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

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A Brief Overview of Some New and Experimental Approaches to Improving Head Joint Response - PART 1 of 2

In the past 50 years great strides have been made with improvements in flute making techniques and in the number of available options a buyer might choose to change or customize their flutes. Our modern craftsmen have been both diligent and ingenious in their experiments and innovations by designing new scales, changing the sizes and shape of the embouchure hole, varying the material used for and the design of the construction of the pads, springs, and key riser, adding new keys, and even enabling production of quarter steps.

The basic design and construction of most modern flutes is so highly developed that a well-made (though mass-produced) student level instrument provides a fair degree of the flute’s potential, but there definitely are options and choices available for those seeking improvement. Flutists frequently will spend a great deal of money for the most minimal of changes in the ease, or accuracy, or tonal spectrum of their instrument. Mississippi flutist Keith Pettway stated this very succinctly recently when he posted a reply on an Internet flute chat group to an inquiry from a student wanting advice how on much to spend to plan to spend in upgrading their flute:

“When you "move up" to a better flute, the difference between a $600 (U.S.) flute and a $1,500 flute is maybe 10% better. Between a $1,500 and $5,000 flute is maybe 5% better. Between a $5,000 and $12,000 flute is maybe 1% better. To take advantage of that 1% a player needs to have a total mastery of the instrument. ”

Recently flute makers and flute technicians also have found there are many, many different ways to influence the flute’s response, some subtle and some profound. Each new trade show or flute convention brings an on-going parade of intriguing new things to try out. I will attempt in this issue and subsequent issues to describe and summarize some of the most interesting and appealing new approaches, beginning with:

The DynaFlute System, a design for the head joint stopper and crown assembly, which was just released last summer. This product is unusual in providing a highly variable setup that allows the player to widely adjust and tune the tonal response and color of the flute to their own taste, style of playing, and musical situation. While using a well-greased rubber O-ring between two metal plates instead of the traditional cork stopper at the top end of the head joint, the real innovation of this product is a unique series of seven removable and adjustable molded plastic disks that look rather like “fins” that allow the flutist to alter the resonating chamber between the thin stopper and the crown.

Of course, using an O-ring and modifying the space in the top end of the head joint has been tried successfully by others (most notably by James Pellerite, who developed over 30 years ago an O-Ring stopper with an optional a bullet-shaped moveable cork behind the stopper plate that turns and move back and forth on the long threaded rod to which the crown is attached in order to allow tonal adjustments.) Besides the moveable disk system (which influences air vibrations in this cavity), the most original element of this DynaFlute assembly is the adjustable crown, which has a screw in the center of the dome that can be moved in and out to further modify the response and resonance of the head joint. .

The changes in the response of the head joint and the resultant tone color with the DynaFlute system are quite pronounced. (The manufacturer believes this may be caused by more sound reaching the left ear than is typical--rather like the sensation of increased loudness experienced when playing a curved head joint on a C flute.) The sound emitting from the placement of the embouchure hole and tone hole closer to the ear seems louder, but may be more apparent than real. Finding just the “right” position of the adjusting screw in the DynaFlute crown is completely dependent on your concept of the ideal sound. In doing a systematic trial of this DynaFlute system, it is recommended that you start with the screw all the way end and slowly move it outward to find the sound quality and timbre you are seeking. It is easy to get confused, however, and lose all sense of direction and balance of tonal spectrum with a constant changing of the response of the flute—it could end up feeling rather like you are playing on a different reed and ligature setup every time you try to play the saxophone.

All the aspects of this product are difficult to describe briefly without illustrations. You can see pictures that make things more evident and get information regarding ordering a DynaFlute stopper and crown assembly at: http://www.dynaflutesystem.com/indexa.html. This product is currently only available directly from the designer and manufacturer, Michael de Bruin, in Holland. Price: 75 Euros.

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The Bigio Stopper and Crown is a related approach by the well-known British maker of wooden flutes and headjoint, Robert Bigio, which has been gathering converts and advocates in the past few years. He first began by producing a combination of a Delrin stopper with an O-ring plus another O-Ring holding in place a blackwood crown with a hole in it to allow air vibrations to escape. In the past couple of years he has experimented with crowns made of other types and weights of materials, and has now settled on use of a Zirconium metal and O-ring stopper with the choice of a Wooden or Zirconium crown. As with the DynaFlute system, ordering a stopper and crown with the correct diameter for your flute is crucial to the success in use of this device. For more details information and pricing of the various models, see his website: http://www.bigio.com/

Of course flutists have known for many years that the fit of the cork stopper and the weight of the crown have major effects on how a head joint responds both in ease of tone production, articulation, and the ability to shift registers and vary the tone. You can even get significant changes by filling the space behind the cork and stopper plate with materials such as sand, salt modeling clay, dried beans or popcorn, etc. It is evident that much of the effect is caused by the difference in added weight and/or how tightly the air space behind the stopper is sealed. Even placing a clothes pin or other clamp at various points on the head joint tube will alter the playing characteristics and the potential tone of the flute. While it may all be entirely psychological, many flutists find that having a crown of a different metal, such as 14K gold, improves the tonal response.

We will continue this survey of newly available developments in flute and headjoint design in the next issue. J.E.P.

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…TO BE CONTINUED – more to come in the February 2007 issue!


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