The Flute Maker
So to the padding of the flute and its finishing, or 'set up' as it is known. Like every other aspect of flute making I have had to learn this mainly by doing it. Whereas the metalwork came to me easily enough having spent most of my life in workshops, padding at first appeared to be something of a black art. Its perfection is crucial. Every part of the keywork leads to a pad, having no other function than to support it, give it the means of moving up and down, and help it seal the tone hole with supreme reliability. Given an average amount of practice and performance most pads will have to do this several million times per annum. To a modern engineer, the flute pad, made of felt, skin and cardboard might look like a most unpromising anachronism, and there have been many attempts to improve it including my own unsuccessful ones. The fact remains that it has stood the test of time and has considerable effect on sound quality (about 8% of the body tube area is 'made' of pad).
One of the important features of any pad is that it should work for all types of player, by which I mean that it should be resilient enough for the very lightest touch yet sufficiently firm to resist the white knuckle grip imposed by, say, a rather nervous player. Wool does this job extraordinarily well, whereas simple homogenous materials like rubber do not.
Padding any flute needs considerable patience and attention to detail. Each one must be set so as to seal the hole instantly, all around the perimeter, with only the lightest finger pressure, and slave keys must be adjusted to exact synchronisation with fingered keys. Any leakage will be disastrous for tonal stability and power. Given the horrid conditions in which they generally have to work (a mixture of steam, water, sweat and fluff) it’s a wonder how well they stand up!
Successful padding relies as much as anything on high quality materials, including the cup. Pads have flat bottoms: stuffing them into cups with rounded seats using either a cardboard washer or a dollop of shellac to take up some of the empty space eventually leads to movement and consequent leakage. Flute pads are invariably held in place either by a central screw or, in the case of a perforated key, by the infamous grommet, whose usual design ensures that it is extremely difficult to remove without damaging the pad. My changes in this area, which constitute the flat-bottomed cup and the easily removable grommet, have I believe, stood the test of time by helping both the pad – and the temper of the repairman – to remain more stable.