Thursday, October 25, 2012

B Foot or C Foot?

We recently came across a Powell Aurumite Conservatory flute in the testing room, and something seemed a bit different...  The footjoint seemed a bit "shorter" and seemed to be missing a tone hole.  Was this a mistake?  Of course not!  It was simply a C Foot flute.  With Powell Flutes, every model is available as either B Foot or C foot.  This includes, Signature, Conservatory, and Custom models.  In fact, there is an option to buy an additional foot for the custom flutes.  So, for example, if you were to by a Custom with a C foot, you could purchase an additional B foot as well.  Powell Sonaré flutes are available as B foot or C foot models, which are actually identified by the first letter of the model.  You can see a listing of these models on the Powell Sonaré page of the Powell website.  You will notice codes for various model numbers.  If the code begins with a C, it's a C foot -- if it begins with a B, it's a B foot.  Examples would be CGF and BGF.  A CGF would have a C foot, inline G, and French cups.  The BGF would have a B foot, inline G, and French cups.

So, what exactly are the differences between a C foot flute and a B foot?  Well, the C foot, as you can see in the photos, has a range that extends down to C.  With this range, there are only two tone holes on the footjoint, no B key, and no gizmo key.  A B foot flute would have a range that extends down to B, so it would have three tone holes on the footjoint, a B key, and (on Powell flutes) a gizmo key.  The gizmo key helps facilitate the high C -- you can read more about its history in our previous post on the gizmo key.  However, B foot models of Powell flutes are also available without a gizmo key.  Because a C foot flute has less physical material in its construction, it will also be lighter to hold and will be priced lower than a B foot.  In the U.S., the majority of Powell sales are for flutes with a B foot.  In the UK, many players prefer the C foot.  Regardless of your choice, Powell has the option with each model (as mentioned above).  There are also cases available from Powell for either a B foot or C foot flute.  The photos below show Aurumite Conservatory C foot and B foot models.

C Foot -- two tone holes, no B key, no gizmo.
Close-up on C footjoint.
B Foot has three tone holes and additional keys.
Red arrow points to gizmo key, yellow points to B key.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The "Play-In"

Preparing shims before the play-in
The assumption that musical instruments are play-tested before they leave the shop is accurate, but at Powell Flutes, the process is a bit different.  We recently caught up with flute finisher Karl Kornfeld, who was getting an Aurumite Conservatory ready for its "play-in."  According to Karl, the "play-in" is actually part of the finishing process and not a "play test."  It is, however, the first time that the instrument is played.  So, what exactly does all this mean?  Let's take a look...

Karl had just finished the flute from a mechanical perspective.  He had all the mechanism work completed, finished padding, and was now going through to make small adjustments for the "play in."  Theoretically, once all the "parts" are built onto the flute, and if all the steps are followed properly, it should work perfectly, right?  Well, in theory, that is correct, but there may be some slight adjustments necessary for it to be comfortable and ready for the "play-in."  So, before it goes over to a professional for the initial play-in, Karl checks the flute.  He makes sure the mechanisms are all the correct "weight," tests spring tension, checks for leaks, and makes any additional adjustments.  Now the flute is ready for the "play-in."  The finisher knows that this is an important part of the process, because after the initial playing, the flute will "settle."

Fine-tuning another shim
We asked our testing manager what steps she takes to "play-in" the flute.  She prefers to perform music that will cover the full range of the flute, such as French pieces or modern repertoire.  After she plays the flute, it begins to settle from the action of being played, and it is then closer to being ready for the customer.  Of course, after she plays the flute, she must evaluate it to see if (in its more "settled" state) it needs any additional "tweaks."  Karl knows that there will undoubtedly be additional adjustments after the play-in.  Then, once those are completed, it is ready for a final play test.  When it passes another evaluation from the play-test, it is ready for the customer.

Checking spring tension and mechanism "weight"
Checking for leaks

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Checking for Leaks

Feeler gauge with Mylar
If you walk through the finishing department at Powell, you will undoubtedly find our finishers "sweeping" a little stick around each pad several times -- or at least this is what it may look like from afar.  But, this small, very manual device is actually a feeler gauge -- and the finishers are checking for leaks.  You have probably heard a few repair technicians, fellow players, and teachers talk about leaking pads, and our finishers make sure that there are no leaking pads on the flutes that they are finishing.

So, what exactly is a leaking pad?  Well, it can seem a bit misleading, since it's not exactly the same as a tire leaking air.  When checking for leaks, it's actually the pad seal that is being tested to make sure there are no leaks.  In simpler terms, when the key cup closes and the pad covers the tone hole, are there any gaps between the pad and the edge of the hole?  The answer should be no, because we all know what the result would be... You see, the air you put through the flute could escape or "leak" through if the pads are not sealing against the tone hole, and you would find it difficult to play the notes you are expecting to come out! 

Using the gauge around the pad to check for leaks
Finishers and repair technicians have different techniques for checking for leaks, but we caught up with finisher Karl Kornfeld at Powell.  He showed us two feeler gauges which were both small "sticks" with a feeler paper on the end.  One gauge used cigarette paper, which is .001 of an inch thick.  This is the traditional type of gauge that you may have seen your technician use or that you may use yourself.  The other gauge, which is the one Karl and the other finishers use, has a piece of Mylar at the end.  Mylar is .0005 of an inch thick, which is definitely thinner than the cigarette paper and (therefore) more precise in detecting leaks.  Karl uses a general "sweep" around the pad with the gauge to see where there may be leaks.  He then goes around the pad clockwise, drawing the gauge out to check various spots.  He says the pressure should be even as you check, and you should draw the gauge out with the same motion -- just to keep everything consistent.  Although he usually begins checking pads with a "sweep," in the video below, you will see him draw the gauge, then circle around with the "sweeping motion," and repeat the drawing motion.  Oddly enough, he also told us that Mylar is the same material used in Pop Tart wrappers!  Obviously, the Mylar on the feeler gauge is much, much thinner --- thank goodness.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Gold in a Gold Flute

By Steven A. Wasser
President, Verne Q. Powell Flutes

The prices for precious metals have skyrocketed over the past few years.  In this environment it’s easy to get fooled into thinking a flute has more gold than it really does.  So here are some tips on evaluating “gold” flutes:

  •  “Solid Gold” generally means that the flute has been made from some version of karat gold ranging from 10k to 24k.  An item that is 24k karat gold is comprised of 100% gold - 14k contains 58.4% gold.  The rest of the 14k gold alloy could be any combination of precious metals (like silver or palladium) or base metals (like copper or nickel).  The metal content in the alloy often varies by manufacturer.
  •  “Low Karat Alloys” with less than 10k of gold are becoming more common as the price of gold rises.  For Tiffany’s 175th anniversary they introduced a low karat rose gold alloy they have trademarked as “Rubedo .”  This is a growing trend as manufacturers are looking to provide flutists with gold instruments at more reasonable prices.
  •  "Gold Filled” items are essentially laminates, where the outer layer is gold that has been bonded or fused to an inner layer of lesser metal such as silver or brass.  In America, the FTC regulates the labeling of gold filled products.  For example, if the item is 14k gold filled the gold content must be at least 1/20 of the total weight of the item (5%) and can thus be marked, “1/20 14k GF.”
  •  “Gold Clad” is a variation on gold filled.  Unlike “Gold Clad” instruments, Powell’s patented Aurumite® consists of a relatively thick layer of gold which can be on the inside or outside of the tubing.  For example, in Powell’s 14k Aurumite the inner layer of gold represents approximately 22% of the tubing weight and is 58.4% gold.  So 58.4% of 22% is about 13%, which is several times more gold than one would typically find in a gold filled product.
  •   “Gold Plated” instruments have a microscopically thin layer of gold that is electrically or chemically deposited on a sub-strata of a lesser metal, such as sterling silver or nickel silver.  Plating can be measured in microinches or microns.  1 microinch (0.000001”) = .0254 microns, and the number of karats in gold plating can vary.  The FTC defines “heavy gold plate” as at least 2.5 microns which would be 0.0001.”  By comparison the layer of gold in an Aurumite flute is typically a minimum of 0.003,” which means Aurumite has roughly 30 times more gold than a gold plated flute tube.

 Table 1.  Comparison of Gold Content for 14k

14k Metal                               Gold Index
Solid gold                              58.4
Low karat gold (5k)             20.8
Gold clad                               12.8
Gold filled                             2.9
Gold plated                           0.5

If you want gold in your flute for its acoustical properties related to density, then you should look at instruments which have a higher content of gold.  A solid gold flute will be the most content, followed then by an Aurumite 14k. It is generally agreed that the most important metal to affect the sound is that which comes in contact with the vibrating column of air.  If your primary concern is tarnish or aesthetics, then a plated or clad flute is going to be much more economical.  Keep in mind though, that plating can wear off over time, whereas an Aurumite flute tube with gold on the outside is extremely durable.  Powell Flutes has offered Aurumite flutes for over 25 years and have an excellent track record of quality performance.

9K Aurumite Conservatory - Gold on outside
14K Aurumite Custom - Gold on inside
Aurumite Headjoints - Gold on outside, gold on inside
Gold plated Sonare
Custom Powells in gold - Top to bottom of photo: 9K, 14K, 19.5K