Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Dante's Satan....

I've been thinking about this concept for quite a while now, but, as always, getting around to doing something about it is rather more difficult. In fact I had this head made and working last August, and have meant to post about it since.
It's common knowledge that different types of embouchure,( and here I refer to the embouchure on the flute, that you blow into...or across, or into and across...that's a discussion for a different day)
suit different players, but if you're looking at a flute from this point of view and then comparing it with another, the problem is that you can't isolate just the embouchure. For example if you tried to compare embouchures across series of flutes, even those by the same maker, many other factors apart from the embouchure are changing, making comparisons of little value.
So the idea was to have a head which could stay on the same flute, but which would have interchangeable embouchures. Simpler to explain in pictures......

So essentially I took a length of head tubing, and milled a large squarish hole in it, centred on where the embouchure would normally be drilled.
Next I prepared three tubes of delrin, as you can see above. You might think that the upper and lower ones are superfluous, and in fact the head would work fine without them, but what you'd have then would be essentially a thinned head, and would give a different sound, not attributable to the different  embouchures. It's the middle piece that's the crux of the thing, and I'll have to explain a bit about that since it's impossible to show it effectively in one photo.
 What I did was to carefully machine this section so that it could rotate on the tube. I then cut three different embouchures separated at 120 degrees.
When the whole thing is assembled, it looks just like a normal head.

It also plays like a normal a great extent. The fact that delrin is denser than blackwood, that the head is essentially  lined as opposed to unlined, and that there is a very minimal bore distortion, due to the inner edge of the tube not meeting the inner edge of the embouchure, will have a minor effect.
Here's a close up of the three embouchures on this particular middle section.
I've put a piece of white paper in the bore to make them easier to see.

In fact, although these might not seem so different when looked at from this point of view, what you can't see is the undercut on each embouchure which is where a lot of the significant difference lies.

Of course, because the middle section can be replaced with others, the amount of options open for testing a particular embouchure against a particular bore is almost unlimited.

By the way, the reason for the title of this blog is that in Dante's inferno, satan has a head with three mouths. He might have found this head handy...


  1. Hi, Hammy,

    Your experiment reminds me of the mysterious test flute Boehm made with moveable tone holes. No one has ever found it and he only mentions it once in his book, but apparently he could move any of the finger holes up or down the shaft at will. Bit of an engineering feat, no?

    Anyway, I wanted to ask you how much experimentation you have done with chimney depth and if you could explain how that changes the tone quality and playability. I recently had Casey Burns make me a custom head for a flute of his that goes back to the mid 80s. It is a great flute, but the embouchure was big and round and seemed to consume air and the metal lining was heavy and threw off the balance. The head he made for me has a more conventional shape to the embouchure and is unlined. He turned it to have a parabolic shape that makes it thicker at the embouchure without affecting the bore dimension, but adds depth to the chimney. The effect is excellent, but I don't know why. I would love to hear your thoughts.


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  2. I wonder if Boehm had been at the old schnapps when he thought of that one? Strikes me that the means of making the holes moveable, presumably by some sort of telescoping tubes, would interfere with, and severely limit the degree of movement
    Chimney depth is something that I’ve experimented with quite a bit. The thing is, that as with all other parameters of embouchure design, it’s impossible to change one with out changing the others to some extent.
    For example, increasing the chimney depth increases both overall volume of the embouchure and also it’s crosssectional area where it meets the bore, with the reverse being true.
    I don’t think that it’s often considered that undercutting has a perhaps similar effect to making an embouchure deeper, as it increases the length of the surface from the external surface to the bore.
    The only real way to isolate depth as a factor is to make a series of perfectly cylindrical embouchures of the same diameter but different depth, but I’m not sure, despite what this experiment might show us, that it would tell us much about how to make a playable flute.

  3. Thanks for the response! Some very interesting points, especially about undercutting essentially extending the chimney area. Never thought of that. The only thing you left out was what you gleaned from your experimentation. Any conclusions?

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