Friday, October 31, 2014

Signature Flute Mechanism

Last week, we stopped by the Conservatory and Signature stringing department and watched Stefania Iamandei building a pinless mechanism for a Conservatory flute.  This week, we had the chance to catch up with Ranjana Ranjana as she was building a pinned mechanism for a Signature flute.

The pinned mechanism allows for different movement of multiple keys on one steel by using pins to hold keys in the proper position on the mechanism.  The pins run all the way through the key, mechanism tubing, and inner steel and then exit through the mechanism tubing on the opposite side of the point of entry.  This allows everything to stay in place.  The pins are very small, and you may not even notice them!  In the photos below, they are a little easier to see because many of them have not yet been cut to their final length -- and for the ones that are cut to length, we tried to zoom in with the camera!

To build the mechanism, Ranjana pins certain keys and solders others.  She also solders the spring catches so that the finishers can install springs.  Just as we saw with the Conservatory, every part of the mechanism must fit and function properly, with the keys opening to the proper heights.  In the photo below, we see several sections of the mechanism: left hand section, right hand section, trill keys, c key, G# key, and thumb keys.  We've also circled one of the spring catches.

Ranjana showed us how the left and right hand sections fit together:

Right and left hand sections from a different angle:

One crucial part of building the pinned mechanism is to make sure there is no lateral motion between keys on the mechanism tubing -- the keys need to be in place securely.  In the photo below, Ranjana showed us that the keys were certainly secured to the mechanism tubing.

The pins and pin holes can be very difficult to see, so we pointed them out in the photo below.  The yellow arrow points to a pin that is in place and cut to length.  The blue arrow shows a pin that is in place but not yet cut to length , and the green arrow points to a hole for the next pin.

Once everything fits and functions properly, Ranjana has some aesthetic elements to create, like the beveled edges of the key tails:

If you have a Signature flute, take a look and see if you can find the pins.  It's difficult to capture them all in one shot, but in the photo below, you will see a finished Signature with red circles around the pins.  The one exception to the circles is an arrow, which points to a pin that is not visible because it is on the key below the Bb shake.

For more information on the Signature flute, including a list of options, follow this link to the Signature page on the Powell website.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Building Bridges

Powell's pinless mechanism is found on the Handmade Custom and Handmade Conservatory flutes.  It is a mechanism that allows for different movement of multiple keys on one steel. As opposed to being pinned to the mechanism, keys on a pinless mechanism are connected by bridges.  You can read a previous post on the pinless mechanism, complete with links to video demonstrations by Powell's president, Steven Wasser, by following this link.

We stopped by the stringing department to visit with Stefania Iamandei as she was building bridged mechanisms for Conservatory flutes.  

The bridged mechanism is comprised of several different parts that vary depending on the specifications of the flute.  For instance, the left hand piece is different depending on whether the flute has an inline or offset G.  The right hand has an additional piece for flutes made with a split-E.  You will see the bridge components in the photo below.

Stefania was putting together the mechanism for a flute with an offset G and split-E when we stopped by.  We outlined the components in the photo below (left hand piece is red, right hand piece is yellow, split-E piece is light blue). The split-E section that is "upside down" on the bench does not have the long piece yet that is located between key cups, so we have that piece outlined in a darker blue on the mechanism in the photo below.

The two bridges are outlined with red boxes in the photo below.

The next photo shows a close-up of the bridges.  As Stefania builds them, she has to make sure that they have the correct fit and that they function properly.  She also has to check that the bridges (and the entire mechanism) open to the correct height, because once she is done, the flute goes to the finisher.  The finisher ads foam and cork adjustment pieces to the bridges to prevent metal-to-metal contact.

Below, we see a close-up of the left-hand bridge.  Once the mechanism meets the correct measurements and is functioning as it should, Stefania adds beveled edges -- purely for aesthetics.

The photo below shows the left-hand bridge as it will look when it is open.

In the photo below, we see another view of both bridges.  You can clearly see the tabs that function to create key motion.

Finally, we see a photo below of the bridges on a finished Handmade Conservatory Aurumite A9 flute.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Profiled Piccolo Headjoint

In 1993, Powell introduced a new piccolo headjoint with a "profiled embouchure plate to help provide greater comfort for flutists switching back and forth from flute to piccolo."  This headjoint style was named the "Profiled" headjoint and is one of three piccolo headjoints offered today (Profiled, Wave, and Classic).  Powell's Director of Service and Quality, Rebecca Eckles, spent many years performing professionally on flute and piccolo.  She shared that the Profiled headjoint definitely allows for a "more comfortable transition from flute to piccolo."

Flute finisher Lindsey McChord also cuts headjoints for Powell, and you may remember her name from previous posts -- especially last week's post about cutting wooden flute headjoints. She told us more about cutting the Profiled piccolo headjoint, highlighting its similarities to the wooden flute headjoints, which also have a "profiled" lip plate.  The Profiled piccolo headjoints, just like the wooden headjoints and other piccolo headjoints, are all made from one piece of wood.  Lindsey begins cutting a Profiled piccolo headjoint exactly the way she would for a wooden flute headjoint -- by filing the lip plate until the wall is the correct height. She also uses a gauge on the outside of the lip plate to make sure she has the correct angles for the front and back angles.  After that, she continues cutting and filing as she would with the wooden flute headjoints.  For wooden flute headjoints, there are metal versions of these styles (Soloist and Philharmonic).  One difference between wooden piccolo headjoints and wooden flute headjoints is that there are not metal versions of the three piccolo headjoint styles.

We realize that Lindsey wears many hats in terms of cutting headjoints and finishing flutes, but we know she is also a flutist. So, we asked for her thoughts on the Profiled piccolo headjoint from the player's perspective as well.  Lindsey noted that because of its profiled lip plate, it may be more comfortable for flutists who don't play much piccolo.  She said that often times with other piccolo headjoints, flute players may need to spend time rolling in or out to get the headjoint in the right spot.  With the Profiled piccolo headjoint, she said that one does not have to adjust.  She said, "You can pick up the piccolo, and the headjoint is right where it needs to be."

Piccolo headjoint styles.  Left to right: Classic, Wave, Profiled.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Cutting Wooden Headjoints

Measuring angles

What does it take to cut a wooden headjoint?  Is it the same as cutting a metal one?  Luckily, we stopped into the headjoint room this week just as Lindsey McChord was working on wooden headjoints, so it was the perfect opportunity to find out more...

Powell's wooden headjoints are available in the Philharmonic and Soloist styles.  The process of cutting these headjoints involves different tools but produces the same shapes and angles that a metal headjoint in these styles would have.  Of course, working with wood is very different from working with metal.  In fact, Lindsey tells us that the characteristics of these two materials are quite opposite from one another.  Wood does not respond well to steep angles and metal does.  Wood also does not respond well to very deep undercutting and overcutting -- and metal does.  With wooden headjoints, rounded shapes and edges create a much better response.  Essentially, when it comes to cutting a wooden headjoint, it is all about blending without disturbing the shape.

When Lindsey works with metal headjoints, she uses tools to scrape and cut metal.  The tools are quite sharp so that they can remove material.  However, with wooden headjoints, Lindsey uses mostly files and sandpaper to make chages.  There is one small tool that allows Lindsey to scrape wood, but it is much more rounded at the end (as you will see in the picture).  The rounded end allows Lindsey to remove material without the risk of gouging the wood.  

To begin cutting a wooden headjoint, Lindsey must first adjust the height of the riser.  The riser is not a separate piece as it is with metal headjoints, so Lindsey makes the height adjustment by filing the top of the lip plate until the riser is the correct height.  She does this with a mill file, as you will see in the photos below.  The mill file is also used to create the shape of the lip plate -- which is completely round at first.  If she needs to remove a lot of material, she will also use a very course, 180-grit sandpaper.  Then, Lindsey must create the shape that one would see on the lip plate of the same style headjoint in metal.  With a metal headjoint, the lip plate can be bent, but with a wooden headjoint, the lip plate must be filed. 

Lindsey then uses small sandpaper file (or sometimes a razor file) for the inside of the wall.  She says it's important to use a firm touch, exerting equal pressure on the wood so you can detect and smooth out any bumps or knots.  The very smallest files (that you will see in the photos below) are used for  undercutting and overcutting the embouchure hole,  as well as for blending.  After she is done cutting the headjoint, she oils the riser and then leaves the headjoint overnight or for a couple of days, allowing the oil to soak in and the headjoint to settle. Then, she tests the headjoint.  After this, she will make any additional adjustments that are necessary.

Aside from the tool differences and opposite response tendencies in wood and metal, it is also very difficult to see your work with a grenadilla headjoint because the wood is so dark.  One does not have the reflections that a metal headjoint would provide. However, Lindsey told us that when cutting wooden headjoints, she also cannot use any type of motor with the tools because the wood is much different than metal.  With metal, the headjoint cutter has to use motors to power some of the tools because of the hardness of the metal.  The headjoint cutter must still control any tool powered by a motor when cutting a metal headjoint. With a wooden headjoint, the tools are "hand powered," so it is a very special process -- and certainly one that brings great pride and satisfaction to the skilled craftsmen and craftswomen who create these headjoints.

Headjoint and tools
Wood scraper has much more rounded tip than the metal scraper (blue handle)
Using mill file to adjust riser height
Using mirror to see inside
Sanding riser
Using wood scraper
Filing to blend and create overcutting

Friday, October 3, 2014

From the Beginning -- the Earliest Powell Flutes

Flutists have many choices when it comes to Powell flutes today, but what about the very first Powell flutes?  If you have wondered what options were and models were available, we went into the archive to find out...

Looking through historical documents, we found a brochure from 1930.  At the time, Powell offered two models of C flutes with the following specs:

1 - the Handmade Louis Lot pattern with thin wall tubing, soldered tone holes, open or closed key cups, and open or closed G#
2 - the Commercial model with 0.18" heavy wall tubing, drawn tone holes, open or closed key cups, and open or closed G#

Handmade models came in silver, 14k gold, and platinum and had options that could be added as requested, such as French pointed arms and a left hand low B lever.  In the 1930s, the gizmo key was developed by Powell and added as an option as well.  From the beginning, all Powell flutes were pitched at A-440 unless ordered otherwise.  During the time period from 1930 to 1941, flutes pitched at A-442 were produced for leading players, including Bladet, Madsen, Pappoutsakis, and Opava.  In addition to the standard models, Powell did produce a few unique items in 1929: a bamboo flute, an octave piccolo, and a piccolo with a low C.

So, how much would one of the very first Powell flutes cost?  Well, in 1930, the Handmade silver models were $250 for the "French model" (open keys) and $240 for the "American model" (closed keys).The Commercial models were $200 for the French model and $185 for the American model.  In the photo below, you will see a price listing from the 1930 Powell brochure.