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 Post subject: Ellis Ebonite Pratten
PostPosted: Mon Aug 12, 2019 8:26 am 
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Me: Been playing flute about a year, concentrating on ITM, after more than a year of playing the whistle very intently. I’m a good musician but not a good flute player. I can play at speed but not in a flowing way way because of breath control issues. I’ve played relatively few flutes: a Ralph Sweet “shannon,” a no-name small-hole blackwood keyed flute bought on eBay, and an M&E keyless delrin/polymer flute. The M&E is the one I've played the most. These are a beginner’s observations.

Geoffrey Ellis makes a Pratten-styled “Irish flute” in Ebonite. If you don’t know “ebonite” is vulcanized rubber. It’s commonly used to make clarinet and sax mouthpieces and to make clarinets. It was once more common in flute making: Rockstro raves about it. But he’s dead, so there’s that. Ellis offer the flute unlined, in four pieces, or lined in five.

I wanted a flute that wasn’t made of rare or exotic wood—because of environmental concerns and because of maintenance. I’ve been playing an M&E keyless Delrin flute since January and there’s quite a lot to like about it. But I’d been increasingly frustrated by some aspects of it (see below) and also wondering about the difference between a $300 “irish flute" and a flute that was made with more attention to detail. Also I loved Ellis’ “essential flute.” So I decided, with my kind wife’s encouragement on my 60th birthday, to order one of Ellis’s Irish flutes in Ebonite. I bought an unlined flute.

At first I disliked it, but within a few hours I loved it.

Compared to the M&E:

The M&E is said to be based on a Rudal and Rose and the Ellis on a Pratten. The Ellis has larger holes, and a larger larger bore at the small end: 9.90mm on the M&E vs 12.70 on the Ellis. Different embouchure cuts. The M&E has a lined head joint, my Ellis is unlined.

Ellis above, M&E below

Image

Same

Image

The Ellis is very light, which I like—I don't have a scale handy, but it feels like it might be half the weight of the M&E. A really big difference. That makes it easier to hold for a long time, and gives it a very lively feel in the hands.

The ebonite has a lovely finish, and the nickel silver rings are minimal and elegant.

The flute is loud, and powerful, with a very wide expressive range and an “open” feel. It’s actually harder to play than the M&E, in the sense that it takes more air and more work to get the “hard” sound. But it’s more rewarding—I can drive it harder or more gently equally well. The M&E has a kind of “damped" quality. The Ellis also notably less prone to “clogging.” I suppose that could be the larger bore, or maybe it has to do with the thermal properties of the ebonite compared to delrin.

On the con side: it takes more air, it’s slightly more difficult to get the cliche "hard sound,” and there’s a light smell of sulphur when you play it. It's maybe slightly harder to cover the holes. The sulphur smell has maybe faded somewhat, or else I’ve gotten used to it.

In general like it’s like driving a sports car compared to driving, say, a honda civic. There’s just more possibilities on tap and it responds more dramatically. The M&E goes to “five" and stays there. The Ellis plays happily from 2-10

Let me be clear: again, I’m a beginner and have limited experience. The M&E flute is pretty great in itself, cheap and cheerful and indestructible in ordinary life: easy playing. There’s a lot to like there. I can’t compare the Ellis to other well known makers who so generously share their time and experience here.


Last edited by PB+J on Tue Aug 13, 2019 5:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 13, 2019 4:16 am 
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Heh heh. Pleasure to see and enjoy Geoffrey's clean work compared to the rough work on the M&E. Focus on the embouchure holes to see what I mean.

I don't think the M&E flutes are based on a Rudall. I think they are made in Pakistan with perhaps an enlargement of hole 5 to correct a dismally flat F#. Hole 5 appears to be slightly offset, suggesting the enlargement might be done later.


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PostPosted: Tue Aug 13, 2019 5:17 am 
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Terry McGee wrote:
Heh heh. Pleasure to see and enjoy Geoffrey's clean work compared to the rough work on the M&E. Focus on the embouchure holes to see what I mean.

I don't think the M&E flutes are based on a Rudall. I think they are made in Pakistan with perhaps an enlargement of hole 5 to correct a dismally flat F#. Hole 5 appears to be slightly offset, suggesting the enlargement might be done later.



You're surely right--I'm just going by the fact that it says "Rudal and Rose" on the endcap!

It's completely fascinating how something so ancient and simple--a tube with holes in it--can be so responsive to subtle work


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PostPosted: Tue Aug 13, 2019 12:07 pm 
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Terry, what evidence do you have the M&E's are Pakistani made? And what are you implying exactly if they are?

Despite your assertion to the contrary, both my keyless M&Es, one delrin, one ebonite, have spot on f#'s according to my Korg.

Personally, the finish on them goes unnoticed and certainly plays no part in my assessment of their excellent sound, playability and unique selling price.

These flutes are sold as copies of a numbered Rudall and Rose flute in some UK collection whose name I can't remember. Are you suggesting they're not and if so, why?

Best wishes,

Keith.


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 14, 2019 12:06 am 
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I hate to post about this, but I have the McNeela Delrin 6 key flute, and it is virtually identical to the M&E flutes in every way. I own the McNeela and have only seen photographs of the M&E, but they are twins, the only difference being the engraving of M&E or McNeela on the namestamp. The rings seem to differ from batch to batch also. Nowhere does Paraic McNeela say these come from Pakistan, and nowhere does Connolly say his come from Pakistan, and they both give the impression, if somewhat indirectly, that they make these instruments themselves.

Now I am not implying anything about integrity or such, or even about quality. My McNeela is fine, nay good, for what it is, but it has to be said that the keys are crude and to me seem to be too stiff for my touch. It makes a nice sound. But the cork in the tenons was so heavily done that it would not go together, and when it did, it jammed tight (you can read my thread about this) and could not be got apart. This would indicate to me the instrument had never been put together and tested in McNeela's workshop, indicating it did not originate there, and was not tweaked there. All this is OK, but it may be better if they were more upfront about this. Not all Pakistani flutes are dreadful.

I am at enormous pains to emphasis I have no intention of impugning the integrity of these gentlemen. I have had nothing but superior and kind service from Paraic at all times. It's just that these flutes are from elsewhere for sure. I guess they just don't make a song and dance about it. Although maybe they should - they are for dance music after all. :-)

Another theory is that M&E makes them for McNeela, but again, I don't know.

I am not even sure the material is Delrin, to be honest, but whatever it is, it is certainly capable of making a fine sound, almost woody (I guess this is where embouchure comes into play).

There is nothing to make me disparage these flutes, and I play mine every day. It's just that I have been curious about their actual provenance for some time.


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 14, 2019 2:05 am 
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My take from what I have read...

M&E - Michael makes them, Evelyn sells them.

McNeela - gets them from M&E.

M&E use a food grade polymer.

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 14, 2019 4:58 am 
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Does someone have more proof that the M&E flutes are made in the middle east? I think it is not fair giving such a heavy statement without any further proof or explanation.
On the other hand, I think it wouldn't really matter if it was made in Pakistan or so -considering the over all playability for the low price. Especially for the keyed model.


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 14, 2019 5:01 am 
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has anyone considered writing to McNeela to ask them where their flute comes from? it's clearly identical to the M&E, and i do find it a bit odd they would rebrand it as their own rather than just selling M&E flutes. (not that there's anything necessarily wrong with doing that, of course, it just seems odd.)


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 14, 2019 5:13 am 
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I can't speak for Terry, but I have my doubts about where the M&E flutes are made. Most of the known smaller makers have a wait time when you order. The M&E was shipped right after I ordered--which is great obviously, I was glad, and maybe he just had one in stock, or makes them in batches. But the one I got--which I remain pleased with--was slathered in some kind of glossy black finish which had obvious drips in it and had gotten onto the metal parts. It was clearly very hastily applied, and I took some acetone to a rag and removed it. It didn't suggest a lot of attention to detail. As mentioned, the M&E keyed flutes look a lot like the keyed delrin flutes McNeela music sells, which are of uncertain origin. And there's a close family resemblance to the keyless flute--the rings, for example. That's a lot of production for a one-man shop.

The Ellis flute should show more care--it cost three times as much--and the extra attention to detail is a lot of what I paid for. The difference in how the two flutes play is really very striking. The Ellis just has so much more range.

I wonder about this--keyless flutes seem like something that would respond well to industrialization and to computer driven milling and shaping equipment. If you had a material with consistent density and uniform consistency--like, I assume, Delrin--you could churn out a lot of flutes that it seems to me would play virtually the same. But I think it's true with all instruments that the "last mile" of production is the key thing. Like with a guitar the final setup is really crucial and you want someone who really knows what they're doing, but you can have a great time making music with an ordinary inexpensive guitar. If M&E have found a way to get a competent, playable flute for cheap, good for them. I would not hesitate, though, to save your beans for a flute by an experienced maker who takes the time to do it well.


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 14, 2019 5:21 am 
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Hi Keith

No evidence. As I said, "I think". The rings, the keys (on keyed models), the rough workmanship all lead me to that conclusion. Others might reach other conclusions.

And yes, the F# is probably good. Most Pakistani flutes have fairly "uniform" hole sizes, rather reminiscent of German flutes. Such flutes tend to have pretty weird tuning issues and a subdued response. As I mentioned with the M&E pictured, the F# hole is larger (while hole 2 doesn't appear to be, unlike most English flutes). The F# hole appears a little off-centre, which might suggest it's been enlarged later, or might just be a further indication of pretty rough workmanship.

I find such rough workmanship puzzling. It's not hard to get it dramatically better, indeed I don't remember any individual maker's work being so rough. Compare Geoffrey's work and the M&E in the images above. Why?

It would be interesting to know which R&R the M&E is said to be made after, if anyone can remember. I have the dimensions of every R&R I am aware of in the well-known collections.

Now, the mention of rough workmanship did remind me of this flute:

Image

But that's OK. It's a period fake Rudall & Rose!

http://www.mcgee-flutes.com/RR_fake.htm


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 14, 2019 5:44 am 
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PB+J wrote:
But I think it's true with all instruments that the "last mile" of production is the key thing.


I enjoyed Californian (?) maker Rod Cameron's angle on this. Rod drew a distinction between the "corpus" and the "spiritus" of the instrument. Making the "corpus" (body) isn't so hard - any competent woodworker could do that. It's breathing the spirit into the instrument that makes it special.

A complication seems to be that we can't all agree on the nature of the spritus we require. What suits you may not suit me. But we address that by having a good number of makers.

My regards to all my colleagues, and their striving to make the best flute they can....


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 14, 2019 5:48 am 
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In my opinion the rougher finish of the M&E flutes is no argument that they are not built by Michael himself. It probably is the reason why they are so low priced. Nobody can expect a keyed flute for 580 Euro to have the same finish as an instrument that costs 4 or 6 times as much.
But I think its very reasonable/or even obvious that the keys and rings are not made by Michael himself. I guess they are bought from another source. But nothing wrong with that. I guess the screws are also not made by himself.

I don't know much about making instruments, but I think it could be plausible that he buys some ebonite tubes or rods that are preprocessed to some extent?

And that this McNeela music shop doesn't sell them as M&E flutes makes sense. If they were clearly advertised as M&E flutes people probably would tend to buy them directly from Michael.


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 14, 2019 6:16 am 
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ertwert wrote:
Does someone have more proof that the M&E flutes are made in the middle east? I think it is not fair giving such a heavy statement without any further proof or explanation.
On the other hand, I think it wouldn't really matter if it was made in Pakistan or so -considering the over all playability for the low price. Especially for the keyed model.

If you go back to discussions & emails from Michael Cronnoly himself, he has indicated that he makes the flute bodies himself. While he can make his own keys (and probably does for more expensive custom work), he has said that he imports keys from Pakistan to control cost on his stock keyed flutes.

From 2008:
Jayhawk wrote:
To finally put this puppy to bed...

I emailed Mr. Cronnolly about this online article, and he said he was not aware of it.

He said he makes the flutes himself. However, he said in 2004 he started buying his polymer from a Scottish/Northern English company, Protomould that makes plastics that are non-harmful for various purposes (including medical uses). The polymer rods come the correct length and they have the exterior taper already there (which saves him considerable time). He then has to cut the holes, cut the interior bore, cut the joints, put on the rings, etc. Essentially, except for getting the polymer the right length and with the exterior taper, he does all the normal work one does to make a wooden flute.

Hopefully, this will put to rest the Pakistan issue...

Jack - it's possible your earlier R&R M&E was made from the prior PVC Mr. Cronnolly was using. He said the new material, in his opinion, has a woodier tone, and it's only available through his current supplier. He definitely wanted only to sell polymer flutes that would not have any chemicals that could harm anyone. Maybe it machines a bit differently?

As an aside, Mr. Cronnolly is a real gentleman, responds to emails, and I wouldn't hesitate recommending his flutes to anyone. Then again, I am biased since I own one, but I've had the opportunity, and funds, to buy a more expensive flute but am happy with my M&E.

Eric

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 14, 2019 10:33 am 
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Well I can say the sulfur smell on the Ellis has diminished. It still there but much much less. I kind of like the whiff of sulfur--it's like the devil or the fairy realm. "And then the flute player vanished, leaving only a faint whiff of sulfur." I'm not very devilish, so I'll take what I can get


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 14, 2019 1:11 pm 
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Terry McGee wrote:
PB+J wrote:
But I think it's true with all instruments that the "last mile" of production is the key thing.


I enjoyed Californian (?) maker Rod Cameron's angle on this. Rod drew a distinction between the "corpus" and the "spiritus" of the instrument. Making the "corpus" (body) isn't so hard - any competent woodworker could do that. It's breathing the spirit into the instrument that makes it special.

A complication seems to be that we can't all agree on the nature of the spritus we require. What suits you may not suit me. But we address that by having a good number of makers.

My regards to all my colleagues, and their striving to make the best flute they can....


Great quote from Rod. There is a lot to it. Over the years I've seen a fair number of flutes that were gorgeous to look at, but not gorgeous to play, which supports the truth that any good woodworker can produce something that looks the part. But making it sound right, feel right, respond properly, etc., is another thing altogether.

I've spent years trying to refine a really good Pratten flute and I've had some excellent support along the way from fellow makers and skilled players (a big hat-tip to Terry here for some excellent advice when I set out in this direction). Even with all of that, there was an amazing amount of nuance involved (can't overstate the importance of a good reamer that creates the right bore profile). This has been true every time I've set out to make a fully realized version of any flute type.

Getting a flute to the place where it is very good is a goal that I think a lot of makers can achieve. If you have a good model to work from (in my case I bought blueprints from Terry years ago of his Boosey Pratten) you are nearly there if you are a reasonably fastidious craftsman. But getting 90% there, while very good indeed, is fairly easy. Going that last 10% is really what sifts the wheat from the chaff. And I've spent a lot of hours fighting my way out of the chaff in quest for the wheat :-) Or to use Rod's example, working to transcend the corpus in pursuit of the spiritus.

I've also seen makers who have succumbed to "production mentality", wherein they loose some of their self-critical eye as they seek to make money at their craft. They want to keep a market share and keep selling flutes, but to make it worthwhile they might be tempted to skimp on some of the final detailing that makes such a big difference.

But I will say that all of the flute makers whose work I admire (some of whom haunt C&F), they are clearly very fastidious. I would say this is true of every really good artist of any kind. They are never complacent because it's not in their nature to be so, and that is what makes them good at what they do.

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