Thursday, January 30, 2014

75th Anniversary Flute

When we stopped in to the repair office this week, our technician had one of the 75th Anniversary flutes in for a COA -- so we thought it would be a good opportunity to share more information on these flutes.  Powell Flutes celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2002, and in honor of the landmark, offered limited edition "75th Anniversary" Custom flutes.  There were a total of 25 anniversary flutes made.

For this special edition, customers had the option of sterling silver, Aurumite 14k, 14k gold, or platinum bodies. Mechanism materials and other options were consistent with today's Custom flutes, which you can see by clicking here to view our online spec chart.

The 75th Anniversary flutes did have several special features including gems, special engraving, and anniversary ring designs.  Silver flutes came with a ruby inset in the upper barrel ring and crown.  Aurumite, gold, and platinum flutes had a diamond inset in the upper barrel ring and crown.  All flutes had the 75th anniversary logo engraved on the barrel and the 1930s style flat anniversary rings.  An additional feature that was optional on 75th Anniversary flutes was a special lip-plate engraving, described as "Anniversary style lip plate engraving, a brilliant realization of a 1930's Verne Q. Powell original."  Each flute also came with its own Certificate of Authenticity, which listed the flute's complete specs and was signed by Powell President, Steven Wasser.  The anniversary flute we spotted in the shop was silver, as you will see in the photos below (along with an example of the lip plate engraving).

75th Anniversary lip plate engraving
75h Anniversary silver barrel with ruby inset, Anniversary logo, and 1930's style flat rings
75th Anniversary silver crown with ruby inset
Closer view of the crown
Side view of the crown (which also had the 1930's style ring)

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Handmade Conservatory Flutes of Yesterday and Today

A 2013 Conservatory - inline with split-E
Looking back through our archives, we found the 2002 Powell Handmade Conservatory brochure, which was the first brochure for that particular model line.  Twelve years later, the Handmade Conservatory flutes are some of Powell's most popular models.  So, how have they changed?  Looking at the original brochure helps answer that question...

The Handmade Conservatory flutes of 2002 had at least one characteristic from their predecessor, the 2100 -- the "Posi-Stop" tail design.  The brochure describes this feature as follows:
Posi-Stop design
In order to maximize the response of the flute, none of the key tails rest on the flute tube.  Instead, their movement is halted by nearby invisible Posi-Stops, which look like small spring posts set on the ribs of the flute.
Also, the early Handmade Conservatory flutes, just like today's models, offered the choice of a Powell Custom headjoint.  The difference in 2002 was that the headjoint styles available were the Boston and the Philharmonic.  The headjoint descriptions from the brochure are below:
The Boston style headjoint combines its own, graceful embouchure plate with modern undercutting techniques.  It is easily controlled, and produces an open, clear tone with exceptional projection.

The Philharmonic headjoint is readily identified by its broader embouchure plate.  Articulation is crisp and clean, and this style is capable of broad dynamic and timbral ranges.  A player can create a deep, rich tone with extraordinary carrying power and focus.
Today, the Philharmonic cut is one of three Custom headjoint styles (Philharmonic, Soloist, and Venti), all of which are available with the Conservatory models.

Finally, when comparing "spec charts" from the 2002 and 2014 brochures, we can see differences in G key and split-E options in particular.  In 2002, the Handmade Conservatory flutes (just like today) were offered with either an inline or offset G.  However, in 2002, Handmade Conservatory flutes that had a split-E were "half offset."  Today's Handmade Conservatory flutes come with a split-E option for both inline and offset models.  The split-E inline option was introduced on the Handmade Conservatory flutes in 2013.  Also, both the 2002 and current Handmade Conservatory flutes have French (open) cups.  The 2002 models came with the option of American cups, which were French cups with Plug-Os.  Between 2002 and 2014, Handmade Conservatory flutes have kept their material choices, being offered in either sterling silver or Aurumite 9k.  For more on the today's Handmade Conservatory flutes, visit

2002 Spec Chart
2014 Spec Chart
Page from the 2002 brochure highlighting choices.
Page from 2002 highlighting body material and headjoint styles.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Extra Measure

We stopped by the finishing department this week and noticed a small, flat, spatula-looking tool on one of our finisher's benches.  We hadn't seen this item before, because we visit our finishers at different stages of the finishing process.  So, we just had to find out -- what exactly is this tool?  Well, it is a device that the finishers use to measure the distance between the edge of the key cup and the top of the pad.  Instead of just putting pads in key cups and letting them "fall where they may," this device allows them to measure the distance, which is known as pad "protrusion," so that all the pads are seated with a standard amount of protrusion.

Now, the measure is a standard, and it is a beginning point in the pad seating process.  As we know very well, the finishers spend a great amount of time shimming the pads so that they are not leaking or unevenly seated ("light" or "heavy" in certain areas).  Finishers also work with this measurement tool to make sure that the pad will touch the top of the tone hole evenly.  This is quite challenging since the key itself comes down on the cup at an angle.  If the measurement is correct all around, the pad will touch evenly.  If it is not correct, the front or back of the pad may touch the tone hole too soon.  Once everything is in place and measured, the finishers will take a feeler gauge to the pad and double-check the seating.  The finisher may need to add additional full or partial shims, though.  So, not every pad will remain exactly the same, but the tool certainly helps guide the finishers and creates a standard measure to work with in the process.

Small tool for measuring pad protrusion (directly to the right of the flute).
Red arrow points to even protrusion.  Yellow arrow helps point out that the keys close at an angle.
Uneven protrusion.  Red arrow points to front of pad -- which is too high.  Yellow arrow points to pad protrusion in the back.
Checking pad seating with a feeler gauge.
Side-by-side example: Pad is too high on the top cup, good on the one below it.
Finished footjoint.  Shims may need to be added even after a pad is measured, so pads may not always have the exact same amount of protrusion.

Friday, January 10, 2014

History of the 19.5K

19.5k with 14k mechanism
We had a chance to look at the 19.5k flute "launch event" in a previous post, but this week, we came across some of the original programs from the event.  Since the event included a recital by Powell artist Paul-Edmund-Davies, the program listed the repertoire he performed and a couple of notes about the specifications of the 19.5k flute.  However, the program also came with a special note by Powell's President, Steven Wasser, about Powell and the development of the 19.5k as you will see below.  The event took place at the Harvard Club in Boston on June 7, 2003.
Changing the Status Quo

How do we make changes to Powell instruments while protecting the traditional qualities for which our instruments are known?  In other words, why change what's not broken?

All our instruments share certain Powell family characteristics, most importantly, the "Powell Sound."  But in a world that is constantly changing, maintaining the status quo is tantamount to going backwards.  Yes, we have an artistic tradition that must be protected, but we also have a responsibility to test the limits of materials and technology.

What makes a Powell flute special is that we, as an organization of people, have a shared artistic concept about what we want a Powell flute to be.  While this shared concept has been modified over time to reflect changes made possible by technology and the demands of customers, it remains remarkably intact from the day Verne Powell founded his flute making shop in 1927.  

Everything we do at Powell -- whether it involves a new design, a new tool, or a new technology -- is always evaluated against the question, "What does it do to the Powell Sound?"  If it leaves our sound unchanged or enhances it, we proceed.  If we feel it detracts from what we want our flute to be, we go back to the drawing board.  Over many years, these numerous small decisions have become a complex system of values, tooling, designs, and attitudes that collectively account for the uniqueness of our instruments.

Why 19.5k gold flutes?  It was an "accident."  Our supplier found that the 18k rose alloy we had been ordering was so difficult to work with that they simply refused to make it any more.  Instead, they suggested a 19.5k rose alloy they had developed.  We thought the 19.5k alloy might be interesting, since higher karat gold alloys are denser, and because density is generally regarded as desirable with regard to flute acoustics.  In order to test a 19.5k gold flute, we had to buy a large amount of gold -- body tubing, sheet for lip plates, casting grain, post wire, various sizes of tone hole tubing, rings, crown rod, and more.  It was a risk, but there was no way around this if we wanted to hear what a 19.5k gold flute sounded like.

We're here today because we like the results of our 19.5k endeavor.  You are the beneficiary of the chance we took.  Listen to the music -- try the flute.  See whether you like this change in the status quo.
Steven A. Wasser
President, Verne Q. Powell Flutes, Inc.
Event Program
Inside the cover
First page: Status Quo Note
Bottom of the page
Last page

Friday, January 3, 2014

White House Debut

For Powell Flutes, the year 2002 was a celebratory one as the company marked its 75th anniversary.  A limited edition 75th Anniversary Custom model was launched, and the Conservatory Flutes went through a complete transformation.  In 2002, the 2100 and 3100 Conservatory models were redesigned and renamed as, simply, the Handmade Conservatory models.  The new Handmade Conservatory flutes were available in silver (previously the 2100) and Aurumite 9K (previously the 3100).  You can see examples of the design changes in a previous post at  The very first shipment of Handmade Conservatory flutes in 2002 had a very special destination, which we discovered when we recently came across the original text for the 2002 press release:
First Silver Model of Powell's New Handmade Conservatory Flutes Played at the White House
Maynard, Massachusetts - Verne Q. Powell Flutes, Inc.  has announced the introduction of a new line of flutes in the Handmade Conservatory model.  The flutes come in two versions -- all sterling silver, and Powell's patented Aurumite 9K body with sterling silver mechanism.  The models were developed last year in response to a request for a handmade flute with traditional aesthetics, but with the unique Posi-Stop tail design of the former 2100 flute, according to Roberta Gillette, Powell's Marketing Director.  The first shipment of the First Handmade Conservatory silver flute coincided with an emergency order request from one of our dealers, Washington Music, in suburban Washington, D.C. for a flute to be played in the President's Band for a White House function the following day.  It so happened that the first flute produced in this new line became destined for a White House debut.  Congratulations to Washington Music for facilitating the introduction of the new Handmade Conservatory line in the first house of the land.

The new Handmade Conservatory flutes feature A-442 or 444 pitch, the Modern Powell Scale, 14K white gold springs, extruded tone holes, and handmade custom Powell headjoints with .016" tubing thickness.  Inline or offset G is available at no extra cost.  The flutes come in a cherry wood case with a leather case cover.  A half-offset G model with E mechanism in A-442 is also available.  For more information, visit
Original press release text in binder at Powell.
Conservatory Aurumite 9K
Close-up on engraving