WHO'S WHO Of British Flute and Head Joint Makers This article has been put together to introduce you to the British Flute Makers of today and present some of their thoughts and ideas. Every effort has been made to make the list as comprehensive as possible and to present each makers’ answers to the questionnaire as they were received. Makers are listed alphabetically.
The questions put to the makers were:1. When did you start making flutes? How did you become interested in flute making?
2. What training/back ground have you had? Where were you trained or are you completely self-taught?
3. How many flutes, piccolos, altos, basses and head joints have you made?
4. What materials have you/do you use and why?
5. What pitch and scale have you/do you use?
6. Name some players who play/have played your instruments.
7. What influence do other makers have on your work, if any?
8. Are you a flute player? (Do you play any other instrument?) Does this help/hinder flute making in your opinion? What problems, if any, have you come across as a result of this?
9. How would you advise a player who was trying to decide between specifications? Eg tube thickness, open or closed holes, C or B foot. What specification is BEST in your opinion?
10. Amongst Professional players in England, as well as other places, there is a trend to play on retuned instruments from yesteryear, as well as a trend towards wood again. Has this influenced your work in anyway? How?
11. In what areas do you think the flute will develop in the future? How do you feel you have contributed to this?
12. Any other comments.
Michael Allen 1. STARTED: Was one of the first people Trevor James employed to make head joints. Later interested in making complete flutes so became self-employed.
2. TRAINING: Formal training as a jeweller. Started my apprenticeship at the age of 18 in Hatton Garden. As a flute maker, I am self-taught, but many things overlap from jewellery. One trade turns into the other.
3. HOW MANY: Total 33 flutes, no piccolos, 1 alto and 1 quarter tone alto flute.
4. MATERIALS: Mostly use silver – 3 flutes have gold tubes with silver keys.
5. SCALE: A442.
7. OTHER MAKERS: No, not directly. We all keep an eye on what others are doing and ask ourselves what is the best flute out there and how close can I get to it.
8. DO YOU PLAY?: No.
9. SPECIFICATION: People generally have a pretty good idea what they want.
10. FUTURE: I’d like to continue making concert flutes but also have a go at more altos as well as bass flutes and contra bass flutes and even the d’amore which is in A. The flute itself hasn’t changed much in the last 100 years, except the scale of course. There will probably always be refinements. The huge resources that go into developing other things, such as motorcars and military, don’t tend to go into things like musical instruments. With instruments there tends to be huge amounts of money spent on making large numbers of flutes, for example, rather than developing new ideas.
Robert Bigio 1. STARTED: I started making flutes about twenty years ago as a hobby. I have always enjoyed tinkering and making things. Flute making seemed more interesting to me than model making.
2. TRAINING: I was (and still am) a flute player. No one is really self-taught; I made a nuisance of myself with a number of established flute makers who were very generous with their time and advice. When I became interested in wooden instruments I got a job one summer in a mallet factory to get the hang of woodturning. It was the most boring job imaginable, but looking back on it, producing thousands and thousands of tinman’s mallets by hand was as good a training as one could ever have.
3. HOW MANY?: I have made about twenty complete wooden flutes and hundreds of wooden and silver headjoints.
4. MATERIALS: I specialise in wooden instruments, although I make dozens of silver headjoints every year as well. I prefer wood to play on as it produces a flute that is louder, has more resistance, blends better and has a better dynamic range. A wooden headjoint on a metal flute is an excellent combination, too. I have experimented with unusual woods in addition to the traditional African Balckwood and Cocus wood. There are some interesting timbers in Australia that my friend Felix Skowronek has been investigating. I have made a few successful head joints in these woods. I have also experimented with plastics. A headjoint I made a few months ago out of polyester resin imitation ivory was a great success, and it looked fantastic. (But I still prefer wood.)
7. MAKERS: I just love to see great bits of craftsmanship and design. There is no reason why all flutes have to look alike. Two very innovative makers produce instruments that I particularly admire; John Lunn and Stephen Wessel, both of whom have decided to ignore what a flute is supposed to look like and have produced wonderful new designs. There are many other excellent makers around. I find Albert Cooper’s no-nonsense approach refreshing. Ewen McDougall and Harry Seeley, both excellent craftsmen, are always generous with advice. Mike Allen’s flutes are simply gorgeous.
8. DO YOU PLAY?: I am a flute player. It is a great help to a maker to play the instrument as well, since the difference between a good instrument and a great one is very subtle. But you have to be aware that your ideas may not please everyone else. The customer is always right, after all. Problems rarely arise. I make what I want to make, other makers make what they want to make and the customer has a choice. Most customers are straightforward and courteous; I have had only one awkward one in the past five years.
11. FUTURE: This is a very interesting question. There are some interesting new materials around, such as carbon fibre as used to great effect by a maker in Finland. New developments in pads will improve the way our flutes work. I guess it will not be too long before we see flutes with electronic rather than mechanical linkages. We will still blow and finger them as we do today, but instead of having levers and rods connecting keys there will be a chip controlling a series of electromagnets that act instead of springs.
Albert K Cooper 1&2. STARTED & TRAINING: Started working at Rudall Carte & Co. Ltd in April 1938. Left after 20 years to start on my own in 1959. Originally the apprenticeship was 7 years, I only did 4 of the 7 because I was called-up for war service. My fathers wish was that I became a flutemaker.
3. HOW MANY: In total I made about 95 flutes, which included 3 bass flutes, 8 alto flutes and 2 piccolos. Several hundred head joints and countless new lip-plates for other head joints.
4. MATERIAL: In the main only silver and gold because the demand calls for this.
5. SCALE: All pitches asked for including up to A=446, all scales are of my own creation.
6. PLAYERS: Not for me to say.
7. OTHER MAKERS: Very little.
8. DO YOU PLAY?: I do not play the flute, I just blow a flute to test if it is in playing condition. I used to play a French clarinet but gave it up about 35 years ago. It was very out of tune, which gave me the interest of how to improve it, hence my interest in flute tuning. Not being a flute player gives me a more neutral position.
9. SPECIFICATION: Players tell me what they want. I do not know what tube thickness is best, speaking for myself I would choose a medium size about .014/.016 inches. The specification I’d choose for my instrument would have to be offset G with a split E. I am not against open cups (only where they do harm) this means I would want a covered left hand and open cups on the right hand only. A B foot joint appeals to me. My preference is for closed G# not open G#.
10. RETUNE/WOOD: The re-tuning of flutes of yesteryear started in London, this was due to the pitch change that took place in the U.K. around 1920 when it changed from A=452 down to A=439 – this was nearly a semitone. Many old Rudall Carte wooden flutes were re-built or re-tuned onto new wooden bodies to meet the demand in the 1930s and 40s. Pitch was later established at A=440 worldwide some time after 1945?? The old continental pitch of A=435 left behind many instruments which surprisingly some players still use. The previous re-tuning experience with wooden flutes made these mostly metal flutes good subjects for the same re-tuning treatment and experiment, much has been learnt from this which will help our knowledge for future models.
11. FUTURE: The new quarter tone flute gives a wider range for the contemporary composers and players, this I guess will continue. The open cup model is no longer the best and only flute for some of the most recent music. Judging from the criticisms I hear from the orchestral player, I feel there is a need for a better model flute, which has a more even and better in tune third octave. My earlier preference for a closed hole left hand and open hole right hand is supportive of this idea.
Nick Crabb 1. STARTED: I first became interested in making flutes at the age of 17 after playing a Louis Lot in a lesson with Richard Taylor.
2. TRAINING: After having been introduced to Andrew Oxley in 1982, he kindly advised me about various aspects of flute making and encouraged me to become a flute maker. I attended classes at the Sir John Cass College to study for City & Guilds exams in silversmithing and precious metal casting in 1983/4. It was not possible to become an apprentice to an established maker in this country but I received technical advice and encouragement form most of the English makers for which I am most grateful. My training continued for two year under the aegis of Graham Forward, a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths. He helped me to develop the technical ability required to start flute making and flute restoration and retuning. Over the past 13 years I have predominantly worked re-tuning and restoring old French flute, continually developing and refining rebuilding techniques and gaining insight into the construction of new flutes.
3. HOW MANY?: I have re-tuned and rebuilt 143 flutes, made 42 seamed tube silver headjoints, four seamed tube phosphor bronze headjoints and six seamless tube headjoints and also replaced approximately 60 lip plates.
In 1994 I worked with Graham Forward to build a playing replica of a conical bore eight-keyed flute from rock crystal which had a white gold mechanism set with diamonds. Enamel was also used to create this ‘objet d’art’. The following year we built a Boehm wywtem rock crystal piccolo with gold mechanism, also employing the use of diamonds and enamel.
I am currently building new mechanisms into retuned Louis Lot flute tubes where the original mechanisms are beyond repair and continuing to re-tune flutes. The first complete Crabb & forward flute is soon to be finished.
4. MATERIALS: My personal preference is silver as I believe it creates the widest rage of tone colour and is the most versatile in different musical situations. However, wood, gold and some alloys of nickel have very distinctive qualities, which some players prefer.
5. SCALE: I will build or re-tune a flute to any pitch requested by the player. The majority of flutes that I have been commissioned to rebuild have been tuned to William Bennett scale but I also use Albert Cooper scales, especially for flutes that need to be pitched higher than A442.
6. PLAYERS: Amongst others, I have rebuilt and re-tuned flutes for Sebastian Bell, Willian Bennett, Sarah Brooke, Michael Cox, Paul Davies, Kate Hill, Mike Hirst, Laura Jellicoe, Peter Lloyd, Lorna McGhee, Daniel Pailthorpe, Martin parry, Clare Southworth, Richard Taylor, Stina Wilson and Trevor Wye.
7. OTHER MAKERS: I have been influenced I various ways, and have the highest regard for the work of Boehm, Louis Lot, Henri Villette, de Bombeau, Bonneville, Robert, Verne Q Powell, Edward Almeida, Albert Cooper and Bickford Brannen. With regard to manufacture and keywork aesthetics, the French makers of the nineteenth century have influenced me the most. With regard to keywork construction the modern makers have the most precise and efficient means of manufacture which I hop to emulate.
8. DO YOU PLAY?: I can play the flute but only practise sound production exercises to help me to gauge the tonal response of an instrument and to assess its tuning and general playing condition. I think it is very important to be able to relate to my clients, regarding their flutes, as this gives me a better understanding of any problems they might be experiencing and an appreciation of what they are trying to achieve. The only problem I find in being able to play the flute myself is that I have to refrain from cutting the embouchure to suit my own style of playing.
9. SPECIFICATION: As a flute restorer/maker, I see my role to serve the needs of my clients. It is my first duty to listen to the flute player’s requests and ideas and to offer my opinions for their consideration. There are many varying opinions on the best way to tune a flute and these should be fully discussed before work commences. However, the condition of the flute dictates what can ultimately be achieved.
With regard to specifications for a new flute, my personal preference is for open hole, in line, open G# with reverse thumb keys and a C foot, built on seamed body tubing. The most reliable mechanism, however, would be closed holes, offset G/A mechanism and a split E mechanism on a closed G# flute with a Brosser F#.
The influence of French flutes of the nineteenth century on my own work has been considerable as I have based my career thus far on rebuilding them to play at modern pitch.
Jack Frazer 1. STARTED: I am not a “flute maker” as such but specialise in flute tubing and head joints. I am however, a Chartered Engineer with a reasonably well equipped workshop and the necessary skills to make use of it. My specialities are:-(a) Flute tubes “seamed up” in the old French manner in Silver, Nickel Silver, Bronze and Brass.2. TRAINING: I had no training: such skills as I have, I bought with me to the job. The rest was trial, error and tool making!
(b) Head joints in metals as in (a) with Silver lip plates.
(c)Piccolo heads with particular reference to Yamaha picc’s but successful in other makes.
(d) Wooden head joints designed for use in Metal flutes.
I became interested in flute construction in the early 70’s when I attended International Summer School and had the opportunity of talking to William Bennett and Trevor Wye.
3. HOW MANY: No flutes or piccolos although I have provided tubes for 5 or 6 flutes for others to build. Over the last 23 years I have made about 170 head joints and 45 piccolo heads.
4. MATERIALS: As in 1. I have found Bronze to give the best results but silver and Brass also are good. Various types of hardwood (Blackwood, Rosewood, Kingwood).
5. SCALE: Not my concern but approve William Bennett’s A440 scale.
6. PLAYERS: Some people for whom I have carried out experimental work are William Bennett, David Haslam, Carol Kniebusch USA, Alan Lockwood, Edelgard Seemann, Anna Pope, Robert Winn, Janet Way, Patricia Morris, Janet Richardson, Jim Gregory, Andrew collier, Janet Bannerman, Trevor Wye, Christine Hankin, Jonathan Snowden, Frank Nolan, Eldred Spell USA, Lucy Cartledge, Clive Conway, and many others in G.B., Europe, USA and Australia.
7. OTHER MAKERS: Not much, but I enjoy friendly relations with others working in my field.
8. DO YOU PLAY?: I have been an amateur flute player for many years (no other instrument) and, even at this level find it helpful to be able to play when assessing head joints. I try to make my head joints with as much “resistance” as possible (analogous to that of the resistance experience by string players when bowing a string.) Without resistance there may be sound but not necessarily music!
9. SPECIFICATION: Not really relevant to my situation but I would draw attention to the advantages of the open G# system and suggest that the advantages of open holes can be offset by hand problems and the additional learning input required effectively to make proper use of them.
10. RETUNED/WOOD: I see no objection to prolonging the active life of a good French flute by retuning and overhaul, but would approve the retention of “museum” instruments at their original pitch. I have been making wooden head joints since 1976 and welcome the current interest being shown in them. I believe that both the wooden flute and the use of wooden head joints in metal flutes, have a useful contribution to make to present day flute playing.
11. FUTURE: I believe that the flute’s present extraordinary popularity, and the commercial pressures which this has generated, will ensure that for the foreseeable future design and construction will continue to be based upon Boehm’s 1847 system. There will be a requirement for the ¼ tone flute for modern music, and some may well hanker after an all-open keyed system such as Alex Murray’s but nearly every player will commence playing on a relatively standard instrument. The effort necessary to make a change (the longer deferred the greater) requires not only conviction, but very considerable dedication! If change comes, my contribution to it will be nil. My only positive claims are for the use of Bronze as a material for tube making, and for being somewhat ahead of the game in the re-establishment of wooden head joints for metal flutes. My telephone number is 01266 880212 (with answering machine) and I shall be pleased to talk to anyone who has an interest in head joints or tubes. I nearly always have a selection of flute heads in metal and wood to hand but Piccolo heads are ‘specials’.
Ewen McDougall 1. STARTED: I went straight from school to Rudall Carte in 1950.
2. TRAINING: I began a five year apprenticeship with RC, at that time it was the only place in the U.K. where one could find such an opportunity. I worked there (less three years in an army band) until 1961. At that time I joined Flutemakers Guild, remaining there until 1983. Since then I have been working independently.
3. HOW MANY: I have just sent No. 34 to the USA where it has been well received. Although I only make flutes, I make heads for flutes and piccolos.
4. MATERIALS: Silver and gold are my usual materials. I leave wood to Flutemakers Guild and Robert Bigio, who have all the skills and machinery needed. Silver, after wood, is the traditional material for giving a good sound and lasting qualities for an economic outlay. Gold is fine for a celebration or outward display, platinum is too costly and it looks uninteresting.
5. PITCH: Everyone plays different. I aim at A=440. Why have 442, pull out the head to get one note right: all the lower notes are relatively sharp, higher notes are flatter because the left hand holes (vents for the upper register) are too far down the tube since you pulled out the head to start with.
6. PLAYERS: I made a complete 9ct gold flute for the first flute in the Minnesota Orchestra in 1985. Sadly he died and the flute has passed to another player. Another 9ct flute was finished in 1996. Some of the students for whom I have made flutes, are now finding orchestral and solo places.
7. OTHER MAKERS: I suppose we all adopt certain good features of the work of others; this is necessarily a backward look, seen from today! Although some clean and tidy workmanship is seen, the character and style is not present these days, to the same extent. The commercial look is in.
8. DO YOU PLAY?: I had lessons with Harold Clarke, and later a few with Geoffrey Gilbert. I enjoy playing but not reading music, which I find very hard work! Having some knowledge of the instrument is a help with understanding flautist’s difficulties.
9. SPECIFICATION: I don’t need to advise people about what sort of flute they need. They usually have a good idea before they get to me. I think no one is bothered these days by wall thickness. In 1961 it was different. Open holes are OK for those who can cover them – but they do make fingering more tidy. I offer a G key hole half offset, which makes life a lot easier. I’ve seen some open holes so far offset I play behind the hole! B foot joints darken the sound a bit and are useful for the B, but can you find the C when you need it? I don’t like E mechanisms. Play open G sharp.
10. RETUNING & WOOD: I’m not happy about knocking an old silver flute apart and refixing all the holes in new places. Often the keywork is not rebuilt properly so that the cups cover holes accurately and reliably. I’ve seen a fair number with funny heads and odd lip plates. Given that the head produces the best part of the sound, is this the right thing to do? Wood flutes of high pitch A=452 can only be rebuilt properly one way – new low pitch body and the mechanism properly rebuilt onto it. Only a few people would ever be able to tell if it had been modified. Robert Bigio has made several low pitch bodies for which I have rebuilt the mechanism, they have been very successful. I am very pleased to see Flutemakers Guild sending so many wood flutes around the world. If Rudall Carte had adopted the rectangular embouchure shape, a bit smaller, and used the right size in the head tube, allied to a deeper chimney, the silver flute might not have had such an easy time of it!
11. FUTURE: Makers are finding new methods of production, which can lead to commercial standards. The individual makers will find their own ways, but they start minus that training or apprenticeship which is all important. New materials are being tried for head joints, albeit at high cost and possibly involving gimmicks. On expensive flutes there is a sad tendency to use carbon steel (silver steel/drill rod) for mounting the keys, instead of stainless steel. Often there is no steel point in the F sharp pillar to carry the ends of left- and right-hand rods.
12. OTHER COMMENTS: I have always been interested in presswork and I have made a set of tools to produce chimneys for heads. Another process I have just finished is the making of tools for the open hole cup. This comes out of a silver bland disc, hole and all! Probably nothing new in this, but satisfying for me. I make all my flute parts for keywork from 4mm and 5mm square silver. No castings anywhere on my flutes.
Ian McLauchlan 1. STARTED: I have always been interested in how things are made and how they work, so when I started playing at the age of nine, the interest in the instrument was part and parcel. When I went to the Royal Northern College of Music fantastic opportunities were made available through the RNCM and Trevor Wye to really learn more, and a course was set up at this time for ‘Instrument Technology’. I made my first head joint in about 1979 from stainless steel and nickel silver, the remains of which I still have.
2. TRAINING: As mentioned I was lucky in having so much support from the RNCM and Trevor Wye during my training as a player. The Instrument Technology course was very much based around the flute and involved the basics of flute making and head joint making along with repair techniques, padding, soldering etc. Re-tuning of Old French instruments came to the surface for me at college and the various methods and scales were covered extensively. Whilst at RNCM I was sent to ‘shadow’ Albert Mitchell whilst he worked, a fine craftsman and ex Boosey and Hawkes employee making the ‘1010’ clarinets in their heyday. Following college I had the opportunity to work/train at the Brannen-Cooper factory in Boston USA. This provided a tremendous insight into state of the art manufacturing techniques, an insight that has influenced me greatly in the way I think and work when developing my production methods. I have always worked for myself and now have the luxury of running the workshop within the “JUST FLUTES” shop.
3. HOW MANY?: Total of 471 flute head joints and approx 100 piccolo head joints.
4. MATERIALS: Flute head joints in silver and gold, also mixtures (silver with gold lip etc). Also seamed brass tubes both plated and not. I use the above materials because that is what the players want! (I think also that overall these give the best results). The seamed brass tubes are to try to emulate the qualities found in early silver plated Bonneville instruments.
6. PLAYERS: Geoffrey Gilbert, Wissam Boustany, Sarah Brooke, Geoff Collins (Sydney Symphony Orchestra), Bob Bush (Broadway freelance player New York), Damian Bursill Hall, Deborah Davis, Duke Dobing, Mike Hurst, Christopher Hyde-Smith, Karen Moratz (Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra), Freyr Sigurjonnson (Bilbao Symphony Orchestra), Robin Soldan, Jennifer Stinton, Sammi Wirkkula (Helsinki).
7. OTHER MAKERS: As a maker I’m always most interested in what other people are doing and am so glad that flute makers are in the main very willing to exchange ideas and pass on tips to other makers, a tendency that is to be applauded. Important influences have been Albert Cooper, Bick Brannen, L.Lot and Ed Almedia. Each of these makers have contributed so much to the modernisation of the flute, the incredible quality we now have, and perhaps most importantly to the open attitude for improvement and experimentation.
8. DO YOU PLAY?: I am a flute player. Overall I feel this is a tremendous help when designing and trying out my head joints. Every head joint is ‘voiced’ individually by myself by playing. Most importantly it also means that I am (hopefully) talking the same language when discussing requirements and thoughts on flutes with players, after all, I’m trying to make something that they will buy. The things that make a really great head joint or flute are the fine details and subtleties and much would be lost if I couldn’t play. Of course the disadvantage is that I may well be making head joints that I myself do not like. This I can cope with!! If it sells, it’s good for that player.
9. SPECIFICATION: This relationship must be an open one. The player is the person who has actually got to use the flute or head joint and they must feel at ease both artistically and physically with the set up they play on. I will always listen to what a player has to say, as different players want different things. For instance, as a rule a ‘doubler’ will prefer a very different style of head joint to a pure flute player. This is why I produce a number of different styles of head joint, one of which will hopefully suit most players. I advise to try instruments and buy the one you like, not the one you have been told you should like! My preferred spec:- open hole, offset, open G#, C foot.
10. RETUNED/WOOD: The interest in early French flutes has influenced me hugely. The way they respond and the quality of sound they can produce is very different to most modern instruments. I’m not sure they are better! But they are certainly different. I try to capture some of their quality in all the styles of head joints I make. Quality and individuality of sound is my principle aim. For me the early French flutes offer something unique.
11. FUTURE: The current interest seems to be in a re-kindled interest in wood. There are a number of very fine makers producing a ‘modern’ wooden flute and this, coupled with key players showing an interest is one area that is developing. I think materials are certainly being experimented with – carbon fibre, plastics, stainless steel, titanium are now all used. Head joint design will continue to develop. As this is as much a ‘fashion’ concept as it is impirical. There will always be room for change here. Electronics are influencing the acoustic instruments and much mixing of the two is evident. Obviously the acoustic instrument is under threat from the electronic industry. I do think the acoustic instruments will survive, but a crossover/combination of the two will develop. Improvements to the mechanism I think will be subtle and quality improvements. Boehm’s original design principle is so good that unless a totally new approach develops I don’t foresee any major mechanism changes. Specialist instruments will always spring up (such as microtonal instruments) but these are obviously off the main stream.
Howel Roberts 1. STARTED: Started 1974. I was wanting to combine music and craft work. I nearly started organ building!
2. TRAINING: Started 1974 at the Flutemakers Guild, London. Stayed until 1979. Taught by harry Seeley. Went to Munich, Germany and worked for 15 years at the firm Max Hieber, where I was involved in the development and manufacture of all kinds of flutes, from piccolo down to subcontrabass. Self employed since 1995.
3. HOW MANY: I have no record of the number – an awful lot.
4. MATERIALS: The usual materials. Silver, gold, wood. The bigger flutes were made in nickel silver or brass and silver plated.
5. SCALE: I have countless scales to choose from but I only really use Cooper scale. Who doesn’t?
6. PLAYERS: Being a modest man – I don’t like name dropping!
7. OTHER MAKERS: Other makers have a tremendous influence. These days there are so many very talented makers, making excellent flutes that you cannot afford to ignore it all.
8. DO YOU PLAY? As a flute maker, even if you are a good flute player, you cannot afford to judge your work by your own playing. A lot of players/makers have come unstuck by this. In the end the players decide. My first instrument was piano, then clarinet. I’m a fanatic drummer.
9. SPECIFICATION: This question takes 2 hours to answer. The maker/player relationship is of the utmost importance. There is no ‘best’ specification. It all comes down to personal taste.
10. RETUNED/WOOD: For many years I have been specialising in wood, so the trend suits me fine.
11. FUTURE: It will go in the direction of a more individual sound with wood playing a leading part.
Harry Seeley 1. STARTED: I started making six keyed flutes in 1948 with a small company of flute and Bagpipe makers, Henry Starck & Co. At that time I was playing the bagpipes in a Scout Band. It seemed a good idea at the time!!!
2. TRAINING: I joined Rudall, Carte & Co in 1955 with no idea what a Boehm system flute looked like. I had to learn quickly as we were paid by results, so much per flute! The training so far has taken 43 years and I’m still learning. In 1961 we formed the Flutemakers Guild and I’ve worked with them ever since.
3. HOW MANY: What a question! I’ve no idea, quite a lot. I think I’ve made just about every member of the flute family in my time, Concert Flute, Piccolo, Alto, C Bass, G Treble, Eb, Db, Guards Model, Simple System Bb, F, Eb Bass etc
4. MATERIALS: All materials have been used, silver, gold, wood, ebonite – whatever the customer asks for.
5. SCALE: 442 mainly, but 440, 444, or even 446 if asked for (and it has been), “modern” scales!
6. PLAYERS: We have supplied instruments to many famous players over the last 37 years.
7. OTHER MAKERS: Very little, Albert Cooper being the exception.
8. DO YOU PLAY?: I can blow a flute, I do not play the flute. By not being a musician I do not build into a flute my own preferences for tuning, pitch etc. I rely on what players say, mind you I don’t take notice of everything, I use my judgement.
9. SPECIFICATION: The players I deal with usually know what they want. If there is a doubt or query, the reasons why they might want a particular variation are gone into, the pros and cons are discussed and a decision made. I do not give an opinion as to which is best, we try to arrive at an instrument which is best for that player.
10. RETUNED/WOOD: As a “flutemaker” my job is to make flutes and as such I prefer to make new instruments. I have always had a liking for wooden flutes (this perhaps goes back to my early days with Rudall, Carte.) and I am glad that the wood flute is becoming popular again, after all, the flute is a member of the “woodwind” family.
11. FUTURE: At my age I’m not thinking too far into the future. I honestly can’t think of anything, other than perhaps materials or electronics that could greatly improve the flute. Practically every variation of keywork and system has been tried over the last 150 years. Probably the best system is still an open G#, Boehm system, little to go wrong with that. The great Theobald knew what he was doing!!!
Andrew Oxley 1. STARTED: In about 1975 I started repairing flutes and eventually progressed to head joint manufacture in about 76/77 whilst studying at Royal College of Music. 1978 saw the first flute and also I gained my ARCM in flute performance.
2. TRAINING: Totally self taught but with occasional hints and tips from Wibb and Albert Cooper!
3. HOW MANY: 50 flutes both C and B foot, 1 in 9ct yellow gold, with silver keys, and in excess of 1000 head joints, gold and silver.
4. MATERIALS: Generally .925 silver but also 9ct Red or Yellow gold.
5. SCALE: A=442 C/o Wibb
6. PLAYERS: Delia Rhmm, Carol Timms, Carolyn Nelson, Fregor Sigurjornsson and many more.
7. OTHER MAKERS: For sound I have always felt that flutes by Louis Lot have what I feel is the best and I try to get as near to that as I can.
8. DO YOU PLAY?: Yes, I have worked as a professional musician on a freelance basis with quite a number of chamber orchestras and generally have found that having a good understanding of the problems flautists face on a day to day basis has been a great help.
9. SPECIFICATION: My approach to the player is that I want them to gain the very best possible: this applies to students in particular in their formative years. Specifications are entirely an individual thing, however the question of offset G/in-line G is, I feel, dependent upon finger length and although I find in line G aesthetically more pleasing, off set G is generally physiologically better.
10. RETUNED/WOOD: I have had a considerable number of Louis Lot and Bonnevilles etc, that I have re-tuned and played on with great pleasure and although there have been considerable advances in the method of manufacture of key work, resulting in greater reliability, the quality and complexity of sound that can be created with these instruments is unsurpassed. This has influenced my approach to sound, notably with head joint design.
11. FUTURE: In the future, different materials, springing methods, intonation particularly with D/D# trill keys and top B/Bb. My contribution is to sound quality, ease of articulation, the ease with which top octave notes can be played ppp without struggling, yet in tune and clearly.
12. OTHER COMMENTS: Much of the time when I am listening to people playing on one of my head joints for the first time, I have to gently suggest that they are trying too hard and should let the head joint do the work. It’s quite a pleasure to see the change of expression upon the person’s face going from puzzlement to amazement, that the simple act of changing the head joint can make such a dramatic improvement even to an ordinary basic student flute. This is something that I have been recommending to parents as an effective way of up grading their son or daughter’s flute without causing the financial strain that comes with such major decisions. Frequently this would be a combination of, say, a Yamaha 211SII and one of my head joints and this would see the student through till grade eight without too much difficulty. After this point, if the student is going on to college, and wishes to improve the body, then that can be supplied, without a head joint and therefore making the improvement less financially punitive!
Stephen Wessel 1. STARTED: 1983. I was married to a professional flute player and found myself doing repairs for her pupils. We already knew the head joint maker John Webb so he and I decided to make some experimental flutes and try out some new materials. We immediately got huge encouragement from several top players. Our partnership was known as Webb & Wessel until 1990.
3. TRAINING: I was trained initially as a mechanical engineer and have a degree in that subject. I spent many years as a harpsichord maker, during which I learnt a great deal about many different materials, acoustics, and self-employment. I had no formal training for flute making but engineering in miniature has always been a strong point.
3. HOW MANY: 71 flutes.
4. MATERIALS: Silver for tubes. Stainless steel for keywork. Keys are sometimes inlaid with black plastic. The
weight (more correctly mass) of keywork has a vital bearing on the response of the instrument. Steel is light and stiff. The plastic is for further lightness.
5. SCALE: William Bennett 442 and 440. These are occasionally modified slightly to suit different players.
6. PLAYERS: Ileana Ruhemann, Judith Hall, Philip Rowson, Richard Adeney, Richard Taylor, June Scott, Andrew Lane, Michael Hirst, Ann Cherry, Douglas Townshend, Jaime Martin, Peter Lloyd in NO particular order! Many more, and nearly all professionals.
7. OTHER MAKERS: None.
8. DO YOU PLAY?: No. I play the clarinet and piano/harpsichord. It might help to be able to play the flute really well. To be a mediocre player would probably be a hindrance. I have no particular problems because I am guided by my customers, plus intuition, on all musical questions.
9. SPECIFICATION: I listen to all my customers (and potential customers) very carefully – their words more than their playing! I then try to provide them with the best possible instrument. There is no such thing as the best specification as people have different needs. I favour simplicity over complexity however, believing that the burden of keywork should be kept to a minimum for good response, tonal colour and ease of articulation. The best flutes I have made (I think!) have had in-line G and no E mechanism. I do not offer a choice of wall thickness.
10. RETUNED/WOOD: Yes, very much. When John and I started we were driven by one desire: to reproduce the expressive power of the best 19th century French flutes currently used by so many London professionals, while improving if possible the reliability of the action. I think it fair to claim a degree of success on both fronts. My flutes seem to have all the carrying power needed in a full modern orchestra, yet are probably the lightest in weight of any flutes in current regular production.
11. FUTURE: Experiments with different materials is bound to continue. A musical instrument maker, while working away in the present, should always be looking forwards and backwards in time, although he can never, in my view, operate in advance of the music. That comes first and should determine everything he does.
I have shown that stainless steel, while difficult to work, has great advantages over precious metals for keywork, (not tubes). Black plastic inlay offers a further reduction in mass and inertia. If one can forget its association with cheap mass production and appreciate it’s own special qualities there is no reason why it cannot be incorporated into a thing of beauty.
I have experimented with my own synthetic pads, but to no avail. The main problem is the deleterious affect on the sound. I now use ordinary pads exclusively, which give very little trouble as they sit in machined cups with a flat bottom (another advantage of steel).
My tubes are always made of silver and have silver-soldered tone holes (i.e. Not soft solder) and mouldings. The flutes go out therefore in a fully stress-free condition. Time, and the effect of playing gradually harden the metal somewhat. One advantage of this method is that the tubes, when finished, are all in the same, known condition, freed of uncertain manufacturing stresses, resulting in a highly consistent product.
c. Leanne Harper