Sunday, October 19, 2014

Profiled Piccolo Headjoint

In 1993, Powell introduced a new piccolo headjoint with a "profiled embouchure plate to help provide greater comfort for flutists switching back and forth from flute to piccolo."  This headjoint style was named the "Profiled" headjoint and is one of three piccolo headjoints offered today (Profiled, Wave, and Classic).  Powell's Director of Service and Quality, Rebecca Eckles, spent many years performing professionally on flute and piccolo.  She shared that the Profiled headjoint definitely allows for a "more comfortable transition from flute to piccolo."

Flute finisher Lindsey McChord also cuts headjoints for Powell, and you may remember her name from previous posts -- especially last week's post about cutting wooden flute headjoints. She told us more about cutting the Profiled piccolo headjoint, highlighting its similarities to the wooden flute headjoints, which also have a "profiled" lip plate.  The Profiled piccolo headjoints, just like the wooden headjoints and other piccolo headjoints, are all made from one piece of wood.  Lindsey begins cutting a Profiled piccolo headjoint exactly the way she would for a wooden flute headjoint -- by filing the lip plate until the wall is the correct height. She also uses a gauge on the outside of the lip plate to make sure she has the correct angles for the front and back angles.  After that, she continues cutting and filing as she would with the wooden flute headjoints.  For wooden flute headjoints, there are metal versions of these styles (Soloist and Philharmonic).  One difference between wooden piccolo headjoints and wooden flute headjoints is that there are not metal versions of the three piccolo headjoint styles.

We realize that Lindsey wears many hats in terms of cutting headjoints and finishing flutes, but we know she is also a flutist. So, we asked for her thoughts on the Profiled piccolo headjoint from the player's perspective as well.  Lindsey noted that because of its profiled lip plate, it may be more comfortable for flutists who don't play much piccolo.  She said that often times with other piccolo headjoints, flute players may need to spend time rolling in or out to get the headjoint in the right spot.  With the Profiled piccolo headjoint, she said that one does not have to adjust.  She said, "You can pick up the piccolo, and the headjoint is right where it needs to be."

Piccolo headjoint styles.  Left to right: Classic, Wave, Profiled.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Cutting Wooden Headjoints

Measuring angles

What does it take to cut a wooden headjoint?  Is it the same as cutting a metal one?  Luckily, we stopped into the headjoint room this week just as Lindsey McChord was working on wooden headjoints, so it was the perfect opportunity to find out more...

Powell's wooden headjoints are available in the Philharmonic and Soloist styles.  The process of cutting these headjoints involves different tools but produces the same shapes and angles that a metal headjoint in these styles would have.  Of course, working with wood is very different from working with metal.  In fact, Lindsey tells us that the characteristics of these two materials are quite opposite from one another.  Wood does not respond well to steep angles and metal does.  Wood also does not respond well to very deep undercutting and overcutting -- and metal does.  With wooden headjoints, rounded shapes and edges create a much better response.  Essentially, when it comes to cutting a wooden headjoint, it is all about blending without disturbing the shape.

When Lindsey works with metal headjoints, she uses tools to scrape and cut metal.  The tools are quite sharp so that they can remove material.  However, with wooden headjoints, Lindsey uses mostly files and sandpaper to make chages.  There is one small tool that allows Lindsey to scrape wood, but it is much more rounded at the end (as you will see in the picture).  The rounded end allows Lindsey to remove material without the risk of gouging the wood.  

To begin cutting a wooden headjoint, Lindsey must first adjust the height of the riser.  The riser is not a separate piece as it is with metal headjoints, so Lindsey makes the height adjustment by filing the top of the lip plate until the riser is the correct height.  She does this with a mill file, as you will see in the photos below.  The mill file is also used to create the shape of the lip plate -- which is completely round at first.  If she needs to remove a lot of material, she will also use a very course, 180-grit sandpaper.  Then, Lindsey must create the shape that one would see on the lip plate of the same style headjoint in metal.  With a metal headjoint, the lip plate can be bent, but with a wooden headjoint, the lip plate must be filed. 

Lindsey then uses small sandpaper file (or sometimes a razor file) for the inside of the wall.  She says it's important to use a firm touch, exerting equal pressure on the wood so you can detect and smooth out any bumps or knots.  The very smallest files (that you will see in the photos below) are used for  undercutting and overcutting the embouchure hole,  as well as for blending.  After she is done cutting the headjoint, she oils the riser and then leaves the headjoint overnight or for a couple of days, allowing the oil to soak in and the headjoint to settle. Then, she tests the headjoint.  After this, she will make any additional adjustments that are necessary.

Aside from the tool differences and opposite response tendencies in wood and metal, it is also very difficult to see your work with a grenadilla headjoint because the wood is so dark.  One does not have the reflections that a metal headjoint would provide.  However, Lindsey told us that when cutting wooden headjoints, she also cannot use any type of motor with the tools because the wood is much different than metal.  With metal, the headjoint cutter has to use motors to power some of the tools because of the hardness of the metal.  The headjoint cutter must still control any tool powered by a motor when cutting a metal headjoint.  With a wooden headjoint, the tools are "hand powered," so it is a very special process -- and certainly one that brings great pride and satisfaction to the skilled craftsmen and craftswomen who create these headjoints.

Headjoint and tools
Wood scraper has much more rounded tip than the metal scraper (blue handle)
Using mill file to adjust riser height
Using mirror to see inside
Sanding riser
Using wood scraper
Filing to blend and create overcutting

Friday, October 3, 2014

From the Beginning -- the Earliest Powell Flutes

Flutists have many choices when it comes to Powell flutes today, but what about the very first Powell flutes?  If you have wondered what options were and models were available, we went into the archive to find out...

Looking through historical documents, we found that in 1928, Powell offered two models with the following specs:

1 - the Handmade Louis Lot pattern with thin wall tubing, soldered tone holes, open or closed key cups, and open or closed G#
2 - the Commercial model with 0.18" heavy wall tubing, drawn tone holes, open or closed key cups, and open or closed G#

Both models came in silver or 14k gold and had options that could be added as requested, such as French pointed arms and a left hand low B lever.  In the 1930s, the gizmo key was developed by Powell and added as an option as well.  From the beginning, all Powell flutes were pitched at A-440 unless ordered otherwise.  During the time period from 1930 to 1941, flutes pitched at A-442 were produced for leading players, including Bladet, Madsen, Pappoutsakis, and Opava.  In addition to the standard models, Powell did produce a few unique items in 1929: a bamboo flute, an octave piccolo, and a piccolo with a low C.

So, how much would one of the very first Powell flutes cost?  Well, in 1928, the Handmade models were $250 for the "French model" (open keys) and $240 for the "American model" (closed keys).
The Commercial models were $200 for the French model and $185 for the American model.  In the photo below, you will see a price listing from the 1928 Powell brochure.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Spotlight on Conservatory Stringing - Steels and Posts

We stopped by the Conservatory stringing area recently and met with Elzbieta ("Ella") Lenarczyk as she was fitting steels on the footjoint of a Conservatory Aurumite flute.  When we followed the 14k white gold Custom through production a few months ago, we saw the very same steel-fitting procedure being done by Dennis Williams.  If you didn't have a chance to see the video of Dennis, click here to watch the clip.

So, whether it is a Signature, Conservatory, or Custom, the steel-fitting process is the same -- and a very critical step to making sure the mechanism will perform properly  Ella must cut the steels to length, shape the ends, and make sure they run smoothly (and straight) through the posts.  In addition to reaming the posts so that the steels go through easily, Ella must also "face" the posts. You may have heard of facing tone holes, which makes them smooth, flat, and level so that the key pads will have a level surface to meet when keys are closed.  Ella faces the posts so that they will all have nice, smooth edges for the steel to run through.  She uses a small device that spins against the side of the post to create the facing.  When it comes to the end posts, they must be faced so that the end of the steel fits perfectly.  The steel end of the steel is shaped to conform to the shape of the end post, and the end post is faced so that everything is nice and smooth -- with no gaps.  Take a look at the photos below, and you will see an overview of the post facing process...

Reaming the posts
Red circle around end post and small facing device on steel.
Facing the next post. 
Removing steel to reposition facing device.
Repositioning to begin facing the left side of the second post.
The tool in Ella's right hand is used to remove the device from the steel. 
Grabbing device with tool to remove it.
Posts have all been faced.
Steel is in place and flush with the faced end post!

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.