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.