The Flute Maker

Now for a little about the flutes I make. When John Webb and I started out together in 1983 our first decision was to do something different. We asked ourselves some fundamental questions about flute design, partly with a view to getting back to the sound and character of the best 19th century French instruments, and partly to see whether it would be worth exploring some modern materials, particularly for keywork and pads. We had an urge to go in the opposite direction from the increasingly heavy and complicated Germanic/American style towards a simple (i.e. uncluttered with 'extras'), lightweight design which would offer maximum colour and responsiveness, with adequate power for the largest orchestra.

One of our major uncertainties at that time was the question of seamed tubes. It appeared that the best of the older flutes so much favoured by leading London players did have seams, but was it the presence of the seam that imparted that special quality to those flutes or something far more subtle that couldn't be seen or measured? Nobody could tell us so we decided to stick to seams for the time being just in case. A seamed tube requires a lot of work to get it round, straight, of uniform bore and wall thickness. We found quite a variation in character among those first thirty instruments, which was possibly explained by the inevitable slight irregularities in the tubes, so the temptation to try some commercially produced seamless stuff became irresistible. I took over the whole operation at around this time and never bothered with seamed tubes again; after the production of nearly a hundred more flutes it is my firm belief that the seam per se is at best irrelevant and at worst a dampener on tube vibration and a structural weakness. Commercial tube still needs a lot of hand work done on it to get it just right. Finished wall thickness is usually 13 1/2 Gauge (0.0135") which is considered quite thin by today's standards.

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Photo of raw materials1 reduced

We wanted to create a simple, lightweight design which would offer maximum colour and responsiveness, with adequate power for the largest orchestra.