Thursday, 3 May 2012

Repairs and Restorations

Completely snowed under at the moment with repairs and restorations, which have forced me to put lots of projects on which I'm working on hold, and this got me thinking about the whole area of restoration/repair and it's relationship to flute making.
Of course, back in the day when there were no (or very few) new"Irish" flutes, restoration formed a major part of my work, and this was important to my development as a flute maker in that it allowed me to examine and measure and play just about every make of English flute from the late 18th to the early 20th centuries.
As new flutes became the first choice instrument of the Irish traditional musician, the volume of this work declined, and most of my work in this area now consists of work on the flutes of other revival makers.
Strange to say, repair/restoration is a fairly different art to flute making, and being good at one doesn't necessarily imply being good at the other. Here again my early experience in the workshop was crucial, and provided experience which is largely unavailable to the younger generation of makers.
Here's few observations that occurred to me.
When I'm really busy with work for my own clients, I often have to turn away flutes by other makers. I hate to leave people down, but I don't think it's too much to expect that makers will maintain/repair their own work. This is something people sometimes don't think about when they buy a new instrument...
I have someone else I can recommend to them when I'm that I am at the moment, but I have to look after my own customers above all else.
A classic scenario, which I'm getting better at avoiding, goes like this:
Someone turns up at the workshop with a very battered old flute which they want restored. Almost without exception the story going with it is that it was their grandfather's, and it was "a great flute in it's day". It's usually obvious that it was no such thing, but the element of sentimental value and rose tinted glasses ( or ears ) plays strongly here. The amount of work involved in even getting the instrument playing is usually huge, and in value much greater than that of the flute itself, so I've many times been persuaded to take on such work. Sometimes it works out well, but on just as many occasions the restored flute doesn't live up to the memory, and the restorer gets the blame!
In all cases honesty is the best policy, and it's easier to gently explain to people that their grandfather's flute may have been a great flute in it's day, but it's past it's best, and they shouldn't waste their money trying to make a silk purse from a sow's ear, rose tinted or not!

When this current batch of work is finished, hopefully by after the weekend, I'm taking a sabbatical from restorations...of other people's flutes at any rate, unless it's something really interesting that I want to examine and measure etc.
I have about 20 mostly very nice old flutes of my own, dating from a late 18th century Potter Senior up to some very late Rudall Carte 8 keyed, with a few early mechanised flutes along the way that are all waiting for a bit of TLC. Someday, someday, I'll measure and photograph them all, and publish the results on     the website, but for now it's back to re-corking, repadding, bent keys, pinning cracks etc etc.

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