Friday, July 24, 2015

Changing Key Heights


We had a customer in the repair shop this week who was interested in changing the key heights on her flute. Specifically, she wanted to lower the height of the French open hole keys.  We can understand how this could be an advantage from the perspective of the player's technique, but unfortunately, there was one reason it was not possible to lower the key heights.  What was it?  Venting.

Powell's Repair Technician, Rachel Baker, explained that keys have to open a specific amount in order to have the correct venting.  If she were to lower the keys, the flute would sound "stuffy," and there would be intonation issues because the keys would not have the proper venting.  Also, if one were to request having the key height increased, the result would be intonation issues as well since the keys would be too open. The venting and intonation problems that come from changing key heights beyond the proper measurement are not only for the keys that remain open on the flute. Rachel mentioned that in the past, she had a request to change the height of the G# key -- specifically, to change its height so that it would move less (of a distance) when pressed. The corresponding key cup (which is on the back of the flute) remains closed when the key is not in use.  However, once again, changing the key height would cause the key cup to not open enough when the key is pressed. So, the result would be venting and intonation problems.

There is one slight change that can be made, though.  Rachel said that for spatula keys, it is normally possible to change the angle slightly so that they are easier to reach.  Aside from this, key height is something that should stay in tact.  The heights are set to specific measurements so as to allow for proper venting and intonation.  With everything set properly, both you and your flute should be very happy!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Just Back from the Shop


Have you ever gotten your flute back from a C.O.A. (clean, oil, adjust) and noticed that it simply feels so much better in your hands -- and that you are not working as hard?  We spoke with Powell's Repair Technician, Rachel Baker, to learn more about the differences in your flute before and after repair...

Rachel told us that in general, a flute does not simply "stop working all of a sudden."  She said, "Well, of course, it could, but that is not typical!"  Over time, your flute experiences very gradual and subtle changes from the regular daily "wear and tear" on the instrument.  These changes are so subtle, in fact, that they go undetected, and the flutist will compensate for them without realizing it.  For instance, if one is having trouble with creating dynamic changes or feels that his/her sound is not full enough, s/he will work harder to try and achieve the desired results.  However, the reason for the difficulty may actually be air leaking -- which can happen over time.

After your flute comes back from the shop, one of the first things you'll notice is a nice, snug fit of the footjoint onto the body.  Your mechanism will be quieter, and the spring tension will be even throughout the mechanism.  You'll probably notice a better response in general, and suddenly the flute takes much less effort to play.  Why is this?  Well, any air leaks have now been remedied, so Rachel shared, "Your air is being used properly.  When air leaks, it does not travel the full route.   Leaks allow the air to get out where it is not supposed to, so you don't get as full or true of a sound." Once the leaks are gone and the flute is sealing, it should be much easier to get the results you intend! Relax and enjoy your sound!

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Powell Handmade Alto


Powell's Repair Technician, Rachel Baker, has seen Powell flutes and piccolos of all ages and styles cross her bench over the years.  This week, however, she had the chance to work on something that she had never seen until now -- a Powell Handmade alto flute.

The flute (serial number 5006) was made in 1977 and was in the shop for a C.O.A. (clean, oil, adjust).  Looking back through the Powell Bible, we discovered that only 34 Powell alto flutes had been made in the history of the company.  The production of these flutes spanned from 1930 to 1990, with a large majority (15) being made between 1976 and 1978.  This particular alto was also one of only four that were made with gold lip plates.

Indeed, this was a special and memorable moment for Rachel. Speaking about the actual C.O.A. process on the alto, Rachel said it was pretty much the same as it is for C flutes.  She said, "same oil, same pads -- just things are a bit bigger." Although the flute originally had felt pads, we noticed that it now has Straubinger pads, so we could see her point about the similarity!

In terms of differences, this particular instrument was definitely one of a kind.  Rachel told us that when it comes to models (like altos) that were made in small quantities, you can find slight design differences among them.  She admired the keywork for its aesthetics and noted that both the body and mechanism were sterling silver.  She was particularly fond of the pointed arms and small points in the middle of the key cups which you will see in the photos below.

Although we did not have information on the actual karat of the lip plate, Rachel said that it is most likely 18k, as this was quite common during the time when this flute was made. Today, Powell offers alto flutes only in the Powell Sonaré line--the AF-60 and AF-70. Both models come with an all sterling silver Powell headjoint made at the shop in Maynard, Massachusetts, and a choice between straight or curved headjoints. Click here to find more information about these models on the Powell website.



Friday, June 26, 2015

A Sticky Situation...

Good intentions can still lead to pad replacement...

This week, we visited our repair technician, Rachel Baker, just after she finished replacing six pads on a rather healthy flute that has been in the shop regularly for maintenance.  So, it seemed a bit odd to us...  Six pads all at once?  What happened?

Last week, we shared a post about how you can rip pads by polishing your flute if you use too much cloth and let it swipe the pads.  Oddly enough, this week's pad situation came from the customer cleaning his pads.  He had used a solution of some sort that is supposed to clean the pads, but, unfortunately, the pads were destroyed.  We weren't sure what exactly happened -- but neither was Rachel.  She reminded us that pads can be damaged not only by putting something (like this solution) on them, but also in the technique used to clean them.  For instance, many of us had been taught over the years to close the key on something like a dollar bill and pull it through to swipe the pad.  Unfortunately, in that case, there are two things to avoid: pulling something through the closed key cup and using a dollar bill.  If you pull something through the closed cup, the friction against the delicate pad skin can cause it to rip.  Also, dollar bills are not exactly the cleanest materials...  Using ungummed cigarette paper is best, and you definitely want to press -- not pull!  To review the proper technique, click here to read our previous post titled, "Sticky Pad Remedy."

Although cleaning your pads at home may seem like an interesting task, it really is best to leave the cleaning to the professionals.  Rachel also reminded us that, "if your pad is sticking, there's a reason for it," and the remedy lies in the hands of your repair technician.  However, you can at least try to alleviate the problem while you wait for your repair appointment by carefully and properly using cigarette paper.  Of course, if your pads are not sticking, and cleaning them sounds like something that wouldn't hurt, well, again -- resist the temptation and call your repair technician for his/her opinion.  Your flute will thank you for making that call!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Torn Pads from Polishing -- Part II

Arrows point to three keys with torn pads.

We had a flute come in to the shop that had not one. not two, and not even three -- but four torn pads.  Three of the pads were in a row, and the fourth was on the back (next the thumb key).  What was the cause of this mass number of torn pads? Well, the owner did not mention that there were any torn pads, so s/he may not have even known.  However, after an inspection by our technicians, it looked as though the pads had been torn by repeated swipes of the polishing cloth. Given that the pads were torn on the front edge, it's fairly safe to conclude that the tears came from either repeated long strokes of the cloth wiping the tubing and catching the pads, or it could have been from attempts to clean the sides of the tone holes with too much cloth.

In a previous post titled "Torn Pads from Polishing," we discovered that there is definitely a safe technique and approach to wiping your flute, and you should try to stay away from the tone holes.  Whereas the intentions of cleaning the outside of the flute with a cloth are good, the gesture could cause damage if the cloth is not controlled and if too much cloth is used. Click here to review the "Torn Pads from Polishing" post, which also includes photos of how best to use the cloth for polishing.

Close-up on torn pads.
Fourth torn pad
The right amount of cloth to use.
Using a cloth against sides of tone holes puts you at risk for rubbing against pads and tearing them.  Don't do this!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Telltale Sounds?

Even handmade professional flutes have normal key or mechanism noises.

As much as we might not want to fix something that suddenly becomes noisy, chances are that the noise is an indication of a problem.  For instance, if you are driving and hear a strange noise, it's very possible that the car needs a repair.  So, we wondered -- what about flutes?  Are there noises that might indicate something needs to be fixed?  We spoke with Powell's repair technician, Rachel Baker, to find out...

Rachel said that in the natural course of playing flute, most people begin on a student flute and eventually move up to a professional level, handmade flute.  The student and intermediate (or step-up) flutes will generally have mechanisms that are "noisier" than handmade flutes because of differences in materials and mechanism.  For instance, she told us that the tolerances on the student mechanism do not need to be as high as on a handmade professional model, so the mechanism itself is usually "noisier."  Student flutes also use adjustment screws that can produce a metal-on-metal noise.  However, these noises are normal, and flutists become accustomed to theses sounds, so if they move up to a handmade flute, they may not even notice any "unusual" noises.

With handmade professional flutes, there are a few things that might indicate issues that need to be repaired.  Noises to look out for include "sticking" noises from sticky pads.  In this case, it might also be an indication that the flute itself needs to be cleaned since the sticking noise could be from "grime" on the pads, tops of tone holes, or both.  Also, if the mechanism hasn't been oiled in a while, you might notice a "clanking" noise.  If something like a paper adjustment or key tail felt falls off, this can produce a noticeable  metal-on-metal noise.  And, if you hear a buzzing noise, Rachel said it could be a loose mechanism, loose solder, or pretty much any number of things.  She said that noise from something that needs to be repaired will definitely become more obvious as time goes on...

However, professional handmade flutes do have their fair amount of normal noises that are certainly no cause for alarm. She told us that any normal "noise' would not be heard over your own playing -- and definitely not by the audience.  As always, if you do hear something unusual, make sure to contact your repair technician sooner rather than later!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Keeping It Clean - Part II

Grey microfiber cloth inside case cover of a new Powell flute















We recently had a customer ask about how one should go about cleaning their microfiber cloths, and in an earlier post, we discussed a few options.  Follow this link to read that post, titled "Keeping It Clean."

However, in addition to the cleaning methods we discussed before, we've discovered yet another helpful product specifically for cleaning microfiber cloths: MicroRestore Microfiber Detergent.  Powell's Repair Technician, Rachel Baker, shared this one with us.  Although she ran across the product in car detailing shops, she said that you can purchase it online now, too.  The product description from www.microfibertech.com reads as follows:

Micro-Restore is an optimized blend of chelating agents, surfactants, and builders in an aqueous system. It provides excellent cleaning performance to effectively remove stubborn soils and oily residue from microfiber, cotton and chamois material. Micro-Restore emulsifies dirty motor oil, greasy soils, car wax and protein stains, and suspends them for complete removal in the rinse cycle. Restores like new performance through several hundred cleanings.
Why is Micro-Restore better than your common household detergent? Micro-Restore is better than your common household detergent because most detergents and laundry soaps have some form of bleach and fabric softener included in their formulas (even when they say they don't there are small traces). Over time bleach breaks down the micro-fibers, and fabric softeners clog the microscopic pours that make microfiber so effective, rendering the microfiber product less effective with each washing.

Not only will Micro-Restore extend the life of your microfiber, but it's special blend of chelating agents, surfactants, and builders will more effectively remove the heavy residue (wax, oil, grease, break dust, and other chemicals) that becomes implanted in microfiber products when used in heavy cleaning situations (car care).

Directions: Add 2 ounces to standard size (8 gallon) loads. For larger loads or heavily soiled laundry, add 3-6 ounces. As a prespotter: dilute 1 part concentrate with 3 parts water. Apply to stain and launder as usual.

It is available through many sites online, including the MicrofiberTech websiteAmazon, Detailer's Domain, Detailed Image, and AutoGeek.net.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

A Clean Tenon is a Happy Tenon


Ever feel like your headjoint has mysteriously become harder and harder to fit smoothly into the barrel? It may seem perplexing, but there is a very simple and likely culprit that can really make the headjoint excessively tight.  What might it be?  Grime! 

Headjoint tenons and the flute's barrel can accumulate all kinds of dirt and grime from everyday wear and tear.  As things get dirtier and it becomes harder to assemble the flute, some people are prone to grease up the headjoint tenon with something like cork grease or other lubricating oils and creams.  Don't do it!  The creams, greases, and oils will build up on the tenon and inside the barrel, attracting more dirt, dust and grime.  If it becomes difficult to assemble the flute, forcing the parts together could lead to damage.  So, make sure to keep your headjoint tenon and the inside of your barrel clean.  What do you need for this?  Well, just a simple, untreated microfiber cloth.  To clean the headjoint tenon, simply wipe the outside with the cloth.  For the inside of the barrel, cover your finger with the cloth and gently wipe the inside of the barrel.

Tenon fit issues are not restricted to headjoints, though.  Think about your body tenon and footjoint.  Has it become increasingly difficult to put the footjoint on?  Grime strikes this area as well – both on the body tenon and inside the top of the footjoint. Also, make sure to resist the temptation to put any type of grease, cream, or oil on the body tenon.  Just as is the case with the headjoint tenon, these lubricating substances will attract more dust and dirt and then build up on the body tenon and inside the top of the footjoint.
So, make sure to keep things from getting grimey.  Keeping your tenons and the areas where they connect clean (inside the barrel and footjoint) is a simple strategy for helping your flute stay happy and healthy!


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Take a Stand - Part 2

Stand and footjoint
This week, our repair technician, Rachel Baker, received a call from a customer who had been experiencing mechanical problems with her footjoint.  The flute was shipped to Powell, and when Rachel opened the case, she found that there was a flute stand kept inside the footjoint.  The extra length of the stand also made for a very tight fit in the case, which ultimately was not good for the mechanism

Although there are some stands that are advertised as being small enough to keep inside the flute, it's actually more of a hazard than a convenience to store the stand this way.  You never want to leave anything in your flute while it is in the case (click here to read more in our previous post titled "No Extras Needed"), as the risk for damaging your flute is very high.  Also, if you'll recall from our previous post titled "Take a Stand" (click here to read it), one can inadvertently damage their flute if they are not placing it on the stand properly.  Now we can see that there is another situation where a stand could cause damage even without any motion of the flute going on/coming off the stand!  So, although it may seem convenient to have a stand that fits in the flute, it's still best to keep that stand stored separately and simply enjoy the convenience of its small, slender design.

The stand may fit in the flute, but you don't want to keep it this way in the case!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Flute and Focal Distonia

This week, we stopped by the repair shop and found a very different Powell in for an overhaul.  Repair Technician, Rachel Baker, told us that the flute belongs to a customer who has focal distonia, a condition which limits her ability to curve her left hand and fingers.  According to the National Institutes of Health, focal distonia in musicians is often called "musician's distonia," and it is described as follows:
Musician's dystonia is a form of task-specific focal dystonia characterized by muscle cramps and spasms that occur while playing a musical instrument. This condition can affect amateur or professional musicians, and the location of the dystonia depends on the instrument. Some musicians (such as piano, guitar, and violin players) develop focal hand dystonia, which causes loss of fine-motor control in the hand and wrist muscles.
The customer allowed us to share the photos of her flute, which you will see below.  Although it is a Powell, the modifications on the instrument were done outside of Powell. As for the task of an overhaul on the instrument, Rachel told us that it should be pretty straightforward since the extensions and "crutch" for the left hand are removable.  She said that this is particularly helpful if the customer wants to sell the flute at any point.  You'll notice below that the thumb keys have also been modified, and although these modifications (unlike the others for the left hand fingers) are permanent,  Rachel said that she would still be able to remove these keys to perform the overhaul.

With the modified flute, the customer is able to play comfortably despite her focal distonia.  She hoped that we would share the images so that others with the condition will know that it is possible to continue playing!  For more information on focal distonia, follow this link to the full page on the National Institutes of Health website.



Front of flute has removable extensions and "crutch."
Rachel demonstrates the left hand position with the extensions.
Thumb key modifications.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Spring Cleaning

It's that time again -- the flowers are blooming, the temperature is rising, sun is shining, and many of you may be doing a bit of spring cleaning around the house.  It's a great feeling to get everything nice and clean, enjoying fresh air blowing through the windows as you work.

It's also a great time to give your flute a bit of spring TLC -- tender loving cleaning.  We are all very conscientious about swabbing our flutes out thoroughly and wiping the outside down with a cloth after playing.  However, there are a few spots that might get overlooked, and since we've shared posts on these in the past, we took a bit of "inventory" of our cleaning posts to help you!  Below is a list of flute areas to target in your spring cleaning, along with some corresponding posts.  Click on the italicized titles below to view the posts:

Th Embouchure Hole:
A Case of  the Gurgles

The Embouchure Hole and Key Holes:
A "Hole" Lot Cleaner

The Riser:
Cleaning the Riser

Plug-Os
Cleaning Your Plug-Os


Sunday, May 3, 2015

Headjoint Dents and Dings

Dented headjoint
Same headjoint after repair

Picture this scenario: you've accidentally bumped your headjoint against something (like a stand), and panic sets in. You question what to do -- call your repair technician?  Figure it's not so bad and leave it?  It may be difficult to decide -- after all, how can you tell if it's going to be a problem or if it can/should be fixed?  We spoke with Powell's repair technician, Rachel Baker, to find out!

Rachel said small dents and dings are not usually a problem. However, if the dent is so big that it is constricting the flow of air, you definitely need to have it repaired.  If your headjoint is made from solid precious metals like sterling silver or gold, it should not be a problem to repair.  However, if you're headjoint is plated, Rachel says the dent could be removed and "look better but never fully 'disappear'."

So, can all dents be repaired?  If the dent is on the headjoint tubing, most of the time, yes.  If the dent is on your lip plate, well, unfortunately, that would not be able to be repaired (see previous post on dented lip plates by following this link).  If you've dented the tenon, you'll definitely need to call your repair technician and get that fixed right away.  Rachel says a dented tenon needs to be repaired so that it will fit into the flute properly and not leak air.  Most tenon dents can be repaired.  According to Rachel, "If it's a dent, yes.  If it's a complete crunch, no..."  To read more on how tenon dents are repaired, click the following post titles to read more:

Dented Headjoint
Dented Tenon - Part I
Dented Tenon - Part II

Repair Technician Rachel Baker removing dent in tenon.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Any Flute?


We were recently asked if our repair shop accepts only Powell flutes and piccolos or if other brands could be sent as well.  The short answer is, "Yes, we accept all brands."  In fact, you'll see that written on our website repair scheduling page, which you can visit by following this link.

So, any brand will be okay, but we thought there may be some exceptions.  We checked with Rachel, and she gave us some clarity.  She said that yes, she can repair other brands, but it's most sensible to send only handmade flutes (of any brand) to Powell for repair.  For instance, if you happen to have a beginner flute, you should probably check with your local repair shop for service.  The repair technicians should be able to service a beginner flute and charge service fees that (also) would typically be less than for work on a handmade flute.

Modifications on other brands are something that Powell would not be able to do.  If you have a flute of a different brand and need new keywork or would like some type of mechanism modification, you would have to send the instrument to the original manufacturer.  As we've seen in a previous post (follow this link to read it), it's not possible for other shops to order Powell parts (since each part is handmade), so the reverse is true for Powell when it comes to other brands (the original manufacturer would have to make the part and do the repair). 

Finally, Powell would not be able to re-cut headjoints from other brands.  If you have a Powell headjoint, recutting it is typically not a problem (although you would need to have the headjoint evaluated first just to make sure).

As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact our repair office.  Rachel, our technician, can be reached by phone at (978) 344-5164 or by e-mail: rbaker@powellflutes.com.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Backing Out of It

Yellow circle around a mechanism screw on a Powell Sonaré 601.

Have you ever had a screw back out of the mechanism tubing on your flute?  On a student's flute?  If so, you are certainly not alone!  Powell's Director of Marketing, Christina Guiliano-Cobas, has a private studio, and one of the younger students had this issue.  The screw was backing out of the tubing on the thumb key, specifically.  So, what do you do? Well, we checked with repair technician Rachel Baker to find out...

Rachel told us that this is an easy fix.  You can get a small "eyeglass screwdriver kit" and use the screwdriver to turn the screw back in place.  As you'll see from the video, she holds the key steady, braces the screwdriver against her thumb, and then screws in the screw!  It doesn't go in very far, and she told us that you'll feel when it's tightly in place.


However -- a word of caution.  As soon as a screw backs out, Rachel says you should call your repair technician and make an appointment.  She told us, "If a screw backs out, there's a reason for it."  In fact, it is the sign of a problem that should be addressed by the technician.  Rachel says that screws back out because something is preventing the key from turning freely on the mechanism.  It could be a few things, like too much key oil that has gotten "gooped up" in the tubing or some kind of bend or snag in either the mechanism tubing or inner steel.  If a student accidentally bumps his/her flute against something like a stand or drops the flute, it could bend the mechanism tubing and/or steel.   This causes "drag" in the key that might not be noticeable by the player, but as s/he continues to play, the motion will push the screw out.

So, don't be afraid to carefully screw the backed out screw into place -- for now.  When you take your flute to the repair technician, s/he will be able to smooth out any snags (literally and figuratively), and you should be all set!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Piccolo Overhaul

This week, our repair technician, Rachel Baker, was working on a piccolo overhaul when we stopped by to see her. Specifically, she was working on overhauling a Custom kingwood piccolo with silver keys.  Hmm.... Piccolo overhaul? We were very curious, and (of course) we wanted to find out more, so we asked!

Rachel says piccolos are usually overhauled much less frequently than flutes because (in comparison) they are played less.  It can be several years between overhauls for a piccolo. The overhaul includes changing all the pads, bumpers, and key adjustments.  She also oils the mechanism and replaces the tenon cork.

Another important part of the piccolo overhaul is the oiling of the body and headjoint.  Rachel oils both the bore and the outside of the piccolo.  This is best left to a professional, but Rachel tells us that it is okay for piccolo owners to oil the area of the headjoint around the embouchure since it gets so much wear.  You'll want to be very careful if you oil this area, and Rachel recommends pure pressed almond oil.  She says that if a little bit gets in the embouchure hole, you can simply wipe carefully around the edge with a Q-tip.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Getting Settled


A few weeks ago, we met with Powell's Repair Technician, Rachel Baker, to help explain why repairs take more than a day (follow this link to read the previous post).  She mentioned that things need to "settle," and when the flute is done changing, it's ready to go back to its owner.  Settling -- hmmm....  We were curious about which parts of the flute need to settle after repair, so we asked!

Rachel told us that every layer you add to the flute needs to settle.  This mainly refers to pads and key adjustments.  Both the pads and the adjustments are made with natural materials that will compress as the flute is played.  The pads have a natural skin covering, and the adjustments are either paper or cork.  These natural materials compress from the light pressure of your fingers closing the keys (which then presses the pad onto the edge of the tone hole) and the motion of the keys working together.  

We also appreciated Rachel's metaphor for understanding the "settling" process.  She summed it up nicely by saying, "Pads take a while to find their home." So, whether a pad is replaced and shimmed or an existing pad is shimmed, it takes a while for the pad to settle once it is positioned back into its home -- the key cup!  And as for the adjustments, they need time to work with the keys in the mechanism.  Once the pads and adjustments are done compressing and "settled to where they are going to stay," the flute is ready! Rachel said that at this point, everything will stay stable for about a year, depending on how much you play (could be longer if you don't play much or shorter if you're doing a lot of playing). Then, it will be time to send in your flute for a C.O.A., and your flute will once again be settled in nicely before it comes back to you!

Rachel checking pad seating 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Repair Warranty


When you purchase a new Powell flute or piccolo, the instrument comes with a one-year warranty (which you can read about by following this link to our previous post on the warranty).  In addition to this warranty, repair work is covered under a warranty as well, as you will see below:
C.O.A.s are covered by a 30 day warranty and overhauls are covered by a 90 day warranty. If your flute is overhauled with Straubinger pads, pad seating is covered under the warranty; with felt pads, seating is not covered. The warranty is void if anyone other than Powell (unless approved in advance) works on the instrument during this period.
Much like the instrument warranty, if someone other than Powell works on your instrument during the repair warranty period, this warranty may be voided.  This is because it would not be possible for our repair department to evaluate and assess our original repair work if additional work is done afterwards by someone else.  So, if you have questions about your instrument after receiving it back from repair at Powell, make sure to call our repair department right away.  The work is covered under warranty, and our repair technician will be happy to help!

Friday, March 20, 2015

No Extras Needed


So you're done with a rehearsal or practice session, fold your polishing cloth neatly, place it over your flute, and close the case.  No problem, right?  Well, actually, we had a student flute in the repair shop this week, and when our Repair Technician, Rachel Baker, opened the case, she noticed a cloth over the flute, which prompted this little reminder...

Don't put anything in your flute case except the flute.  If you have a cloth covering the flute, it will press against the keys when you close the case.  Rachel mentioned that polishing cloths can be kind of bulky, and not only do they exert unnecessary pressure on the mechanism, they can also get caught on key pads, causing the pads to tear.  As for other items -- maybe a swabstick, pencil, etc. -- if they are placed in the case, they can move around, bumping into the flute and causing damage.

Placing additional items in the case outside of the flute is definitely not a good thing -- and placing them inside the flute is also a no-no.  You don't want to leave your swab in the flute after your are done swabbing out.  Rachel says, "You get all the moisture out, and then you put it back in" if you leave the swab in the flute.

There is one exception to the rule -- an anti-tarnish square. These can be placed on the flat area of the case on the far left, as you'll see in the photo below.  Other than this small anti-tarnish square (usually a strip or a very small sponge-like material), make sure there are no "extra" items in the case or on the flute.  Remembering the simple rule of "nothing goes in the case except the flute" should keep your flute happy and healthy!

Anti-tarnish square is on flat spot on the far left of the case (next to body tenon).

Friday, March 13, 2015

Retrofit D# Roller



We stopped by the repair shop this week to chat with Repair Technician, Rachel Baker.  One of her customers asked if there are any "adverse effects" to adding a D# roller to your flute.  Adverse effects... Hmm...  So, we wondered if that meant sound or aesthetics.  Rachel told us that in terms of sound, aesthetics, and mechanics, there is no downside to retrofitting a D# roller to your flute.  Why is this?  Well, it's because the only thing required for this is a different D# spatula, which is part of the full key mechanism.  We have D# spatulas with and without a roller, so it's pretty much a part swap-out and not a change for the existing spatula.  No need to worry that you'll have a "Frankenflute" with mismatched or oddly customized parts.  If you're interested in getting a D# roller, it's perfectly safe, and it will certainly not change the aesthetics, sound, or mechanics of your flute. Also, the D# roller is available for flutes with silver keys or gold keys.

Yellow circle around the D# spatula (without a roller) on a 9k Custom flute.
A 9k Custom flute with a D# spatula that has a roller.  This is what a "retrofit" D# roller would look like.




Friday, March 6, 2015

Braiding the Zipper Pull

One question we received recently was about the zipper pull on our leather Powell case covers.  We know it gets much wear and tear and has come unraveled for some Powell owners. Our repair technician was even stumped, but she did offer the recommendation of contacting craft stores or other people who may have experience making braided jewelry.  After a bit more research, we discovered that a trip to the craft store may not be needed -- you can watch video tutorials!

The braid is a 4-strand "diamond braid" or "round braid."  We hope the videos below will help. You'll have two middle strands and two outer strands.  Each outer strand will go back around the two middle strands and then through them. You'll do this in succession, alternating the outer strands. It's much easier to watch, though!  One thing we could not find was how to tie the end of the braid.  From what we've seen, it looks like a regular knot should work, but feel free to explore the web for some more intricate knots.




Friday, February 27, 2015

More Than a Day?

Takes a while to settle after adjustments are made.

























Have you ever sent your flute in for repair and wondered why it took more than a day?  Well, this week, we had the chance to chat with Powell's Repair Technician, Rachel Baker, to answer the question...

She told us that it takes time for a flute to settle in after adjustments are made.  After the flute settles, Rachel tests it again, and it may need more adjustments -- which then requires more "settling in time."  She said, "You may not know how many adjustments you might have to make," so the cycle of adjusting, settling, and re-testing takes time. She continues the process and knows the flute is ready when it is no longer changing.  At that point, the flute is stable and ready to go back to its owner.

One thing to note is that the "settling in" can be a few hours or even overnight.  So, although the process does take more than a day, it is well worth it -- for both you and your flute!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Closed Hole Keys - Part II

In last week's post, we addressed one of the questions a customer with closed hole keys had about changing over to open hole keys.  As you'll recall, this was not something that our repair technician recommended, since an entirely new mechanism would have to be built and retrofitted to the body.

The next two questions the customer had involved the flute's scale.  Specifically, he asked the following, (1) Does a flute with closed hole keys have a different scale than one with open hole keys? (2) Does a flute with an offset G have a different scale than a flute with an inline G?  The answer to both of the questions is the same -- no difference.  The scale is the same whether the flute has closed hole or open hole keys, and the scale is also the same for flutes with an offset or inline G.  Why is this?  Well, it's actually quite simple.  The scale is determined by the relative distance between tone holes.  You might remember this from a previous post on the Flute Builder blog, which you can read by following this link.  So, the type of key (closed or open hole) would have no affect on scale.  Also, even though the position of the G tone holes on an offset G flute are different from the position of the tone holes on one with an inline G, the relative distance allows for both configurations to have the same scale.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Closed Hole Keys - Part I


This week, a customer with a Powell that had closed hole keys (American cups) stopped by the repair shop.  He had several questions about the closed-hole keys, so we thought we would share the answers!  In this first post of our two-part series, we wanted to address his main question -- changing the keys.  Although he had owned his Powell for many, many years, he started thinking about perhaps changing over to open hole keys (French cups).  So, he asked Rachel if this could be done...

Rachel replied that technically, anything is possible, but she wouldn't recommend making that sort of a change, because the entire flute mechanism would have to be rebuilt.  You may recall our discussion about changing the mechanism from a previous post which you can read by following this link.  It is a process that is extremely complicated, time consuming, expensive, and well, simply not very practical.  In fact, Rachel tells us that in a case like this, it would be better to simply purchase a new flute with open-hole keys.  Also, she said that with a major rebuilding process, changes would have to be made to the flute, and anytime you make a major change, you won't know exactly how the flute will play until after the repair is complete.  Her main advice in this situation is, "If you like the way your flute plays and sounds, don't change it."  That certainly makes sense!  

Friday, February 6, 2015

In Case You Were Wondering...


We all know that there are many options when it comes to flutes, but did you know that the cases differ as well?  If you have a B foot flute, the case is a bit longer than the one for a C foot flute.  Also, if your flute is pitched at A440, the interior will be slightly different than if it is pitched at A442.  This is true for both B and C foot flutes.  It's a very slight difference, and you probably wouldn't notice it, but Powell's Repair Technician, Rachel Baker, explained...

There is a velvet block at the end of the interior of the case, and this piece varies in length depending on the pitch of the flute.  The velvet block in a case for a flute pitched at A440 is slightly shorter than the block in a case for an A442 flute.  Why is this?  Well, the block is there to hold the main section of the body in place.  A flute pitched at A440 has a body that is just slightly longer than a flute pitched at A442.  That being said, the block inside the case will be shorter for an A440 flute to accommodate for the slightly longer body.  It's not a very big difference, but it is important.  So, if you need to order a new case, make sure you know the pitch of your flute!  Most will be A442, but it might be A440, especially if it was made before 1983.  And, if you do need to order a case, they are available through the VQP Shop at https://powellflutes.com/vqpshop/flute-cases.  You'll notice that for the cherry wood cases and leather cases, there is a reminder to indicate the pitch of your flute -- and now you will know why!

Yellow arrow points to the velvet block.

Close-up on the velvet block.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Repair Technique

Rachel checking pad seating.

What's does it take to become a repair technician?  In a previous post, we shared an overview of the path our technician, Rachel Baker, took to train professionally (follow this link to read that post).  We had time to chat with her again about this topic and discovered that formal training is an important foundation, but there is more to it than facts and procedures...

Rachel told us that one of the most important skills a good technician will have is "puzzle solving skills."  For example, if she gets a flute in the shop, she will normally have information to some degree about problems with the instrument, but she will need to determine what exactly is causing the problem and how to fix it, which she says can be "like solving a puzzle." She shared that in addition to the procedures she has learned in school and the gauges she uses to check her work, it all boils down to the "feel, look, and sound" of the instrument.  The "feel" is particularly important, and it is an acquired skill that takes time to develop.  She said it is important to be able to feel how the flute is working.  She will need to feel where a problem might be and also feel when everything is finally working properly.  Another example she shared is that she repadded a flute, and when she was finished, she checked the mechanism but could feel that something wasn't quite right with one particular pad.  Her gauges showed that the pad was seated correctly, but she could still feel that the way the pad was hitting the cup was different, and she could also hear a difference when the key closed.  Come to find out, there was not a problem with the pad -- it was actually the tone hole!  The tone hole was leaking where it was attached to the body and needed to be resoldered.  As we can see, it really can be like solving a puzzle -- and the technician's acute senses are critical for diagnosing and repairing problems.

Rachel began her training as an apprentice in a local music shop (for two years) and then went on to earn her associate's degree in repair.  She went back to work at the shop after graduation, and three years later, she started at Powell.  She has now been here for almost eight years.  She told us that becoming a skilled repair technician "really does take time, and when you first start out, someone always checks your work so you can develop your skills."  She said, "It's always possible to repair an instrument to make it play, but there are fine little subtleties to making something play really well."  She has developed her skills over time and realizes that the ability to see, hear, and feel these subtle differences takes you to a "whole different level" as a repair technician.  Finally, she says, "And you really do have to care -- really.  People's lives are hanging in the balance!  Auditions for jobs, school -- there's much more at stake, so it's not like you are just 'fixing something'." We're so glad she shared that thought with us, because it really does help illustrate a very special perspective...

Friday, January 23, 2015

Pad "Life"


Have you ever wondered how long flute pads last?  It may be surprising to some if pads need to be replaced during a COA, but try to think back...  How long have the pads been in there?  Have they reached their lifespan -- and what is the lifespan? 

We spoke with Powell Repair Technician, Rachel Baker, to find out just how long one should expect a pad to "live."  She told us that on average, it's about 5 years for flute pads, and anything older than 6 or 7 years should really be replaced.  Although there is no absolute guarantee for the lifespan of a pad, it is important to note that there are different "aging" factors in pads because of the difference in materials.  For instance, felt pads have a cardboard backing, and Straubinger pads have a plastic backing.  The plastic is more durable than the cardboard, so the Straubinger pads will last longer.  Also, moisture will affect felt pads in a much greater way because felt pads are comprised of more "organic" materials.  Rachel tells us moisture causes the felt and cardboard in a felt pad to shrink -- and it is also what causes them to smell "moldy" over time.

Using the feeler gauge after repadding.
However, there is one crucial "sign of aging" with pads that certainly determines when they need to be replaced -- resonance.  Loss of resonance means it is time to replace the pad, and this is particularly true with Straubinger pads, which Rachel says, "are known for their crispness and resonance."  She tells us that she had many customers who had pads replaced during a COA or overhaul and noted how much better their flutes played.

As for piccolo pads, they don't wear out as often as flute pads.  Why is this?  Well, Rachel tell us that there are two main reasons: (1) piccolos are usually not played as much a flutes, and (2) piccolos have wooden tone holes that are softer than metal tone holes.  She says piccolos also have some cork pads which will definitely last longer because they are made to handle moisture better.

As we can see, pads will not last forever, but they do have a decent lifespan.  They can also make a world of difference to your flute.  So if you get your flute back from repair, and your technician says s/he replaced some pads, see if you can tell the difference!