Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Distance Between...

One of the questions that our Repair Technician, Rachel Baker, gets asked quite frequently is about changing the pitch on a flute.  Many people have flutes pitched at A-440 and want to change them to A-442.  So, the question posed to her by many customers is, "Can we just cut the headjoint and shorten it up a bit to change my flute over to A-442?"

Unfortunately, it's the positioning of the tone holes on the
body and the length of the body that determine the scale and pitch of the flute.  In fact, it is the placement of the tone holes in relation to each other that truly make the scale of the instrument.  So, cutting the headjoint would really not affect anything.  If you think about a piccolo, the length of the body is much shorter than that of a flute -- and the tone holes are much smaller.  However, the tone holes are placed in a relative distance between each other to allow for the instrument to have the appropriate scale and pitch.

Powell instruments currently use the Powell scale, which is a modified Cooper scale.  The development of this scale was discussed in a previous post here at  The Powell Scale is available on all Powell flutes, whether they are pitched at A-440, 442, or 444.  The scale is also available on all flutes, whether they have drawn or soldered tone holes. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Debut of Cooper Scale

Photo from High Flutin'
The annual NFA Convention is a terrific environment for flute makers to present new products.  Convention attendees look forward to visiting booths and "checking out what's new."  At Powell, we premiered a winged headjoint this year,  Turning the clock all the way back to 1974, Powell Flutes attended the NFA Convention in Pittsburgh and premiered their model flute with the Cooper Scale.  In this excerpt from High Flutin', we read former president Ed Machon's account of the event:
Fenwick Smith returned from Germany where he had been studying and performing.  He brought us up to date on the "Cooper Scale," saying it was very well-received in Europe..He explained that Albert Cooper was very co-operative and would give us details and all notes pertaining to the new scale.

This was 1974...What to do?  We sat with the best flute in the world.  Should we risk the time and money necessary to entirely re-vamp the set-up or rest on our laurels?  The decision was quickly made to go all out and have the Cooper Scale flute ready for the NFA convention to be held in August that year.  Two men took over the tooling necessary to convert the scale, and the rest of the shop continued on with business as usual.  The decision to make the scale with drawn tone holes was a difficult one to make as, traditionally, the Powell was always done with the soldered holes.  The "pulling balls" to draw the tone holes out of the silver tubing would be much easier to make than face the uncertainties of gathering stock from our suppliers.  Very little of the tone hole stock used on Powells could be adapted to the new scale.  If I recall correctly, only one tone hole was in the same position as on the Powell.  Needless to say, the scene was bedlam, and from the loud continuous noises, mostly strange, carrying on all day and half the night, a visitor might think we were working on a new atomic weapon.  After what seemed to be an eternity, and a mess of ruined tubing, we had two bodies ready to be keyed up, polished, padded, and tested,  The moment of truth arrived finally, and with a strobe, which replaced our ever-loving "gong," the new baby was tested and found to be nigh on to perfect... All this came together about a week before the convention.

The convention was a "first" for all of us.  Dick Jerome and I, along with Albert Cooper went, as did Bick Brannen and his brother Bob with their wooden, conical bore Boehm flute.  They also helped us at the booth.  That was the first real convention; the one at Anaheim, California in 1973 was poorly attended.  The hours were unreal -- 8:00 AM to 12:00 PM, break for lunch, back for another four-hour session, supper if you were lucky, then 8:00 PM to closing.  I recall packing up the flutes at about 10:30 PM, then searching madly for a place still serving meals.  The dining rooms in the hotel shut down about 9:00 PM,  Dick and I ended up having dinner about 11:00 or 11:30 after walking about 8-10 blocks in a not-too-nice area.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Curved Alto Headjoint

Looking back on our visit to the NFA Convnetion this year, we realized that many people didn't know we make a curved alto headjoint.  We make both a curved and a straight headjoint for both of our Powell Sonaré alto models: the AF-60 and the AF-70.  The AF-60 has a silver plated nickel-silver body, and the AF-70 has a sterling silver body.  Both of our headjoints (straight and curved) are sterling silver and fit on either model alto flute.

So, what are some of the differences with the curved headjoint?  Well, since the headjoint is curved, it shortens the length of the flute, making it easier to reach.  Some people think the curved headjoint has a different sound from the straight one, but the curved headjoint may sound different mostly because it is closer to you -- so it changes the way you hear yourself.  Obviously, the air flows through a curved headjoint differently than it does with the straight one because the air flow follows the shape of the tube.  With the curved headjoint, the air flows around the inner curve.  However, there is really not much difference in the amount of air you would use for the two headjoints.  Choosing a curved or straight headjoint is simply a matter of the player's preference.  Some people find that the curved headjoint is more comfortable because there is less of a stretch for their arms overall with the shortened length of the flute.

The Powell Sonaré alto flute models are available with a straight headjoint, curved headjoint, or both.  We do make double cases so that you can easily fit both headjoints in the case with the flute.  If you purchase a curved headjoint only, the flute will come (automatically) with the double case.  (Powell does not offer a single case for the curved headjoint option).  As with all Powell Sonaré models, the alto is available through authorized Powell Sonaré dealers.  For more information, visit the Powell Sonaré section of the Powell website at

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Clean "Swipe"

Yellow arrow points to black line on pad.
In our recent post on making feeler gauges, we learned that newer gauges can leave a black line on a pad.  If you didn't have a chance to read that post, you can find it at

So, what is the remedy for pads with these unsightly lines?  Would they need to be replaced?  Well, luckily, no!  The line is just a cosmetic issue, and it can be removed with some light cleaning solution.  We revisited flute finisher Lindsey McChord when she was cleaning this line from a pad.  She basically cuts a square piece of cloth and adds some of the cleaning solution to the cloth.  She then places the cloth between the pad and tone hole.  She presses the key down lightly and pulls the cloth out.  She mentioned that it's important to press very lightly, because too much pressure could rip the pad as the cloth is pulled out from the closed key.  As the cloth is pulled out, the cleaning solution cleans the pad (removing the black line) and the top of the tone hole as well.

This particular step of cleaning the pad is used to remedy sticky pads as well.  In the case of a sticky pad, the pad could be sticking due to some accumulation of unwanted particles on the pad, on the tone hole, or on both.  In the flute finishing process, pad cleaning takes place at two different times.  First, the pads are cleaned when the flute is sent over for initial testing.  After testing, there may be adjustments that are made -- and with every adjustment, the finisher checks the pads with the feeler gauge.  So, after all final adjustments are made, and the flute is ready to be shipped, the pads are cleaned once again.  This will assure that the flute is delivered in pristine mechanical and cosmetic condition -- without any black lines!

Getting ready to cut a small square of cloth.
Cleaning solution
Cloth between pad and tone hole, pressing key lightly.
Cloth is pulled out.
Really cleaned that pad!