Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Tone Holes - Drawn or Soldered?

The Virtues of Soldered Tone Holes  
By Steven Wasser, President, Verne Q. Powell Flutes 

When you think of a ‘professional’ flute, what features and options do you think of? If you’re a flute manufacturer, one important feature of a handmade custom flute is the type of tone hole used. There are two methods of creating a flute’s tone holes: drawn and soldered.

Most flutes offer drawn (or extruded) tone holes, primarily because they are efficient and economical to produce: using a machine, the tubing is pulled out of a small hole in the flute body into a tall ‘chimney’ to form the tone hole. It is then rolled over and flattened to create the surface for the pad to close against.

Soldered tone holes, on the other hand, have long been one hallmark of a handmade, professional flute and are featured exclusively on all custom handmade Powell instruments. Each tone hole along the body of the instrument is created by soldering separate metal rings onto the body tube. Soldered tone holes offer the flutist a number of advantages with relatively few downsides: 

·         Resonance and intonation:  Flute makers utilize a technique called “undercutting,” which allows them to make subtle adjustments in the flute’s tone, response, and intonation. The greater thickness of the soldered tone hole gives the flute maker more flexibility in making these fine adjustments.
·         Darkness and Depth of Sound: because of their thickness, flutes with soldered tone holes usually produce a darker sound than those with drawn tone holes. 
·         Response: the flatter the tone hole surface (where the pad touches) the stronger the seal and the more responsive the instrument. Where soldered tone holes inherently offer a more level surface, the sides of drawn tone holes are often weak and as a result, they are pressed down in the process of creating the rolled edge. This creates a slightly warped surface for which the flute maker must compensate while installing pads.

Soldered tone holes are flat at the top

Drawn tone holes have a bit of a rounded edge 
Recently, drawn (or extruded) tone holes have been characterized by many in the industry as being equal in quality to soldered tone holes. Here at Powell, we believe each type of tone hole offers different characteristics to the sound and response of the flute and as a result, we offer both types of tone holes on our instruments.

Is one type of tone hole better or worse than the other? Possibly. But at Powell, offering choice to our customers allows each individual artist to decide what sounds best to them.

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