Thursday, September 26, 2013

Headjoint Recutting

We stopped in to the repair shop this week and had a chat with Rachel (our technician) about "headjoint recutting."  What exactly is that?  Well, it's pretty much exactly what it sounds like.  Often times, older headjoints may not have the same overcutting and undercutting as a modern headjoint, and the shape of the embouchure hole is different.  An older headjoint usually has a rounder embouchure hole that the modern headjoint.  That being said, owners of older headjoints may ask to have them "recut" to give them a more modern shape.  The shape and cutting of the modern heajdoint may offer better projection and make the headjoint easier to play in general.  It is also not a very costly modification -- it runs about $75 to $80 for silver headjoints (gold is a bit more because it is a harder material).  However, only Powell headjoints may be sent to Powell for recutting.

Older headjoint on the left, newer on the right. 
So, what would be involved in the headjoint recutting?  First, the headjoint must be sent to Powell for evaluation.  If an older headjoint already has an embouchure hole that is too big to be reshaped and modernized, recutting would not be possible.  Why is this?  Well, if an embouchure hole is very large, recutting it could result in one's sound getting out of control and really losing focus.  Therefore, the evaluation by headjoint cutters is critical.  If the headjoint is able to be recut, the customer will be able to provide the headjoint cutters details about how they would like the headjoint to play.  The headjoint cutters at Powell have plenty of experience, and as Rachel says, "They have a very good idea of what the headjoint should sound like, and they know what to do.  They wouldn't make extreme changes, but rather very modest ones."  Rachel tells us that is is a very careful process.  The headjoint cutters listen, then make very subtle changes, then listen again, make more subtle changes, and the cycle continues until the headjoint is exactly where the customer would want it.  The turnaround time for headjoint recutting is about a week.  Like most repairs and modifications, it takes time and care to complete the process.

You may wonder what types of customers may request to have their headjoints recut.  Rachel tell us that sometimes, people who own older headjoints may feel that their headjoint is no longer working for them and purchase a new headjoint.  Obviously, the new headjoint will have the modern shaoe, overcutting, and undercutting -- so it is a good point of comparison for the older headjoint.  If you are considering having an older headjoint recut or have additional questions, you may contact Rachel Baker at

Friday, September 20, 2013

Chip Off the Old Footjoint

We've seen previous posts about repairing dents and dings in metal flute bodies and headjoints, but what happens when there is a nick in a wooden flute?  Well, we happened to be in the wood shop this past week to see how this could be remedied.

In the case of this particular footjoint, there was a small nick in the wood.  Wood surely isn't pliable, so it cannot be reshaped and burnished like metal.  What is one to do?  Well, the solution is to fill the nick -- then secure the filler, file/sand, blend, and buff.  It's really quite straightforward as you will see from the photos below:

Nick has been circled in yellow.
Getting grenadilla dust ready to fill the nick.
Applying the dust to fill in the nick.
Just a bit more dust on top of the filled area.
Filled and ready for glue.
Adding the adhesive glue over the dust filling. 
Glue doesn't take long to dry.
Filing the glue down with a mill file to blend it in.
Using sandpaper for final blending.
Applying oil.
And it's done!  A little more oil was applied after blending.  Nick is gone!
If you are interesting in reviewing the previous posts on dents in metal flutes, take a look at the following:

Post on dented headjoint:
Two-part post on dented tenon:

Friday, September 13, 2013

Tarnish -- Part II

Customer Service Manager, Rebecca Eckles, told us about a customer she was working with recently who had a very, very tarnished flute.  In fact, Rebecca recalled that it was essential black from tarnish.  The customer sent the flute in for a COA, and it was revived beautifully -- tarnish removed, and sparkle restored.  The flute was then sent back to the customer, and it was blackened with tarnish once again, as soon as she started playing it.  Often times, when this happens, customers ask Rebecca, "Why did this happen?  This never happened with my other flute(s)..."

Paul Edmund-Davies doesn't mind the tarnish...
Since the customer's flute became tarnished so quickly after it was returned, we can gather that this particular case was different.  The flute certainly would not have gotten tarnish from "exposure to the elements" of air with various levels of moisture over time.  No, in this case, we can gather that the tarnishing problem came from the player having very acidic hands.  Some people simply have this problem and often times switch to flutes made of a different metal -- most frequently, gold.  Some people don't mind the look of a tarnished flute.  In fact, Powell Artist Paul-Edmund Davies has very acidic hands, and his Powell is very tarnished, but it certainly hasn't affected his playing ability!  Aesthetically speaking, the tarnish is not a problem for him -- but we are all different...

As for the question on why the other flutes didn't tarnish, well, it all depends on the metal and plating.  Knowing the metal content of your flute is very critical.  Sterling silver flutes could tarnish when played by people with acidic hands, but if that person previously played on flutes that were not sterling silver, the tarnish problem would not occur.  The other flutes may have been nickel-silver, or perhaps they were nickel-silver with silver plating.  Perhaps the keys were made of a different metal than the body -- which is always a choice with Powell Custom flutes.

So, if you are experiencing a tarnishing problem with your flute, or if you are looking for a new one, it really is important to think about the flutes you've played in the past.  Try to think about how they responded -- did they tarnish?  Keep records of the models and their specs -- especially the metal content of the body and keys.  This will help diagnose problems if they arise (like the "quick tarnishing") and truly help you pick the best flute for you!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Changes in the Air

As the seasons change from summer to fall, there are many noticeable changes in the air.  Certainly, temperatures are lower now than they were in the summer months.  As the temperature falls, so does the humidity level – especially here in the Northeast.  That being said, we thought it might be the perfect time to talk about wooden flutes and humidifiers.

A wooden flute is something that is wonderful and somewhat mystical for those who are used to playing on a metal flute.  Obviously, the composition of the body will determine quite a few points in regard to maintenance.  Plus, let’s face it, wood can be a bit temperamental.  That point coupled with the price tag of a Handmade Custom grenadilla Powell can leave new wooden flute owners in a state of panic when it comes to caring for these beautiful instruments!

When we think about wooden instruments, one word comes to mind – the dreaded, five-letter word that starts with a “c” and ends with a “k.”  You’ve probably heard teachers say, “Don’t do that or your instrument will crack!”  What might you be doing that is dangerous?  And why is it dangerous?  Well, wooden instruments need to be kept in environments where there is consistency of temperature and humidity.  Rapid changes can hurt the wood for a variety of reasons and result in cracks.  Keeping the humidity level consistent is particularly important.  Our wood technician assures us that the best way maintain a wooden flute is to play it regularly.  If you play it for a while, leave it for several months (untouched), and then pick it up to play it, you will notice differences which may make playing the instrument difficult.  However, if it is played consistently, the wood will be acclimated to patterns of being played, swabbed out, placed in the case, and then played again.  The cycle continues, and the wood is happy!

As the humidity drops in the fall and winter months, it can become particularly stressful for your wooden flute.  As you play, air goes through the instrument and condenses into water.  You swab it out and put the flute back in its case.  The bore is probably still warm and a bit moist – leaving it in a state where it wants to expand.  Meanwhile, the outside of the flute is surrounded by air that is cooler and lacking moisture, so it wants to contract.  This is a difficult situation for the wood!  Keeping the air around the flute humidified while the flute is in its case will help keep the wood “happier” because it is not prone to opposing tendencies in terms of contraction and expansion.

So, how do you do this?  Well, it is certainly helpful to keep some type of humidifier in the case when you have a wooden flute.  This is especially important in dry, hot areas of the country, where players work very carefully at maintaining humidity levels in the case year-round.  There are a few ways to humidify your instrument.  One of the most commonly used items is a “dampit” humidifier, which is used regularly by string players.  It looks like a long, skinny green tube with a yellow sponge inside.  You’ll want to use the smallest one for your flute (usually a violin dampit).  You can place it in the case on the space between the body and joints (headjoint or footjoint) – but never place it inside the body, headjoint, or footjoint.   How moist should it be?  Well, if you press the dampit and feel water coming out of the holes, the sponge inside is too damp.  If the dampit is lacking “flexibility,” the sponge is too dry.  A nice, middle-of-the road moistness if perfect.  If you are looking for something less expensive, you could use orange peels instead of a dampit.  They work well – and it’s simple enough to get hold of an orange!

Finally, remember to treat your wooden flute very carefully when you take it from place to place.  Don’t set it down next to a radiator after you’ve come in from the cold.  Likewise, don’t place it in a cold, drafty area, either.  If you are out and about – maybe having dinner after a concert – take the flute with you inside the restaurant.  No one will laugh at you for taking the time to make your flute as comfortable as you would be!