Sunday, December 14, 2014

Should They Stay Together?

A few weeks ago, we discussed the seal on piccolo headjoints and what steps to take if you think the headjoint is not sealing properly (click here to revisit that post).  Now that we understand how the seal is created, and how the headjoint and tenon fit to create this seal, we can address another topic -- leaving the headjoint on the piccolo in the case.  There are lots of cases out there, single or combination cases, that allow you to place the piccolo, fully assembled, in the case. Most single cases, including cases for Powell Signature and Custom piccolos, have one section for the body, and one section for the headjoint -- and there is a good reason for this!

Powell's repair technician, Rachel Baker, reminded us that when you assemble the piccolo, the (tenon) cork compresses to create the seal.  When you disassemble to the piccolo, the cork has a chance to expand and "breathe" a bit.  If the piccolo is kept assembled in the case, then the cork stays compressed.  Rachel told us that a cork that is continually compressed would then need to be replaced twice as often. So, technically, yes, it would be okay to keep the piccolo assembled in a case, but it is most definitely not recommended by our repair technician.  Help give your piccolo's tenon cork a longer and healthier life by using a case that keeps the piccolo headjoint and body apart in separate sections.  Sometimes separation is not such a bad thing...

Friday, December 5, 2014

Cleaning a Tarnished Footjoint

Ever wonder how tarnish is removed?  Well, this week, we had a very tarnished flute in the shop for repair, and flute finisher Karl Kornfeld captured the process of cleaning the footjoint...

Footjoint disassembled before cleaning:
Dipping the footjoint in the ultrasonic cleaner:

How it looks after the ultrasonic cleaner:
Dipping footjoint in acid tarnish cleaner:
After the acid bath:
Applying metal polish:
Polishing Keys:
Finished keys:
Applying TarniShield: 

The clean footjoint body:

Friday, November 21, 2014

Quick Fix for a Piccolo Pop!

In a previous post, we learned that you can check if your piccolo headjoint is sealing by doing the "pop test" (follow this link to the read the previous post).  But, if you don't hear a pop and feel that there might be a leak, what can you do in a quick fix?  We checked with Powell's Repair Technician, Rachel Baker, to find out!

The answer is actually quite simple -- cork grease!  Rachel told us that you should put cork grease on the body tenon cork.  The grease will help moisten up the cork and create a better seal.  Definitely made sense to us as we recalled another previous post where the application of cork grease helped to solve a mysterious problem with a piccolo.  The problem in that situation turned out to be a headjoint that wasn't sealing properly (click here to read that post).

However, as we got more into the conversation with Rachel, she mentioned a couple of other points about the seal on a piccolo headjoint.  She told us that when it comes to the seal of a piccolo headjoint, the metal fit is the most important.  In fact, when she is working on piccolos, she makes sure there is a proper metal-to-metal fit and then checks the cork fit. She said the cork is actually a fail safe so that if, over time, the metal-to-metal connection does not seal properly, the cork is a backup.  In fact, she even demonstrated this with a piccolo at her bench -- which did not have a cork because a new cork was going to be put on the tenon.  She showed us that even without the cork, the headjoint was sealing, and we could certainly feel it!

So, if you are having issues with your piccolo, don't forget about the headjoint -- and cork grease.  It's a "quick fix" but actually might have more longevity than you'd expect!

Piccolo from Rachel's bench that did not have a cork -- yet. 
Metal-to-metal seal is the most important.  Red arrow points to the inner ring that goes inside the top of the tenon (yellow arrow pointing to where inner ring goes).  The top of the body tenon will then fit into the headjoint between the headjoint's inner and outer rings.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Standing Waters

Repair technician Rachel Baker swabbing out a kingwood Custom piccolo.

We all want the best for our flutes and know that the question of humidifying wooden ones in particular comes up quite often. Should you use a humidifier?  Is it overkill?  Can it cause more problems?

Well, we've gotten feedback from our staff, customers, and artists, and we realize that there really is no "one size fits all" answer to this question.  Some people do not use humidifiers and travel from place to place, climate to climate, and have no problems.  Of course, if you are playing your wooden instruments regularly and taking proper care of them, you may not need to use a humidifier.  In a previous post on wooden flute maintenance, we shared the following:
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.  
However, one thing that did surprise us recently in a conversation we overheard was the idea that wooden instruments do not need to be humidified because there is enough moisture in the bore after playing.  Hmm.  Well, yes, there is certainly moisture in there after playing, but you do not want to leave it that way!  With wooden instruments, you have to make sure that you thoroughly swab out the bore of the body and headjoint.  Never leave moisture in your wooden instrument -- it could lead to all kinds of problems, including cracking.  

However, we don't want to forget about metal instruments when thinking about "standing waters."  They are certainly not good for the inside of metal flutes, so proper swabbing is crucial there as well.  And, make sure to never put anything in the flute bore and leave it there to absorb the moisture -- like those "fuzzy" looking accessories.  If you use something like that inside the flute to absorb moisture and leave it in there, well, you'll only be left with something moist and fuzzy inside your flute with no place for the moisture to go!

So, remember, swab out your flutes and piccolos thoroughly, take good care to keep them clean, check to make sure everything looks alright inside and out, and if you have any questions or concerns, don't let it wait -- contact your repair technician.

Sunday, November 9, 2014


Powell Plug-O's (left) and Powell Sonaré Plug-O's (right).
Powell offers a great option for converting an open hole flute to closed hole -- and back.  This option is (as you may have guessed) -- Plug-O's.  They are small, round, sterling silver inserts with a rubber O ring, and they stay in place by press fitting into open hole keys.  The nice thing about Plug-O's is that provide a "convertible" option that is not permanent.

Side view showing metal Plug-O with black rubber O ring.
Plug-O's are easy to insert and remove.  You can also purchase them online through the VQP Shop. If you do choose to purchase them, make sure to save the package -- especially the black platsic tool that holds them.  You will need the tool to remove the Plug-O's, and the back of the package includes complete instructions on how to insert and remove the Plug-O's.  If you do have trouble, don't try to force them out with any other object -- call your repair technician. One thing to note  -- if you use Plug-Os with a wooden flute, you will not be able to remove them yourself (you will need to call your repair technician for this).

Need help finding the right size Plug-O?  Follow this link to read our previous post on Plug-O sizing. Also, for those who choose to use Plug-O's for an extended period of time, you may need to clean them -- and we have a previous post on cleaning them as well (click here to read it)!

Instructions on back of package.
Black plastic tool with small "

Friday, October 31, 2014

Get It Together

Last week, we spotted a flute in the repair shop with a strange indentation in the tenon.  The culprit for this damage was the repetitive motion of placing the flute on a stand (peg) at an angle.  That made us wonder -- what about putting your flute together?  Is there a right way and wrong way for that? What kind of damage could happen if you are not assembling your flute correctly?  So, we went to the repair office to chat with our repair technician, Rachel Baker.

Rachel assured us that there is no one particular correct way to assemble a flute and that there are actually different ways. We asked about one we had come across recently -- the "barrel and end of footjoint" method, where you place one hand on the barrel and one on the bottom of the footjoint. This method prevents people from placing pressure on the mechanism.  However, Rachel finds this method of holding the flute and footjoint at "far ends" not to be the best, because she said it is more difficult to get the flute straight this way. She told us that there "should be no angles" when you are assembling the flute -- and angles can certainly happen with this particular method because your hands are very far apart.

So, Rachel has a method that she showed us, and she explained more as she demonstrated.  She holds the flute (centerjoint) essentially in the same manner that she would when playing, and then she rotates the flute down so that her palm is holding it.  She then holds the footjoint in a very natural manner with her thumb closing a key cup toward the middle of the footjoint.  She feels that it is easier to get the flute together correctly when your hands are closer to the connection point.  With this type of position, you have more control, as opposed to the method where your hands are at opposite ends of the flute and footjoint.

With Rachel's method, her hands do touch the mechanism -- so, we asked if that would damage the flute.  She assured us that she has "never broken a flute putting it together this way," and that the "pressure" on the mechanism is actually lighter than one would normally exert when playing the flute.  In her words, "it's definitely not a death grip."

After meeting with Rachel, we took back a few key pointers about assembling the flute: (1) hands should be closer to the connection point to allow for more control (2) position of hands is similar to playing position (3) it is okay to touch the mechanism, because you will not exert enough pressure to damage anything.  Finally, Rachel told us that the footjoint should slide onto the flute easily -- it should not be difficult. She shared, "If you are having a lot of trouble putting the flute together, then something else needs to be done..."

Hands at bottom of footjoint and barrel can create angles when you try to assemble flute.
Hands are very far apart this way, so it is difficult to get everything straight.
Rachel prefers to hold the footjoint this way.  It's okay to close a key cup.
She says it's okay even to put your thumb on the tubing, because there is a post underneath, and the pressure of your thumb is light.
Rachel holds the body in a position similar to a playing position.
Hand is much closer to connection point with Rachel's method.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Take a Stand

We all know how convenient it is to have instrument stands for our flutes and piccolos.  Whether you are practicing or performing, it's great to have a place to put your instrument to keep it standing securely.  However, if you are in a hurry, you may not be approaching the stand with your flute positioned correctly.  In fact, this angled approach may be something that happens regularly, and you may not even notice it.  However, this slight positioning slip could definitely damage the flute...

This week, we stopped by the repair office at Powell, and technician Rachel Baker showed us something quite interesting.  It was a flute with a curved line on the inside of the body tenon caused by an indentation on the outside. You will see it traced with a blue Sharpie marker in the photo below.  Oddly enough, the flute was sent to Rachel for regular maintenance, and the owner did not know about the indentation.  What had happened was that she had been putting her flute on a flute stand at a bit of an angle.  Since the flute was coming down on the peg at an angle, the outside ring on the top of the footjoint was pushing against the outside of the tenon.  The pressure exerted on the outside of the tenon, in turn, created an indentation that left a visible line on the inside.

So, although it may seem rudimentary to place your flute in a straight position on the stand, it could be something that is easy to overlook.  The photos below will help demonstrate what to do -- and what not to do!

Putting flute down on peg at an angle -- don't do this!
Putting flute straight down on peg -- do this!
Blue Sharpie mark shows the indentation.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Felt or Straubinger?

Left to right: Straubinger, hard pressed felt, soft woven felt

Many flutists will send their instruments off to the repair shop and learn they need to have their pads replaced.  At that point, the repair technician may ask, "Which would you prefer -- felt or Straubinger?"  Hmm...  So, how do you choose?  Well, we spoke with Powell's Repair Technician, Rachel Baker, to find out more about the pads and get her recommendations...

A quick review of the pads with Rachel helped us recall the difference in materials:

Felt pads - cardboard backing, pressed felt, skin (bladder skin covering)
Straubinger pads - plastic backing, microfiber, skin (bladder skin covering)

Rachel told us that the pads each have different characteristics based on their composition.  In terms of feel, the materials create a noticeable difference because the pads will hit the cups differently when you play.  The felt has more give and can handle extra upward pressure (exerted on the pad when you close the key cup), so she said they tend to be better for people with "heavier" hands.  The Straubinger pads have a crisper response than the felt, so someone with a lighter touch may prefer these.  The Straubinger pads also tend to have more stability because they are made from synthetic materials.  The natural materials in the felt pads fluctuate more with changes in atmospheric conditions, so, for instance, a flutist living in a very humid climate would probably not have as much luck with the felt pads because of the humidity.  In terms of sound, one might not realize, but there is a difference.  Rachel said that one pad is not better than the other -- it just all depends on the player's sound preferences. If you think about the physics behind sound production on the flute, as air travels through the instrument, there will be a difference in sound because of the difference in materials (felt or synthetic pads) closing the tone holes.  Sound discrepancies may be difficult to describe, but some players may note general color/quality differences such as a "brighter" or "darker" sound, depending on their choice of pads.

Signature flute with Straubinger pads in for a COA.

When speaking with customers, Rachel said that she asks several questions to determine what type of pad might be best for them.  First, she asks what type of pads are currently on the flute.  Many flutists may not know which type of pads they have, but that is okay.  Rachel will continue with more questions about the type of playing the flutist does, where they live, what type of sound they prefer, and any issues they may be having with the flute.  For instance, we noted in the previous paragraph that someone living in a humid climate might have problems with felt.  When it comes to type of playing, she asks, "Do you play outdoors or indoors?   Marching band?  Concert band or orchestra?" Then, she asks about their preferences and any issues, "Is the sound too bright?  Too dark?  Not projecting enough?"  These questions help her get a sense of the flutist's preferences and also help paint a picture of the performance environment the flute will have with each customer.

Friday, October 10, 2014

"Setting-Up" a Flute

A#, G#, and D are keys which people may prefer to have "set-up" differently.

Flute players often have preferences for the way their flute "feels" in terms of key heights, spring tension, and headjoint fit.  Flutes can be "set-up" by repair technicians to meet the preferences of their customers.  So, what exactly is involved in setting up a flute?  We spoke with flute finisher Lindsey McChord to find out...

Lindsey told us that "set-up" adjustments are easy to do on a finished flute.  Here at Powell, she sets-up flutes during the testing process.  She mentioned spring tension adjustments and key heights/angles as two main areas that are part of this process.  For instance, she said that if the player has a light touch, the flute can be set-up with lighter spring tension.  Contrarily, if the flutist has a heavy touch, the flute would be set-up with higher spring tension.  Lindsey tries to keep a slightly lighter tension on keys that are connected to other keys -- for instance, A# anf F#.  She said that if one of the connected keys already has a heavier spring tension, the A# and F# would feel even heavier, so she lightens them up a bit.  In terms of key heights, she mentioned that they can also be adjusted.  In some cases, it may be the key height and/or angle.  For example, when Lindsey purchased her Powell, she asked to have the C1 key raised just a bit.  Many people will also have preference for the G# key -- some people want it to be straight, and some people prefer more of an angle.  The A# key is also one that people might have preferences for in regard to the key's height and angle.  Players may have additional requests for key size, too.  In Lindsey's case, the D# key on her footjoint was a stretch for her, so she asked to have the key made slightly larger.

Finally, headjoint fit is a large part of the set-up process.  Some people like a looser fit, and some people prefer a fit that is tighter.  When it comes to headjoint fit, there is no gauge.  It is simply a matter of feel.  Both Lindsey and Rebecca Eckles, Director of Quality and Service, prefer to have the headjoint fitting smoothly and securely, so that the body will not drop off should someone grab the flute by the headjoint (which, by the way, you really don't want to happen!).  Lindsey shared that the headjoint fit is certainly subjective, but since flutists tune with the headjoint (pushing it in and pulling it out constantly), the fit is definitely an important part of the set-up process.

Yellow arrow points to C1, which people may have set-up differently.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Trying New Crowns

Silver, 10k, 14k, and 19.5k crowns
Recently, we've had several inquiries from flutists wanting to try different crowns.  Even though it is a very small part of the flute, the crown can make a big difference -- as you might remember from our "Changing the Crown" post on Flute Builder. 

So, if you are interested in trying a different crown, you may be wondering what options you have...  Can you put a gold crown on a silver headjoint?  A silver crown on a gold headjoint?  Gold or silver crowns on Aurumite headjoints?  Well, after speaking with Powell's Director of Quality and Service, Rebecca Eckles, we found out that essentially any metal-to-metal option would work, because the crowns are all the same size and can fit any headjoint.  But, this is only with metal.

If you have a wooden headjoint, you would not be able to switch out its crown for an all metal one.  Also, you would not be able to put a wooden crown on a metal headjoint.  The reason for this is because wooden crowns are larger in size that metal crowns, so the two are not interchangeable. 

If you are interested in trying a new crown, try a few different ones.  Here are Powell, we have silver, 10k, 14k, and 19.5k crowns.  You can order one directly from the Powell VQP Shop at

Without crowns in this picture, you can see the size difference between metal and wooden headjoints.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Overhaul

Powell Repair Technician Rachel Baker working on an overhaul.
In a previous post here on Repair My Flute, we covered the topic of how one determines whether their flute needs a COA or an overhaul.  You can read that post by following this link.

If it is time for an overhaul, you may have wondered what exact steps are involved in the process.  We have the answer from the repair page of the Powell website as you will see below...
The Overhaul involves the complete disassembly and reconditioning of an instrument. The time between overhauls is dependent on many factors, including climate and the quality and frequency of C.O.A.’s. A rough average would be three to five years. For a normal overhaul the labor charge is $1000.00 for flutes and $725.00 for piccolos, and the only parts cost is a set of pads. Expect to be without your flute for four weeks or piccolo for three weeks while it is being overhauled. Overhauls are warranted for 90 days.

1. The instrument is play tested and checked for all mechanical and structural work that will be required. The client will be contacted if the required work exceeds the authorized limit, and the charges will be discussed.

2. All pinned sections are taken apart; pads are removed and thrown away.
3. Corks, felts, foams and headjoint cork are removed and thrown away.

4. The flute is cleaned in an ultrasonic bath to remove dirt, oil and grease. The flute body and keys are then dipped in a tarnish remover.

5. Swedging, replacement of worn pins, and key fitting, as well as required mechanical and bodywork are done, as per findings in #1 above.

6. The precious metal parts are shined and treated with silver polish.

7. Pads are installed.

8. Corks, felts and foams are attached. The headjoint cork assembly is polished and a new headjoint cork is installed.

9. The keys are oiled and assembled.

10. During the final padding process the instrument is played frequently so that pads can settle. Adjustments are made.

11. The instrument is play tested.

12. The instrument case is cleaned and polished, then shimmed (if necessary) so that the instrument fits snugly.

Exclusions: The removal of scratches, nicks and dents is done only at the client’s request, and is charged by the hour. A bearing job may be required if the right and left hand sections exhibit side play in the F# post at the cost of $213.00. Re-soldering of un-soldered tone holes is charged by the hour.

You may schedule an overhaul directly through the Powell website. Click here to visit the repair scheduling link.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Packing It Up - Part Two

Packing a headjoint for shipping
In a previous post, we shared tips and techniques for properly packing your instruments to ship them for repair.  The post, which you can read by following this link, also demonstrated how to pack headjoints and crowns.

We thought about a few more scenarios and revisited our Shipping Manager, Chris Lavoie.  Specifically, we wondered about shipping your flute and piccolo together in one box.  To do this, you'll want to make sure you have a box large enough to fit both instruments.  It's best to have the flute and piccolo each in their own case and then in their own box.  Then, you'll want to place foam (or comparable packing material) on the bottom of the shipping box.  Next, place the flute in the shipping box and the piccolo on top of the flute.  Make sure there is packing material completely around the flute and piccolo.  You'll notice a gap from the edge of the piccolo box to the edge of the flute box.  All you need to do to remedy this is to fill the gap with more packing material, as you will see in the photos below.
Gap at the end of the piccolo box.
Foam will fill the gap!
Also, we've had many inquiries about engraving, and we mentioned in a previous post that for lip plate engraving, you only need to send in your headjoint.  As with the instruments, you will want to place the headjoint securely in a small box that will then go into a shipping box.  The small box for the headjoint itself should hold the headjoint securely.  Chris tells us that you want to secure the headjoint so that it does not rattle or otherwise move in the box once it's closed.  We are a bit spoiled here at Powell because we have boxes that specifically are made with fitted foam inserts that hold the headjoint securely in place.  If you don't have this, just make sure that the headjoint is well padded and secured within the box, and you should be fine.

Headjoint secured with foam insert
If you need shipping materials, don't forget that we have flute shipping boxes with foam inserts in the shipping supply section of our online VQP Shop -- and always remember to put an extra layer of padding on top of the box contents.  Craft stores are also a great place to find soft packing materials like foam.  As long as the items you are shipping are secured and do not move within the box, they should have a safe journey!

Always remember to cover box contents with extra padding

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Care Tips for Wooden Instruments

Powell Grenadilla Custom with 14k rose gold mechanism

Break-in Period 

A brand new wooden instrument must be properly broken in to assure the instrument reaches its fullest potential. For the first two months you should play your instrument for no more than twenty minutes at a time. Let it rest for four hours, making sure you swab your instrument immediately after each playing session. During the first month, do not play the instrument more than twice a day; during the second month, you may increase the frequency to three times a day. After the first two months, gradually increase both the time and frequency of playing sessions until, after six months, the instrument may be regarded as fully broken in.

Preventing Cracks

A well made and well cared for wooden instrument will improve with age and give you years of delight. To minimize the chance of cracks occurring, two cautions are absolutely essential: 
(1) Avoid rapid changes in temperature (keep the instrument well insulated and do not leave it in your automobile), and (2) Never allow standing moisture to accumulate in your flute or piccolo, especially in the headjoint. 

The benefits of oiling are an improved appearance and a slight increase in the moisture resistance of the wood. 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 off thoroughly but gently.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Fall Back into Flute Care!

So, the time has come -- it's fall, and many college students are back in high gear performing in lessons and ensembles after a long summer break.  That being said, there are a couple of things to keep in mind in terms of flute care and maintenance to help students as they shift back into a heavier practice and performance routine.

1.  One simple step you can take as a flutist is to swab out your flute and/or piccolo during rehearsals.  There will always be at least a few pauses or breaks when you can swab out your instruments.  College and university rehearsals are certainly longer than those in high school, so don't limit yourself to swabbing out once at the end -- swab as many times as you need when you can!

2. Wiping down your instrument after you play is critical.  It might seem like it's, well, not that big of a deal to just put it away without wiping the outside, but it is!  You want to wipe down the instrument and headjoint to remove oil, dirt, and residue that can accumulate on the body, keys, and in the embouchure hole.  (Click here to read our previous post on this topic, "Keeping It Clean.")  Those quick breaks in rehearsals when you are not playing are also opportune moments to wipe down the instrument -- so keep a cloth on your lap or closeby!

3.  This may seem like a "no brainer," but it really is important to brush your teeth and wash your hands before you play.  Carry a toothbrush and toothpaste with you -- maybe "travel sized" ones that are small.  There is usually a bathroom where you can stop to brush your teeth and wash your hands before rehearsals.  In fact, you will probably see many people from your ensemble there at the same time!

3. Moisture will affect flute pads, so depending on how much you play and the humidity level of your environment, you may want to keep your case open and let your flute or piccolo "air out" a bit before you close the case and put your instrument away.  Of course, this should be done after you have thoroughly swabbed out the instrument.  There may not always be time to do this extra step, but if there is (say, after you finish practicing), it will definitely help.

4.  Finally, if you have the chance to run a rehearsal -- maybe a sectional, chamber group, flute choir, etc. -- make sure to give the ensemble players time to properly swab out, clean, and put their instruments away before they need to rush off to the next class, rehearsal, or lesson.  Your performers (and their instruments) will greatly appreciate this gesture, and it can really make a difference.

We're sure most of these tips are familiar, but in a college or university setting, the time one spends on his/her instrument can greatly increase -- so proper care for the instrument must match the demands on the instrument itself.  Just remember, the more you play, the more you will need to care for your flute.  Seize those maintenance "opportunities," keep yourself prepared, and your flute should definitely be able to keep up with you!