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I am considering a grenadilla wood flute with sterling silver keys. Is there a downside to a wood flute that I should be aware of? I have always played silver plated flutes but want a warmer sound.

Thank you
 

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Grafton alto | Martin Comm III tenor
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You'll probably get a warmer sound, not because of the wood but because of the lip plate. I use a 1910 (I think) Rudall Carte, but also have a custom made Sterling head joint for the I want it brighter.

The main down side wood be the possibility of cracking.
 

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I think the warmer sound comes from having the tonehole undercut and not with a raised chimney.

New wood flutes,may crack, an old one won’t (if it had to crack it would have done so already).

Modern flutes may be better in tune at 440Hz. wile older ones (especially of the German type) would normally tune at 435Hz.

Some of those have also a beautiful reform headjoint which I love for tone production.

Another possibility is the G.Rudolf Uebel aluminum flute, which, yes, is made of aluminum, but the same way as wooden flutes, has undercut toneholes.



 

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The main down side wood be the possibility of cracking.
There's also distortion of the wood that can occur with the hole becoming more oval than round. Toneholes can become chipped and yes, the usual issue is splitting or cracking.

I think the grain of the wood may play some part in the quality of sound depending on how smooth the bore is. I get this idea from clarinets where the same bore is used on plastic and wooden instruments but the wooden version can have a different quality that isn't usually found in the plastic instruments. It's not a proven thing, of course.

My main issue with wooden instruments is they tend to be very expensive - but the better quality of flutes are also pricey. But you can get a very nice sounding Pearl, for example without spending a fortune.
 

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I have been searching for the aluminum Uebel but have been either outbid or it required a lot of work.

If tuned to 435hz how would that effect its use in contemporary jazz?
 

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Flutes at 440hz versus 432hz means a C using 440 would be an A at 432hz.

Is this correct?
 

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Almost all older flutes are tuned in lower frequencies than modern ones. It doesn’t matter too much for the majority of the flutist to lip the notes up (flutes are rather flexible)

It has never hampered anyone. It won[t hamper you.


If you want to read the story of the modernization of the flute

“.Before Theobald Böhm, the concept of “scale” was lost on flutists. Figures 1A and 1B in the photo above show two one-key flutes pitched at A=427 and 442, with nearly identical hole placement. While flutemakers were not concerned with mathematical abstractions, they were not ignorant. With the finger position decided on, tuning could be dealt with by changing the size of the holes. A larger hole raises the pitch and a smaller hole lowers it. Makers sometimes also undercut the tonehole, making it larger and raising the pitch without changing what you see on the outside. Remember this principle, as there will be a quiz later.

The larger holes of our modern flute absolutely require an accurate “scale.” The photo’s figure 1C shows a Nicholson model flute, with the usual placement and wildly enlarged finger holes. Figure 1D shows an 1832 Böhm model flute as made by Rudall & Rose. This is Böhm’s direct response to the Nicholson instrument. Notice the absolute regularity of tonehole size and placement. Böhm’s understanding of “scales” must have been extraordinary, but the knowledge largely died with him. Flutemakers were left to copy existing instruments and make the occasional tweak.

A New Era

In the United States, we can easily imagine what happened with scales in the early 20th century. As the French style of playing became fashionable, so did French-style flutes — namely those made by Louis Lot. Most of these were intended for diapason normale, or A=435. These can be played at A=440 by shortening the headjoint, but this leaves the holes too far apart. If A is in tune, C-sharp will be sharp and the low notes will be flat. This is what the famous flutists played, so customers wanted a copy, and makers did their best to provide. A flutemaker might tweak something here or there, but they would have been crazy to deviate significantly from the “ideal.” Players learned to adjust for the errant notes (with mixed success), creating a paradox: a theoretically perfect flute would have been unacceptable, because established players would find the low notes sharp and the C-sharp flat! And this is exactly what happened.


In 1974, Bickford Brannen visited Albert Cooper in London, brought the scale back to Powell Flutes, and so contributed to an historic decision. Powell, at the height of prestige and with no need to innovate, introduced not just a new scale but an entirely new instrument and approach to flutemaking. It is difficult today to appreciate the controversy this created. This pivotal moment in our history deserves a separate article, if not a book. Suffice it to say that we are all deeply indebted to Bick Brannen for taking the first step on this groundbreaking journey. "

more here

https://www.justflutes.com/blog/scales-an-incomplete-look-at-what-every-flutist-should-know-2/#gref
 

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Grafton alto | Martin Comm III tenor
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Flutes at 440hz versus 432hz means a C using 440 would be an A at 432hz.

Is this correct?
No, 440 is the frequency of A, not C. C is not relevant in this case. (Isn't there another thread discussing this?)
 

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I use a Haynes head on my old Selmer Master Perfected Model. It has a custom wooden lip plate.put in place by one Haynes tech and then finished by another. I loved it from the first moment for the very woody sound. I don't know what is available but you might consider looking for a silver head with a wooden lip plate.
 

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Unless the wood is lacquered or shellacked smooth the texture will effect the air movement.
I know this because I have a rosewood tenor recorder that was finished inside and out, water-proof and very smooth.
Stripped the whole thing inside and out. Made it sound woody rather than plastic.
 

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I have had a number of old flutes made of wood (they are rather common in Europe) I have played one for a longer period than most ( an Hammerschmidt Klingsor Spezial) .

They are not smoothened inside or painted but being hardwood their finish is very smooth. Of course metal headjoints are smooth but even wooden ones (of the old flutes) are sleeved.

Wooden headjoints of the majority of old flutes are generally cracked but the crack is only outside, inside they are metal sleeved. Do try a German Reform headjoint with their winged lipplate, the sound production is very easy and the low frequency greatly enhanced.
 

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I have had a number of old flutes made of wood (they are rather common in Europe) I have played one for a longer period than most ( an Hammerschmidt Klingsor Spezial) .

They are not smoothened inside or painted but being hardwood their finish is very smooth. Of course metal headjoints are smooth but even wooden ones (of the old flutes) are sleeved.

Wooden headjoints of the majority of old flutes are generally cracked but the crack is only outside, inside they are metal sleeved. Do try a German Reform headjoint with their winged lipplate, the sound production is very easy and the low frequency greatly enhanced.
Thank you M. I'm bidding on what appears to an Uebel SS flute like you pictured. Do these tune to the current frequency. I want to be able to read sheet music in the key of C.

I really want the aluminum cigar Uebel but I know less than nothing when it comes to flutes. I currently play on an older Reynolds with a solid silver head and 24K gold lip.
 

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I use a Haynes head on my old Selmer Master Perfected Model. It has a custom wooden lip plate.put in place by one Haynes tech and then finished by another. I loved it from the first moment for the very woody sound. I don't know what is available but you might consider looking for a silver head with a wooden lip plate.
Thank you
 

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Thank you M. I'm bidding on what appears to an Uebel SS flute like you pictured. Do these tune to the current frequency. I want to be able to read sheet music in the key of C.

I really want the aluminum cigar Uebel but I know less than nothing when it comes to flutes. I currently play on an older Reynolds with a solid silver head and 24K gold lip.
I think that the majority of these flutes produced before the ’70 don’t tune at A=440Hz. But again this is not a problem because many flutists have used those over the years with instrument tuned in the current standard and variations are very well compensated.

The Uebel “ cigar” flute is really an instrument that few years ago was difficult to sell, now seems to have acquired a lot more cachet (not when I sold them though!). I have had 2 and one piccolo of the same type.
 

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I think that the majority of these flutes produced before the ’70 don’t tune at A=440Hz. But again this is not a problem because many flutists have used those over the years with instrument tuned in the current standard and variations are very well compensated.

The Uebel “ cigar” flute is really an instrument that few years ago was difficult to sell, now seems to have acquired a lot more cachet (not when I sold them though!). I have had 2 and one piccolo of the same type.
They still don't bring more than around 400-600usd but its just so unique. The wood SS flute was something you suggested earlier because of the reform lip riser.
 

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What about trying a wooden headjoint on your current flute?
There are a few makers around...J Novo and Eva Aralikkati (flute_fairy on ebay)are found on ebay. They have a nickel silver shank which you may need to get expanded or contracted by a tech to fit your flute.
As well there are some that look nice coming out of China along with new wooden flutes.
 

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if one belives that the material is what forms the sound one may think that the addition of a wooden headjoint is going to “ wood-ify” the sound.

If, on the other hand, one believes that the physical difference in each tone is produced by the undercutting of the toneholes ( as in a wooden body is necessary) as opposed to raised chimneys (as in most metal flutes), then this would not be the solution to OP query.

Modern German wooden flutes have often times wooden headjoints but the old makers knew that a wooden headjoint is prone to splitting , therefore they lined their headjoints with metal or produced the headjoint in metal ( generally nickel silver) and most of the times they have ebonite or even plastic lipplates , often times winged ones.

Material, may affect how things have to be made so it is possible that one achieves a result not because of the inherent qualities of the material but because the material itself steers the design in a certain direction.

This was the assumption which led G.R. Uebel to make use of metal (aluminum) but treating it as if it were wood to produce an instrument which would have both the qualities of metal (light and robust, easy to get and to machine) and of the wood ( sound obtained from undercutting the tonehole).

Of course people disagree here as anywhere else on the role of materials. G.R. Uebel made also other instruments this way. Notaly Bass Clarinets in the same way and for the same reasons.



he made piccolos too

 

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Don't know what makes the difference but the wooden headjoint I have has a different sound; more than likely the way the embouchure hole is cut and the different lip plate. Don't know that it would be particularly "woody" though. However I am just a flute hack so my experience means little.
Would love one of the Uebel aluminium ones to have around just because I love the design details. I have heard that they are pretty heavy though, and I feel the flute has enough compromises already without being heavier.
I do wonder about the Chinese wooden flutes though, anyone tried them?

Also I wonder about keeping the bore oiled without letting the pads get too sticky.
 

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I can’t say that all Chinese made flutes are all the same. I ‘ve tried a couple years ago at the Frankfurt messe and there were some good instruments but, how can one generalize and advise for or against without having tried the specific flute?

I am not going to venture there.

As for weight of the Uebel, I think that wooden flutes are all rather heavy and that the Uebel isn’t outside that ballpark.


Oiling the bore of hardwood ( most older flutes are) is very contentious too. Do we know for sure that oil prevents cracking? No we don’t. We simply assume it does but oiled clarinets crack all the same while old flutes and clarinets that aren’t cracked never seem to crack.
Tensions that crack any instrument develop generally in the first few years of having been built and if they don’t they are likely to never crack. Oil or no oil.

If weight is an issue, I would most certainly try the (Taiwanese made) Guo flutes.

as for oiling the bore (Myth or fact? my addition) read this article by Ted Planas ( a very renowned clarinet maker!)

OILING THE WOOD
Ted Planas

The subject of oiling the body of woodwind instruments is something that
crops up with monotonous regularity. I have heard many differing opinions
(often stated as ‘fact’), and have seen many differing practices, but as far
as my experience goes, there seems too little, if any, change in the
percentage of cracked instruments.
When I was a student I was told by some people that I should anoint my
clarinet with linseed oil. Those who told me this were mainly my fellow
students (amongst whom myth and legend flourished), and some salesmen in the
leading musical instrument shops. There seemed to be very few hard facts
regarding the use of oil, and in one case, oiling or the lack of oiling was
used as an evasion of responsibility by one particular dealer, who claimed
that lack of oiling inevitably led to cracking, and in another instance
declaring that too much oil had been used, which induced cracking. With
little evidence and many conflicting opinions I found it difficult to decide
what to do. I had my own opinions and some ideas of course - but these were
not fact. So, since my student days I have been trying to find out as much
as possible about the behaviour of the wooden bodies of clarinets, oboes,
bassoons, and flutes, especially since I have used many of the woods to make
new instruments and parts for existing instruments (new barrels, wooden
mouthpieces, new joints, new bells, sundry extension joints and basset
clarinets). I have quite openly asked various manufacturers their opinions,
experiences, their practice and methods. Many have been very helpful indeed,
some indifferent, one or two quite evasive.
Wooden clarinets (and oboes) are nowadays almost all made from African
blackwood (in France it is known as Ebene - not to be confused with ebony -
in Germany and America it is known as Grenadilla). The botanical name is
Dalbergia Melanoxylon. In the recent past cocus wood has been used,
especially for wooden flutes. The botanical name of cocus is Byra Ebenus.
Rosewood has also been used, and in fact a variety of rosewood is still used
for French bassoons. One French maker also uses it for contra-alto and
contra-bass clarinets. There are over 70 varieties of rosewood but only the
heaviest and most dense are used for woodwind instruments. All rosewoods
belong to the Dalbergia family of woods - so African blackwood is really the
darkest and most dense of the rosewoods. The most important (to woodwind
instrument makers) of the rosewoods are Cocobalo (Dalbergia Retusa), also
known as palisander, used for contra-bass clarinets; Rio violet wood, or
Brazil rosewood (Dalbergia Latifolia) used for French bassoons, sometimes
also referred to as palisander, which causes a certain amount of confusion
(other varieties of Brazil rosewood are known as Kingwood); Tulip wood
(Dalbergia Oliveri) (this wood is also used for xylophone keys).
These rosewoods are very dense. Dalbergia Retusa is nearly as heavy as
Blackwood, and Violet wood is not far behind. For those interested, the
weights (per cubic foot?) are as follows:
Blackwood 75 - 89 lbs.
Palisander 70 - 86 lbs.
Brazil Rosewood 63 - 76 lbs.
Tulip wood 60 - 66 lbs.
Cocus 65 - 70 lbs.
So none of these woods float in water, all will sink! In the early part of
the last century and before that time, Boxwood was used for the smaller
instruments (flutes, oboes and clarinets), usually the Turkish variety
(botanical name Buxus Sembervireus —weight 54-60 lbs.). Various fruitwoods
have also been used for early instruments and some other (lighter)
hardwoods. To this day German bassoons are made of Maple (Acer, many
varieties - 37 lbs).
But one further technical fact: all the important hardwoods except one are
heart-wood, that is, the centre of the trunk which does not nourish the
tree, only supports it. The sapwood is the fresh living part (on the outside
of the trunk, directly beneath the bark) which carries the nutrients from
root and leaf. Every year the innermost layer of sapwood becomes inactive
and hardens, getting more dense, and
becomes heartwood. A new layer of sapwood grows on the outside.
All the Dalbergias (Blackwood and Rosewoods) and Cocus are heartwood - but
Boxwood is all sapwood, the innermost layers never become inactive.
Therefore all the wood is capable of carrying moisture through its grain
relatively easily, especially compared with dense resinous heartwood.
So, at last, I have come to the oiling part. If you have a boxwood
instrument, antique or new, oil it with one of the oxidising vegetable oils
such as linseed oil (boiled or raw) and almond oil. The wood will absorb
some of the oil (it does not penetrate very far) but if the oil is rubbed in
well and the excess is wiped off, it will oxidise (harden) reasonably
quickly in about 2 or 3 days and form a very good surface finish - almost a
varnish. (In fact, before the advent of modern plastic-based paints, the
gloss in gloss paint was boiled linseed oil). If this treatment is repeated
from time to time (more frequently when the instrument is new) it will
certainly help to reduce the absorption of water. However, boxwood is very’
good at absorbing water - the instrument maker Mahillon remarked that it was
more suitable as a hygrometer than as a musical instrument.
The heavier woods do absorb moisture, but more slowly. But the amount of oil
they absorb is negligible, especially Blackwood, even if it is bone dry.
Under a pressure of several atmospheres over a period of 4 days, dry
blackwood (5 years seasoned, and oven dried as well) was penetrated by warm
linseed oil less than 0.02 mm into the end grain. This test I supervised
myself, having availed myself of the use of a very robust pressure vessel at
an engineering works. After the period of pressure I sectioned the wood to
find out the results.
I have also noted when working on the bodies of instruments old and new, how
little is the penetration of stain, oil, and other chemicals. Even the
lightest of cuts on the surface reveals clear wood! The only liquid that
penetrates blackwood is water, but of course that is how the tree lived,
with water carrying all the nutrients through the woody trunk, roots and
branches.
So I reckon I have confirmed what I suspected for a long time. It is rather
a waste of time to oil a finished instrument. At best, if done slowly and
meticulously, it produces a very nice surface finish on the wood (very
cosmetic), and at worst it can be counter-productive, by forming a gummy
deposit in the tone holes and on pads, and in some instances if the
instrument is played before the oil has dried, the water which condenses
from the breath gets under the wet oil and is retained instead of repelled.
(Any one who has had rain fall on wet oil paint will know what happens!).
With any (and every) instrument that I make (or any part of the body,
barrel, bell etc.) I always recommend the player not to oil the wood - I
have already done so in the latter part of the seasoning process (the last
four months), and a good soaking in it too. I do not oil the wood of any of
my own instruments - and I have over 40.
I have lost count of the number of cracks repairs I have done, a fair
percentage on new instruments but also a lot on well-used instruments, some
that have been in continuous use for 30 years without cracking. It was
during the very hot and dry summer of 1971 (1 think) that I had over 35
crack repairs in 2 weeks.
Most cracking is due to distortion caused by uneven expansion of the wood.
One of the major causes of uneven expansion is uneven absorption of water,
for example the inside of the instrument (the bore absorbs water while the
outside remains relatively dry). Blackwood absorbs moisture slowly, so even
if it becomes sopping wet, if it is wiped dry fairly quickly no harm is
done. But if part of the wood is allowed to remain wet and another part is
still dry, trouble will follow. Even if the instrument does not crack, it
will distort and so lose the accuracy of the bore.
So, dry the instrument thoroughly after playing, paying particular attention
to the sockets and tenons, and blot out all waterlogged tone holes. On new
instruments it helps if the top keys are propped open to allow any remaining
moisture to evaporate quickly (a couple of matchsticks will do the trick -
don’t forget to remove them before playing).
The water you put into the instrument when playing is not very dangerous -
it is the water you leave in that can cause the trouble.
There is no course of action that will absolutely guarantee that wood will
not split or crack. Wood is a variable material, and on the whole the best
makers go to a lot of trouble to throw out dubious wood and to season the
good wood properly. Drying out properly after playing, using a cotton
pull-through (mops are not very effective), avoiding extremes of
temperatures, and humidity, is the safest course of action. This should
allow the wood to stabilise gradually to an even moisture content.
Finally, a lot of various unguents offered to players for their instruments
are fairly useless. ‘Bore oil’ is often only dilute linseed or almond
oil —sometimes very dilute. ‘Key oil’ is another dubious concoction and some
of the special greases are very, very ordinary.
Linseed and almond oil are available at hardware stores, art shops, and
chemists. ‘Key oil’ - well, best is motor oil, Shell, Esso, Duckhams etc.
For greases tallow with a little scent or after-shave is very good.
I could have said all the above in one sentence ‘Do not oil the wood, dry it
instead’, but that would have sounded like just another opinion, which can
never be a substitute for fact.

 
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