Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Alto Repadding

We stopped by Rachel's repair office here at Powell and were pretty excited to see something different -- an alto flute!  It's not every day that this instrument crosses her bench, but we lucked out, because she was in the midst of repadding the instrument.  Straubinger pads are not an option on the alto, so the Powell SonarĂ© alto uses felt pads.  Brand new felt pads have never been in the key cup, so once they are screwed into place, the skin can wrinkle a bit from the new amount of tension.  How does one solve this problem?  Well, oddly enough, it is quite similar to a wrinkled piece of clothing -- it gets ironed!  Rachel has a special "pad iron" to iron the pads.  She takes it, dips it in water, and then uses it to wet the pad skin.  She then heats the pad iron with an alcohol lamp and irons the wet pad with the heated iron.  This is repeated on every pad.  Since the pads are already wet, Rachel then clamps them to get an impression of the tone hole crown on the pad.  She lets it dry overnight with the clamps in place, and then in the morning, the impressions will be set.  The impressions help Rachel seat the pads, because she can see where they may be a little closing too lightly or too heavily on the tone hole -- and then she can shim the pads accordingly.

As usual, if your flute needs repadding, it is best to take it to a professional.  Obviously, there are many steps in the process from taking a brand new pad out of the bag to making it fit and function perfectly in the cup!

Getting ready -- pad iron is the metal device to the left of the flute.

Dipping the iron in water.

Going to wet the pad.
Heating the iron after wetting the pad.
Ironing out wrinkled pad skin with heated iron.
Clamping pads to get impressions.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Key Engraving

Have you been thinking about having the keys on your flute engraved?  If so, you might be wondering how much that would cost -- and when the best time to do this would be.  We recently caught up with Rachel Baker, our Powell Repair Technician, to discuss this topic.

Rachel sees many flutes cross her bench for overhauls.  She said that sending in your flute for an overhaul would be the perfect time to have keys engraved.  During the overhaul, "everything is apart," so the keys are off the flute and easily accessible individually.  She also told us that key engraving is perfectly safe -- it only involves the surface of the keys, so the keys would not be damaged in any way.  Why would one choose the engraving option?  Well, in addition to aesthetics, Rachel told us that sometimes it's helpful for flute players whose fingers tend to slip on the keys.

We've featured photos of one of our engraver's work here in this post.  He has a standard set of patterns, although Rachel says it might be possible to have a custom design if you have something special in mind.  Our engraver is flexible!  How much would this cost?  Well, engraving a full set of silver keys would cost around $1500, and engraving a full set of gold keys would cost around $2200.  So, if you are thinking about this option, it is certainly possible -- and easiest to do when you send your flute in for an overhaul.  As always, feel free to contact our repair shop if you have any questions!

Keys are removed for an overhaul -- perfect time for engraving.
Close-up on a 14K engraved key.
Close-up on a key section.
Another view of a 14K engraved key set.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Retrofit C#

Here at Powell, we're often asked if it is possible to retrofit a C# trill to a flute that did not originally have this option.  It is possible, although it requires work to the body of the flute -- which can certainly take longer than an ordinary C.O.A. or overhaul.  So, if the body requires work, and a new tone hole is added, will it affect the scale?  Will there be any changes to response and weight?

We asked our Vice President of Production, Rob Viola, and he answered these questions for us.  Rob shared the following:

The scale of the instrument is determined by the placement of the tone holes on the tubing, so the addition of a tone hole does not change the scale unless it requires other tone holes to move.  In the case of a C# trill key, the position of the C# tone hole does not require making any adjustments to the scale.  The addition of a tone hole does change the response of the instrument by adding more resistance inside the tube and weight to the outside. 

So, although it is a complex operation that could leave you without your flute for a longer period of time, it is possible.  However, any change to the body of a flute will change it's response -- as Rob mentioned above.  Understanding the changes ahead of time certainly helps -- and if you are interested in the C# trill but want to go a different route, you can always upgrade to a new flute...

*Note, the C# trill in these photos was not retrofit (we didn't have a flute with a retrofit C# in the shop to photograph...)

Thursday, November 1, 2012


We were in the flute finishing area, and the topic of "spuds" came up.  Although it may seem as if we were talking about potatoes, we were actually talking about a part of the key cup.  The "pad spud" is the part of the key cup where you secure the screw that holds the pad -- because obviously, the screw has to go into something!  This spud is a very small piece of metal as you can see from the photos below.  The spud can come loose after a while, especially on a key cup with an older solder joint.  There's actually quite a bit of tension on the spud from the screw and pad pulling against it when the flute is assembled.  If the spud comes unsoldered, the pad could then fall out.

When you send your flute to Powell for an overhaul, all pad spuds are resoldered as a precaution.  It's not good to wait until the spud is loose to have it resoldered.  With all the work that goes into an overhaul, it seems logical to make sure that these spuds are solidly in place as well.

Currently, pad spuds are part of the key cup with Powell flutes.  This started in the early 2000s -- toward the end of the 2100 series.  Powells with serial numbers 11,000 and above will have pad spuds that are part of the cup.  Our repair technician reminded us that this is a good thing because it is "one less thing to worry about!"  However, if your flute has separate spuds, and they come loose -- do not worry.  Send your flute in, and our repair technician will take apart the key and resolder the old spud (if you still have it) or replace it with a new one.  As she says, "Don't worry -- it's definitely not the end of the world!"  We were happy to hear that!

Pad spud (upside down).
Blue arrows point to pad spuds soldered in place in key cups.
New key cup with built-in pad spud