon would need to be carefully sanded.  (The tenon on the headjoint is the bottom portion that goes into the barrel).  Flute finisher Karl Kornfeld states that "the fit should be smooth and even, especially since the headjoint is used for tuning.  You should not have to force the headjoint into the center joint, and the headjoint cannot turn while you are playing.  The fit should be even around and down the length of the tenon so that it doesn't snag going into or coming out of the barrel at any point." 

Of course, there are additional culprits that could lead to a "bad fit," and this would include physical damage.  If a flute headjoint is damaged in any way and loses its perfectly round shape, it would not fit properly.  We visited this scenario in a previous post on a dented tenon.  In that situation, the headjoint tenon would need to be re-rounded to gain its original shape.  However, damage does not always occur from the outside...  In fact, a headjoint tenon could be damaged by the inside of the flute's barrel.  If the inside of the barrel has a burr or is otherwise not completely smooth, it could cause deep scratches to the headjoint that would lead to improper fit.  In this case, the technician would need to smooth out the inside of the barrel to begin the headjoint fitting process.  Note -- if your headjoint has some light scratches on the tenon, that is probably normal from everyday use.  If you have any concerns, make sure to consult your repair technician.

So, we've seen some challenges to tackle in headjoint fitting -- too loose, too tight, physical damage such as dents and scratches -- but there is a very commonplace issue that could lead to either a temporary improper fit or possibly even damage.  This issue is very simple -- dirty tenons and barrels!  Headjoint tenons and the flute's barrel can accumulate all kinds of dirt and grime from everyday wear and tear.  As things get dirtier and it becomes harder to assemble the flute, some people are prone to grease up the headjoint tenon with something like cork grease or other lubricating oils and creams.  Don't do it!  The creams, greases, and oils will build up on the tenon and inside the barrel, attracting more dirt, dust and grime.  If it becomes difficult to assemble the flute, forcing the parts together could lead to damage.  So, make sure to keep your headjoint tenon and the inside of your barrel clean.  What do you need for this?  Well, just a simple, untreated microfiber cloth.  To clean the headjoint tenon, simply wipe the outside with the cloth.  For the inside of the barrel, cover your finger with the cloth and gently wipe the inside of the barrel.  Our videos below will demonstrate this simple yet extremely important step in keeping your flute happy and healthy!
Video 1: Cleaning Headjoint Tenon

Video 2: Cleaning Barrel and Body Tenon

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

If the Case Fits...

Last week, we discovered that bent keys could be the result of the flute not fitting properly in the case.  If the flute is moving around with the case closed, well, damage is likely to occur.  Before our repair technician, Rachel, begins her work on an instrument, she does a case fitting to correct any problems with the actual case.  All of that good repair work would go to waste if she were to send the flute back in an ill-fitting case!  So Rachel told us that she puts the flute in the case, closes the cover, and gives it a shake.  Sounds a bit scary, but the case needs to protect the instrument, so this is critical.  You do not want to hear anything moving, but if you do, you know there is a problem.  You can remove different parts (i.e. - the footjoint or headjoint) to really hone in on what might be moving if you hear a noise.  She tested the case fit on the Signature that she was overhauling and discovered that indeed, there were issues with the fit of the headjoint and footjoint.  When she opened the cover after the test, she could actually see that the footjoint had moved out of its proper position.

So, how does Rachel remedy the situation?  The interior of the case has velvet covered foam to hold the instrument in place.  Rachel cuts pieces of velvet and foam to create inserts to improve the fit.  She glues the velvet covered foam inserts into place to get a secure, proper fit for the instrument.  For the instrument in the photos, Rachel created inserts for the headjoint and footjoint areas of the case.  The flute case in the photo below has some worn areas on the right side of the cover.  If these were really bad, Rachel could cover them with an additional "shim" of velvet, or she may need to replace the entire block.  Do not fear -- she would use velvet that matches (we used blue against black just for the photo).  Case fit is critical to keeping your flute safe and secure.  If you think your case may be unstable, never fear -- as we can see from the photos, that can be repaired along with your flute!

Gluing velvet to foam for an insert.
Placing a new insert into the headjoint area of the case.
The insert is now in place.
The footjoint really moved during the shake test.
Fitting a new insert into footjoint area.
Much better fit for the footjoint.
Worn areas can be covered with a velvet shim.
If this area is really bad, the whole block can be replaced.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Bit of A Snag

We stopped in to see our repair technician, Rachel, earlier this week.  We were not surprised to find that she was working on a flute overhaul!  This is a very common operation at her bench.  She told us that she had already put the flute body and keys through the ultrasonic cleaner, so when we caught up with her, it was time for some manual cleaning.  As she ran a pipe cleaner through the mech tubing on the low B key, she felt a bit of a snag.  According to Rachel, the key tubing should be "round and straight," which we thought was a great rule of thumb.  Obviously, something was wrong.  She then put the steel through the tubing, but it did not run through smoothly.  Rachel detected that the key tubing was bent.  She then re-attached the key to the footjoint to check the motion, but the key was not moving "up and down" properly.  Definitely a snag here -- bent key tubing.

Luckily, the problem was easy enough to solve.  Rachel knew after a few manual diagnostics that the key tubing was bent, so she shared the remedy with us.  She said the way to correct the bend is to run the steel through the key mech tubing, applying pressure very carefully against the bend in the opposite direction.  These are all very small tubes, so the pressure really must be applied carefully -- just the right amount in the right spot with the right technique.  She mentioned that it does take time to learn how to do this properly and effectively.  With a couple of runs of the steel through the tube, applying the appropriate pressure, Rachel was able to fix the bent tube.  She showed us the steel running smoothly thought the tube, and she reattached the key.  Proper vertical motion was restored, and the flute was much happier!  But, how does the key tubing get bent?  Well, there could be a couple of reasons, including normal wear-and-tear.  Another culprit could be a case that does not fit the flute securely -- which is something we will talk about in our next post.  Stay tuned...

Running pipe cleaner through and feeling a snag
Rounding out tube with a steel
Putting key back on to test
Not quite right -- disassembling for more rounding
Putting everything back
Key on, motion tested, and good to go

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Flute Springs

Flute springs are quite interesting -- especially since they are not visually what might come to mind when you think of springs.  I'm sure we've all had a pen come apart in our hands, and you've probably noticed a little coiled-up wire spring in there.  However, with flutes, the springs are quite different.  They are straight-looking springs made of wire.  You may have also read some flute spec sheets and noticed different material for springs -- like stainless steel and 10K white gold.  Hmm...  So, what exactly is the difference?  We spoke with our repair technician, Rachel Baker, to get a closer look at flute springs.

According to Rachel, stainless steel springs are much more common because, quite frankly, they are more cost-effective than 10K white gold springs.  As we know, precious metals can cost a "pretty penny," and their price changes quite frequently.  The material certainly does have an effect on the spring, too.  Rachel enjoys working with the 10K springs because she says that it is easier to customize the tension with white gold.  The 10K white gold has much more flexibility than stainless steel, which is harder and stiffer.  The flexibility of the 10K white gold allows one to really "dial-in" to the exact spring tension they desire.  The feel and action on the 10K springs is also something that many flutists will notice.  Powell Handmade Custom flutes feature the 10K white gold springs that are all cut to length -- each spring is made for each particular key.

In addition to the wire springs on the flute, there is also a flat spring, which is found on the thumb keys.  The thumbs keys are mounted perpendicular to the body, and the mechanism tubing for these keys is very short, so a flat spring is used (a wire spring would be too short).  The flat springs are affixed to the key with a very small screw, whereas a wire spring is press fit.   Springs are not really an item that would be frequently replaced on a flute.  Rachel mentioned that springs, "can eventually get loose, fall out, and then get lost..." but other than that, they are resilient and hold their tension regardless of the material.   If a spring should come unhooked from its cradle, that is easy enough to remedy.  Also, you have a key that "flops" or, in other words, has no tension, you'll know there is a spring issue at hand!

Wire spring
Additional view of wire springs, which are press fit.
Flat Spring
Another view of a flat spring, which is attached with a small screw.