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Making Flutes

flute maker Many years ago I was on my sailing boat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The sails were hanging slack and the boat was moving quietly on the gentle swell of the water. I decided to play some Bach on my silver flute outside in the cockpit of the vessel. Surrounded by nothing but the huge vista of sky and water, there was nothing to enhance the acoustics of the sound of my flute. Despite this knowledge, it still struck me that I found the sound of the instrument to feel lean and thin. I missed warmth, colour and richness in the timbre. This feeling stayed with me. When I got back to Holland, I decided not to continue my former work of teaching music and the Dutch language and instead I started searching for what seemed to me to be the ideal flute sound. After some time making flute head-joints in silver, I found that the richness of tone I desired could only be found in wood. With this in mind, I started to create wooden flutes. Not only in African blackwood, which has always been a popular choice for wooden instruments; I was also taken with other woods which have their own unique palette of colour and a spectrum of tone which is suitable for the construction of flutes. To put it simply,blackwood has a steady, warm sound, cocus is sparkling, coromandel is warm and deep, palisander is lighter and more colourful and rosewood is more enchanting. An element that links all of these types of wood is that they all have a round, big sound with fantastic projection throughout the three registers of the flute. You can read more about this under “Articles & Stories’ which details how my flutes were tested in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. Hereunder are various photographs which illustrate the different building stages of AV flutes, with explanations of important matters.

making flutes A block of palisander wood and a flute head-joint under construction. Sometimes a flute can be made out of one piece of wood. However, some trees are too thin or too capricious to obtain the length and width needed for an entire instrument. When this is the case, two or sometimes three different pieces are needed. It can actually occur that three different pieces can give a better result than a flute which is made from one piece. The most important element for the success of the instrument is to find the right pieces of wood with a density, sound and grain that fit together. That requires years of training. Now, when I hold a block of wood, I can predict how a flute will sound. The wall thickness of the instrument is also of high importance, as is the bore size. A block of palisander wood and a flute head-joint under construction.
palisander wooden flute In this picture and in other photos underneath, is the beginning of the flute owned by Anne Brackman which was created from one piece of palisander. (See ‘Look and Listen’ for more details). Here, you can see the bore so the inside diameter and the outside diameter are ready. Between flutes the bore size differs only a little. However, the outside diameter of instruments can sometimes vary slightly due to the wall thickness required for each instrument. This is because, for the best possible sound, there is an important relationship between density, the volume of the wood and wall thickness.

The metal tenons and fittings have to be strong so I construct these out of German silver. The rings you see on the outside of the instrument are made of silver.
hole wooden fluteThis bore is so smooth that you can see a mirroring effect from the inside into itself, which is highlighted by the snow beneath. It is worth noting though, that a smooth bore does not always produce the best result. Sometimes a rougher bore can give a better sound whilst having no effect on the ‘attaque’ or clarity of the articulation of the instrument. Read the story of the bore that was too smooth.

cocuswood flute This is a piece of a cocus flute with newly created tone-holes which is fresh from the lathe and the milling machine. In this form I optimised the measurements of the bed and slopes of the tone-holes in order to enhance projection.
As the flute comes straight from the machine, the form of the instrument is already beautiful and I don’t like to touch or change what is already there. However, I do impregnate the holes and beddings with a water-thin glue to make them stronger and to keep the wood juices, which colour the pads, locked inside.

An issue for all flute makers is the subject of the flute scale, (i.e. the diameter of the tone-holes and the distance between them), which affects the intonation and purity of the instrument. Boehm and many flute makers thereafter have thought long and hard about this matter. Not long ago, here at the atelier, I had three recent professional wooden flutes. They were all the same make and type and they had all been built within five years of each other. All three had different scales. A flute which is ‘pure’ all over or has perfect intonation doesn’t seem to exist!

After reading many publications and making many measurements I was still not quite satisfied in my quest for my AV scale, so I continued to search and experiment. Finally I found the best compromise. Naturally, my scale does not differ much from that of my colleagues and gradually one comes to even smaller differences. But the difference is still there to hear. The flutists playing on my flutes are certainly excited about it! For further information, read the article by Dana Morgan in Pan, the magazine of the British Flute Society.

cadcam-design-making flutesA rosewood body with the rib next to it. In the earlier days of the atelier, I made the rib out of one piece of silver which was pressed round and sawn into shape. The turned posts were soldered onto it. To overcome any problems with the posts I then chose to draw the rib in three pieces using a cad program, and after some intermediate stages, I was able to maintain complete silver ribs. The finishing process for this is more complicated but the parts are in one piece of silver and in exactly the correct shape. The flute pictured here is now played in Hong Kong.

wooden concert flutes in oilHeads and foot-joints for the flutes destined for the Madrid Opera. They have been oiled well for the last time. When a tube is ready it is hung in linseed oil for a whole night after which it is left to drain for the following day. When nearly all the oil is wiped off and the rest of the instrument has been dried and polished with a soft cloth, the construction of the flute continues.

flute_with_accessories_silverAnne’s flute, now with most of the parts. All the silver still needs to be worked, filed clean and flat and sanded until nearly shiny. Since 2015 I have turned the cups out of one long staff of silver but all the finishing is done by hand. The ribs are then mounted, the axis is made and everything is adjusted as necessary. From that moment on, the measuring and soldering of all these parts commences.

rosewood_fluteThe B foot from the rosewood flute shown above. Parts of the C and B keys are just partly hard soldered with 740° silver solder, then fitted. When the solder work has been done, the keys are cleaned and hardened, everything is double checked and brought up to a beautiful polished finish. After this, the springs are applied, everything is mounted and calibrated to be at the correct height and position.

making flutesHere is the palisander flute again, with all the keys ready. In this last stage, the pads, felt and cork are added. And the flute is made complete. The finishing touch is the engraving of the flute with its details and model number.

wooden_concert_flute_detailIt can take some weeks before a flute reaches the stage you see in this picture, but here the body of the flute is ready at last. When it comes to the head joint, I initially test the flute with a head which is made of the same wood, as it will have the same tonal qualities. The ultimate sound of a head joint is the last important link. If a head joint is ready, still without a mouth hole, I will know how it needs to be positioned. Despite this, I will still test it on the flute and use my ears, just as I did to test the foot joint and body. When I am sure of the position of the hole, everything can be finished, adding on the engraving and possibly also with lip plate and wings, depending on the specifications of that particular head joint. Now the flute really is ready and I am satisfied that I have done everything I can to get the very best out of the materials I have been working with.

Lip_plate_wood_flute Flutists sometimes think that they can change head joints without restriction and that only the cut of the blow-hole, riser, lip-plate or material defines whether it will work well on a particular flute. I do not feel that this is so. Even with metal flutes, one can sometimes hear a difference if the head is turned a fraction and played again.
As wooden flutes have a less ordered molecular structure, just one head-joint position seems to work the best, something which can be overcome a little by making wooden heads for wooden flutes like a metal head: with only one silver tube coming out of the head joint. This is easy as it means that a head joint such as this will fit on every flute! I tried this and found it to be easier to construct as well. So, in this case, rather than having thick wood connecting to thick wood, you get thick wood, thin metal and thick wood. I found that this resulted in a flute that did not resonate so well and sang less.
Therefore, I now make the connection between head and body and foot as the old flute-makers did – and still do – with a double tenon, so that the pieces of wood go into and over each other. Thus the vibrations of the sound waves can be passed through the flute at their maximum, resulting in an instrument that truly sings in its entirety.

Concerning professional instruments, on one hand it is important to know what a player desires, and on the other what the flute maker can actually offer. With the flutes of the level I make, you can expect that they are built well, that everything is technically efficient, that they are easy to adjust and that they have a durability that will last for many years. However, that is not enough to make a flute special. A flute starts to distinguish itself with its purity, its spectrum of tone colours and its approachability.

AV flutes have the same scale and purity, an ease of playing and the common character of being ‘flutes that sing’. But within that, each flute I make has its own unique sound world through the combination of the properties I have instilled into them and the tonal possibilities of that specific piece of wood. The synthesis of the two makes every flute one of a kind.
Hereunder are three flutes with a B foot, open hole heys and G mechanism, and heads with and without wings. From above: rosewood, cocuswood and coromandel. making_concert_flutes
Making Flutes

 flute_makerMany years ago I was on my sailing boat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The sails were hanging slack and the boat was moving quietly on the gentle swell of the water. I decided to play some Bach on my silver flute outside in the cockpit of the vessel.

Surrounded by nothing but the huge vista of sky and water, there was nothing to enhance the acoustics of the sound of my flute. Despite this knowledge, it still struck me that I found the sound of the instrument to feel lean and thin. I missed warmth, colour and richness in the timbre. This feeling stayed with me.

When I got back to Holland, I decided not to continue my former work of teaching music and the Dutch language and instead I started searching for what seemed to me to be the ideal flute sound. After some time making flute head-joints in silver, I found that the richness of tone I desired could only be found in wood.

With this in mind, I started to create wooden flutes. Not only in African blackwood, which has always been a popular choice for wooden instruments; I was also taken with other woods which have their own unique palette of colour and a spectrum of tone which is suitable for the construction of flutes. To put it simply, blackwood has a steady, warm sound, cocus is sparkling, coromandel is warm and deep, palisander is lighter and more colourful and rosewood is more enchanting. An element that links all of these types of wood is that they all have a round, big sound with fantastic projection throughout the three registers of the flute.
You can read more about this under “Articles & Stories’ which details how my flutes were tested in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.

Hereunder are various photographs which illustrate the different building stages of AV flutes, with explanations of important matters.

wooden_flutes A block of palisander wood and a flute head-joint under construction. Sometimes a flute can be made out of one piece of wood. However, some trees are too thin or too capricious to obtain the length and width needed for an entire instrument. When this is the case, two or sometimes three different pieces are needed. It can actually occur that three different pieces can give a better result than a flute which is made from one piece. The most important element for the success of the instrument is to find the right pieces of wood with a density, sound and grain that fit together. That requires years of training. Now, when I hold a block of wood, I can predict how a flute will sound. The wall thickness of the instrument is also of high importance, as is the bore size.
palisander_wooden_flute In this picture and in other photos underneath, is the beginning of the flute owned by Anne Brackman which was created from one piece of palisander. (See ‘Look and Listen’ for more details). Here, you can see the bore so the inside diameter and the outside diameter are ready. Between flutes the bore size differs only a little. However, the outside diameter of instruments can sometimes vary slightly due to the wall thickness required for each instrument. This is because, for the best possible sound, there is an important relationship between density, the volume of the wood and wall thickness.

The metal tenons and fittings have to be strong so I construct these out of German silver. The rings you see on the outside of the instrument are made of silver.
hole_wood_flute This bore is so smooth that you can see a mirroring effect from the inside into itself, which is highlighted by the snow beneath. It is worth noting though, that a smooth bore does not always produce the best result. Sometimes a rougher bore can give a better sound whilst having no effect on the ‘attaque’ or clarity of the articulation of the instrument. Read the story of the bore that was too smooth.

cocuswood_flutes  This is a piece of a cocus flute with newly created tone-holes which is fresh from the lathe and the milling machine. In this form I optimised the measurements of the bed and slopes of the tone-holes in order to enhance projection.
As the flute comes straight from the machine, the form of the instrument is already beautiful and I don’t like to touch or change what is already there. However, I do impregnate the holes and beddings with a water-thin glue to make them stronger and to keep the wood juices, which colour the pads, locked inside.

An issue for all flute makers is the subject of the flute scale, (i.e. the diameter of the tone-holes and the distance between them), which affects the intonation and purity of the instrument. Boehm and many flute makers thereafter have thought long and hard about this matter. Not long ago, here at the atelier, I had three recent professional wooden flutes. They were all the same make and type and they had all been built within five years of each other. All three had different scales. A flute which is ‘pure’ all over or has perfect intonation doesn’t seem to exist!

After reading many publications and making many measurements I was still not quite satisfied in my quest for my AV scale, so I continued to search and experiment. Finally I found the best compromise. Naturally, my scale does not differ much from that of my colleagues and gradually one comes to even smaller differences. But the difference is still there to hear. The flutists playing on my flutes are certainly excited about it! For further information, read the article by Dana Morgan in Pan, the magazine of the British Flute Society.

cadcam-design-making_flutesA rosewood body with the rib next to it. In the earlier days of the atelier, I made the rib out of one piece of silver which was pressed round and sawn into shape. The turned posts were soldered onto it. To overcome any problems with the posts I then chose to draw the rib in three pieces using a cad program, and after some intermediate stages, I was able to maintain complete silver ribs. The finishing process for this is more complicated but the parts are in one piece of silver and in exactly the correct shape. The flute pictured here is now played in Hong Kong.

wooden_concert-flutes_in_oil Heads and foot-joints for the flutes destined for the Madrid Opera. They have been oiled well for the last time. When a tube is ready it is hung in linseed oil for a whole night after which it is left to drain for the following day. When nearly all the oil is wiped off and the rest of the instrument has been dried and polished with a soft cloth, the construction of the flute continues.

flute_with_accessories_silverAnne’s flute, now with most of the parts. All the silver still needs to be worked, filed clean and flat and sanded until nearly shiny. Since 2015 I have turned the cups out of one long staff of silver but all the finishing is done by hand. The ribs are then mounted, the axis is made and everything is adjusted as necessary. From that moment on, the measuring and soldering of all these parts commences.

rosewood_fluteThe B foot from the rosewood flute shown above. Parts of the C and B keys are just partly hard soldered with 740° silver solder, then fitted. When the solder work has been done, the keys are cleaned and hardened, everything is double checked and brought up to a beautiful polished finish. After this, the springs are applied, everything is mounted and calibrated to be at the correct height and position.

making_flutesHere is the palisander flute again, with all the keys ready. In this last stage, the pads, felt and cork are added. And the flute is made complete. The finishing touch is the engraving of the flute with its details and model number.

wooden_concert_flute_detailIt can take some weeks before a flute reaches the stage you see in this picture, but here the body of the flute is ready at last. When it comes to the head joint, I initially test the flute with a head which is made of the same wood, as it will have the same tonal qualities. The ultimate sound of a head joint is the last important link. If a head joint is ready, still without a mouth hole, I will know how it needs to be positioned. Despite this, I will still test it on the flute and use my ears, just as I did to test the foot joint and body. When I am sure of the position of the hole, everything can be finished, adding on the engraving and possibly also with lip plate and wings, depending on the specifications of that particular head joint. Now the flute really is ready and I am satisfied that I have done everything I can to get the very best out of the materials I have been working with.

Lip_plate_wooden_flutes Flutists sometimes think that they can change head joints without restriction and that only the cut of the blow-hole, riser, lip-plate or material defines whether it will work well on a particular flute. I do not feel that this is so. Even with metal flutes, one can sometimes hear a difference if the head is turned a fraction and played again.
As wooden flutes have a less ordered molecular structure, just one head-joint position seems to work the best, something which can be overcome a little by making wooden heads for wooden flutes like a metal head: with only one silver tube coming out of the head joint. This is easy as it means that a head joint such as this will fit on every flute! I tried this and found it to be easier to construct as well. So, in this case, rather than having thick wood connecting to thick wood, you get thick wood, thin metal and thick wood. I found that this resulted in a flute that did not resonate so well and sang less.
Therefore, I now make the connection between head and body and foot as the old flute-makers did – and still do – with a double tenon, so that the pieces of wood go into and over each other. Thus the vibrations of the sound waves can be passed through the flute at their maximum, resulting in an instrument that truly sings in its entirety.

The lip plate, as milled in this picture, is an option. As well as the wings that you can see, the holes are already made here. For many flutists, this is their head joint of choice. It plays more readily and the attack is faster. With a round head there is initially more resistance in the sound but within that there are more possibilities in colour as well as more warmth in the tone.

Concerning professional instruments, on one hand it is important to know what a player desires, and on the other what the flute maker can actually offer. With the flutes of the level I make, you can expect that they are built well, that everything is technically efficient, that they are easy to adjust and that they have a durability that will last for many years. However, that is not enough to make a flute special. A flute starts to distinguish itself with its purity, its spectrum of tone colours and its approachability.

AV flutes have the same scale and purity, an ease of playing and the common character of being ‘flutes that sing’. But within that, each flute I make has its own unique sound world through the combination of the properties I have instilled into them and the tonal possibilities of that specific piece of wood. The synthesis of the two makes every flute one of a kind.
Hereunder are three flutes with a B foot, open hole heys and G mechanism, and heads with and without wings. From above: rosewood, cocuswood and coromandel. making_concert_flutes