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Hallmarks of a Custom Handmade Flute

How can I possibly demonstrate one of my flutes without putting it into your hands?  I have some beautiful photos of my work, but you won’t be able to play a Landell just looking at pretty pictures.  Most of the flutists who have commissioned a new flute from me have already played one that belonged to another flutist.  Several people actually commissioned a new flute after hearing someone play one in a concert!  Depending on your location it might be possible to find such a connection nearby.  If you can come to Vermont for a visit, that would be the best way, because I often have different kinds of flutes and heads for you to try.  If you live inside the USA, I’ll send you a flute or a selection of head joints for you to play for a week in your own studio. 

Under the Flute Features section you have a detailed list of choices.  Here I’ll try to describe the qualities that I build into each of my instruments.  You choose the materials, scale and key options you like, pick out a head joint that fits your style of playing, and then ask me for a price quote based on your specs.  For my part I'll buy the metals, and I'll fabricate all the parts for your new flute.  There's a very high level of precision built into my flutes, because I use very fine machine tools that are operated by hand.  I use a Coordinate Measuring Machine to verify their accuracy.  I’ve made all of my tooling to fabricate the parts, to assemble them together, and to hone them to a fine finish.  Everything is made here from raw materials, because I need to control the quality of the work.  Here you can read about the process from beginning to end.

To begin I engrave my name, logo and serial number on your flute by hand.  Each section of the flute receives my personal marking, just like the paintings that are signed by the artists' hands.  This has been the tradition among flute makers for centuries, but the art of hand engraving has been lost almost entirely.  No stamping machine or laser or mechanical engraver can match a personal signature in metal like hand engraving.  Each flute has a unique serial number to clearly identify it.

Now working from a complete set of key parts, I carefully file and fit the pointed arms to their cups and torch braze them together.  Hand filing is another skill that's been lost to computer controlled automation.  To the naked eye there's no difference between a well machined key and a hand made key.  With some magnification, however, there's enough variation between the hand fitted keys to show that each part has been hand crafted one at a time.  It’s the same if you look at hand engraving under magnification.  The small differences between each of the letters give the work a character that doesn’t exist in mechanical versions.  Even though I'll try to make each key the same way on each flute, I can see that there are small differences in the end.  That subtle but real variation gives your flute the hallmark that is traditional hand made craftsmanship.  It takes a lot more time, but I enjoy it very much.  I think that it’s a work that will stand the test of time.  And of course, it’s beautiful!

When the key work's done, the whole flute will be polished to a high transparent finish.  I use a very sharp Scraper to smooth off the file marks, and then I rub everything with a Burnisher to begin the polishing of the keys.  If I see variations in the shapes of the keys, I can correct it during this step while I’m removing the file marks.  Burnishing also sharpens the edges of the bevels on the keys, and I'll try to maintain that edge in the next step using the buffing wheel.  There may be a few scratches here and there that need to be sanded, and the bore of the body will be sanded and polished thoroughly.  The buffing machine has two soft muslin wheels, which use either Tripoli or Rouge polishing compound.  The first step polishing with Tripoli removes any of the sanding or burnishing marks, and the second step using Rouge gives the silver or gold a deep lusterous color that shows the high qualities of the metal. 

Now after cleaning thoroughly with the Ultrasonic Cleaner, the flute is ready for gold springs and pad hardware.  Springs are made with 9k white gold spring wire, because it has the best feel for the flutist’s technique.  Gold wire can be easily adjusted for heavy or light pressure, and I regulate each key to about 17 grams.  The pad hardware is adjusted such that the pads are held into the cups without any extra pressure – not too much, and not too little.  I seat the pads by hand using an approach I call “Precision Padding”.  Each pad will be installed with parts that are very stable and perfectly flat.  Each tone hole is honed until the top surface is perfectly flat.  Using pads that are also perfectly flat, I can seat the pads without using many small partial shims.  I can measure the amount of air that might pass through the pad with an instrument I made for that purpose.  This way I can be sure that the pads are sealing perfectly every time. 

The last step is to “set up” the flute keys, so all the keys work together and open same amount.  I build the connections between dependent and independent keys with clutches rather than adjusting screws, because they are very stable.  Screw adjustments can sometimes turn by themselves, or more often they are turned by people who don’t know what they’re doing in there.  I would prefer to use adjusting screws on my flutes, because it’s possible to be more precise with them.  After the adjustments are complete, I attach a small piece of cork to the back of the key “kickers” to make them open to exactly the right height.  I use hard felt only under the Back Connection and the Bb thumb keys. 

Now that the work is done, I can play the flute and determine just how the parts are working together.  I have a long check list of things that may need to be fine tuned, and I usually play the flute every day for about a week.  At this point I remove the protective tape that I use to cover the body during assembly.  When all the fine adjustments have been done, I go through the process of polishing the flute just one more time, only the body, and not the keys.  The head joint you choose will be fitted, and the flute may need fitting to the case.  If it’s possible, you should come here in person and pick up the flute when it’s ready.  I need to see how you play and what you might need to feel completely comfortable with your new flute.  My ultimate goal is that the flute should be totally transparent in your hands.  Anything that requires your special attention will detract from your performance.  Anything that is annoying will distract you from concentrating on the music.  Any mechanical sounds will draw the attention of your audience away from the music.  In a closely ‘miked’ recording studio that is totally unacceptable!


My Sound Bites

Listen to my concerts playing the titanium flute!

Debussy Trio for flute, viola and harp.