Friday, May 30, 2014

Torn Pads from Polishing?

Polishing cloths are pretty harmless in general, and a nice, plain microfiber one is really best for your flute.  However, the good intentions of keeping your flute clean with a few swipes of the polishing cloth can lead to torn pads if you are not careful.  How is this possible?  Well, we visited the repair shop this week to find out more...

Repair Technician, Rachel Baker, tells us that cloths can be rather "big and bulky."  If you have the cloth bunched up, and/or you are wiping too close to the tone holes, you can wind up tearing the pads.  This is also quite common if you try to clean the areas between the tone holes.  Rachel says that those areas really shouldn't get that dirty since you are not touching them, so it is best to leave those areas untouched when you are wiping your flute.  Really, all you need to do is wipe the keys since you are touching them, and wipe the back of the body (where there are no tone holes). 

We know technique is important when we play, but it's also important when you clean the flute.  You'll want to use a very small area of the cloth and clean small areas at a time.  Make sure to stay far away from the tone holes (and pads).  We've included a few photos below to give you an idea of what you want to do -- and what you want to avoid doing -- with the cloth.  And if you do get a bit of tarnish in a spot that you can't clean, it's okay.  As Rachel says, "A little bit of tarnish is better than replacing all your pads!"

*Note -- the flute in the photos was in the repair shop, so you'll see blue tape.  We realize you will be cleaning the actual metal, but we used these mainly to focus on the cloth.

Too much cloth, too close to tone hole and pad.
Even with it folded, this is still too close to the tone hole and pad.
This is what you want to do -- just a small bit of cloth.
Try to stay far away from the tone holes -- like in this photo.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Dented Headjoint and Lip Plate

Burnishing out a dent in a solid sterling silver headjoint

We recently had an inquiry from a customer with a headjoint that was dented in two places -- the tubing and the lip plate.  The customer told us that he had dropped the headjoint, denting it in these two areas.  He wanted to know if it could be repaired, so we decided to find out...

Speaking with Powell's Repair Technician, Rachel Baker, we discovered both good and not-so-good news.  She told us that the lip plate could not be repaired because it's not possible to get under the lip plate and because of the lip plate's curved shape.  Also, the lip plate and riser are brazed to the headjoint, so it would also be impossible to the remove the lip plate.  As for the dent in the headjoint tubing, well, that could be repaired -- but if the headjoint is plated, the repair would never look "perfect."  In a previous post on removing dents, we were able to see the process more closely (you can read the previous post by clicking this link).  If the headjoint is made from solid precious metals and is not plated, the repair could be done with no visible evidence of the dent afterwards.  However, if the headjoint is plated, part of the final steps would result in some of the plating being removed, which would leave you with something that is not "perfect" or even aesthetically close.  The photos below show a plated headjoint that was sent to our shop for further repair, because an outside repair shop had removed dents and then polished the headjoint. -- leaving many "splotches" where the plating was removed.  Since the plating had worn away in the process, the customer decided to send the headjoint to our shop for further dent removal.   We would remove the additional dents and then send the headjoint on for a complete replating as per the customer's request.

Silver plated solid sterling silver headjoint with worn plating after dent removal.

We realize that dents and dings can certainly happen, but unfortunately, it becomes difficult to return a headjoint to its original "look" if it is plated.  As for the lip plate, although Rachel told us that it could not be repaired, she said that as long as the dent is not affecting the way the headjoint plays, it really should not be a problem.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Buying at a Show?

Powell display at the 2013 NFA Convention
Since we're getting ready for the 2014 NFA, we thought it would be a good time to talk about purchasing flutes at a show.  At Powell, if you choose to buy a flute that is on display at our booth, you may be surprised to find out that it has to go back to the shop first -- and then on to you.  So, what exactly happens when it comes back?  We spoke with Repair Technician, Rachel Baker, to find out...

Rachel told us that she essentially does a COA (clean, oil, adjust) on the flute.  She said, specifically, that she does the following steps, in order:

1) Takes everything apart
2) Polishes the body
3) Checks soldered tone holes for any leaks
4) Checks the pads and adjustments
5) Hand polishes the keys
6) Puts the flute back together and does a "play in"
7) Fits the headjoint
8) Puts the flute in a new case

Because the flute has been travelling to and from the event, Rachel says she just wants to make sure that everything is okay.  She said that purchasing a flute that has been on display is actually a good thing, because the flute is really stable and really "settled in" from being played at the show.  She also said that because every flute is handmade, they each have a slightly different character and personality.  So a brand new one -- even if it is the same model -- may vary slightly from the one you tried at the show.  That being said, Rachel advises that "if you fall in love with one particular flute at the show, you should get it."  If you are trying flutes at a show just to get an idea and are open to a new model of the one you tried, you can always order a new one to purchase.  You can also request a trial online on our website at

Friday, May 9, 2014

Time for a COA or Overhaul?

Flutes in the repair shop for COAs and overhauls.
We all want to protect the health of our flutes with good care and maintenance, but how do you know when it's time for a COA or overhaul?  We checked with Powell's Repair Technician, Rachel Baker, to find out!

Rachel tells us that it depends on how much playing you do, but if you play regularly, you should get a COA every year.  If playing flute is more of a recreational activity rather than something regular, you can have a COA done every other year.  No matter the case, she advises that the maximum amount of time between COAs should be no more than every other year.  Sending your flute in for a COA is a terrific preventative measure, too, because it will help catch things that degrade over time and fix them.  For instance, pads will wear over time and need to be replaced.  With a regular COA, a pad or two may need to be changed every year.  However, without regular maintenance, you may find yourself in a situation with, say, five pads needing to be replaced -- and at that point, you would need an overhaul.  The COA will also help correct the normal wear of the mechanism.

So, how do you know when it's time for an overhaul?  Rachel says that the mechanism is really the indicator.  As mentioned above, it does wear over time, and even with regular COAs your flute keys will move laterally more than they should, and the mechanism can get "clanky" or "noisy."  When this happens, it's time for an overhaul.  Also, make sure to check the condition of your pads.  When they become warn, they can lose resonance.  This wearing can happen in two ways: (1) from regular use, and (2) from pads drying out and becoming brittle, as one would see in a flute that has been left in its case over time without being played.

Finally, Rachel mentioned that many flutists will lose confidence in their playing and feel like they are doing something wrong if their flute is "playing less well" than it used to, when it actuality, the flute may simply need an overhaul.  As always, if you feel something just isn't right with your flute, make sure to contact your authorized repair technician.  Now that we are getting into the summer, it may be the perfect time for that overhaul or COA.  Just a reminder that it's quick and simple to schedule your repair online on the Powell website.  Click here to follow the link to the online repair request form.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Cleaning the Riser

A customer came to us recently expressing concern over her headjoint. She felt that it just was not playing the way it used to, and her sound was "spreading"and unfocused.  We took a look at her headjoint, and a very usual culprit emerged -- a dirty riser.

Risers can accumulate build-up of all sorts of particles from the air you put into the flute.  Remember, your air stream has microscopic particles from what you eat and drink, so it should be a rule of thumb to brush your teeth before you play. However, it's not just what is inside your mouth that can create residue -- it's also what is outside.  Do you like to wear lipstick when you play?  Lipgloss?  It looks very nice, but it's not so nice to your flute.  In fact, the customer who had fallen out of love with her headjoint and felt that it was no longer focusing her sound had a buildup of lipstick on the riser. Once it was cleaned, there was a huge, very noticeable difference. But, alas, it's not just the ladies who should heed these words of caution. Gentlemen, if you wear chapstick or lip balm and then play your flute, these products can create a residue on the riser as well.  So, both men and women should wipe off their lips before playing -- make sure they are clean so that you are not blowing these products into your flute (and onto your riser!).

Our customer service manager tells us that even if you have completely clean lips when you play, everyone breathes -- and everyone has to eat. Brushing your teeth and cleaning your lips are helpful preventative measures, but you should still clean your riser regularly.  How often should you do this? Every week or so?  Well, it actually depends on how much you play.  If you are playing a lot, you may need to clean it more often. Just take a look at it -- visually inspect it, and use a magnifying lens (or the zoom feature on your camera) to see how it looks.  This can also help you pinpoint areas that really need to be cleaned.

So, how do you clean it?  It's quite simple.  You just need a Q-tip and some alcohol.  Dip the Q-tip into the alcohol and gently swipe it around the riser.  Try to get under it as much (and as carefully) as possible.  You can also use water on a Q-tip to clean the riser.  Whatever you choose, just make sure that you never clean the riser with anything sharp that could scratch it. We're guessing everyone has some Q-tips and rubbing alcohol at home, and if you don't, they are both very inexpensive and easy to find. And remember, if you find yourself having difficulty getting notes to speak or feel that your headjoint is just not cutting it for you anymore, try cleaning the riser...

Close-up on residue.
The thick black line you see is residue!
A clean riser. 
Cleaning it is easy -- Q-tip and alcohol.
Gently swiping Q-tip around riser -- carefully getting underneath.
Large Q-tips work really well!