Thursday, June 27, 2013

The COA Process

Many of you have sent your flutes in for a COA, and we certainly see our repair technician, Rachel, busy with these each day.  Have you ever wondered what happens exactly when your flute arrives?  We spoke with Rachel to find out what the process is from start to finish.

Once Rachel receives the flute, does a play test or “playing evaluation.”  She wants to see what shape the flute is in so she’ll get a sense of what needs to be done.  Then, she does a visual inspection of the flute, looking at the body, pads, and mechanism.  This aides in her assessment of what particular adjustments may need to be made, and each flute is different!

Then, Rachel takes everything apart – the keys come off, any pinned sections come unpinned, and the headjoint cork comes out.  She checks the keys to make sure they are straight.  If the keys are pinned, she oils them.  Then, any pinned sections are reassembled and placed in an organizing tray while Rachel takes the body, footjoint, and headjoint to the ultrasonic cleaner to be cleaned.  During the cleaning process, there are still no keys on the body and no cork in the headjoint.

After cleaning, Rachel checks the condition of soldered elements.  On soldered tone hole flutes, she will check the tone holes to make sure they are not leaking.  On all flutes, she will check additional areas that have been soldered (ribs, posts).  At this point in the process, she would resolder areas as needed.  She also checks to make sure the springs are secure.  She then “light polishes” the body with rouge.

The next step is one that Rachel says definitely takes the most time.  She starts putting sections on and replaces items as needed.  She would replace torn pads, missing adjustments, and felt for key heights.  After everything is back together, she does a play test for about 15 to 20 minutes.  Then, she lets the flute sit for a day or two.  She checks the flute once again and makes any minor adjustments that are necessary.  After this, she does a second play test and then lets the flute sit for an additional day or two.  She checks the flute again – although she says that at this point the flute should be “good to go.”  This final check and play test is quick, because the process has been completed.  The adjustments have been made, and the flute has rested and gone through play tests to make sure that everything has settled -- other words, the flute has fully adjusted to being adjusted!

Rachel certainly does not want to send back a flute from a COA in an ill-fitting case, so before she sends it back, she will fit the case as needed.  After this, the flute is put in the case and shipped back to its owner.  As we can see, the COA is a process with many steps – some of which include letting the flute acclimate to any changes.  Needless to say, it takes time to complete a COA -- certainly not a one-day endeavor for the repair technician!  We all know that regular maintenance on your flute keeps it happy and healthy, so it is well worth the time.  If you would like to send your flute to Powell for a COA (or other repair work), you can schedule this online at

Taking everything apart.
Keys in the key tray.
Off to the ultrasonic cleaner.
A light polish with rouge.
Putting everything back together.  A series of play tests and checks follow.
Fitting a case.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Oiling Wooden Headjoints

When you purchase a new Powell flute or piccolo, it comes with a "welcome pamphlet" explaining the warranty and offering basic care tips.  We took a look at the oiling section in particular, because we thought about headjoints on wooden flutes and piccolos.  After all the air going through the headjoint (and then condensing into water), should you oil the inside bore of the headjoint?  Does it get dry?

Well, the oiling section of the pamphlet says:
Only Powell Flutes or an authorized Powell repair technician should undertake the task of applying oil to the bore of a body or footjoint.  Your wooden headjoint may benefit from an occasional application of almond oil to the bore and embouchure hole after it is at least one year old.  Use only pure pressed almond oil.  Use extreme caution in wiping around the embouchure hole, as the delicate edges of the hole might become damaged.  After it is applied, the oil must be wiped thoroughly but gently.
So, the recommendation is to have Powell or a repair technician apply oil to the bore of the body -- but what about the headjoint?  We spoke with our Powell repair technician and our wood specialist about this topic.  Our technician told us that the bodies and headjoints of wooden flutes and piccolos get oiled as needed when you send the instruments in for a COA.  But is it really necessary to resist the urge to do it yourself?  Well, our wood specialist shed some light on why you should leave it to the pros, even in the case of the headjoint...  You see, there are some situations that cannot be seen on the outside but are nevertheless very problematic.  If you attempt to oil wooden headjoints yourself, no matter how careful you may be, there are still some problems that might arise.  If too much oil is applied, it can accumulate and dry over time.  When this happens, it often dries around the inside cork of the headjoint and around the embouchure hole.  In the case of the cork, dried oil deposits can cause the cork to get stuck.  Trying to remove it can cause all kinds of problems -- including cracks in some cases.  The dried deposits around the inside of the embouchure hole add material to the hole, often times causing changes in response.  In this case, you may find that the instrument is difficult to play because of the buildup inside the hole.  Also, removing the oil buildup inside the embouchure hole, if not done properly, can cause damage to the undercutting and edges of the hole. 

So, even though it may appear easy enough to apply oil to your headjoint, well, now it 100% clear to us that it is best to leave headjoint oiling to the pros.  Even the best intentions with those other than technicians can lead to unintentional damage.  If you think your headjoint is looking a bit dry, consult Powell or your authorized Powell repair technician.  It will make you and your headjoint happy for years to come!

Removing oil residue from inside embouchure hole. 
There is a white film around the inside of the embouchure hole -- this film is oil residue.  The yellow arrow points to it.
After removing residue, you can see a difference.  Green arrow points to the clean side, yellow arrow points to the side with oily "film" of residue.
Too much oil can leak past the headjoint cork assembly, and the cork becomes stuck.  The cork assembly was very difficult to remove here, and we see even more oil residue.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

A Closer Look at Spuds

Last fall, we took a look at what "spuds" are and how they work.  If you didn't have the chance to see it, take a look at  In that post, we highlighted the change in design from soldered spuds to spuds that are "machined" or built into the cup.  Both types have the same function, but what are the differences?

Well, the major difference is in construction.  Soldered spuds are made from brass and are soft soldered into the key cup.  We see these in the repair shop on older flutes, although the change in Powell was made just over 13 years ago.  So, a flute with soldered spuds is not necessarily "old," and other brands may have soldered spuds as well.  A machined spud is built into the cup and is, literally, part of the cup.  The cup's design includes the spud,  so when the cups are made, they are made with spuds!  Unlike the older brass spuds, these machined spuds are made from whatever material the cup is made of -- silver or various types of gold.

The construction also can give you a clear expectation of a spud's "lifespan."  Solder wears over time, so a soldered spud may become loose or ultimately completely detached from the key cup.  There is pressure on the pad from the screw and washer, which in turn causes the pad to pull on the spud.  With a machined spud that is part of the cup, well, the spud is not going anywhere!  It can take as much wear and tear as you can give it, and it will not be pulled out of the cup over time!

So, for those of you with machined spuds, rest assured that your spuds are secure!  For those of you with soldered spuds, do not despair.  Our repair technician re-solders every spud on an overhaul.  They can be easily fixed if you have any problems, and they can be replaced as well.

Soldered spud -- the bottom gets soldered into the key cup.
Close-up - we see the threads where the screw would go in.
Soldered spuds can be replaced.  There is a whole tube of them in this photo!
Machined spud -- will not get pulled out!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Popping Piccolos -- Continued...

We recently caught up with Customer Service Manager, Rebecca Eckles, and chatted about piccolos.  If you remember our post on the piccolo "pop test," you know that a good seal is crucial for the piccolo to function properly.  (If you didn't have a chance to read the post, you can find it at  The piccolo pop test post discussed the metal-to-metal seal in particular.  When that seal is tight, you'll definitely hear a pop!

Rebecca was testing a Powell Signature piccolo and not getting the response she wanted.  She thought it was because of the headjoint, so she worked with one of our headjoint designers to see what could be done.  He asked if she had checked to see if the cork was properly aligned, which she then checked with the swabstick.  Everything seemed to be in order there.  So, what could possibly be causing the lack of gusto in this piccolo?  Well, Rebecca gave it the pop test, and sadly, it did not pop.  While doing this, she noticed that the tenon cork looked rather dry.  She took out some Chapstick and began applying it to the cork.  The cork was certainly "soaking up" the Chapstick, so she kept applying and applying until the cork looked moisturized.  Then, she put the headjoint on, gave it a test run, and it played like a dream!  She said the change in sound was HUGE.  After playing a bit, she tried the pop test, and sure enough -- POP!

Sometimes there are hidden culprits when piccolos are not up to speed in their performance, and in this case, it was as simple as a dry cork.  The cork was dry enough to affect the seal, and air was leaking.  Once the Chapstick was applied sufficiently to the cork, a proper air seal was created.  A "small" issue like this certainly presented itself in a huge way.  So, don't forget the little things, and as always, make sure to check with a certified technician if you have any questions.

If your piccolo is not popping, don't forget about the cork...
It's easy to overlook, but regreasing the cork may just be the solution!