How many different models do you offer?
Just one - it is the best possible flute I can make. There are however several options.
Why do all your flutes have stainless steel keywork, and why are the keys sometimes black?
When I started up in 1983, in partnership with the silversmith and headjoint maker John Webb, we decided to try to make a modern flute with some of the characteristics of the best 19th-century instruments. We had in mind particularly the flutes of Louis Lot, which were (and still are) much in demand by the leading London players. These tend to have thin tubes and very light keywork, which being made of silver is relatively soft and easily damaged. The tubes of these old flutes of course need retuning before they can be played in a modern orchestra, but there is little doubt that they have a specially beautiful sound. Our flutes were therefore to be light in weight, although strongly built, and rather different from the typical heavy American flute of today. We wanted them to be as responsive as possible, easy to play and full of tonal colour.
Stainless steel has about 75% the density of silver, but as it is nearly three times stiffer the actual amount of metal used can be much reduced, while maintaining reasonable strength. Stainless steel is also much harder than either silver or gold and extremely resistant to corrosion.
A further weight reduction can be achieved by cutting away the top surface of each key and inlaying a piece of hard polished plastic (acrylic). Inlaid keys are an optional extra. As the weight of each key is reduced so is its inertia - this leads to a more rapid response, and can be combined with lighter springing if desired. A further advantage of the black inlay is a really nice feel, warmer and more secure than metal. Go to the Gallery to see the difference
The normal Boehm system of pivoting is used, again to keep weight to the minimum while keys have maximum freedom of movement. Point screws and rods are hardened to reduce wear, a feature rarely found on other makes. The system can be described as partly "pinless" because in place of some of the usual tapered cross pins to fix certain keys to their rods we use hardened miniature socket screws. Pins are used for the more permanent fixings such as the adjustment screw block in the right hand section ( see photo below in section on adjustment screws) This lightweight keywork definitely has a beneficial effect on both sound quality and responsiveness; the tube seems to become more resonant and articulation is easier.
Stainless steel must be a lot cheaper than precious metals, so why aren't your flutes a bit cheaper to buy?
Stainless steel is cheaper than silver (although not much!) but it is very hard to work. Different methods have to be used, such as laser cutting or, nowadays, water jet cutting which can get around the intricate shapes without burning. The increased labour costs more than offset the small saving in material costs.
How good is the intonation of your flutes?
Up till 2012 I have used a 442 scale devised by William Bennett. Woodwind tuning is always a compromise but this scale seems to be about as good as it is possible to get. It has certainly satisfied many leading players who have commented favourably on it. I have derived from it a 440 version and a 444.
I have recently adopted the so-called Revised 2012 scale by William Bennett, Trevor Wye and Eldred Spell. This is suitable for pitches between A440 and 442.
I notice that you don't make headjoints. What is the reason behind that? Do you recommend any particular make to go with your flutes?
The reason is partly historical: when John Webb and I started he did all the silver work and was well known for his excellent heads. He has now retired, and I don't consider myself a good enough player to test a head properly as work proceeds. The world is awash with good heads nowadays, and most of my customers either already own a favourite head or like to trawl the shops at leisure. Few professionals play with the same make of head and body anyway!
Choice of head is obviously very subjective, but I can safely recommend those of Ian McLauchlan who offers a wide selection. He can be contacted via his own web site or at Just Flutes, Croydon, UK (tel +44-(0) 20-8662-8400). Alternatively, Lafin heads also seem to work well with these flutes. A Webb head would be ideal and might occasionally be found on the second hand market.
Do you make a covered hole model?
Yes indeed. Provided the keys open far enough a covered hole flute is just as good as an open hole one, and costs the same. Open hole flutes are more prone to leakage. See The Flute Ferret on this website for how to fix this.
I play a flute with offset G, but my teacher says I should change to "in-line". What are the advantages, if any? Or vice versa?
The offset arrangement is mechanically more reliable and for most people gives a more logical finger position; in-line G can be quite a stretch. The in-line pattern is possibly more elegant, more French and slightly lighter. Split E mechanisms are not often found on in-line flutes owing to the possibility of sticking keys and is not recommended. I offer a semi-offset G model which attempts to please everybody and has become my most popular. This of course can take the split E.
Do professional players use your flutes?
Nearly all my customers have been either professionals or music students, but I wouldn't want that to sound exclusive: some of them have been amateurs and even one or two beginners! A number of my flutes are played regularly in top British orchestras. Read their endorsements here.
Your flutes are obviously quite innovative so do they use ordinary pads?
Yes they do. I have done many experiments with synthetic materials, but long ago came to the conclusion that wool and skin work best and give the right sound. Cup design is crucial and mine have perfectly flat machined seatings for the pads. This makes padding easier and much more reliable. There is therefore no need for high tech pads, good quality standard ones are fine. A further improvement has been to redesign the open hole pad grommet, so that it is easily removed without damage to the pad. (Most other grommets I have encountered have been difficult to remove without deforming the pad or even nicking the skin). These improvements also make it less likely that leakage can occur around the back of the pad. This kind of leak is not detectable by the usual methods so often goes uncorrected. See The Flute Ferret for more information.
I see from the photos that your flutes have clutch adjustment screws. Surely these are associated only with cheap instruments. Please explain.
Adjustment screws have acquired a bad name for three reasons: they are usually placed too near the key axis which in combination with a coarse thread means that a small turn of the screw is geared up to a large movement of the key, so accurate adjustment is very difficult and short-lived. The second reason is that they tend to work loose, and the third is that they always have pointed ends which soon bite through the little plastic cushions, which results in mechanical clatter. (read more about this topic in the Flute Maker pages)
The alternative, screwless clutch found on most handmade flutes works well until adjustment is required. This usually involves tiny bits of cigarette paper, a good deal of expert's time and probably bad temper. The original French design where the clutch is placed right up under the key is still found on many modern flutes. Such poor geometry at least provides a steady income for the repair trade!
I have tackled these problems to produce an adjustment screw which really works. It has a special fine thread, is set as far as possible away from the key axis and has a broad contact area with the clutch plate. Each screw is carefully fitted to ensure the correct turning torque. This is an engineering solution resulting in a quiet, positive action, which can easily be adjusted with great precision when necessary.
What is the purpose of the c key extension?
This is simply a raised touch-piece to lift the finger into a more comfortable playing position. It does not suit everyone but for some it is a godsend! There is no extra charge.
Why would I need the "high G# mechanism"?
This is rarely found on flutes. The mechanism is a simple link between the G# cup and the B key. When G# is pressed the B key is partially, but not completely, closed automatically. This has the effect of flattening top G# when the normal left hand fingering is used. It also helps to stabilise the note. This fingering normally produces a slightly sharp G#. The downside of the mechanism is that unless precisely adjusted it can muffle top C slightly, although this is less pronounced when using a B foot. An adjustment screw is provided.
What about maintenance? If my Wessel flute goes wrong, can the woodwind repairers fix it or do I send it to you?
These flutes have been around for a long time now, since 1983 in fact, and many have gone abroad, so some of the repairers have learned to work on them. The only practical difference is that stainless steel is harder than the more usual metals. I offer a free service within the first year of purchase and recommend an annual service after that. All mechanisms in constant use suffer wear and tear but in general the stainless steel action is proving highly reliable and long lasting. (See the Service page for further details.) You can always send your flute to me and then it will get the very best service often at very short notice.
Can I have certain keys made to a different shape or size to suit my fingering?
Yes, several variations are possible particularly of footjoint keys. Naturally I do my best to provide my customers with exactly what they need. All my flutes are made individually so making small changes of this sort is usually very straightforward
I see in your Gallery there are pictures of alternative cases, including a small B foot case, not mentioned in the price list. Please explain.
I have made all kinds of case for different combinations of flute joints, piccolos etc and it's not possible to publish prices for them all. The small B foot case was made recently for a customer who wished to keep this item separate. All the cases are wooden, usually of walnut with a beautiful oiled finish, are lined with best quality cotton velvet and fitted with hidden slide catches. Please ask for a quotation if you require a non standard layout.
Where can I try one?
- All Flutes Plus, London, UK (Telephone +44-(0) 20-7935-3339)
- Top Wind, London, UK (Telephone +44-(0) 20-7401-8787)
- Just Flutes, Croydon, UK (Telephone +44-(0) 20-8662-8400)
Alternatively please Contact us for the latest information on availability.
Please guide me through the ordering process
This is very easy.
Even if you have not yet decided on the exact specification for your flute get in touch either by phone or email. I can help you through the various options although there is unlikely to be urgency on this until later. I will also tell you an approximate delivery date.
If you decide to order just write a short confirmation letter enclosing your deposit of £400. If you live overseas payments may be made either by bank transfer or Paypal but discuss this with me first.
You will then get a written acceptance of order.
How long would I have to wait before receiving my new flute?
This of course depends on my current work load but the average waiting time is about six months, sometimes less sometimes more. Some customers are happy to wait much longer than this so if you are in a hurry I can often let you jump the queue! Don't forget that your flute will be made especially for you, completely by hand. It will be worth the wait.
Sometimes you can get one of my flutes from the London shops.