Wednesday, April 30, 2014

What Color Is White Gold?

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

We all know the answer to the question, “What color was George Washington’s white horse?”  The answer to the question, “What color is white gold?” is not as obvious.  If you look at white gold from a distance it does appear silvery in color, but if you place it side by side against silver, you will see a yellowish tint to it.

Powell 14k White Gold with 14k Rose Gold Keys
Some jewelry is advertised as white gold, but is really yellow gold which has been plated with rhodium or platinum.  In this case the whiter tones of the plating give the impression of white gold even though the underlying material is actually yellow gold.

The 14k white gold alloy Powell uses is comprised first and foremost of 58.4% gold, calculated as 14÷24.  The balance of the gold alloy can be anything else.  Our alloy contains copper, nickel, and silver, with the latter two metals contributing to the “white” color of the gold alloy.  According to the Metals Handbook: Ninth Edition, Verne Powell’s comment about the hardness of white gold and the difficulty of working it was right on target.  “White golds work harden faster and are harder after annealing than gold-silver-copper-based yellow golds.”

Powell uses 14k white gold for flute tubing.  In limited applications we also substitute 10k white gold mechanism tubing for sterling silver where extra hardness and strength is desired to keep the flute keys well adjusted.

The same characteristics that make white gold hard and difficult to work also produce flutes that are especially resonant.

*Gallery - Photos below show a Powell Custom 14k white gold with 14k rose gold keys (photos on left) next to a Powell Custom silver with silver keys (photos on right).

Friday, April 25, 2014

Powell's 70th Anniversary and the NFA

Powell Custom Wooden Flutes debuted at the 1997 NFA
As we were preparing for the this year's NFA Convention in Chicago, we happened to discover a few materials in our archive from a previous year when the Convention was held in the same location.  The 1997 NFA Convention took place in Chicago and marked two significant milestones for Verne Q. Powell Flutes -- an anniversary and a product debut.  Founded in 1927, Powell celebrated its 70th anniversary in 1997.  In celebration of its anniversary, Powell also introduced a new wooden flute.  We uncovered one of the original 1997 brochures for the NFA Convention, which described the new flute as follows:

Powell's new wooden flute hearkens back to a time when all flutes were made of wood, and also looks forward to a new century where all things are possible.

The abandonment of wooden flutes came about as musical tastes changed, and as metal-working techniques became more sophisticated.  Precious metal flutes had the further advantage of never cracking, and being relatively light and comfortable.

Our new wooden flute retains the warm sonority of traditional wooden instruments.  However, the surprise for today's flutist goes beyond the instrument's beautiful keywork and amazing comfort.  This Powell flute, made of grenadilla or red ironwood, provides wonderfully quick articulation.  Durability and response have been enhanced by unified mechanical construction, and by crafting separate grenadilla tone holes that are then attached to the wooden body.  This is an instrument that is equally at home playing baroque chamber works as it is performing modern music with a large orchestra.
Looking at the brochure, we can see that there are some differences between the wooden flutes from 1997 and the current ones.  In 1997, the flutes were made with tone holes that were attached to the body.  Today, the tones holes are carved from the body (see our previous post on wooden flute tone holes by clicking here).  Also, in 1997 there was an option of grenadilla or ironwood bodies and either an offset or "half offset" G.  Today's wooden Custom Powell flutes are all made from grenadilla and have an offset G -- although we did experiment and produce an inline G, which you can see by clicking here to go to the Facebook album.

We are looking forward to the 2014 NFA Convention and will have a few new things at the booth once again...  Stay tuned by following announcements on our Facebook page and website.

Front of brochure
Back of brochure
Description of wooden flute
Inside of brochure, unfolded

Friday, April 18, 2014

Leveling Tone Holes

We recently stopped by flute finisher Lindsey McChord's bench as she was marking the edge of drawn tone holes.  This sparked our curiosity, so we asked what she was working on, and she told us that she was leveling tone holes.  Luckily, we stopped by just in time to watch the process!

Lindsey was preparing the tone holes to be leveled so that they would have flat surfaces for the pads to seat properly.  She began by marking the top edge of the tone hole with a blue Sharpie.  She then took a special round filing tool and attached a delran ring to the file so that it would fit securely in the tone hole.  The delran ring serves as a sort of "anchor," and the top of the tone hole touches the file -- which has a rough surface of 600 grit sandpaper.  There are different sized delran rings that can be attached to the file so as to accommodate the various sized tone holes.  Once the ring is attached to the file, Lindsey locks it in place with a screw driver and then turns the file against the top of the tone hole.  She then removes the tool, and the mark made by the Sharpie is gone -- because the top of the tone hole has been filed!  To finish off the process, Lindsey takes a cork with a piece of (finer) 1200 grit sandpaper and turns it against the top of the tone hole -- just as a finishing touch.  Then, she's done!  The tone hole is leveled and ready to go!
Tone holes marked with Sharpie
File with delran ring in place
Turning the file against the tone hole.
Tone hole on the left leveled -- sharpie mark gone!
Finishing with the cork tool.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The One and Only White Gold Flute

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

In 1949, Verne Powell wrote the following: “I consider this flute the finest thing I’ve ever created.  The gold is much harder than yellow gold or platinum and has a 'ring' and brilliance I’ve never heard in my flute.”

Those were strong words from a master craftsman about Powell flute #900.  His words were addressed to Fritz Baker, principal flutist with the Denver Symphony at the time, and Powell was describing the performance characteristics of a flute made entirely of white gold.  In another letter to Baker in January 1950, Powell wrote, “There never has been a finer flute made – but as far as we are concerned, there will never be another like it.”

What happened?  Apparently, Powell had always wondered what a white gold flute would sound like.  In his view, the hardness of white gold “should make a splendid instrument.”  To satisfy his curiosity, Powell produced a flute with 14k white gold body and keys on speculation.  Flute #900 was the result.

The problem was that the same qualities which produce an especially rich sound from white gold make it very difficult to fabricate.  In that same letter to Baker, Powell explained, “The metal is incredibly tough to work, and we had plenty of headaches, including darn near ruining every tool in the shop.”  How tough?  At Powell, we use 10k white gold mechanism tubing as a substitute for sterling silver in certain applications where we want to make sure the flute keys stay in adjustment.  When we ream the white gold, the steel reamer smokes on its way through, even with plenty of lubricant added.

Back in 1950, Baker went on to buy Verne Powell’s one-and-only white gold flute and record with it.  Today, Fritz Baker is 94 years old and retired from his illustrious career.

In one of Powell’s letters to Baker, he speculated, “We might some day make a flute with a white gold tube and all silver mechanism, as it was the [hardness of the white gold] mechanism that presented the real problem.”  Today, Mr. Powell’s speculation is reality.  Powell offers 14k white gold flutes with a sterling silver, 10k yellow gold, or 14k rose gold mechanism.  Here’s a photo of one we just finished with a white gold body and 14k rose gold keys.

The pricing for the 14k white gold flutes is the same as for 14k rose gold flutes, and they are available for trial.    

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Pinning Keys

You may have read about the pinless mechanism on Powell Custom and Conservatory flutes.  It is a type of mechanism that uses small "bridges" to allow the keys to move independently, as opposed to a pinned mechanism, which uses pins that run through the key, tubing, and steel to allow for this independent motion.  We have a series of posts on the pinless mechanism that you can visit to read more.  Click the numbered sections the right to follow the link to those posts: Part I, Part II, Part III.

However, all flutes (pinned or pinless) will have pinned trill keys.  We caught up with flute finisher Lindsey McChord as she was pinning the trill keys on a Conservatory -- as you will see in the photos below.

The trill key pin is very small and can be difficult to see, so we circled it in red in the photo below.
From the outside of the key, you can see a very small hole at the end of the key arm where it attaches to the mechanism tubing.
The pin will go through the outside of the key through the inner steel (hole in steel circled below in red) and back out of the mechanism tubing.
Much like making springs, Lindsey cuts a pin that is just a bit longer than she needs and places it through to mark where it should be cut.
Pin is all the way through now.
 She uses a blue Sharpie to mark the correct length.
 Cuts the pin
 Oils the mechanism tubing
Runs the steel through the tubing
Attaches the keys and positions the pin in place.
She then pushes the pin just a bit forward.
The pin needs to go in further -- but this cannot be done by hand alone.
So, Lindsey uses a small device that will help hold it and push the pin through.
She puts a piece of velvet under the key to protect it and positions the key in place.
Then, she uses a small mallet to very gently tap the pin into place -- and then it is done!
In the photo below, you can see a pinned trill key in place on a 14k Custom.