The Flute Network Recommends..... - from our February 2007 issue

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A Brief Overview of Some New and Experimental Approaches to Improving Head Joint Response - PART 2 of 2

(Continued from the January 2007 issue … )

Gemstone and Jeweled Crowns: Boston-based master flute maker David Williams adds (on request) a small diamond inserted in a hole in the outside center of his crowns, which has remarkable results for some flutists, who find the improvements in sound and response are well worth the additional cost. (His entire line of flutes is brilliant, representing the highest level of craftsmanship, beauty of design, thoughtful ergonomics, and jewel-like beauty of both sound and appearance.) You can see his crowns, headjoints, and lovely key work at: http://www.Williamsflutes.com

Many years ago English flute maker Albert Cooper did some headjoint recutting, modifications and improvements for me to the embouchure on a complete “dud” of a headjoint from another maker. He even moved the position of the riser and opening where the embouchure plate hole meets the tube. And, he added a lighter, more hollow, crown of his design. Before he sent it back to me, he told me that he had added “a small something” to decorate the flute—which included a red semi-precious stone and a rosette design on the crown and, surrounding his initials, on the tube another engraved flower. He made no claim for these decorative elements improving the response, but clearly he had made a dull and unresponsive headjoint come alive and sing. (I told him that I loved the way it now played, but I wished that he had added a green stone as well… so that I wouldn’t have to count measures of rest any more and could just wait for the light to change!)

Those who are interested in exploring the effects of weighted and bejeweled crowns should consider the beautiful gemstone crowns made by New Hampshire flute and piccolo maker Chris McKenna. He inserts pieces of highly polished stone and gems into the end of his specially manufactured custom crowns using either a 6mm faceted stone or large 16mm cabochon style. The visual effects are just stunning. McKenna is a highly original and creative maker and experimenter with musical acoustics and new types of music instruments. You can see dazzling close up photos of his many, many choices of gemstone crowns and order them from the website of Carolyn Nussbaum Music in Dallas. See: http://www.flute4u.com/crowns.html

The “Locking Crown” Mechanism from Kanichi Nagahara, the esteemed Boston flute maker, is another new approach to an old problem: crowns that begin to move and/or “buzz” from the vibrations of the headjoint or which interfere with the response of the headjoint due to being too tight or too loose against the tube. Employing a standard cork stopper assembly, Nagahara added a “double-nutting” system to alleviate the problem of loose crowns, and he then found that the additional weight improved the tonal characteristics. You can see pictures and click on a full description of the purpose and design of his locking crown at: http://www.nagaharaflutes.com/headjoints/crown.html

Olnhausen Rings. Another fruitful line of research and development comes from Ulrich Olnhausen in Germany, who has improved the tonal response of the flute headjoint by introducing a small ring of silver (held in place by thin layer of cork) that is fitted towards the open end of the tube at a 17.3 mm distance from the middle of the embouchure hole—the same distance the headjoint stopper is placed at the opposite (closed end) of the tube. The ring is designed to “provide stronger core or center to the tone. The sound of the flute with the ring inserted is warmer and more focused throughout the entire range. There is significantly less hiss to the tone. Intonation in the top octave is improved and articulation is more secure.” More information is available at: http://www.larrykrantz.com/rings.htm. Olnhausen rings are available in the U.S. only from Brooks de Wetter-Smith, 811 Churchill Drive, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA 27517. Email: olnring@yahoo.com. Fax: (919) 967-0829

The Grenaditte Headjoint. Using a patented combination of twelve man-made materials, Taiwanese flute maker Geofrey Guo has just released a spectacular new headjoint with a feel and sound similar to the characteristic density, color, and acoustic properties found with Grenadilla wood. This headjoint is an excellent choice for those seeking a darker and more pungent sound that might be used for baroque or Celtic music or for jazz. With its black matte finish, optional lip plate engraving, and a material that is very stabile in pitch despite changing air temperature, this Grendaditte headjoint is much lighter than metal or wooden headjoints and should prove helpful to younger players who have difficulties holding the flute. Guo also has developed a very novel approach to the configuration of the area found behind the stopper in a traditional headjoint. Using a molded and unmoveable stopper, this headjoint features a V-shaped open area instead of a screw on crown. Although impossible to see from the outside, the interior shape of the area behind the lip plate and stopper resembles the conical baffles and resonating chambers found in many hi-fidelity speaker system designs. Again, as with some of the newer crowns described above, there is some apparent increase in volume produced by the headjoint due to more sound reaching the left ear immediately, but this headjoint is also very efficient, projects well, and is capable of wide ranges of volume, resonance, and tone color. To fully appreciate the design features, you really need to see the pictures and read the maker’s descriptions at: http://www.flute.com.tw/product.php?mode=show&pid=61

You also will find photos and details of Guo’s high-tech ceramics and metal Cermet Flutes with their light-weight and unusual black/white body and keys at: http://www.flute.com.tw/product.php?mode=category&cid=16 … along with more details of the acoustical properties and other features available at: http://cermet.flute.com.tw/faq.php?mode=show&serialNum=12&faqSerialNum=5. These flutes are a radical departure in material, acoustics and space age key design. At first they appear to resemble the Carbon Fibre headjoints and flutes of the Finnish flute maker Matti Kahonen (see: http://www.matitflutes.com/ ), but Guo has a totally original design and a fresh conceptualization of how a flute mechanism might look and operate. A fascinating brief overview and history of Guo’s innovative approaches may be found at: http://www.magicflutes.net.au/pages/default.cfm?page_id=23959

Each of these experiments and attempts at redesigning, modifying and improving the flute which are discussed above in this article, has its advocates and devotees. And the pace of change continues because flute makers still have vision and a willingness to try new approaches. As Geoffrey Guo notes on his website:

“You have to have crazy ideas to invent something sensible. The most reliable way of predicting the future is to invent it.”

All flutists are indebted to these dedicated and inspired craftsmen mentioned here as well as to such major innovators in flute design as Bick Brannen, Eva Kingma, Albert Cooper, and many others for their energy, creativity, and tireless pursuit of “perfection.” You are encouraged to explore further and to try for yourself this new stream of devices and approaches to helping flute players in the quest for the most efficient, interesting, and varied flute sounds possible. The results of these investigations and individual choices will, of course, reflect with the taste and style of the individuals playing the flutes. As they say, “your mileage may vary,” but there is world full of new alternatives awaiting the adventurous. - J.E.P.

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Email:jan@flutenet.com.

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