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PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2018 2:37 am 
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Location: Sweden
Chris Wilkes flutes have been discussed recently in the "Wilkes on E-bay thread" AaronFW asked "What makes Wilkes flutes so desirable" and Benhall answered "their responsiveness" and went on to say that they not so easy to play at first, but wonderful once you have the knack.

I have a Wilkes keyless that I haven't played regularly as I could never get really comfortable with it. Try as I might I was always playing sharp in the second octave. I tried adjusting the cork, back and forth, moving it back to 20-21 mm, but my better half a fiddler, who has perfect pitch, always complained that and wanted me to play a R&R as the second octave tuning was better. I've been mostly playing a Rudall & Rose these last couple of years, but decided to try the Wilkes a couple of days ago as it had been a while, and I wanted to see that it had come through the dry Swedish winter unscathed. Apart from a little mould here and there it was fine.

So I pulled out the slide, got the A in tune and as usual, for me, the second octave notes were sharp. So I adjusted the cork, moving it further back as it was pretty far forward for some reason (can't remember when I last fiddled with it) and lo and behold the flute's second octave was in tune, the flute had a fine clear tone, hard bottom D. I can only guess that my embouchure has started to improve after regularly playing a Rudall, or that inadvertently I'd hit upon the "knack" of playing a Wilkes, and getting it to play at it's best. I took it to a session and it behaved very well. I can't put it down now.

I wonder what is the "knack" as regards getting the best out of a Wilkes? Is there a certain method that produces good results or is it enough to strive after a good embouchure. Or is it just a myth that Wilkes flutes can be difficult to play, and like any other flute it's just to buckle down and practice. I suspect that developing a good embouchure and getting the cork position right is highly important. We all have different mouths, teeth etc. Interesting to hear what other Wilkes owners think?


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2018 1:08 pm 
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I can only guess that my embouchure has started to improve after regularly playing a Rudall


I think that's correct and certainly what I've found in that it took a while to develop my embouchure, I've also heard other people make similar comments that a Wilkes needs a strong embouchure.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2018 5:02 pm 
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I know I am close to the edge here in terms of what is appropriate - one maker commenting on another maker's work. But here are some thoughts that might be useful to all the makers here.

While a work of beauty, usually, not to mention the years of anticipation - my response to the playability of his flutes has been similarly disappointed.

But thinking about it, Chris's production is small in terms of the number of flutes a year he produces - am not even sure he still is in production but for a few flutes a year.

Unfortunately, this means he or makers with similarly slow production rates get much less practice at the necessary craft of tuning and voicing the flute. Like anything musical one must practice and practice. Those of us who skip the really fancy aesthetics and instead produce lots of flutes instead (this include Pat Olwell who made thousands of his great Bamboo Flutes besides his Rudall etc. -based beauties) get much more practice tuning and voicing - thus these flutes are commonly more forgiving for the flute player and are easier to play and often sound better.

Casey

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2018 6:08 pm 
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While a work of beauty, usually, not to mention the years of anticipation - my response to the playability of his flutes has been similarly disappointed.

But thinking about it, Chris's production is small in terms of the number of flutes a year he produces - am not even sure he still is in production but for a few flutes a year.

Unfortunately, this means he or makers with similarly slow production rates get much less practice at the necessary craft of tuning and voicing the flute. Like anything musical one must practice and practice. Those of us who skip the really fancy aesthetics and instead produce lots of flutes instead (this include Pat Olwell who made thousands of his great Bamboo Flutes besides his Rudall etc. -based beauties) get much more practice tuning and voicing - thus these flutes are commonly more forgiving for the flute player and are easier to play and often sound better.


Are you claiming that because you (and the Olwells) make more flutes and thus have more practice in the "craft of tuning and voicing" that your flutes are better than Chris's flutes in terms of tuning and voicing, and that they "often sound better"? That's a pretty natural reading of what you say, here. Is that what you mean?


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2018 7:04 pm 
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No, don't think that's quite what C has said.
He has been personally disappointed in playing said maker's flutes.
That's why he has doubts about their playability.
He offers the low production as a possible explanation
of why he had found the flutes were less good than he had hoped.

To put in my two cents, here's the closest I've come to playing
a Wilkes. I have a Wilkes headjoint I bought from Davy Levine.
It happens to fit what appears to be an 1840 Rudall body, part of
a flute I bought from dave Migoya a good while ago. The result
is astonishingly beautiful acoustically. I wish I could check out more Wilkes's flutes,
but this headjoint, anyway, is superb.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2018 7:07 pm 
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crickett wrote:
Are you claiming that because you (and the Olwells) make more flutes and thus have more practice in the "craft of tuning and voicing" that your flutes are better than Chris's flutes in terms of tuning and voicing, and that they "often sound better"? That's a pretty natural reading of what you say, here. Is that what you mean?


I'm going to let Casey answer, but in my interpretation, Casey is saying that the sweet-spot for Chris Wilkes flutes is smaller than the sweet-spot for other makers. Therefore, it is easier for flute-players to hit the sweet-spot and sound good with many other maker's flutes than it is for them to hit the sweet-spot with a Wilkes. When one doesn't hit the sweet spot, it is hard to play and it doesn't sound great, like in Steampacket's example.

I also see that Casey is arguing that are intentional ways to make the sweet-spot larger and that Casey sees a larger sweet-spot as a desirable thing so that the flute caters to players rather than players catering to a flute.

Whether or not this makes anyone's flutes better or worse than Wilkes is a matter of opinion.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2018 7:29 pm 
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Yes, I asked for clarification because I assumed he meant something different from what he seemed to say. I just wasn't sure what ease of play or a larger sweet spot has to do with more practice with tuning and voicing flutes, nor with the suggestion that the non-Wilkes flutes are tuned and voiced better than the Wilkes. (Or that they "often sound better.") The Wilkes flutes I have tried (and I also own one) are incredible instruments with no shortcomings in terms of tuning or voicing at all. (I also own an Olwell, which is also a fantastic instrument.)


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2018 7:42 pm 
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It's good to be empirical. And over the years the reports we've had
here suggested to me that Wilkes's flutes are designed his way,
with an especially deep chimney and are perhaps more faithful
to the old flute embouchures--and they are not for everyone.
It's hard for me not to believe that many people, including people
who record with them, wait years for one, speaks on their behalf.
But when it comes to flutes I reckon there is no substitute for personal
hands on experience.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2018 8:52 pm 
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Location: New Hampshire, USA, or Co Clare...
If Chris Wilkes made only one flute every five years, that flute would be better than those made by several makers who produce dozens each year. That is why so many great players play Wilkes' flutes. Jean-Michel Veillon refers to Wilkes as "The Master." Martin Doyle, a great maker in his own right, speaks enormously highly of Wilkes. Olwell himself praises Wilkes' work. Wilkes' flutes are played by Fintan Valley, Ciaran Somers, and Liam Kelly. Wilkes is a genius maker and is justly revered by people who know what his flutes are capable of.
Casey made two statements that I find inappropriate: "....my response to the playability of his flutes has been similarly disappointed [sic]," and "...makers with similarly slow production rates get much less practice at the necessary craft of tuning and voicing the flute."
Taken together I am left with the impression that Casey is implying that Chris doesn't make enough flutes for Casey to put him on the level of Olwell, or, in fact, himself: "Those of us who skip the really fancy aesthetics and instead produce lots of flutes..."
I could go on. I really have no dog in this fight, except that Chris is an old friend, and Olwell, who in fact does make aesthetically gorgeous flutes, is an even older friend. Neither of them would want, or need to, come to their own defense. Or offer even the mildest criticism about another maker's work.
Casey is being presumptuous on several levels here.

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2018 9:26 pm 
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I can probably confuse this discussion further....that's the aim, right? (heh heh)

Some of you will remember my "Self Indulgent Flute-Maker's Tour" of 2002 in which I started in the S/W U.S., swung my way north and east, and into Canada and Nova Scotia, then on to England, Ireland, NI, Scotland back down through England and home. Attending summer schools, visiting makers, players, museums, etc, as one does. And attending 32 sessions in 64 days. It was hell! (Heh heh!) http://www.mcgee-flutes.com/2002trip.htm

But (arguably) relevant to this discussion is what I found in terms of playability of flutes. I played anything and everything I could get my hands on (it was a fact-finding mission), and, with all the playing I was doing, I was in good form (after the jetlag on the first week!).

What I found was, the closer I got to Ireland, the flutes got harder to play. My flutes were easiest (to me, of course, and that's only natural!). U.S-made flutes came next, then English, then Irish. I really struggled to play Hammy's and Sam's.

And a week or two back, I think the same (but inverted) was reflected back to me. The phone rang, and Jesse called out to me in the garden that a Fintan Vallely was going to drop in in the next hour or so. Now given we live in a tiny obscure village by the sea in rural south-east New South Wales, that sort of thing doesn't happen often. Is nowhere safe? Fintan duly arrived, and we got chatting about flutes (surprise, surprise). He asked to see one of mine, and I proferred him my own playing flute - my large-holed "Rudall Perfected" model. He didn't last long on it - "the size of that embouchure" he gasped, "I'd soon run out of breath!"

I cast around for anything else to show him. All I had was a keyless Grey Larsen Preferred being readied to send to Grey. Really small holes, small bore. I quipped "well, you're not going to like this", on the basis of the very small holes. He did like it (blowing me quite out of the water). What's more, he got the most sound out of that small-holed flute I've ever heard anyone do. It was like he was going into pressure mode, rather than flow. That would be hard to keep up on the Rudall Perfected, or a Prattens.

Interestingly, he commented on a flute he did enjoy, a 19th century Blackman's, and I had one in my collection which I pulled out. Again relatively small holes, again the high-pressure blowing approach, again very powerful tone.

It all confirms my feeling that there are a wide range of approaches to flute making and playing, and there seems some evidence that there are regional variations. Probably a PhD in that for somebody....

(Nudge, nudge....)


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2018 9:48 pm 
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Am enjoying stirring the pot!

Perhaps my sampling has been small - really only about 6-7 Wilkes flutes that I've seen. I have seen more Olwells in terms of his professional grade of flutes, compared to bamboo. For my embouchure, Pat's flutes have always worked well for me hands-down and are a lovely balance between the amount of air required vs. the feel and sound produced. They are a joy to play! For my own flutes I find that I need to practice a bunch and ruin a fair bit of wood to achieve a similar balance. biut I try to get there with each before these go out the door.

I just cannot see someone striking the ball out of the park every time when they only produce one flute every 3-4 months if that. I also cannot see waiting for such an instrument for 5 to 10 years or more.

The bottom line is that every Wilkes flute I've tried has seemed stuffy, unforgiving and such. Sorry but that is the way it is for me.

Of course, one of my secrets is that I keep my embouchure on the week and unpracticed side and force my flute designs to do the heavy lifting, so that my clients who are largely on the beginning side of things find my flutes easy to play. So maybe I am not the type of player that these will work for. But then, why are the Olwells such a joy to play?

What I have observed with my own production, Pat Olwell's experience of over 10,000 flutes, Walt Sweets Shannon Flutes, Terry's and many by other makers - there is an apparent direct relationship between how many flutes one produces and how well it plays. I think this is attributable to how much practice we get in the acoustical aspects of the flutes, i.e., the careful tuning and voicing, which includes minutae of bore modifications, wall thickness, undercutting shapes, especially the dimensions and angles of the embouchure which are always an exploration to me in terms of what works best. Distilled to its essential, the flute is a shaped column of air that we are working with. All the bling or romance, engravings, spectacular cuts of wood, etc. really have no bearing compared to the finessing of these acoustical shapes.

Casey

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2018 9:52 pm 
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Terry, Fintan was fun to work with. He has one of my Bb flutes. I wonder how he is getting along with it and should check in with him. Its getting harder and harder for me to make these and especially the low A flutes due to the arthritis in my hands.

Interesting observations. Its fun to rile up the Orthodoxy. The Australians are even farther west than us Left-Coasters, regardless of the 180th Meridian.

Casey

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2018 9:57 pm 
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Julia, this statement of yours frankly does not make any sense. What is your basis for this claim?

Quote:
If Chris Wilkes made only one flute every five years, that flute would be better than those made by several makers who produce dozens each year.


Let me think hard about this....I suppose if Chris Wilkes made one flute every 20 years it would be 4X better than any flute that he made every 5 years. He should wait 40 years and then they would be 8X better. If he never made them at all, then these would be infinitely better than any flute he would produce in his life time.....

This is sounding better and better to me! I could be producing the Best Flutes On The Planet, if I only stopped making them.

Casey

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http://www.caseyburnsflutes.com
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PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2018 10:15 pm 
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I differ from Casey in this respect. I think flutes made by the top
makers are acoustic art works, truly. And makers have their own acoustic
vision, if I may talk this way, of what they want the flute to do. Each is after
something personal and expressive. By the time people get to the point of being widely respected,
and are plainly good and careful craftsfolk, it is very likely that this is what's going on.
If I may suggest a charitable and, I think plausible, explanation, Wilkes's acoustic vision,
and his way of realizing it, is not congenial to Casey. That's art and there is no arguing with it. I would bet that if Wilkes made lots more flutes, Casey would still find them not for him.
Surely we are blessed to have all these wonderful instruments, which so enrich our
lives.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2018 10:45 pm 
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Quote:
Julia, this statement of yours frankly does not make any sense. What is your basis for this claim?

Quote:
If Chris Wilkes made only one flute every five years, that flute would be better than those made by several makers who produce dozens each year.


Read in the way you are interpreting him, Julia's claim makes about as much sense as your claim that the reason Wilkes flutes are not tuned and voiced as well is that he produces fewer each year. But Julia actually cited some evidence that producing fewer has no correlation with producing inferior flutes, viz., that fact that top players play Wilkes flutes and top makers think Wilkes flutes are top-tier instruments. He was not arguing that Wilkes flutes are superior to many other makers' flutes because he makes fewer. He was just making the point that there is no correlation between making fewer flutes and those flutes being inferior to those made by makers who make more.

You are of course perfectly entitled to the claim that you personally find them stuffy and difficult to play. And I think it is fine to note that some flutes are trickier to dial in then others. But I cannot figure out what either of those claims have to do how many flutes one produces every year, unless you are trying to make a more general point about his flutes not being tuned or voiced as well as a result of lack of practice tuning and voicing, which I think has very little support.

One last thing: It is hard not read you as suggesting that Wilkes flutes are all about the bling. Everyone--even Wilkes--would of course agree that bling has no bearing on tonal quality. But they are also not mutually exclusive.


Last edited by crickett on Tue Apr 24, 2018 11:54 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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