Friday, August 21, 2015

KT Aurumite® 9k Signature Headjoint

By Hannah Liuzzo
Powell Sonaré Sales Associate
Verne Q. Powell Flutes, Inc.

Since the introduction of our new KT Aurumite® 9k Signature headjoint last month, we’ve had the pleasure of working with lots of flutists comparing the KT headjoint back to back with a standard sterling silver Signature headjoint. The first question we always seem to get after a flutist sees the new KT head is, “Is the gold on the outside just for looks, or does it actually change my sound?” The answer is…BOTH!

The 9K rose gold on the exterior of the KT headjoint offers qualities that are both visually and acoustically unique. Since gold is a denser metal than silver, the addition of gold to any component of a flute offers a warmer, darker tone quality.  Gold also has the tendency to offer more resistance, which is a highly desirable trait for very powerful players.  Flutists can put a great deal more air into the headjoint before the sound “cracks”.  And, on top of all of this, the KT Aurumite® 9k headjoint is BEAUTIFUL!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Handmade Custom Choices

If you are thinking about purchasing a Powell Handmade Custom flute, there are several options and material choices that truly customize the instrument to your preferences.  Today's choices go well beyond silver and gold to include grenadilla wood and eight different metals.  In addition to the body choices, you also have different options for the mechanism material on flutes with 10k, 14k , 19.5k, platinum, and grenadilla bodies.  Whereas soldered tone holes are available on all metal flutes, drawn tone holes are also an option for silver flutes and most gold flutes (with the exception of 14k white gold).

Each Handmade Custom flute is also made with your preference for key cups (French or American), G keys (offset or inline), pitch (A-440, 442, or 444), and footjoint, (B foot with or without gizmo, or C foot).  Metal flutes may be ordered with either a pinned or pinless mechchanism.  Further customizations include the option of a C# trill, D# roller, split-E,  and G-disc. engraving, 10k or 14k tone holes, and a 14k "package' of 14k tone holes, posts, and rings.

The chart below (click it to enlarge) lists materials, options, and customizations for Powell's Handmade Custom flutes.  To view more information, download the full Powell brochure at

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Signature and Custom Piccolos

Powell Signature Flute and Signature Piccolo

Thinking about purchasing a Powell piccolo?  Wondering what models are available?  Powell currently offers two models, the Signature and the Handmade Custom.  We thought we would take a look at the two to find out more about their features and options...

Powell Handmade Custom Piccolos
in Kingwood (left) and Grenadilla (right)
In terms of materials, the Signature piccolo is available in grenadilla wood with a sterling silver mechanism. The Handmade Custom piccolo is available in either grenadilla (with a sterling silver or 14k rose gold mechanism) or kingwood (with a 14k rose gold mechanism).  The Signature piccolo is pitched at A-442, and the Handmade Custom piccolo has pitch options of A-440, A-442, or A-444. Both the Signature and Handmade Custom piccolos are made with 10k white gold springs, feature the Modern Powell scale, and have the option of a split-E.  The standard headjoint for both the Signature and Handmade Custom piccolos is the Classic style, but there are additional options: the Wave (for the Signature and Handmade Custom) and the Profiled (for Handmade Custom).  One additional feature of the Handmade Custom piccolo is that the tone holes are reinforced with phenolic inserts.

At first glance, it may be difficult to distinguish the two models -- especially if you are looking at the Signature and the grenadilla Handmade Custom with silver mechanism.  However, as you look closer, you'll notice that there are two slight differences on the outside: the rings, and the text under the logo.  Both the Signature and Handmade Custom piccolos have rings on the bottom of the body, bottom of the headjoint, and top of the headjoint (below the crown).  However, the styles of these rings differ.  The Signature rings have a flat style with a slightly elevated edge.  On the Handmade Custom, the ring at the bottom of the body is curved, and the rings on the headjoint are flat (but without an edge like the Signature's headjoint rings). Also, looking at the logo at the top of the body, you'll notice that both have the words, "Verne Q. Powell Flutes" and "Boston," but the Signature model has "Signature" added directly under "Verne Q. Powell Flutes."

To learn more about the Powell Signature and Handmade Custom piccolos, visit

Close-up on the Signature ring and text under logo.
Handmade Custom has a curved ring at the bottom of the body
and flat rings on the headjoint.
Another view showing both headjoint rings on the Handmade Custom.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Introducing the Heavy Wall Handmade Conservatory Flute

Powell Heavy Wall Handmade Conservatory Flute

In 1928, Verne Q. Powell published his very first brochure, offering flutists the choice of two models of sterling silver flutes -- the Handmade (with soldered tone holes) and the Commercial (with drawn tone holes).  The Commercial model had a long 60-year production history and is still a prized possession of many flutists today.  After the last Commercial model was produced in 1988, Powell continued to receive requests for this popular style. In 1993, Powell launched a completely resigned version of the Commercial model, the 2100.  In 2002, the 2100 was redesigned as well, marking the introduction of the current sterling silver Handmade Conservatory model to the public.

Today, we celebrate a particularly historic milestone for the silver Handmade Conservatory flute.  In addition to having drawn tone holes, the original Powell Commercial model had a body tubing thickness of .018".  Over the years, the Powell drawn tone hole models shifted to a medium thickness of .016".  For flutists who prefer the .018" "heavy wall" tubing, this option has only been available on Custom Powell models.  We are pleased to announce that the sterling silver Powell Handmade Conservatory model is now available in either .016" or .018" tubing.

The new heavy wall Handmade Conservatory offers flutists an even greater selection of options while celebrating the model's original predecessor, the Powell Commercial model (click here to view our previous post on the original Powell 1928 brochure).

If you are interested in trying a heavy wall silver Handmade Conservatory, follow this link to our online dealer locator page. For those without a Powell dealer in the area, contact Daniel Sharp at

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sonaré Flutes - SF and PS Models

Powell Sonaré PS-601

We recently had a customer inquire about the model number of his Powell Sonaré flute.  Going back through our serial number files, we discovered that the model he owned was the Sonaré SF-5000, which was actually a very early Sonaré model.  We knew this from the model number and prefix, which have changed over the years as the line itself has...

Powell introduced the Sonaré model flutes at the NFA Convention in 2002.  The history behind the concept is explained by Powell's President, Steven Wasser, in a previous post here on Flute Builder titled The Sonaré (R)evolution (click here to read the post). The very first Sonaré model was the SF-6000, which had a sterling silver body and Y arms.  Two SF models followed -- the SF-5000 and the SF-7000.  The SF-5000 had a nickel silver body with Y arms, and the SF-7000 model had a sterling silver body with pointed arms.  Each of these models had a Powell headjoint which was made at the Powell shop in Massachusetts.  The bodies for these instruments, which had drawn (or extruded) tone holes, were made overseas in China.  In 2006, Powell developed a new patented technology for extruding tone holes.  The new patented process, named "Zinki," was then used to produce the Sonaré bodies at Powell as well.  Powell's President, Steven Wasser, wrote:
During the first few years of Sonaré’s existence we wound up using 4 different scales made by our Chinese partner.  We ultimately standardized on a single scale – the one we though was best – but were still not satisfied.  Since the acoustics of the flute are determined first by the headjoint and secondarily by the scale, we decided to focus our engineering talents on the body.  To make a long story short, in 2006 we came up with a technology we’ve called “Zinki,” that allows us to economically extrude tone holes at Powell with our Modern Powell Scale.  Since then we’ve used Zinki to extrude all Sonaré flute bodies, as well as our Conservatory and Signature flutes.  Even Custom gold flutes with extruded tone holes are done on Zinki
This body production change also marked a change from SF to PS in the model numbers.  Model numbers are engraved on the barrel of the Sonaré flutes, and you will see in the photo below of the PS-601.

There have been several Sonaré flute models over the years, including the 301, 501, 505, 601, 708, and 709, as well as the AF-60 and AF-70 alto flutes.  The 301, 708, and 709 have been discontinued.  Additional options for the PS-705 models will be announced in the next few weeks.  For more information on the Powell Sonaré models, visit

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Steels -- What Are They? What Do They Do?

Steels are not visible from the outside -- they are inside the mechanism tubing.

We've written several posts that include the term "steels," but have you ever wondered what "steels" are exactly?  Well, steels are a very important part of the flute mechanism, but, once the flute is finished, you really won't see them -- because they are inside the mechanism tubing.  In a previous post, Powell's President, Steven Wasser, summed up the function of steels quite nicely:
The “steels” for a flute mechanism are the axles on which multiple keys rotate so that tone holes can be opened and closed. If, for example, there are 4 distinct keys on the right hand of the flute, we don’t want all these keys going up and down at the same time, yet it would be impractical to have 4 separate steels, one for each key. There are different ways of creating independent motion of multiple keys on one steel, which include building pinned and pinless mechanisms.  (Follow this link to read the full post, "Pin Pals - Part I.)
We stopped by flute finisher Matt Keller's bench while he was finishing a 10k yellow gold Powell Custom.  This gave us the opportunity to see the steels completely separated from the rest of the mechanism.  In the photo below, you will see the complete set of steels for the 10k flute taped together with scotch tape in the flute kit:

As one might imagine, the steels are made of steel and are small rods that run through the inside of the outer mechanism tubing. As you can see from the photo above, there are several keys, and these keys are soldered to the outer mechanism tubing.  The keys (with tubing) must be aligned and positioned properly for the mechanism to function.  So, the steels are threaded through the tubing and then held in place at the posts.   Pinned mechanisms have pivot screws that screw into the posts and then into the ends of the steels to hold the steels in place.  For pinless mechanisms, steels have a screw-type head at one end of the steel to hold them in place at the posts.

The steels are inside the mechanism tubing, so when you press the keys, the keys are rotating on the inner steels.  How can you tell the difference, visually, between the steels and outer tubing? Well, the steels are steel, and the outer tubing is made from the same metal as the rest of the keys and key mechanism.  So, in this case, the outer mechanism tubing is 10k like the keys.  In the photo below, you will see a green arrow pointing to the steels, and yellow arrows pointing to some of the outer mechanism tubing.

As mentioned in the top of the post, you won't see the steels since they are inside the mechanism tubing, but they play an important role!  Steels are cut and fitted to each flute individually. They must be straight and run smoothly through the posts.  For more on steels, follow this link to watch as steels are cut and fitted to a 14k white gold flute in the previous post titled, "Building the White Gold Flute - Part 4."

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Introducing the Signature II Headjoint

In our previous post titled "Signature Spotlight," we learned that the Signature flute was designed to offer Powell's craftsmanship and the legendary "Powell Sound" at an affordable price, and the hand-cut Signature headjoint was crafted specifically to compliment the flute.  The Signature headjoint is identifiable as its name is engraved on the headjoint, three lines below the logo. You will find a Signature headjoint not only on each individual Signature flute, but on every Powell Sonaré model as well.

Over the years, we've received requests for a "more free-blowing" Signature headjoint, and this year, we set out to design a completely new style headjoint known as the "Signature II." Prototypes were developed and then tested in several phases by flutists on the Powell production and sales teams, Powell artists, and Powell dealers.  The resulting headjoint was not only free-blowing -- it was completely unique.  We sat down with Powell finisher and headjoint cutter, Lindsey McChord, to learn more about the Signature II headjoint...

The Signature II is the latest in Powell's offering of headjoint styles, which includes the Soloist, Philharmonic, Venti, and Signature.  Lindsey told us that the Signature II uses the Soloist wall and the Philharmonic lip plate, which is slightly wider than the current Signature lip plate.  Those who have tried the Signature II found that it is extremely responsive and allows for clean, crisp articulation while producing a full and focused sound.

Whereas the headjoint's sound and response are apparent to the player, Lindsey gave us a special inside perspective -- literally. She shared her mirror tool with us, letting us take a closer look inside the headjoint where the riser meets the headjoint tubing. She explained that the riser is cut very differently, and that the design for the Signature II is "all about round and continuous shapes."  It contrasts from the Philharmonic, Venti, and Signature, which are cut to be more angular inside.   When we looked inside the headjoint, we could see that the bottom of the riser blended perfectly into the tubing with incredibly smooth, rounded edges.  It was easy to see the roundness and continuous shapes that Lindsey explained.  She said that for other headjoint styles, the undercutting is traditionally done on the sides only, but with the Signature II headjoint, undercutting is done completely around the bottom of the riser to achieve this smoothness and continuity. Like the undercutting, the overcutting for the Signature II is also very rounded.

What exactly does the cutting style of the headjoint mean for a flutist?  Well, Lindsey tells us that the rounded shapes allow air to go smoothly through the riser and down into the tube without anything catching the air stream.  The rounded overcutting and undercutting make the headjoint "very smooth to play."

Lindsey added that she is "especially excited about the new headjoint because it is so different from anything else."  If you're interested in trying the Signature II headjoint, click here to find our list of authorized Powell dealers in your area or contact us directly with any questions.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Replacing Headjoint Corks

We stopped in to the headjoint room as flute finisher and headjoint cutter, Lindsey McChord, was installing a new cork in a piccolo headjoint.  She showed us how to install it and how to remove it, which was pretty interesting -- especially in contrast with the flute headjoint.  We say this because after we watched Lindsey remove the piccolo headjoint cork, we were anxious to see how it compares with the removal process for a flute headjoint cork.  In both cases, Lindsey had a special tool to remove the cork.  However, she told us that when you remove the cork from a piccolo headjoint, it is removed in the opposite direction than it would be with a flute headjoint.  In other words, when you remove the piccolo headjoint cork, the cork is pushed up toward the crown and out through the top of the headjoint. This is because of the metal receiver at the bottom of the headjoint (this receiver attaches the headjoint to the body tenon). As you can probably imagine, the cork assembly would not be able to fit through the hole in the middle of the receiver (see photo below):

However, when it comes to flute headjoints, the cork is removed by pushing it down through the bottom of the headjoint.  The flute headjoint tapers as it goes up toward the crown, so it's not possible to push the headjoint cork up through the top without severely damaging the headjoint -- which you do not want to do! Take a look a the photos below to see the process of removing the corks.

Lindsey uses a special tool to remove the cork.  She starts by placing it in the headjoint, starting from the bottom

This tool is also used to check the positioning of the cork, just like a swabstick.  There is a line in the tool that will be exactly in the middle of the embouchure hole when the cork is positioned properly.

Lindsey pushes the headjoint downward toward the bottom of the tool.

And the cork pops up through the top!

A different tool is used for the flute headjoint cork. 

Lindsey removed the crown and inserts the tool in through the top of the headjoint.

With the headjoint upside down, Lindsey pushes it down toward the ring on the tool.

The flute headjoint cork is out -- having come through the bottom of the headjoint.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Finishing the Split-E

We've shared a few posts about Powell Handmade Custom flutes with a split-E, including a close-up on the mechanism and a quick snapshot from the finishing department.  You can find these posts by following this link to "Close-Up on Split-E" and this one to "Offset G and Split-E."

This week, we stopped by the finishing department as finisher Matt Keller was working on the split-E mechanism for an Aurumite 14k Handmade Custom.  So, we began to wonder... Are there differences between finishing flutes with and without the split-E? Matt told us that there are a few, and in general, a flute with a split-E takes longer to finish because it has more adjustments.  Of course, the adjustments are on the additional parts required for the split-E mechanism which you will see in the photos below:

Matt holds additional part of split-E mechanism.
The part turned over with arrows pointing to adjustments: 
felt (yellow arrow) and cork (red arrow).
Close up on cork adjustments.
Although it does take longer to finish a flute with a split-E, Matt feels that the independent motion of the mechanism's G keys can help with at least one challenge.  He explained that flutes without a split-E have two G keys that have to open and close together, as shown in the photo below:

Matt told us that the synchronized motion of these two keys can make padding them quite complicated!  With a split-E mechanism, the G keys are separate and move independently, which makes padding them a bit less challenging than when the keys move together.  To demonstrate this, Matt released one of the springs so that we could see one of the G keys open and one of them closed (as highlighted by the red arrows in the photo below):

In conclusion, we realized that there are differences in terms of materials (additional adjustments on split-E), parts, and the mechanics of the mechanisms, but the finishing process itself remains the same -- and the end result is a smoothly functioning mechanism!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Shaping the Lip Plate

This week, we stopped back into the headjoint room to meet with flute finisher and headjoint cutter, Lindsey McChord.  In a few previous posts, Lindsey explained some of the actual cutting techniques used in the headjoint cutting process.  You can review these posts by clicking here to read the "Cutting Headjoints" post and clicking here for "The Scraper Blade." 

In addition to the cutting, part of the headjoint making process involves shaping the lip plate, and this is done by exerting pressure on the plate to create the desired shape (or "slope" or "drop-off").  Lindsey uses a vise, which is a device that holds the headjoint in place and allows her to press areas of the lip plate to get the desired shape.  Although the vise is a piece of equipment, it is controlled not by a motor but simply by Lindsey turing a handle to push the wooden plate of the vise closer to the lip plate -- and this helps gently bend the metal lip plate to get the desired shape.  You'll see the process in the series of photos below:

First, Lindsey places a popsicle stick under the side of the lip plate that she does not want to bend.  This keeps that side completely in tact:

In the photo below, Lindsey shows us the space between the tubing and edge of the lip plate on the side that she needs to shape.  Ultimately, this space will decrease when the plate is bent with the vise.

Positioning the headjoint in the vise properly is crucial.  She told us that she positions it so that she can see straight down through the embouchure hole.

With her left hand, Lindsey gently holds the tubing of the headjoint, and with her right hand, she turns the handle of the vise.  The side of the lip plate closest to the handle is the side she is bending.  The opposite side of the lip plate (above her left hand) will not be bent because the popsicle stick is holding it in place.

Lindsey removes the headjoint from the vise to show us that the gap has become much less as she has bent that edge of the plate into the desired shape.

Lindsey checks the space between the edge of the lip plate and the headjoint tubing.  The popsicle stick comes into play once again as it serves as the perfect gauge for this measurement. She told us that although other commercial gauges have been made, she has tried them, and the popsicle stick really is the best.  It is the most durable, resilient, and accurate time and again.

Another nice thing about the popsicle stick is that it is wooden, so it has some give.  In the photo below, Lindsey demonstrates that she can also use it to bend parts of a lip plate very gently in the opposite direction.  In this case, she is working with a 14k lip plate.  She says that the stick is also a natural gauge for the amount of pressure she is exerting by hand.  "If the popsicle stick begins to split, I know I'm using too much pressure."

It's quite amazing to see the very simple and straightforward tools used for the lip plate shaping process.  Lindsey reminds us that, "It's because these headjoints truly are handcrafted.  There are no machines to do this -- it's all done by hand."  And, that is so very true.  With a little help from a metal vise to hold the headjoint, the actual pressure is controlled by Lindsey.  The measuring and assessment are done by hand, and then any additional "tweaks" are done by hand as well.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Shimming Pads

Shimming pads is something you may have heard about, but since most of us don't really take our flutes apart, it's sometimes hard to imagine exactly what is involved in the process.  Shimming is a technique that uses extremely thin materials like mylar to position and "seat" the pad properly. 

In the video below, we watch as flute finisher Matt Keller checks the pads on the footjoint of a flute he is padding:

In this next video, we watch as Matt shims a pad:

For more on shimming, click here to view the "Close-Up on Shimming" post from our Repair My Flute blog.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Verne Q. Powell - The Flutist

Verne Q. Powell

This week, we had the pleasure of corresponding with Verne Q. Powell's gradndaughter, Gail Powell Dearing.  She had written an article for the Winter 2013 edition of The Flutist Quarterly, detailing some very interested yet not widely known facts about her grandfather. In this excerpt, we learn about Mr. Powell's earliest days as a wind player...

Excerpt from "Second Wind: The Powell Spoon Flute at 102" (The Flutist Quarterly, Winter 2013)
By Gail Powell Dearing
It’s not well known that Powell was an accomplished flutist.  He started playing the ocarina when he was 8 years old, and at the age of 10, started a small fife and drum corps with a couple of his friends.  When he first heard a piccolo, he had to have one, so his brother bought him one for $3.40.  Powell said he shined his brother’s shoes for the rest of his life to repay him for the piccolo.  Then he expanded his group to six piccolos, six snare drums, and a bass drum; the group played at local ball games for the price of admission.

He bought his first Böhm flute when he was 17, and four years later purchased his “first good flute,” a Rundall-Carte wooden flute.  Largely self-taught, Powell had a reputation as a superior flute player long before he became better known as a fine flute maker.

Thus, his spoon flute was born of the combination of his skill as a jeweler and engraver with his love of music and facility with the instrument.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Undercutting Wooden Tone Holes

This week, we stopped by the finishing department just as flute finisher Matt Keller was about to begin undercutting tone holes on a wooden flute.  In a previous post (which you can read by following this link), we learned that cutting wooden headjoints required mostly filing and sanding as opposed to the cutting and scraping techniques used on metal headjoints.  So, we asked Matt if a similar technique is used for undercutting wooden tone holes.  Come to find out, it does!

Matt told us that undercutting wooden tone holes is done with a very small file, which you will see in the photos below:

File is to the right of the footjoint.

Matt holding the file in his right hand.

There are two areas of the tone hole that he files, which we've indicated with blue arrows in the following photo:

Why are these two areas the locations for undercutting?  Well, Matt mentioned that these locations are aligned with the direction of the air flow through the flute.  Definitely makes sense when you visualize it!  As for the reason behind undercutting tone holes in general, flute finisher Karl Kornfeld added that undercutting, "reduces turbulence as the air flows through the flute."  Matt files very carefully, a little bit at a time, using extremely light pressure. The process is much easier to see in a video than a photo, so we captured a bit in the video below!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Tube Thickness

Have you heard the term "heavy wall" in regard to flutes?  When we go to shows like the NFA, we do have people asking if we have "heavy wall" flutes.  So, what exactly is the "heavy wall" flute?

Well, "heavy wall" refers to the thickness of the body tubing.  For our silver Custom flutes, you have the choice of three different tube thicknesses: .014", .016", and .018."  In that series of measurements, the "heavy wall" is the .018" tubing, because is it the thickest tubing of the three.  Many of our flutes have the .016" thickness, including our Signature, Conservatory, and Aurumite models. Currently, most of our orders for silver Custom flutes request the .016" tubing as well.

The Custom silver flutes have thickness choices, but what about gold?  Platinum?  All of the Custom gold flutes (regardless of karat), have a body thickness of .012,"and the body tubing for platinum flutes is .010." 

It's good to keep these different body tubing thicknesses in mind when trying headjoints as well.  Silver headjoints are available in .014" and .016" tubing.  As you might recall from a previous post on silver headjoints (follow this link to read it), we found that the .018" tubing on silver headjoints didn't produce the desired sound qualities we were looking for with the .018" silver Custom body, so the .016" silver headjoint fits that particular flute.  Of course, if you have a .014" silver flute, the .016" headjoint would definitely not fit!  From yet another post (which you can read by following this link), we learned that sometimes the barrel thickness is different than the body thickness.  Lots to think about!  So, if you have the chance to try different thicknesses on silver flutes, see if you can feel and hear a difference.  Obviously, there's more than one size to fit all when it comes to silver!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Missing Ingredient in Nickel Silver

Powell Sonaré 601 (with silver-plated nickel silver keys).

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

Do you know the silver content of nickel silver?  If you guessed anything more than 0%, you are misinformed.  Although the name is clearly intended to make you believe that this is some kind of silver alloy, the fact is that nickel silver is comprised primarily of copper and nickel. 

Here is how this apparently came about.  An alloy of copper and nickel was developed in China, perhaps in the mid sixteenth century.  It was called paktong.  Europeans wished to copy this alloy, which had the appearance of silver, and finally succeeded in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  Since the European metallurgy was developed in Germany, this silvery-looking alloy was called German silver.  Subsequently, because of its silvery look, it also became known as nickel silver.

Musical instruments can generally be made of nickel silver in 2 situations: where the nickel silver substitutes for sterling silver because it is cheaper, or where it substitutes for brass because nickel silver is harder.  Thus, you will find nickel silver flutes, saxophones, and French horns. Because nickel silver is relatively easy to shape and solder, you will also find instrument keys made of nickel silver, such as for clarinets, flutes, and saxophones. 

Even though nickel silver might initially look like silver, it tarnishes easily.  In addition, many people have allergies to nickel, so nickel silver used for musical instruments must be coated with something to protect the musician.  The normal coating is silver plating. 

Although silver plating looks nice and shiny at the start, it will eventually tarnish, just like sterling silver.  While the plating can be polished clean, dent removal and other work that requires manipulation or abrasion of the surface will remove the plated layer of silver.  In addition, constant daily use can wear off silver plating. 

At Powell we use only sterling silver or gold alloys for the precious metal flutes we make at our Boston area workshop.  For our Powell Sonaré flutes, we make the bodies and headjoints of sterling silver or nickel silver.  Our Asian key assembler uses nickel silver keys plated with silver to keep costs down.

In 2013, as the price of precious metals skyrocketed, we began to search for alternatives to sterling silver for flute and piccolo keys.  We looked at nickel silver but preferred a strong, clean alloy that did not require plating.  Our answer was stainless steel which, as the name correctly implies, is “stainless” or tarnish resistant, and is also strong.  (Some of the same properties which make stainless steel strong also make it difficult to form.  This required us to develop special machining and brazing technology.)  The strength of stainless steel assures the flute or piccolo player that their keys will stay in adjustment longer than instruments with nickel silver or sterling silver keys.

In 2013 Powell introduced the Sonaré piccolo with a stainless steel mechanism.  We designed the instrument with the nature of stainless steel in mind, using an art deco style that allowed us to machine the parts.  Now, 2 years later, we are introducing another version of the Sonaré piccolo which will use stainless steel keys, but with a more traditional, circular design aesthetic.  

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Rejection, or Why Not?

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

Several of our current headjoints, including 10k gold, 14k gold, and platinum.

Most of our blog articles affirmatively describe things we do.  However, as instrument makers one of our responsibilities is to decide what not to do. 

We recently conducted some experiments with a precious metal alloy that is 95% silver and 5% platinum.  Our hypothesis was that this alloy would provide some substantial acoustical benefits over sterling silver, such as a darker tone and improved response. 

Since the headjoint is the most critical acoustical component of the flute, we started the 95/5 experiment with the headjoint.  We ordered thousands of dollars’ worth of 95/5 tubing, flat stock for lip plates, and casting grain for walls (this stuff is considerably more expensive than sterling silver!).   

In order to control as many variables as possible, we used our existing designs and simply varied the material.  After making several headjoints with the 95/5 alloy we reached a conclusion – no.  Although it might seem counter-intuitive, the silver alloy with 5% platinum was very soft.  Neither the lip plate nor the tube wanted to stay where we put it.  We also found little acoustical difference. 

The softness of the 95/5 alloy was a knockout factor, but we also concluded that we have plenty of precious metal choices already available with sterling silver, several versions of Aurumite, and 9k, 10k, 14k, and 19.5k gold.  Unless the 95/5 offered something special and distinctive, which in our view it didn’t, there was no point in adding another material.

So now you know about something we tried and decided not to do.  All the 95/5 material we ordered and the headjoints we made are being melted down for us by our refiner.