Thursday, May 30, 2013

Close-Up on Shimming

For those of us in the flute world who are not repair technicians, the concept of "shimming pads" seems pretty straightforward.  All you have to do is take out the pad and put a circular shim in the cup, and you'll be set -- right?  Well, not exactly.  Shimming is a repair skill that takes a lot of practice and a very careful touch.

Shimming is used for pads in two scenarios: pads that are "leaking," and pads that are "light."  Repair Technician Rachel Baker tells us that there is a distinctive difference, and she can determine whether a pad is leaking or light by using the feeler gauge.  When a pad is "leaking," there is no "drag" at all on the feeler gauge.  In other words, you can close the pad down on the gauge and pull the gauge through without any resistance.  Technicians check the pad all the way around its circumference, so it is definitely leaking when there is no drag at all completely around the pad.  When a pad is "light," that means that the pad seal is not even, and you can determine this (again) by using the feeler gauge at different points around the pad's edge.  In the case of a light pad, there will be some drag on the feeler gauge when you close the pad and try to pull out the gauge.  As you check around the pad, if there is less resistance or "drag" on the gauge in certain points, the pad is considered to be "light" in some areas.

So, given the different scenarios of light and leaking pads, shimming may require the technician to use layers and partial sections of shims of varying thicknesses.  Rachel tells us that she uses adhesive to secure the shim in the cup and for holding shim sections together when layering.  For a full shim, she said that shims of any of the varying thicknesses may be used.  For partial shimming, she most often uses the thousandth or half-thousandth (of an inch) thicknesses. These shims may be seen in the photos -- orange for the thousandth, and silver for the half-thousandth.  The silver shim is the thinnest -- and it is also the same thickness as the feeler gauge.

As we can see, shimming definitely takes time and a careful hand.  How does one know where to shim, how big of a section with a partial shim, and which to use?  Well, it all takes practice and a careful hand... 

Frequently used for partial shims -- orange and silver.
Using the feeler gauge to check for "light" and "leaking" pads.
Cutting a partial shim.
Adding adhesive.
Positioning the partial shim.
Close-up on partial shim.

Friday, May 24, 2013

A "Hole" Lot Cleaner

We're all pretty diligent about keeping our flutes clean -- swabbing them out, wiping them down...  But there are some other areas of the flute that can get pretty grimey.  You may not have thought about these areas, so we wanted to share!

The embouchure hole and the holes in the French key cups can accumulate some "grime" just from day-to-day playing.  There is a simple way to get these areas clean, though.  All you need is a Q-tip for the key cups and a Q-tip plus alcohol for the embouchure hole.  You don't want to put alcohol on the keys or body of the flute, because it will eventually break down the "tarnish shield" coating on the flutes.  Since we wipe our lip plates with alcohol to clean them, it's perfectly okay to use alcohol on the inside of the embouchure hole and the lip plate (but not on the rest of the headjoint -- just like the body).

So, for the embouchure hole, you just take a Q-tip, dip it in alcohol, and wipe it around the inside of the hole.  You'll want to make sure to get under the "undercutting" around the bottom of the hole as well.  For the keys, you want to take a dry Q-tip and wipe it around the inside of the hole.  Don't worry -- a dry Q-tip is plenty effective in cleaning these areas.  You'll also want to hold the cups down while you clean the inside.  How far should the Q-tip go?  Well, in both cases (keys and embouchure hole), you'll just use a bit of the Q-tip.  You don't want to push the Q-tip down to the bore in either case, because then the tip of the Q-tip will be too far down, and you won't be wiping the inside of these holes. 

That's all it takes, really.  How often should you do this?  Well, it all depends on the player.  Keep an eye out -- you'll see if your embouchure hole and French key cups start to get "grimey."  Some players will need to do this frequently, and others not so much.  Take a look at the photos below.  You'll see what to look for and how to clean these spots!

Dipping the Q-tip in alcohol.
Wiping the inside of the embouchure hole.
You'll want to make sure to go all the way around.
Almost done.
Make sure to wipe the undercutting.
You can clean all types of headjoints.  We found a 14K and circled some grimey spots.
For the key cups, remember to use a dry Q-tip (no alcohol) and hold the key cups down.
Wiping around the inside.
Green ring on the Q-tip is what came from cleaning the hole!
Arrows point to green "grime" inside the holes.  This is how you can tell these key cups need to be cleaned inside!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Repair Technician Profile - Ed Scott

Ed Scott
Repair Technician Ed Scott began working at Chuck Levin's Washington Music center in April 1988, repairing flutes, saxophones, and bassoons.  He was formally trained in instrument repair, having received an A.A. degree in Musical Instrument Technology from the State University of New York at Morrisville.  He also received a B.A. degree in Saxophone Performance from St. Mary's College of Maryland and has performed semi-professionally in big bands for over fifteen years.  He has also been a Powell Technician at Washington Music for the past fifteen years.  His training in repairing Powell flutes began in the late 1990s with a visit to the Powell shop in Maynard, Massachusetts.

Since all Powell dealers are required to have Powell-trained or Straubinger-certified technicians on staff, Mr. Scott first came to the shop for specialized training on installing these pads.  At the time of his initial visit to Powell, Straubinger pads were fairly new.  Now, Mr. Scott will make the journey from Maryland to Massachusetts once again, returning next week for a "repair refresher course" at Powell.  Looking back on his first visit, Mr. Scott recalled that he had always held Powells in very high esteem.  He shared a bit of his impressions with us:

"When I first came to Powell for training, I found it to be a very professional environment.  Everyone was very friendly and helpful.  I really valued the experience.  To me, it was a highpoint -- it was something I worked toward."

Commenting specifically on Straubinger pads, Mr. Scott expressed the benefits technicians can gain from learning how to install these pads:

"Straubinger pads are extremely flat and consistent.  They are easy to work with and a good way for technicians to develop a light touch -- because you want the pads to be sealed with the lightest touch possible.  As a repair technician, the light touch is the biggest asset to have.  Overall, the Straubinger pads are a very good thing.  Flutists who have these pads installed on their flutes should not run into problems as long as they are careful and take care of their instruments."

Mr. Scott is looking forward to his next trip to Powell, which will be on Monday, May 20, 2013.  We look forward to seeing him and hope he enjoys seeing all that is new at the Powell shop!

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Anti-Tarnish Square

The anti-tarnish square in the case
Have you ever wondered what that little square sponge is inside your Powell flute case?  Maybe you've seen it in some of our photos on Facebook, too.  Well, if you order a new Powell and see it there in the case, don't throw it out.  It's not an extra packing sponge or cushion for the G# key.  It is actually an anti-tarnish sponge.  When your case is closed, it helps create an "environment" that will keep your flute from tarnishing.  Powell's Vice President of Production, Rob Viola, shared the story behind the square.  He said that it was really quite simple -- he got it at a place that sells tools.  As he recalls, it was being used in packaging ball bearings to help keep them dry.  He figured it would work well as an anti-tarnish piece in the flute case, so he gave it a try.  It worked very well, and it also fit better in the case than the typical anti-tarnish strips.

At Powell, we also hand treat each flute with an anti-tarnish coating as part of the finishing process.  So, with the protection of the coating plus the safe environment created in the case by the sponge, your flute should be happy and tarnish-free.  Also, always remember to wipe your flute only with a microfiber cloth.  A microfiber cloth, as opposed to a polishing cloth, is free of any chemicals or solutions -- so it is safe.  As tempting as it is to use polishing cloths, Rob reminded us that anything that makes your flute "shiny" will wear it down.  So, trust in the power of the plain, microfiber cloth to keep your flute clean -- and don't throw out the little square sponge in the case!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Key Extensions

We've heard from many flute players over the years who have developed arthritis or other health issues with their hands and wrists.  Some players have even suffered injuries or have had surgery.  In these cases of hand and wrist issues, many have asked for key extensions. After stopping in the repair shop this week, we discovered that one woman will be getting her Powell flute back with a very special key extension. 

A woman who recently had wrist surgery called our repair shop and spoke with our technician, Rachel Baker.  She requested to have a key extension for her G key.  Rachel came up with a new idea for a key extension that was actually quite simple -- a C1 key cup soldered to a Plug-O!  When we first saw the extension, we couldn't tell from the outside that it was removable -- but, indeed it is!  Like a regular Plug-O, you can insert it and remove it.  Rachel Baker pointed out that it is removable and "movable."  You can rotate it and position it exactly where you want it.  It is also transferable, so if you get a new Powell flute, you can use it with that one as well.  Also, because the extension is removable, it does not permanently alter the original mechanism on your flute.  This is helpful if you decide to eventually sell your flute.  Finally, Rachel adds, "and it's solid silver," which is certainly a terrific perk!

Rachel mentioned to us that many people can benefit from this key extension.  Aside from those with hand and wrist problems, we know that not all flutes players are alike.  Some players may have difficulty with comfortable hand position on an inline flute if their hands are too big or too small.  The Plug-O key extension functions in a way that helps "mimic" an offset style on an inline flute.  Before soldering, Rachel positioned the key cup onto the Plug-O where she felt it was the most comfortable.  However, it certainly is possible to position it differently to meet the player's preference.

If you are interested in an extension for your G key (or any other keys), feel free to contact our repair shop after May 13th, 2013 at (978) 344-5164.

Key extension is made from a Plug-O with soldered C1 key cup.
Front view of Plug-O key extension.
Side view.
Removing the key extension is as simple as removing a Plug-O!
It's out, and there is no change to the G key.