Thursday, September 18, 2014

Headjoint Finishing - The Tenon

Sometimes when you look at your instrument, it is hard to imagine what it may have looked like before it was completely finished.  This came to our attention when we were on the production floor the other day and saw several Signature headjoints in the finishing department.  The headjoints each had a piece of blue tape around them, and we were anxious to find out more...

We spoke with flute finisher Karl Kornfeld about the tape, and he told us that it is a marker for the tenon.  As you can see from the photo above, the headjoints were completely polished from top to bottom.  The next step would be to lightly sand the end section below the blue tape to make a visible, "matte" style tenon that will fit inside the flute barrel.

Powell Repair Technician, Rachel Baker, shed more light on this part of the finishing process with a bit of historical and technical information.  She said that flute heajoints did not always have this "matte" type of tenon.  In fact, many had nothing!  Several older flute headjoints, like Powell #20 in the photo below, had a ring that stopped the headjoint when it was fully in place inside the barrel.  This ring also served as a position marker for tuning.

Powell #20 is on the far right in this photo.

Rachel said the today's tenon style serves a few purposes: 
(1) It helps mark the position of the headjoint in the flute.  Flutists may have their headjoints all the way in, or may have to pull out or push in to tune.  The visible difference of the matte tenon helps with placement -- much like the older rings.

(2) It provides a smoother fit for the headjoint in the barrel.  She says that there is the friction of metal against metal when you put the headjoint in the barrel, and although it may seem like a polished section would slide better, the matte area actually moves more smoothly.

(3) Aesthetics.  With normal use, the headjoint tenon will get marks simply from the normal wear and tear of putting the headjoint in and taking it out.  Those marks seem to look better on the "matte" surface rather than they would on a shiny one.

In the headjoint fitting process, the tenon may need to be sanded if it is too big for the barrel.  However, Rachel told us that the amount used in the process of creating a visible tenon does not take off any substantial amount of material, so rest assured that headjoints are not harmed in the process of forming the visible tenon.

Sanding lightly while headjoint is spinning rapidly.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Powell Headjoints

Powell has four headjoint styles and a number of options for tubing, lip plate and crown materials, as you will see in the text below.

The Philharmonic has a relatively broad, flat lip plate. Articulation is crisp and clean, and the style produces a deep, rich tone with a broad dynamic range.

The strength and flexibility of this headjoint allows the player to fill a hall or perform the quietest passages easily, with complete command. The slightly curved lip plate offers quick articulation and a full range of colors.

The Venti was developed by Mr. Paul Edmund- davies to mirror his experience of singing in a cathedral choir. This headjoint has excellent depth of sound through all three octaves, and a very resonant and free third octave.


The Signature uses the lip plate of the Soloist style in combination with a specially designed wall to produce a relatively free blowing headjoint with the “Powell Sound.” * Signature style is only available with .016" sterling silver tubing, lip plate and crown. A 14k wall is an option.

Sterling silver .014"
Sterling silver .016"
Aurumite 9k 
Aurumite 14k           
9k rose gold
10k yellow gold                   
14k white gold                     
14k rose gold                      
19.5k rose gold                   
Grenadilla wood

Lip Plate
Sterling silver
9k rose gold
10k yellow gold
14k rose gold
19.5 rose gold

Sterling silver
10k yellow gold
14k rose gold
19.5k rose gold

Sterling silver
10k yellow gold
14k rose gold
19.5k rose gold

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Close-Up on Split-E

Split-E allows G keys to operate independently to facilitate high E.
Flutists have several options when ordering Powell flutes, and many of these are mechanical options like the split-E.  Flutes that are built with the split-E have upper and lower G keys that operate independently instead of together. When the player depresses the E key, the lower G key closes to help facilitate the high E.

Flutes with a split-E will have a few differences in the mechanism to allow the split-E to function properly.  In a previous post, we took a detailed look at the differences in mechanism tubing on flutes with a split-E.  You may read that post by following this link. Along with the tubing, there are other additional mechanism pieces for the split-E.  The most noticeable is the long, slender piece next to the lower G key.  There is also a small metal tab that extends off of the lower G key cup and a slightly different key arm, with additional pieces next to it on the mechanism tubing.  These additional parts allow for the independent motion of the lower G. Because of the mechanical differences between flutes with a split-E in comparison to those without, if you are thinking about purchasing a flute with a split-E, you will definitely want to try one first to see how the different mechanism feels.  Most flutists will, of course, try flutes before buying them.  However, if you are about to purchase a flute with mechanism options that differ from the flute you currently play, you will want to make sure to test the new flute, paying close attention to how it feels.

Red rectangle around additional pieces on and next to lower G key.
Yellow box around additional parts on mechanism tubing.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Excerpt from Verne Q. Powell's Autobiography

The following brief autobiography was hand written by Powell himself. Its transcription reveals Verne’s interest in flutes from an early age, and his ingenuity and determination to craft instruments.
Verne Q. Powell learned to play the ocarina at 8 years of age.  At 10 he graduated to the fife and started a drum corps with Bert Anthony (a nephew of Susan B Anthony, the founder of women’s suffrage) and Ron Bates, the best drum major he ever knew.  His baton was a croquet ball on a broom handle.  This was the fall of 1888, the Harrison-Morton campaign, and this trio snuck out evenings and paraded down town on Sat evenings to the amazement of the public.

About this time an older friend took him to hear the first Edison record machine because it had a piccolo record, so now it had to be a piccolo, so older brother Will went to Lyon & Healy and got a six keyed piccolo which cost $3.40 and Verne says he shined his brother’s shoes for the rest of his life to pay for the piccolo.  Then he organized a real drum corps of 6 piccolos, 6 snare drums, bass drum and the same drum major.  They played for all the ball games, etc., just for admission.

At 14 he was learning to make jewelry with his older brothers and he made a 6 keyed piccolo from a piece of a brass chandelier which he could play.

When 17 he bought his first Boehm flute from an Elkhart firm, paying for it on the monthly payment plan and using it as best he could.

At 21, he bought his first good Boehm flute, a Rudall-Carte wooden flute, from Wm. S. Tipton (father of Albert Tipton, now 1st flute with the Detroit Orchestra). 

About 1910 he went to Chicago to take some lessons from Alfred Quensel (1st flute with Theodore Thomas) and while there heard for the first time George Barrére with Damrosh.  Barrére played on a silver flute which was then called “tin-whistle” but Verne was so thrilled with his playing that he made up his mind to make a silver flute for himself.  So when he returned to his home in Fort Scott, Kans, and his brothers jewelry store, he proceeded to gather up the scrap silver which consisted of 7 teaspoons, 3 silver watches and some plugged silver coins, melt them down and make a silver “tin-whistle” for himself.  He has it now and always will keep it.  It is a rather crude affair but it plays well and many have played and liked it.

It was this event that eventually brought him to Boston with the Wm. S. Haynes Co.  He was with them ‘till 1926 when he left and started in for himself.

Being a talented flutist with his creative ability in working precious metals, he has been able to produce flutes of silver, gold and platinum for the world’s greatest artists.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Signature Spotlight

Thinking about purchasing a Powell flute but afraid that it might not meet your budget?  We understand that "one size does not fit all" when it comes to flute prices -- and options!  Also, hand craftsmanship is not limited to Powell Custom models, either, because all of our flutes are handmade!  So, if you are looking for handmade flute with an economical price tag and the options to accommodate your preferences as a player, the Signature is an excellent choice.

The Powell Signature flute offers hand craftsmanship and the "Powell Sound" at an affordable cost.  The Signature's body and headjoint are both sterling silver, and the Signature headjoint was created specifically to accompany the Signature flute.  The headjoint makers here in the shop who cut the styles offered on our Custom and Conservatory flutes also cut Signature headjoints.  The Signature's drawn tone holes are formed using Powell's patented Zinki technology, and the pinned mechanism is completely built by hand.  Signature options include B foot or C foot, inline or offset G, C# trill, split-E (on offset G models), and a 14k riser.

In addition to the Signature flute, there is also a Signature piccolo!  The Signature piccolo has been described as a responsive, professional instrument with evenness throughout the scale and a consistent, sweet sound.  As one of two Powell piccolo models, Signature piccolos are crafted by the same flute makers who build the Custom piccolos.  The Signature piccolo body is made from grenadilla wood, and the mechanism is sterling silver.  Signature piccolos also have the option of a split-E and the choice of a Classic or Wave style headjoint.

For more information on Signature flutes and piccolos, click here to visit the Signature flute page on the Powell website and here for the Signature piccolo page.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Winged Headjoints

14k rose gold headjoint with 14k rose gold wings

At this year's NFA Convention, one of our newest products, our winged headjoints, piqued the curiosity of many flutists.  They all wanted to know, "What are the wings for?"  Luckily, flute finisher Lindsey McChord, who also cuts headjoints here at Powell, was at the Powell booth and could certainly answer the question.  Once she was back in the shop, we spoke with her so that those of you who may not have attended could learn more about these headjoints as well!

Lindsey explained that the wings are supposed to channel the air -- because a bit of air is normally lost on the sides of your mouth as you play.  With the winged headjoint, you are not losing the air on the sides, so the result (from the channeled airstream) is a more focused, cleaner sound.  Also, Lindsey mentioned that the wings may help enhance the characteristic sound qualities that are distinct for each headjoint style.  She shared, "For some people, the wings enhance what they like about that particular style even more than if it did not have wings," adding "wings can add a whole new dimension to the headjoint style."

At Powell, the wings are brazed on to the lip plate during the full process of making the headjoint, so wings cannot be a added to a headjoint that was made without them.  So, if you currently have a traditional headjoint and were thinking about adding wings, well, unfortunately that would not be an option.  However, just as with any headjoint at Powell, winged headjoints are handcut.  If you are interested in trying one, they are currently offered as an option for Powell Soloist and Philharmonic styles. 

Aurumite 14k headjoint with 14k rose gold wings

Friday, August 8, 2014

Aurumite® Patented by Powell

Summer 1991 issue of the Powell Newsletter

With the unveiling of our Ruby Aurumite® Custom flute this week at the 2014 NFA Convention, we thought it might be a good time to learn more about Aurumite and its history with Powell.  We opened the archives and found that the Verne Q. Powell Flutes Newsletter from the summer of 1991 highlighted Aurumite, describing its formation and noting its patent date and number.  The newsletter states:
On October 9, 1990, U.S. Patent 4,962,007 was assigned to Verne Q. Powell Flutes for "Flute tubing of laminated metal including a bonded layer of precious metal alloy."  This technology was invented and developed at Powell.  The issuance of the patent is recognition of the originality of this technical conception.  It also means that no other flute or headjoint maker can use this technology without obtaining a license from Powell.  To date, no licenses have been issued.
If you are wondering how Aurumite was developed -- and how it is formed -- the newsletter provides more details on the history and process:
For the past four years, Powell has been using a proprietary fusion technology to create unique combinations of precious metal flute tubes.  The idea behind this invention was that the inside layer of metal made more difference in the sound than the outside layer.  The challenge, therefore, was to find a way of concentrating expensive precious metals like gold or platinum on the inside of a sterling silver tube.
Powell's concept was to put a flute tube of one precious metal inside another.  The inner "tube" would be made of a relatively dense and expensive precious metal compared to the other tube.  The patented process accomplishes this by metallurgically bonding sterling silver and 14k gold to each other while each is still in sheet (or flat) form.  The resulting laminated sheet is then cupped and drawn into flute tubing just like most other flute tubes are made.  
The version of this fusion technology which has become most popular over the past four years is AurumiteI.  In this form, the inner layer of the tube is Powell's regular 14k gold alloy, and the outer layer is comprised of sterling silver.  Flutists who own Aurumite I flutes or headjoints like the excellent projection of this material combined with a warmth and sweetness normally associated with gold.
Unlike plated flute metals, Powell's Aurumite is work hardened.  It can be filed and polished in the same way as normal flute tubing.  Not only is Aurumite metal hard compared to a plated flute, but the gold layer is approximately 35 times thicker than normal plating.
The "Aurumite I" mentioned in the newsletter excerpt is Powell's current "Aurumite 14k," which is sterling silver on the outside and 14k gold on the inside.  Ruby Aurumite, the newest member of the Aurumite family, is 14k gold on the outside and silver on the inside.  For more information on the new Ruby Aurumite flutes, click here to visit the Ruby Aurumite page on the Powell website.

Powell Aurumite 14k Custom Flute
Powell Ruby Aurumite Custom Flute