Friday, March 27, 2015

The Sonaré (R)evolution

Powell Sonaré PS-601 

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

When we decided to co-manufacture a step-up flute in 2002, our conceptualization of Sonaré, with a Chinese body and a Powell headjoint, was ground-breaking.  I vividly recall one of our long-time Powell players coming up to us at the convention that summer.  With her hand on her hip, she demanded to know, “Why Powell is making a flute in China?”  I explained our concept of putting a professional headjoint on an inexpensive flute body, since the headjoint was far and away the most important acoustical component of the flute.  She tried the flute then said, “I’ll take that one.”

We’ve come a long way since we introduced the Sonaré flute in 2002.  For one thing, at last count there were 14 other flute makers who had copied our concept.  For another, the Sonaré flute has evolved.

When we introduced Sonaré we were frankly paranoid about doing something that might jeopardize the Powell image.  Thus, we were extremely careful to distinguish between the flute body made in China, and the headjoint made by Powell in the United States.  The engraving on the headjoint was the normal Powell Signature headjoint engraving, but the Powell name was nowhere to be seen on the body of the flute.  We engraved “Sonaré” on the barrel of the flute.

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.  (If you’re curious about the technology you can look up U.S. patent #7,420,109.  It describes our approach for putting a big ball through a small hole.)

By using flute bodies made at Powell with the Modern Powell Scale, we felt we had made a large leap in quality.  At that point we decided Sonaré could become a Powell flute.  Sonaré then became a model designation, just like Signature or Conservatory.

However, we aren’t done making improvements.  Starting in spring, 2015, the Sonaré flutes being assembled for us in China will be utilizing cups that are the same size and shape as the Powell flute cups used for Conservatory and Signature flutes. 

One final point.  Because we make the body and headjoint of the flute at our Maynard workshop, and because we do the final finishing at Powell, we have an instrument where more than 50% of the content is U.S. content and where final finishing takes place in the USA.  Thus, our Powell Sonaré flutes qualify as “Assembled in USA.”  To the best of our knowledge no other flute in this category qualifies for that country of origin labeling.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Cutting Piccolo Headjoints - The Wave Headjoint

Last week, headjoint cutter and flute finisher Lindsey McChord told us a bit more about the scraper blade, one of the tools she uses to cut metal flute headjoints.  Working with wooden headjoints requires a different set of tools and involves a much different technique.  In the video below, Lindsey gives us an overview of the process as she begins work on a Powell Wave style piccolo headjoint.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Tools of the Trade Part 1 - The Scraper Blade

In several of our posts here on Flute Builder, we've had the chance to discuss and share photos of various parts of the headjoint cutting process.  This week, we stopped in to the headjoint cutting room and took a short video of headjoint cutter and flute finisher, Lindsey McChord.  In this first video (of many we plan to film), Lindsey talks about one of the most important tools she uses, the "scraper blade."

Friday, March 6, 2015

Inline or Offset G

Left to right: 14k Custom with inline G, 19.5k Custom with offset G.

One of the standard options for a Powell flute is to have either an inline G or offset G.  For some, the choice may be simple.  For instance, if your fingers are not long enough to play an inline G flute comfortably, you'll probably choose the offset G.  But, is there a difference in sound between a flute with an inline G and one with an offset G?  We asked Steven Wasser, President of Verne Q. Powell Flutes, if he could shed light on this topic.  His response is as follows:
Because a flute is not an efficient converter of your air stream into sound, the tiniest things can make a difference in response and acoustics.  If we had a keyless flute where the only choice was to position the G tone hole in-line or offset, there would be no difference in intonation or response.  However, the presence of the offset G key requires a small additional rib, and additional keywork.  The independent G keys, with their additional mechanism, add a small amount of mass to the flute.  All other things being equal (ceteris paribus, as the economists like to say), there will be a slight acoustical difference between an in-line and offset G flute.  The difference is likely to be so subtle that it is not material, and my suggestion would be to go with whichever mechanism is most comfortable for you.
So, now we know the answer!  As mentioned in the introduction, the option of inline or offset G is available on all Powell flutes, including Powell Sonaré models.  Follow this link to view additional information on the Powell and Powell Sonaré flute models.

Close-up on 14k flute with inline G.

Close-up on 19.5k flute with offset G.  The yellow line outlines the side of the extra mechanism tubing that is part of the additional keywork for the offset G.