Tuesday, 29 December 2020

The Cornelius Cabinet of Curiosity #2

 The flute making firm, founded by the flute teacher George Rudall in 1821, to provide flutes for his pupils, quickly established a reputation as the finest of the London makers, which they maintained well into the 20th century.

Initially, in 1820 he had flutes made by Willis, who was among the finest makers in early 19thC. London, and were stamped George Rudall, and usually but not consistently "Willis Fecit" ( Latin for Willis made it, for those who didn't go to school in the 60s) on the foot.

By 1821 he formed an association with the Edinburgh maker John Mitchell Rose, and the first registered address is 11 Tavistock St. where they stayed till 1824. They worked at various addresses in the Covent Garden area, and after moving to possibly their most famous address, 15 Piazza, Covent Garden, they returned to 1 Tavistock St. in 1838.

How George Rudall and John Mitchell Rose came to establish the firm together is not known. Rose was from Edinburgh, Rudall a Londoner, and Rose, although several flutes exist apparently made by him, was far from being an established maker at the time. I strongly recommend the account of the Rose flutes in Robert Bigio's excellent tome "Rudall, Rose & Carte - The Art of the Flute in Britain"


Although the vast majority of the 8 keyed flutes that Rudall & Rose, and later Rudall, Rose & Carte would make were of a very standard design, one which they were instrumental in establishing, they were also noted for very many flutes which broke that mould. Basically, it seems, they would make anything that a customer was prepared to pay for, and this has resulted in some very unusual flutes. I've come across several of them in my time, a few of which I mean to feature in the Cabinet of Curiosity series. This is the first of those.

This particular instrument was brought to my attention by a friend, who although he didn't own the flute was able to organise the photos which I've used in this blog. They were quickly taken and not intended for this purpose, unfortunately not showing some of the detail that I'd like to see, but will serve for the moment.

So first things first. The flute has small holes and is in cocus and silver, and has a standard early 19th century 8 keyed block mounted set up. The low C and C# keys are entirely missing. The blocks are lined in silver. It appears to be in rather good original condition, apart from those missing keys, with no cracks or other damage that can be seen in the photographs. The stamp is worn, but I'm told ( I haven't actually examined this flute myself) that apart from Rudall and Rose,  the address  is Tavistock St., and the figure 1 is somewhere in the #, that there isn't much else to be gleaned...well possibly something, although unlikely,  that we'll see later.

So what"s unusual about it?
Well it has no tuning slide, not unusual, in itself since I've seen several other R & Rs with this feature. The outstanding Irish player Catherine McEvoy has played for many years a Rudall & Rose with no tuning slide. I'm inclined to believe though, that these slideless heads were normally provided as an additional head along with a normal head with a slide. I'm basing this on a couple of originally cased R & Rs that I've seen with two such heads and the fact that similar examples can be found among the work of the other major makers of the period.

Secondly, you'll note that all the keys are pewter plugs, in the manner of Potter Patent flutes from around the turn of the18th century. Again I'm told that some other examples of this exist, if very rare.

Thirdly, the mounts. The sheathed head cap and end of foot are commonly seen, but although double rings are a feature of many American 19th C. flutes, I have  never seen triple ones as on this flute.

Finally, that long F key. 

From its general style and profile it has to be original, but of all the unusual features of this flute, this takes the biscuit. I think this is possibly the only example (although no doubt others more knowledgeable will rush to correct me) of a long F which doesn't have a kink or bend just above the axle block. The point of this feature is, of course to ensure the long F and long C don't hit and bend each other when the flute is taken apart. I wonder in this case if the angle of the straight key still allows this to happen?

So can we date this flute, from the information available? The general style, to me suggests earlier rather than later, so what can the address tell us. Rudall & Rose worked from two addresses in this street, no. 11 in 1821 (their first address), and no. 1 from 1838 - 47. On the basis of the scanty evidence I have at the moment, I'm edging towards 11 as being the more likely.
However, in the verbal report I had of the flute which led to the photos, the person who saw the flute said he read the address as 7 Tavistock St.
Now very likely this is a misreading of 1 Tavistock St. A random little mark on the left side of the top of a 1, could easily look very like a 7.
Who lived at 7, Tavistock St.?
George Rudall...and two at least of the very earliest known numbered instruments  (ref Bigio as above) from Rudall & Rose bear this address, could this be another?

Tuesday, 3 November 2020

Embouchures Again - The Cast Embouchure

 When talking of the embouchure in my post of  17/8/19 I was concentrating on the effect that Benade's ideas had on my own work. Now however I'd like to discuss what is perhaps at the heart of transverse flute making in a lot more detail.

I think anyone who has tried to make a flute of any kind, has been more disconcerted by the challenge of constructing a functional embouchure than any other aspect of the process. Most sets of flute plans or drawings that are available, will of course give the position of the embouchure, and its basic external dimensions and shape. It's what's happening "under the surface" as it were, that causes (or solves) the problems.

It doesn't take long for the aspiring maker to realise that the embouchure, even on early flutes, where it is generally circular, is not simply a parallel sided hole, and even given the difficulties of measuring the internal bore dimensions, it's manifestly more difficult to measure the embouchure in any meaningful way. A cursory examination will reveal that the first general principle is that the embouchure gets larger as it approaches the bore. The observant will also note that this expansion does not seem to be radially symmetrical, i.e. front, back, and sides are not the same.

One visual aid which can help examination of embouchures is a small mirror which fits loosely into the bore of the head, coupled with a light source of some sort which will also fit inside. This allows observation of the embouchure from the inside out.

Possibly the most useful means of visualising the shape of an embouchure is to take a cast of it. Normally considered as a means of documenting historical flutes (largely, if not entirely, now forbidden in museum collections ) it's also a very useful technique for the modern maker, if only to check that what they are trying to do, is actually what they're doing. 

If you have access to it, dental impression material is ideal for this purpose...just be sure to use some type of releasing agent ( Vaseline, or silicon grease both work well) 

 A brief historical survey of embouchures shows a move from small circular via oval, to parallelogram ( roughly speaking), increasing in size from the initially tiny baroque embouchures to the practical limit of a playable embouchure, which, it could be argued is not much greater than 12mm x 10mm. The common feature is that they all get wider approaching the bore, and that this is rarely if ever in a regular fashion. 

In the "Introduction to Flute Making" courses that I've taught for the Ballyfermot College of Further Education under the auspices of Na Piobairí Uilleann I've tried to break down the basic principles of embouchure design, and we did a series of experiments looking at some of the most basic parameters, such as size and depth. Using a delrin sleeve over a standard head tube ( see blog post 17/2/2016 Dante's Satan ) we drilled simple round parallel holes through the sleeve which could then be made to act as the embouchure. One advantage of this approach was that it was possible, using different barrels, for students to try these embouchures on their own flutes, and thus be able to attribute any differences to the change in the embouchure alone. Starting with size ( in this case diameter alone ) we drilled holes of 8, 10, 12, and 14 mm, observing what changed, as the diameter increased. Similarly we used sleeves of different external diameters, so as to vary chimney depth.

The first thing that this exercise will teach, is that it's possible to get a sound, sometimes a surprisingly good sound, from almost any size and shape of "embouchure". The second is that changing parameters in a direction which makes things better, only does so up to a point. To illustrate. A very small, say 6 mm embouchure, is almost impossible to play, but small increases in diameter lead to increasing facility and ease, until at about 14 mm, control becomes increasingly difficult. Of course it's impossible to separate the two basic parameters under discussion, because an embouchure is by its nature three dimensional, but at least we can vary one at a time and keep the other one constant.

The point of all this is to demonstrate the complexity of the embouchure even at this very basic level of the parameters of size and chimney depth.   

Consider that other parameters that need to be taken into account in properly functioning embouchure include shape, and not just on the basics: is it oval or square/rectangular etc. because for example there are long ovals, and almost circular ovals, close to pure rectangles and even occasional squares, there are these shapes with curved sides, almost blending into the oval, and so on. Then the undercut, as the way in which the embouchure expands towards the bore is called. This is usually different on the back, front and both sides, it can be straight or curved, curving more towards the outer surface or towards the bore, sometimes giving a slight "reverse" expansion. Another major consideration is how the different undercuts blend with each other. Extremely important are the edges where the embouchure meets the bore, and where it meets the surface. These can be sharp or rounded, and again they are different front, back, and sides.                               Finally, remember that all these parameters interact with each other with varying complexity. 

All this might lead one to wonder how on earth anyone can actually cut an embouchure, let alone learn to do it, but it bears consideration that in the account above, I'm deliberately emphasising the complexity, and intellectualising something that in practical terms is much simpler. Consider the art of reed making. Without the ability to make a reed, bagpipes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, and many more would remain silent. Yet if a potential reed maker was to take the analytical, acoustical approach ( Benade, for one, has a lot to say about the acoustics of the reed) I'd suggest they would remain so. So how does the nascent flute maker approach this whole area?

In a similar way to that in which the current makers of simple system flutes began by copying historic flutes, they also copied the embouchures as best they could, given the caveat of mostly not knowing precisely what they were copying, but rather relying on what worked and what didn't. This is perhaps the major area in which it's essential that the flute maker is also a player, and not only that but a player in the tradition in which the flute is intended to be used. 

By whatever means, the contemporary makers learned to make embouchures that fitted into what might be called, to borrow a phrase from astronomy,  the Goldilocks Zone. The embouchure was somewhere in or around 10mm x 12mm, undercut a little more on the blowing side than the back, and perhaps less again on the sides, which might not be exactly equal in that sense. Other parameters, as mentioned above, would vary more according to the maker. I can only speak here for the  makers of modern simple system flutes, and not those who make historical copies for the early music enthusiast. They are much more restricted.

In my own work, I like everyone else began by copying as exactly as I could, but as I gained in confidence and moved away from copies I came up with an embouchure design which was in essence quite different physically and in concept from most other embouchures. Here's what I said about it in the "Irish Flute Player's Handbook" ( 2nd ed. 2008 )

"I pondered for many years about how to make a head which would incorporate the features that I wanted, such as a deep chimney, and an overcut, but which were easy enough to produce to allow me to use such a head as standard, and also were still basically of the standard rather than thinned head appearance"

 (I had just been discussing how a thinned head was allowing me to include certain embouchure design parameters, but was looking for something less expensive and time consuming for standard instruments)    

"Eventually in about 2000, I came up with a solution which has worked very well. The germ of the idea had been with me for a long time...there are drawings in my workshop notebook dating from early 1984 which state the basic idea. Normally the pilot hole for the embouchure is drilled in the centre of the head, i.e., it is centred on a radius of the head. This means that the initial chimney depth is equal on both the front and back of the embouchure. It occurred to me that if I shifted the axis of this pilot hole away from the centre in the direction of the side the player blows against ( in essence drilling the axis on a chord to the head circumference ) that two results would be achieved. Firstly the chimney is deeper than for a hole drilled on the centre, and secondly, when the normal undercut is made, the included angle is smaller, giving the same effect as an overcut. From the player's point of view, the effect is a noticeable improvement in response, similar to that achieved by a thinned head. The fact that the improvement is still obvious when features such as the pitch of the instrument or the shape of the embouchure are changed indicates to me that the embouchure parameters have been changed in a basic way, and this explains why an embouchure cut on the above basis works for a piccolo with an oval embouchure, or a low Bb with a square one."

Other aspects of this embouchure were a quite severe undercut on the blowing side in contrast with an almost vertical back and sides, the idea ( perhaps fanciful ) being to push the air forward against the edge where the vibration of the air reed was driving the sound production. The important thing was that it worked.

Because the embouchure was quite differently undercut on the across the flute axis, it necessitated cutting it "in reverse" for the left handed player...of which there are many in the Irish tradition.                                                                                      This led to several interesting observations. When I'm cutting an embouchure, I bring it as close as I can, by measurement and observation to what I want, and then I begin the final tweaking process, which involves playing the flute, and making the final adjustments to the embouchure, normally careful modifications to the edge profiles. So when it came to a left handed flute I had to make those final adjustments blowing the instrument in a way that is very counter-intuitive for me, but I managed to teach myself to do this. In fact what I would do, is to blow the embouchure even if left handed, right handedly at first, and then check the final cut by blowing it left handed. That I could get to perhaps 95% of where I wanted to be blowing the "wrong way", indicated to me that perhaps the degree of undercut was less important than claimed, and also called to mind the number of players who quite successfully played right handed flutes left handed. This included a few of my own customers who being left handed and having bought pre-owned right handed flutes, preferred to stay with the "wrong" embouchure when offered the choice.

Around this time as well, the letter that Benade had written discussing the embouchure cut in great detail became available and I began to give the ideas in it serious consideration. ( See post of the 17/8/19 ) The first thing that I began to realise was that my "own" embouchure design was almost exactly that of Benade's switched back to front...which perhaps to some extent accounted for the "playable in reverse anecdotes above. Secondly I began to wonder, if the volume of the space created by the embouchure was more crucial than had been realised, because of course this was one parameter which didn't change when the embouchure was reversed. Not being an acoustician, I also wondered if this had any relationship to the fact that the relationship between the air volume contained between the blades of a double reed and that of the bore appears to be absolutely crucial for double reed instruments of all sorts. ( See  Benade's The Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics )

Given how important the embouchure is to the flute, it's not surprising that flute makers have come up with both ways to repair damaged embouchures, and to replace them if required. 

This technique is called bushing, and basically consists of drilling a hole larger than the existing embouchure and filling this with a "bush" in which the new embouchure is then cut. In almost all circumstances, the bushing material is different to the original head material, being usually ivory, or horn. Apart from the decorative and aesthetic possibilities that this gives, it also reflected the fact that a small piece of wood would have little strength if worked on to any extent before it was inserted. 

Here's an example of a horn bushing on a George Rudall flute from c. 1820.

In this case the bushing tapers in as it approaches the bore in the opposite sense to the embouchure itself.

In this case the bushing tapers in as it approaches the bore in the opposite sense to the embouchure itself. You can see how this means that there is actually very little material in the bush itself. It's hard to make out if these bushes were largely finished before they were inserted, or inserted with a pilot bore worked in place.

It occurs to me that the way that the bush tapers would have prevented it being accidentally pushed into the bore in the finishing process Very many bushed embouchures were made in this fashion, although others where the bush itself was a parallel plug also exist. 
Note the turned grooves on the bush and the head, designed to give more grip to the adhesive, which was probably shellac.                                                                 
Unfortunately this bush is not in great condition as the horn has begun to denature and even delaminate slightly.
It may have to be replaced, but given the access that the detached bush gives to the embouchure cut, it should not be hard to do this accurately.

The ability to change an existing embouchure is a double edged sword.
Without resorting to bushing, a good maker can improve a badly cut embouchure, but the caveat is that this can only be done by removing material, and once gone too far, that can't be replaced.
I've seen several examples of embouchures that have been very professionally recut but which have resulted in a basically unplayable flute. This usually results from the desire to make a flute louder and more powerful, ( they were on flutes used in the Irish tradition where these qualities are prized) which a larger embouchure can do, but the temptation to pursue this course beyond its acoustical possibilities has obviously been too great with these examples.
The result of too big an embouchure, no matter how well made, is initially an apparent increase in power and volume, but the realisation soon dawns that it's only possible to maintain this for a very short period of play, which combined with a huge lack of flexibility can make a flute basically unplayable.

This is where the practice of bushing can be so valuable in retrieving such flutes to playability.

In my own work I have recently begun to experiment with bushed embouchures, not from the point of view of correcting or improving existing embouchures, but more in terms of consistency and simplicity of manufacture.

Of course, in the case of a new instrument, no advantage is gained by simply having to cut an embouchure in a separate piece of material which is then inserted, or inserting a piece and then cutting the embouchure.
The idea of having an embouchure cast in some material and which could then be inserted, leaving only a little tweaking to be done is something that had attracted me for some time. Of course, the idea is not original. The heads of Boehm system flutes are standardly made by soldering a cast chimney onto the head tube, and a lip plate onto that.

Here's a few images of a chimney and lip plate before assembly

The material to use was initially an issue. At various stages in my career I had thought of getting different components cast or moulded, but the problem was always one of proportion. These processes are only practical when many many thousands of units are required, when the cost falls to a few cent each. The answer was obviously to use a process where the production of a limited number of pieces didn't imply a prohibitive cost, and yet used a material which was at once both practical and aesthetically pleasing. So enter the silver cast embouchure.
The images below show the casting with the sprue still attached

There are other advantages.

1/ The main advantage of this system is consistency. Once the embouchure cut is determined it's reproducible within very close limits. 

2/ It's a very swift process inset the bush into the head and finish it.

3/ Making the flute left handed simply means turning the bush around in its "socket".

4/ A series of different cuts can be cast in this way, allowing a great degree of flexibility.

5/And of course the silver casting process is readily available at reasonable cost.

Finally, I don't think it looks to bad at all...

A flute of mine with such an embouchure...in fact this very one...will be available shortly via my Instagram account @hamiltonflutes

Thursday, 8 October 2020

The Cornelius Cabinet of Curioisties #1

 This is the first of a short series of posts dealing with some of the more unusual things that I've come across in forty years of flute restoration. 

This first example arrived in a group of flutes that I bought at auction in 2007. It was described as "a rosewood flute, unstamped with nine keys on wooden blocks".      So far so normal. (except, of course, it was cocus...a very common auction house error)

A nine keyed flute is really nothing unusual. Very many keyed flutes have an extra touch to one key...very commonly a key for R1 ( first finger, which opens the Bb key from below.) Also common is another key for R1 which operates a trill key, often seen on German "nach Meyer" type flutes.

But when this flute arrived, this what I saw...

It took a moment or two to realise what I was looking at. The flute as you see it in the picture above is after restoration, but as soon as it was playable it didn't take long to figure out that the extra key didn't produce a note that existed in any known system of music, somewhere between F# and G. Otherwise it was a well made mid-19th century English flute, in fact a good bit better than average quality. It was a fine player, and I sold it sometime later, recouping costs to cover some of the other flutes bought at the same auction.
I puzzled over this key for some time, and the only function I can possibly see for it is to correct the notoriously flat F# that we find on many 8-keyed flutes.
Several other systems had been devised to do this.

This is a Tulou Système Perfectionné...

This might look a bit confusing at first. Hole number 6 is in this case covered with a plateau key, ( which is absent on most if not every other Tulou SP ). The touch under that opens the little key on the top of the flute just above the F# hole and is opened with R3 to correct the F#. This could be done on these small holed flutes by enlarging the F#, but the French ( and German ) predilection for small evenly sized holes ruled this out.
In fact this, although operating on exactly the same principle, is different to the more common set up...

This illustration is from Tulou's Methode, and you can see that the key is a long one on a cross tube mount, like a reversed long F but is still operated by R3.

Various other flutes have used a similar device.
To finish here's a neat example from a Hudson Pratten #185

You'll note that with this system, the ring key controls the key which sharpens the F# automatically, and with the Tulou, the same key is operated by a finger, R3 which is available without compromising other fingerings.
From this point of view, the 9th key on the first flute seems very counter-intuitive.
Was it meant to correct the F#, ( which it didn't, or at least very 
badly ) or is there a possibility that it was to vent some other note?
I'd welcome input from anyone who might be able to shed light on this. 




Monday, 27 April 2020

The Irish Flute - Part 1

Look anywhere on the internet these days, and you'll find the term "Irish Flute" being thrown about like snuff at a wake. If you enter it as a search term on eBay, for example, it will produce very many results varying from flutes made from the late 18th c., to those made last week, all over the world.
How did this come about? How did what are in effect a very disparate group of instruments become categorised under the same sobriquet?
To cut a long story very short, and most of you probably know the basic story, the type of flute that Irish traditional players always preferred was the pre-Boehm eight-keyed flute that was widely played all over Europe from the early 19th c., until the late19th/ early 20th c. In terms of players in Ireland, this continued to be the case up to the mid 1970s, when due to a combination of a great expansion of interest in Irish traditional music, and a severe lack of old flutes to meet that need, new instruments based on the old 19th century ones began to be produced, initially in Ireland, but soon in other countries where the Irish diaspora had led to a core interest in Irish traditional music.
The early flutes of this type were copies, of varying degrees of exactness, of the 19th century originals, but by the mid to late 1980s, the makers of these instruments were beginning to change the design to better suit the music being played. I believe, although it's hard to be sure about these things, that I proposed in the 1st ed. of my book " The Irish Flute Players' Handbook", published in 1990, that these instruments should be called Irish flutes, in what was the first use of the term in that sense.
What about flutes from the earlier period, classical, pre-Boehm flutes that actually happened to be made in Ireland?
Such indeed do exist,  but it's important to remember that these flutes had, almost in their entirety, no connection with traditional music in Ireland as we know it, especially at the time they were made.
Or had they?
Let's go back to something I hinted at in my last post...the acquisition of yet another flute.
When I was beginning to make flutes in the mid 1970s, one of my first reference points was uilleann pipe making. Here were a group of people using basically the same techniques that I wanted to learn, and what's more had a history which coincided with the type of old flute that I was trying to replicate. And so I began to become familiar with the history of the uilleann pipes and their makers.
For many years, I was unaware that there was any relationship between flute and pipe making, but at some stage, possibly in the 90s I saw an F flute for sale, on the website of the American traditional music business Lark in the Morning, which was stamped "Coyne Dublin". If true, this could only have been the work of the celebrated uilleann pipe making Coyne family.
Then around 2005, when I was readying the second edition of the Handbook, I became aware of, and was able to include a photograph of, a second Coyne flute, this time a fife.
Then recently another flute by Coyne this time a concert pitch instrument came on the market, which I was able to acquire, and which became the inspiration for this post.
I had been aware, that outside the apparently extremely few flutes made by pipemakers ( and at this stage only those by Coyne were known) there were flutes made in Ireland which were obviously intended for the mainstream classical market, and although some of them, particularly those by Butler, were in the hands of traditional players, they were obviously not made with that intent.
Although I had been aware of some of the Irish makers, (Dollard merited a cameo in the Handbook)  my initial involvement with old flutes was not really conscious collecting, but as I was restoring a lot of them, particularly in the early days before the "Irish flute" took off, I gradually accumulated quite a few, and among those was a flute by Ellard, which was the first Irish-made flute that I actually possessed. I didn't think much about it except to note it's similarity to some of the London flutes that I was familiar with. This is it...

Then last year,  a flute by Dollard came up on eBay, and I managed to get hold of it. This one really put the cat among the pigeons, and via a discussion on The Flute History Channel the essential question that I'm trying to address here was raised; Were these flutes which are stamped Dublin after the makers name, really made in Dublin, or were they, in common with many London made flutes, bought in from the actual makers, and for maker read dealer.

The reason this Dollard flute brought this question to the fore, is that it has an unusual system of keys on the foot joint...

That stirred something in my memory of having seen something like that before, and several colleagues on FHC quickly identified the flute as identical to those stamped "Drouet London". In an interesting twist to the story, it turns out that here we have another example of the dealer/maker conundrum, in that it's agreed that these Drouet flutes were made by Ward, and so it's highly probable that my Dollard was as well.
Then the Coyne flute became available, and when it did, led to an interesting discussion on FHC, with Simon Waters raising the possibility that this flute, even though, clearly stamped Coyne Dublin, apparently with the same stamp that he used on his pipes, looked remarkably similar to flutes made by Goulding. (and of course Goulding had a Dublin connection, of which more later.)
It's a very different instrument to the two previous flutes...although ostensibly from the same period.

Here's the maker's stamp, faint I'm afraid as they seem to be on a lot of his instruments.

And here's the same stamp on drones from a set of Coyne pipes...

This led me then, to try and make some sense of the whole Dublin-made flute story, and given that at the moment I can't go to Dublin to further this research, I've found the Dublin Music Trade website to be extremely useful, certainly at this basic stage of the research.
Trying to find a pattern in all of this is difficult. There seems to be no consistency between the different flutes that we know of that purport to come from Dublin makers...there is no Dublin style of flute.

But one thing that is emerging is that there were two groups making  flutes in Dublin; I think we have, at this stage to accept the term maker to include dealer/retailer...as has often been pointed out, George Rudall never made a flute.
 Both groups are roughly contemporaneous, beginning in the latter part of the 18th c. and running through to the late 19th.
The first group are general wind instrument makers, who include flutes in their repertoire of instruments.
The second are essentially makers of what we now see as traditional instruments, i.e. uilleann pipes, who also offered flutes as part of their repertoire.
What was the relationship, if any between these two groups, and what is in essence a third group in the background...the London makers. This what I hope to tease out in the course of my next few posts.

Friday, 17 April 2020


Things are changing at Hamilton flutes. As many of you probably know I closed my order book in May 2018, as a preliminary step towards retirement. Due to a rather tongue in cheek announcement on the website, the rumour soon went around that I was giving up making flutes to go fishing, but keen angler though I am, this, I must tell you, is not strictly true.
For someone who has spent a large part of their life making and selling flutes, I have to say that I'm finding it hard to get used to turning away people who phone up or E-Mail looking for a flute. It's so counter-intuitive.

However real the necessity for some form of retirement, I thought I'd take the opportunity to perhaps attempt a fuller explanation of what will happen, what I'm hoping will happen, or what might possibly happen.

The plan was originally to close the order book, work off what was there, and then see, spending the time in trying to figure out what to do when that work was finished, at the same time as finishing it.
As with everything else in my experience, of course it's not as simple as that.
Even the apparent cut-off point of closing the book was fraught. Realising that I couldn't do this suddenly, I decided to give a few weeks of pre-warning, and accumulated another six months at least on the waiting list as a result.
Then there were those I simply couldn't turn away, old friends, professionals whose instruments I had looked after for years, those whose flutes I had promised to upgrade. Cue a further extension to that list.

Of course, the intention was never to stop flute work entirely, just to do less of it, and more of the type that any maker would find attractive.
Retirement of course raises financial questions, and I think one of the issues that craftspeople of all hues face is the difficulty in passing on or selling a business which is so intimately connected with one person.
In reality one-person-based crafts businesses are unsaleable. I could sell my tools, my designs, my stock of materials to someone, but unless they have the skills that I've developed over 40 years of working, there would be no point, and if they have similar skills they're probably working in the area on their own account, and have no need for tools, materials or designs. They have their own.
Other possibilities? Sell to a young maker who's just getting started...and there are some really good ones around...they haven't got the money. Sub-contract other makers to do basic manufacture, hence spending less time making myself?
Has possibilities, but again, people who have the skills to do this are usually working on their own account.
So what it comes down to in essence is that Hamilton Flutes is essentially me... and I'm not for sale.

So for those wondering if I'll re-open the order book at some point, at this stage it seems very unlikely. Will my flutes be available in the future? Yes, but not on the old waiting list basis. In terms of communication about what's going on, I was planning a Hamilton Flutes Facebook page, as that seemed to be the best way to do these things currently, but I find Facebook to be such a pain in the bum that I think I'm now going to use Instagram instead.

One of the things that I hope to spend more time at in this rosy future is restoring some of the flutes that I've accumulated over the years, and in fact am still accumulating.
This post has been sitting in drafts for a long time, and in fact now I'm much closer to the end of the waiting list and closer to...whatever.
The still accumulating tally of restoration/collection flutes has inspired the next post which I hope will follow shortly on this.
Of course the other thing that has inserted itself into all our lives is Covid-19,, but as perhaps you'll understand my life here in West Cork hasn't really changed that much. I've been working from home for the last 40 years, and I live, and have always lived a lifestyle that a lot of people are now either having forced on them, or delighted to find out about. Luckily, Ireland ( the Republic at any rate) isn't doing too badly in that regard, and especially in rural Ireland we've luckily had few cases and fewer deaths, and hopefully the light at the end of the tunnel is not an approaching train. Everybody is being really good at following the social distancing rules, and really behaving very well.
Anyway the next post is the beginning of a piece of research which I've been sniffing around for years, and which now, due to the acquisition of a unique flute, will hopefully move forward.
Till the next time...

Saturday, 17 August 2019

Benade and the Embouchure

Despite the number of "flute design calculators" available on-line, and which have led many a rookie maker into despair, (there is a special level of hell reserved for the creators of such software...I believe Dante mentioned it.) any maker of reasonable experience will assure you that all advances or significant variation in musical instrument design, come about by trial and error.
In my early years as a maker, I did attempt to gain some understanding of the basic acoustic principles behind instrument design though, and like many others was directed to "The Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics" by Arthur Benade, a work which remains a sound introduction to the topic. I should point out here, before you all rush out and buy a copy, that a fairly good grounding in physics and mathematics is required to make the book in any way useful. I had physics up to 1st year college, and still found large tracts of it difficult. It did give me a good understanding though, of the basic principles of bore design, regarding length/diameter, taper, the effects of tone hole size changes etc.
I communicated ( by letter, it being pre-internet times ) with him about various practical issues that I was facing as a maker, and he responded promptly and generously with help and suggestions. I had arranged to meet him on a visit that I had planned to the US in 1985(6?), but just before I left has a letter from him telling me that a cancer that he had suffered from had returned, and the prognosis was not good. He died in 1987, and I never got to meet him.
You can read more about himself and his work here, and what is noteworthy is how he used his practical experience with the clarinet and flute to inform his acoustical studies.
He was not simply an empirical acoustician.

The following is an extract from a letter that he wrote, ( published in the journal of  the Fellowship of Makers and Restorers of Historical Instruments ) explaining his take on the flute embouchure, and what's fascinating about it from a makers point of view is that he was obviously basing his opinions on his practical experience with]making working embouchures. Again, I found that it required re-reading carefully numerous times before I really understood what he was saying. Having done that, I put into practice what he preached, and found everything that he said could be verified in practice.
I make much better embouchures as a result.

FoMRHI Comm. 2070 Arthur Benade Cutting the flute’s embouchure

The following notes are part of a letter that physicist Arthur Benade (1925-1987) sent to a young maker of early flute replicas. The maker was requesting some help in shaping the flute’s mouth hole. In fact, when measuring flutes in museums we gather plenty of information on the outside turning, a lot on the bore, but little when it comes to the mouth hole, because a permission is almost never given to take a cast of it. Neither would it be of much help, since the mouth hole is often ruined by too much tampering by earlier users. So, observation by eye and personal convictions must only be relied upon when we work back in the workshop.
At least we had a decent theory of the relevant parameters...but literature on the subject is very scanty, if it ever existed. This letter was lost in a mess of sheets, notes, scraps of information, and re-surfaced only by chance now, after almost 40 years.
Benade died in 1987 and it is not known if he ever published the following observations, but in the same letter he had made clear that he would like to do so.
So it is better to make sure now, at least to start a discussion on the subject. Only paragraph titles are added to the original text. The drawings are from Benade's letter, in his hand – Filadelfio Puglisi
(Page 4 to Page 8 of the letter)

Mouth hole orientation
We begin by noticing that most players do not blow directly at right angles to the axis of the flute; some face a little northward, whereas some face a little southward. If one builds an elliptical or rectangular hole of the sort used in modern flutes, it makes sense to orient the major axis of this embouchure hole so that ε is slightly less than 90° for the first player and slightly more than 90° the second. Mostly it is not worth the very considerable trouble required to do this. Very often as a matter of fact, if ε = 90°± 5°, any civilized player on a good instrument will automatically find a way of flowing that best adapts the structure of his lips and teeth to those of the flute. Other things are so much more important that that I tend to let this orientation find itself.
The ratio D/W matters really very little in either of two cases: (a) if D/W 1, as in your renaissance flutes, 5% from round makes more of a difference to the appearance then to the playing provided the area is kept constant and (much more important) the undercuttings are properly proportioned, as outlined below. (b) if D/W0.8 as in the 19th century and later instruments again there is more constraint against a 5% change via appearance than via playing.
The two tribes (a) and (b) play differently from one another however, mainly because (with ε= 90°) D is fairly constrained by steered—flow air-jet physics, whereas W is controlled more by the player's preferences or ability to manage a narrow or a wide air jet (see wt in my Fig. 22.10 page 490, Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics).
Once again I must emphasize that the freedom claimed depends on one's ability to "get everything else right" in a manner consistent with changes we are discussing.
Longitudinal Undercutting
The choice of whether the undercut angles γ and δ on the north and south sides of the hole are equal or not is almost random, again subject to the general "rightness" proviso.
As long as (
γ + δ) is roughly constant it doesn't much matter (so far in our discussion) what the sum is, provided the hole impedance reduction associated with the undercutting is taken
care of some place.
It is traditional to choose the inequality to favor players who face left or right, but one finds schools of thought that are directly contradictory when you look at what is recommended!
You will see a little better what is involved by the time you have read about the rest of the undercutting business. For many years good flutes have been made in which these two angles are zero. However, one really does get better results if the inner corners are rounded, or undercut part way and then rounded.

Transverse Undercutting
The question of suitable angles α and β has been much vexed.
Look at Figs. 9, l0 and 11 of Miller's translation of Boehm's The_Flute and Flute-Playing (Dover 1964) plus the accompanying text ... Boehm's and_Miller's.
For today's flutes one often finds that
β = -α, (!!) and γ = δ = 0 because a
straight-sided cutter has been used to form the hole, with the center of the hole being offset from the tube axis.

It is however in this case good practice to undercut to produce a larger (including positive) value for β for at least the inner half of the chimney height.
Analogous part-way undercutting on the forward side (two-valued alfa in this region) is NOT A GOOD IDEA. In fact it can sometimes lead to disaster.
Setting aside the newer flutes where the lip-plate angle gets into the act, let me say that for embochure holes of the sort one sees on renaissance and baroque flutes, the angle α needs to be around 7 degrees.
The modern maker is often confused by what he sees and makes the angle on his old instrument copies considerably bigger than this. Worse yet, he may try generating the whole embouchure hole profile by pulling a rotating conical cutter (fraise) outwards from the inside, so that α = β = γ = δ . The next paragraph suggests a reason why today's maker is plausibly led to make this mistake
The larger embouchure holes used on classical and modern flutes need less undercutting, mainly because a larger hole drilled into the same head diameter automatically gives the effect of larger α . This is true to an exaggerated extent on the Boehm flute where the bore diameter at the embouchure hole is only l7 mm instead of the l9 mm typical of the conical flute that immediately preceded it. The fact that Boehm's own first design was conical may help us understand the discrepancy between what he said and what his matured experience led him to do.
It may also explain why people tend today to make α too big when trying to make a baroque or renaissance flute -- it looks drastically undercut to someone used to today's instrument. Also they may be thinking of the α = 90° of a recorder!
All this talk, and I have not said what is the symptom of a overlarge α : The stupid thing will not speak well. The tone is gutless, no dynamics, no power, wobbly pitchs, poor attack. You cannot pounce on a note, even when the headjoint alone is tested.
The fact that uncovering a lot of the hole will make it play less badly is often a clue to too big an α since rolling the flute away will reduce the angle between the wind and the edge against which you blow. Notice that this angle α is the only thing that I have discussed that has relatively close tolerances, and is not negotiable via trade-offs with other parameters.
I will not take time here to say why it is on the other hand that much can be gained by increasing beta (as mentioned earlier), even to an extent that at first looks absurd.
Transitions beetwen Undercut Angles
We are now in a position to describe something that is crucial to the proper working of an embouchure hole, regardless of its basic style or vintage: the way in which one arranges the transitions between the undercut angles specified so far (front and back, north and south).
If we define an azimuth angle θ measured counterclockwise from a blowing direction normal to the flute axis, then your angle α defines the undercut at the azimuth θ = 0, γ defines it at θ = 90°, β
at 180°, and δ at 270°.
Our problem is to specify the transition behavior between these 90°azimuths.

First and foremost we consider azimuths lying in the region one blows against, running counterclockwise from about θ = 300° (= —60°) and θ = +60°.
In this region the embouchure wall must have a profile such that at every angle θ the intersection of the hole surface with a plane containing the hole's own axis is a straight line.
An attempt to generate this part of the profile with a file is doomed to failure since any convexity of the intersection leads to fluffy tone and slow response. The tool to use is a stubby, straight edged scraper with a large round handle.
The diagram below shows how I use the word "convex" and "concave" .
It also shows a perfectly acceptable undercutting profile in the azimuth region that lies outside the 
magic 60°. 

To give you an idea of the touchiness of a flute regarding convexity (especially in the regions centered at about θ = 45°) let me give an example from a few years ago.
Scraping out patches of convexity the size of the capital O of this typewriter, located about
3 mm down into the hole, one at
θ =+45° and one near -45° made one otherwise good flute "wake up" enough that my son who is not a wind player but has good ears come downstairs to see what had happened. He asked what I'd done to make such an abrupt change in what he heard of my music ... "it sounded as though the flute was let out of jail"...! I will grant that you sometimes see flutes that play ok with a little convexity in the region I'm talking about, and that sometimes removing it does not make a dramatic change. In every case however, closer examination shows that (a) if the flute is otherwise good it can be made to play better, (b) if it is not good the change of profile has its effects masked by other things (c) the player doesn't know how to really exploit the instrument and so fails either to notice or to display the change.
Important! The foregoing is not intended to suggest that you take a knife to a famous old flute to correct the hackings of some idiot who thinks a little scraping around the rim will improve things. There are many such vandals, and the results of their destructions should be left to their shame, unless you propose to make a proper restoration. This requires inlaying an entirely new piece within which a hole will be cut.
To do less is merely to saddle the museum curator or collector with yet another flute with an oversize embouchure hole for which its other proportions were not designed. Such instruments are unfortunately not rare, in part because some ignorant souls have tried by such mayhem to raise the pitch of A-435 instruments to A-440 (etc., etc.).
Rounding of Edges
The question of suitable rounding (or not rounding) of the inner and outer ends of the embouchure hole is in part easy and in part hard to answer.
At the inner end of the hole, all the rounding your courage permits will lead to freer and stronger blowing at the loud end of the dynamic range, without loss of control at the pianissimo end.
As usual the caveat holds that one must be sure that the overall acoustical structure of the instrument is consistent with the slightly reduced impedance of a well rounded hole as compared with an unrounded one.
At the outer end of the hole things are more complicated: The region outside the central region defined by θ ± 6O° can be rounded almost as vigorously as the inner end, although it tends to look sloppy if carried as far as I would otherwise prefer.
Within the magic region one works a fairly sharp edge, finishing it with many trials very slowly

using only an ink eraser to get a smooth edge that flows continuously and neatly into the more rounded north and south ends of the hole.
Be careful not to more than just barely let the rounding increase for angles less than about θ = ± 50° lest the response get fluffy.
The player's taste has a lot to do with what you try for in this central region, but be careful to leave him wishing it is more rounded rather than less rounded than his present taste. One reason for this is that wear and later adjustments can still move things in the direction he wants.
Another reason is that as he gets used to the profile his ability to get a clean unwiry sound increases greatly, so that he tends to shift his preferences with experience.

11 December 1978
Prof. Arthur H. Benade
Case Western Reserve University Cleveland Ohio


Tuesday, 5 March 2019

The Continuing Ivory Saga

The story of ivory ( and other CITES listed materials used in flute making) continues to be confusing.
Even the CITES authorities seem to be unclear about how the legislation applies, and in what circumstances.
I've come across two things that I thought might interest my readers, the first is an account of a couple of cases brought under the CITES legislation in the UK.
See here.
The second might be of practical use for those who choose to get around the CITES legislation by using mammoth ivory...but how do you tell the difference?
See here

Also included below is an exchange of E-Mails with the Irish authorities.
What I gather from this is that they themselves are unsure of what evidence to accept as to whether a particular item is pre-convention or not. In this case they seem to be saying that trade directories, or in this case such things as the Langwill index listings, are not sufficient evidence of pre-convention manufacture.
Where do we go from here? There seems to be no room for easily available expert opinion...

Hi xxxxxxx,
Here’s a thing. As someone who both collects and restores old flutes as well as making new ones, I have several instruments that are either entirely made of ivory or have ivory as a component.
I know that ivory is on Schedule 1 of CITES, but if I understand it correctly the restriction only applies to ivory which was acquired after a certain date, and not to that which can be proven to be antique or of historical importance.
What I wanted to ask is,  what would be the procedure or restrictions applying to an export permit for an item consisting of, or containing ivory that could demonstrably dated to the 18th century?

All the Best
Hammy Hamilton

Hi Colin,
 In response to your query on ivory flutes and flute components – because of the decline in elephant populations ivory trade continues to be a very controversial topic and there is a high level of proof required to prove that the ivory in question is genuine and is antique.
 The CITES Regulations, namely Council Regulation (EC) No 338/97, control commercial activities associated with Annex A specimens within the European Union. Most commercial activities, including the sale and offering for sale of any Annex A specimen are prohibited unless an appropriate CITES Certificate has been issued by the relevant CITES Management Authority exempting the prohibition in question.
The CITES Management Authority may grant such CITES Certificates on a case by case basis in certain situations as described in Article 8(3) of Council Regulation 338/97.
However, under Article 62(3) of Commission Regulation (EC) No 865/2006 there is a general exemption from the need to acquire such a CITES Certificate for “worked specimens” that were acquired before 03 March 1947.

To qualify for this general exemption the specimen in question must comply with the definition of “worked specimen” which states that the specimen must be significantly altered from their natural raw state for jewellery, adornment, art, utility or musical instruments and require no further carving, crafting or manufacture to effect their purpose. Only specimens which have been acquired in such conditions to the satisfaction of the relevant CITES Management Authority shall qualify for such a general exemption. This exemption does not apply to other specimens e.g.: non worked specimens such as full ivory tusks.

This general exemption is often referred to as the “antiques exemption” and only applies for trade within the EU. For trade outside the EU there is no general antiques exemption and thus CITES Export Permits would be required.

However, in order for us to grant an export permit for a piece containing ivory, you would need to prove to our satisfaction that the piece is genuinely pre-convention i.e. 1947. In addition, a piece is no longer considered “antique” if it has been re-worked at some point in time – even if antique ivory is used to repair an instrument. The re-working effectively makes it a modern piece and cannot be considered as antique. The following link gives advice on what can be considered worked or unworked.

If you can prove the origin and provenance of the ivory – then we can issue a permit to export it outside of the EU, however some countries like the U.S. have much stricter customs requirements when it comes to ivory and they have been known to seize pieces on entry into the country. If you were planning on exporting a piece to the U.S. – the customer may have to apply for a CITES import permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as an export permit from the seller.

Kind regards,


Hi xxxxxxxx,
  Thank you for that very comprehensive reply, which clarifies quite a few points about which I was unclear.
On the point of proving to your satisfaction that a flute is genuinely pre-convention, could you elaborate on proof you’d need?
The flutes that I’m concerned about are, in almost all cases stamped with the maker’s name and address, which then allows them to be dated via the trade directories of the period.
Would that be considered sufficent proof?

Could you also clarify the commercial transaction aspect. Does that imply that if money does not change hands, i.e. if the item was a gift, that the legislation would not apply…or does it apply in a different way?

Thanks again and All the Best

Colin Hamilton


With regards to proof if the item is genuinely pre-convention, the trade directory you mention seems to refer to when the item was first traded and not when the CITES listed specimen was acquired. I will consult with my colleague on this matter.

Commercial purposes includes the purchase, offer to purchase, acquisition for commercial purposes, display to the public for commercial purposes, use for commercial gain, sale, keeping for sale, offering for sale, and transport for sale. Please note that the prohibitions relating to Annex A listed specimens also apply to specimens of species listed in Annex B. (Article 8(1) Regulation(EC) No 338/97)