Thursday, 15 May 2014


What! Two posts only days apart! But I just had to let people know about the new tuning app which Dan Gordon has designed for iPhone, and which I've been playing with for the last few days.
There are already many good tuner apps, such as Cleartune, which I use, or used pretty much all the time, but they only allow you to measure the pitch of one note at a time.
The danger with this is something that I've harped on about in workshops for years. With the flute, pitch is such a volatile thing, so easily changed by temperature, humidity, blowing pressure, and embouchure, that to simply blow a note into a tuner and declare yourself in tune is not really an option.
Commonly, in traditional music circles anyway, the player asks for an A, ( not the best option as a pitch centre for Irish music at the best of times), tunes to it, and then discover that when they begin to play that they are still not in tune. This process can be repeated several times with no better result, because the basic error is that the player is blowing the note differently ( commonly with a different blowing pressure) when tuning than when playing.
The great thing about the RTTATuner is that it samples the notes as you actually play a tune, many times per second, and then gives you a read-out which shows how the pitch of each note (octaves are distinguished) averages out over the time played.
Here's a sample using a keyless flute I was working on yesterday:

This is a screenshot from the phone, which at the moment is the only way you can export the data visually. You do this by pushing the home button and the on/off button at the same time, which saves the screen in photos, and you can then mail this to yourself.
You can see from the above that this flute is fairly much bang on in tune, bar the A and B in the lower octave, which require a little work. Promised updates will make export of data much easier.
There has been a lot of discussion about this app both on Chiff and Fipple and the Earlyflute discussion list, but I think the best thing to do is simply to get it and play with it, and learn more than you ever thought possible about:

How your tuning when you play can vary from day to day, and even tune to tune. With a simple system flute you'll see that internal tuning varies according to what key you're playing in.

with old flutes, just how horrific the internal tuning actually is!

How much slide movement affects the pitch of different notes differently

How by varying your embouchure you can improve the internal tuning ( and overall pitch) of certain flutes

the realtime effect of cork position on octave tuning and pitch.

in short, endless hours of fun....

And of course wearing my makers hat, this is a dream come true.
I should add that the Flutini program did just about the same thing, but written as it was for PC, the Mac version was a source of endless frustration, which didn't have all the features, and was constantly thanks, Dan Gordon, the flute world is beholden to you.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

McKenna's Flute

Progress on both fronts, restoration, and provenance of the McKenna flute.
When it first arrived, and in fact even before that from the photos that I had of it, one idea I had was that this might well be a composite instrument, with ivory head a later edition.
Closer examination soon disabused me of that idea. The mounts on the head matched those on the rest of the flute. The diameter of the head was unlike that of the "German" flutes that I had thought might be it's source. The embouchure, although now distorted by the crack also appeared different to those of the German flutes.
In response to my appeal on this blog, several people got in contact with useful leads, most notably American maker Jon Cornia, and Italian afficionado Francesco Collissimo.
Jon had alerted Francesco, via Facebook,  to the work of the American maker Asa Hopkins, and his apprentice and successor Camp, and produced these photos of their work.

The similarities between the instrument to the left and the McKenna flute are remarkable.
The mounts, the silver sheathing of the head cap, the pewter plug on the Eb key, and the general lines and style of the keys and block work all point in the direction of a flute from this workshop.

Also this image of a flute by Hopkins, confirms the general impression.

This flute again points to the Hopkins/Camp workshop with the shape of the key touches on the short F and low C and C# identical to the McKenna flute.
Again note the similarity of the squarish blockwork.

Although of course it is impossible to state definitively that the McKenna flute is a flute from this workshop, at the moment it's certainly the best guess, and I have a gut feeling that it's correct.
I'd like to see one of the original Camp/Hopkins flutes in my hands though before I'd be absolutely sure.

The New Langwill index gives the following entry:

Hopkins, Asa ( b Northfield / CT 2 February 1779; d New Haven / CT 27October 1838)
WWI fl Litchfield / CT 1829-1837.

From c1810 a successful clock-maker, developing water-powered machines for mass production methods, using interchangeable parts; 1829 established WWI workshop at a locality neat Litchfield, building a dam and factory on the Naugatuck river, which 1830-75 became known as 'Fluteville', where large quantities of flute, clarinet, later fife, flageolet were produced; 1832 in partnership with J.M Camp; 1837 retirement of Hopkins; 1837-39 Camp proprietor, now as Camp and Hopkins; 1839-67 Firth & Hall proprietors; bought by J.A. Hall. 1955 Fluteville village was raised by flood and subsequent Government requisition of the area for a flood control project.

ADDRESS: 1829-37; shop along Naugatuck river.

The mystery remains, if it is a flute from this source, why did it remain unstamped?