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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2018 7:02 am 
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"You conveniently forget that some people do not have the capacity to "sort out" their embouchure to the extent that they can play a difficult flute. Some cannot "sort out" their embouchure to play any flute at all. It is our privilege as makers to try to give them flutes they can manage. To try to help them "over the hump" of learning. Maybe to go no further. Maybe to go on to great things. We don't know. Only time will tell." Terry McGee

Well if you can't sort out your embouchure in order to get the best out of a Wilkes flute, then there are both new, and second hand flutes by other makers that could suit you. Nothing wrong with that, that I can see. Not everyone wants a flute by Chris Wilkes. It's no problem to play Irish trad on flute a Burns, McGee, Olwell, Murray, Hamilton, Gallagher, Holmes, Doyle, Copley. Cotter etc.

"And you, and others maintaining this theme, have not yet proven that there is anything to be gained by "sorting out your embouchure" to the extent you can play a difficult flute. There presumably must be some advantage, you might argue, or people wouldn't try. But that's presumption, not science." Terry McGee

Of course there is something to be gained by developing your embouchure in order to get the best out of a top quality flute if you have spent money buying it. You become a better flute player and you get the best out of the flute as regards tone, responsiveness, volume and ease of playing.

" You've had an experience - a flute you found unapproachable is now yielding results you are enjoying. That's great news! You've been moved to raise this in a public forum. Some of the responses you have received (Casey's and mine clearly included) were not what you expected. Ignore us! But don't throw babies out with bathwater. Refocus the discussion. Draw together what you have so far found valuable and restate it. Challenge us to try to explain in maker terms what you are experiencing in player terms." Terry McGee

As I've said before. The "knack" of getting the best out of one of Chris Wilkes' flutes is to develop/sort out your embouchure. End of story.
I don't care Terry if you and Andrew Kirby were long time communicators and you claim he was easily misled by "hype".
You, Terry are wasting our time. There is no need for any challenges as this thread is about:
Question - Is there a knack of getting the best out of a Wilkes flute?
Answer - Yes develop a tight embouchure, deliver a small focused stream of air, it's not necessary to blow extremely hard and the flute will respond.

"You quoted the late Andrew Kirby (he and I were long term communicators). Andrew was not a scientific person and was easily misled by hype. Hype gets us nowhere. Let's get down to some science here. Otherwise we are all wasting our time." Terry McGee.

As regards Andrew Kirby's quote science is irrelevant. Please keep to the subject


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2018 7:51 am 
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Peter Duggan wrote:
Nobody's criticising Casey (for instance) for saying that he finds Wilkes flutes difficult, unresponsive or not for him. What is quite reasonably being questioned is what he's implying about cutting better embouchures etc. because he's getting/had more practice, and IMHO he deserves to be picked up on that. It's not attack or shaming; he's stuck his neck out, said contentious things, and people have disagreed.

Absolutely. I read all this thread. To sum up: Casey Burns, himself a flutemaker, doesn't like the Chris Wilkes' flutes:

Casey Burns wrote:
my response to the playability of his flutes has been similarly disappointed.

Casey Burns wrote:
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.

Casey Burns wrote:
I find his flutes difficult to play.

He's got the right to think and to tell that. Problem comes from the reasons he give to explain why he doesn't like the Wilke's flute. It's not a simple matter of taste but, according to Casey, because of a lack of practice from CW:

Casey Burns wrote:
Chris's production is small in terms of the number of flutes a year he produces. (...) 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.

Casey Burns wrote:
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.

Casey Burns wrote:
I am making the point and sticking my head out that his flutes are hard to dial in because he gets much less practice in the tuning and voicing aspects. No question about it!

So, considering voicing and crafting an embouchure is the basis to make a good flute, Casey means that Chris Wilkes, who doesn't make a lot of flutes, isn't a top maker, except maybe on the aesthetical side of things:

Casey Burns wrote:
Those of us who skip the really fancy aesthetics and instead produce lots of flutes instead get much more practice tuning and voicing

Casey Burns wrote:
All the bling or romance, engravings, spectacular cuts of wood, etc. really have no bearing compared to the finessing of these acoustical shapes.

Isn't it a bit contemptuous? More, considering CB makes more flutes than Chris Wilkes, CB assumes that his flutes are not only easier to play but sound better:

Casey Burns wrote:
thus these flutes are commonly more forgiving for the flute player and are easier to play and often sound better.

So if I've well read, CW makes beautiful objects but no so great flutes.

joshuaZ wrote:
Casey Burns wrote:
...
I am simply claiming that to my chops, his flutes simply do not play as well as mine and seem stuffy and unresponsive. ...

But that's not all you are claiming - you have also attributed your dislike of Wilkes flute to Chris (supposedly) getting "less practice at the necessary craft of tuning and voicing the flute".

Abslolutely, with his perfectly logical reasoning, CB thinks that Chris Wilkes is an overrated maker. Maybe he is, I don't know, but:

Casey Burns wrote:
I know I am close to the edge here in terms of what is appropriate

Some of us think so. Maybe you should be a bit more modest?


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2018 8:13 am 
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This is hilarious! Some here would think that I am a bitter old flute maker jealous of others with the fancy reputations!

Instead I am making observations and objectively interpreting from my perspective of 36 years worth of flute making experience behind.

What to me makes a great flute is that if it provides happiness and satisfaction to the player. Not all of my flutes have received that response and it has only pushed me to work harder. As far as "great" flutes I do better in the low flute department I suppose with players such as John Skelton, Grey Larsen, Fintan Vallely, and especially Matt Molloy playing them and liking them. It just doesn't get any better than that! But then I am just as excited when one of my smaller handed Folk Flute clients reports back that she can play flute again, after struggling for years with a Pratten-sized instrument.

In terms of quantity vs. quality I still believe that making a lot of flutes does make a difference. There is a folk tale of a pottery class. The teacher divided the class into two large groups. The first group was instructed to make the best bowl they could imagine, finesse everything etc. Their grade depended upon the artistic quality of the final output. The other group was give a loose guideline - it had to look like a bowl. But their grade depended upon the quantity of bowls made - no other criteria. Both groups got to work in the 2 week time frame.

At the end, they exhibited the bowls from the first group, and compared them with the last bowls made by the second group. The artistic qualities of the quantity-derived bowls far surpassed the ones where the quality was the main criteria. Practice was the key - the second group simply got much more of it, allowing then to steer the path of what is essential.

I believe the same principle applies with music. A few of us are lucky enough to be born geniuses but for most of us it takes years of practice, and a large quantity of wood, plastic or bamboo out the door. An glad that Chris's flutes work for some but for me, these don't and I attribute it to the small quantity of flutes that he produces.

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2018 12:23 pm 
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I do not have a Wilkes flute at hand to examine closely, but my understanding is that the shape of his embouchure cut is toward the rounder end of the spectrum, and that the size maybe toward the smaller end of the spectrum. Wilkes owners, please correct me if I'm way off base here. Many other makers, modern and historic, have elongated, or enlarged, or both, their embouchure holes in order to create a larger and more forgiving target area for the player's air stream. The assumption here seems to be that by creating a longer blowing edge that is roughly equidistant from the player's lips, the flute will be more forgiving to a less focussed air stream and to misalignment of the air stream. As a result, less experienced players will likely have an easier time with these larger, more elongated embouchure cuts. On the other hand, a player with a very focused air stream may be able to efficiently utilize the smaller, more curved blowing edge of a rounder embouchure hole to explore different tone colors and effects by micro-adjusting the direction of the airflow. The larger embouchure hole, with its longer, straighter blowing edge does not allow for the same degree of expression, or at least not using the same subtle techniques.

The size of an embouchure hole, regardless of shape, can have similar effects that can be positive or negative depending on the player. A smaller embouchure hole may allow an experienced player to use less air while still achieving a high volume. On the other hand, a beginner might find themselves over-covering a small embouchure hole and having the flute sound muffled or flat, especially in the lower register. Or alternatively, they may roll out the head and blow more across the embouchure hole in an attempt to fix this problem (by effectively making the embouchure hole larger), and find that the intonation of the flute becomes sharp, especially in the second octave. This would likely be the behavior if the flute was originally voiced and tuned by someone with a refined embouchure using a more downward directed air stream. My collaborator and I often experience this issue when we play each other's flutes. He blows a bit more across the embouchure hole than I do, and so our flutes often behave differently depending on who is playing them and who voiced and tuned them originally. There seems to be no getting around the fact that different people blow differently.

I think these observations relate to the original question in this thread about "the knack". If the flute's embouchure cut is rounder or smaller or both, and if the players embouchure was initially weaker than it is now, then the early experience with the flute is likely to be that it was difficult to find the sweet spot. If the player originally tried to fix this by adapting their playing technique by rolling the head out a little to open up the embouchure, it is likely that the flute would play sharper, and especially so in the second octave if the player was blowing a little harder rather than tightening their embouchure. Changing cork position, in an attempt to fix this problem may have ended up leaving the cork in the wrong position (too close to the embouchure). Fast forward to now when the player's embouchure is more refined, after playing antiques with similarly rounded embouchure cuts, and we find that the Wilkes initially plays sharp in the second register, simply because the cork was in the wrong place. Adjusting the cork fixes the problem and the flute is now a joy to play because the player's embouchure and blowing style now more closely match those of the flute's maker.

The above seems, to me, to be a fairly straightforward explanation for the behavior described. It also seems to match experiences I have had with a variety of different flutes, modern and antiques. So, I think its not really that specific to Chris Wilkes flutes in particular. The same questions about the pros and cons of various embouchure cuts have arisen repeatedly throughout the evolution of flute design. Just look at the changes in embouchure cut (and corresponding sound) that took place from early baroque flutes through to modern day Boehm flutes. The trend seems to have been more towards improving ease of play for a large market, probably because of the goal of mass production for that market. This seems to have been successful from a commercial stand-point, but could you honestly claim that the modern Boehm embouchure is "better" in any absolute sense. You'd really have to refine the question a bit and say better for what purpose. Personally, I find it quite difficult to play baroque flutes, but I love the sound of them when they are played by good players, and I doubt that such a sound could ever be produced on a flute with a Boehm-style embouchure cut. I have a couple of baroque flutes myself, and the one I find easiest to play is a Palanca, which interestingly has a slightly ovalized embouchure hole. But then I'm not a good baroque player, and some aficionados don't consider the Palanca to be a true baroque flute.


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2018 12:35 pm 
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"An glad that Chris's flutes work for some but for me, these don't and I attribute it to the small quantity of flutes that he produces." Casey Burns.

Casey you said yourself earlier in this thread, that your own embouchure simply isn't developed enough to be comfortable with a Wilkes flute. So of course a Wilkes won't work for you if you're not prepared to put in the effort.

Also the four famous flute players you have named that play your low flutes, they are not spring chickens anymore, and maybe prefer to play a large instrument that is easy to sound? Nothing wrong with that. It's good there flutes out there that are easy to sound for beginners, older people, or people that don't wish to spend time developing their embouchure.

Your folktale, bowl analogy does not make sense, as a bowl is not a musical instrument. It is a receptacle that you can put something in, or look at, admire for it's aesthetic qualities perhaps. By 2003 Chris Wilkes had made scores of flutes since he first started making them 15 years earlier. I believe Chris Wilkes has a different vision of quality.


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2018 12:41 pm 
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"I think these observations relate to the original question in this thread about "the knack". If the flute's embouchure cut is rounder or smaller or both, and if the players embouchure was initially weaker than it is now, then the early experience with the flute is likely to be that it was difficult to find the sweet spot. If the player originally tried to fix this by adapting their playing technique by rolling the head out a little to open up the embouchure, it is likely that the flute would play sharper, and especially so in the second octave if the player was blowing a little harder rather than tightening their embouchure. Changing cork position, in an attempt to fix this problem may have ended up leaving the cork in the wrong position (too close to the embouchure). Fast forward to now when the player's embouchure is more refined, after playing antiques with similarly rounded embouchure cuts, and we find that the Wilkes initially plays sharp in the second register, simply because the cork was in the wrong place. Adjusting the cork fixes the problem and the flute is now a joy to play because the player's embouchure and blowing style now more closely match those of the flute's maker." Paddler

Exactly. This is what has happened in my case.


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2018 12:51 pm 
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Thanks Paddler that was a very clear explanation and makes perfect sense to me - for interest the embouchure hole on my 1990 Wilkes 8 key is slightly oval being 11.75 x 10mm ( I have an old German flute which is 12.5 x 11 mm)


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2018 1:39 pm 
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Chris really reveled in restoring and using his old machines; I was more interested in results.
This is a poor choice of words. Do you really think that Chris' interest in "restoring and using his old machines" outweighs his interest in results? Or that Chris is less interested in results than you are? The implication here seems to be that Chris is more of a glorified tinkerer of old machines than a maker of wonderful instruments. We all know that's not true. The results speak for themselves.

I saw no flutes-in-progress in the workshop, which seemed strangely quiet, almost disused .... The fact that flutes were not in evidence means nothing. Or perhaps it means that Chris has many interests, or that his workshop is tidy, belying his training as a machine operator rather than as a musician with a casual interest in making flutes. Or that Wilkes cleaned up in anticipation of a visit from a colleague in the field.

Chris is really not as interested in promoting and marketing his flutes as are some other makers who come on sites to keep their names forward. Instead Wilkes chooses to produce flutes which are, arguably, the best in the world. He spends more time on his flutes -- forging his keys, machining his own tiny screws for the post-mounted key supports, making adjustable stoppers/end caps, chambering his flutes -- than other makers whose results are not nearly as impressive. This results in fewer flutes than other makers, who take less care, produce.


Thanks to Steampacket for clarifying some points in the discussion, which I find, ultimately, frustrating.

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Last edited by Julia Delaney on Thu Apr 26, 2018 2:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2018 2:04 pm 
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Steampacket, your comment was a little offensive but let me explain my "undeveloped embouchure". Not undeveloped, just on the weak side and for a purpose and the key to my success. This is one of my trade secrets actually.

I've been playing flute and flute like instruments since age 6 in 1961, after being handed my great grandfathers Civil War fife in Bb. In 5th grade I mistook this for the flute and chose flute as my instrument instead of the trombone that I wish I could play as my family was near-destitute and unlikely to afford one. My teacher said it was not the right instrument and much to my dismay, understood my situation and loaned me an old Armstrong. I couldn't return this gesture by giving it back to him and asking for a Conn trombone instead. Then for years I suffered the ridicule of the super Jocks and other bullies who considered the flute a girl's instrument (they obviously had never studied the history of the flute!). That went on for a few years until I entered high school.

Then came Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull. If anyone could play a few licks from Thick as a Brick they were suddenly the hottest stuff out there. Our raging hormones helped! My girlfriend suggested I try out for the chorus and I managed to get in not only the chorus but the Jazz chorus where we sang vocal renditions of Brubek's music and others. Won all the awards at the jazz chorus competitions. meanwhile she urged me to work hard on the flute and I made it into the prep orchestra for the Portland Junior Symphony. I was into practicing 3-10 hours a day. There were 5 other flutists, including one male. On the docket was Peter and the Wolf for the spring concert and none of us could manage it so the conductor tried substituting all of us with one of the flutists from the regular Junior Symphony and then from the Oregon Symphony. All refused. I organized the flutists and we all struggled through the performance with sections we could each play. I got the one that goes down to the B as I has the only flute that had the 3 low keys instead of 2.

Then college where I gave up on the flute for other pursuits, burned out my voice due to the choir director's desire to impress Menotti instead of teaching us how to sing correctly, sang in opera and the War Requiem etc. 5 years later I was making tools for instrument makers and met Doug Steinke who gave me an overnight course on flute making.

Tutorial by Richard Cook at Lark Camp became the musical focus and I learned to play considerable Irish music. Unfortunately my fingers were slow as they always had been (better for the trombone) so jigs and slower pieces were all I could work on. As an instrument maker I had little time to practice if I was going to be a performer besides. I was living with a harpist then and she asked how I could be an Irish Flute Maker if I didn't avail myself of every session opportunity?

I couldn't due to the cigarette smoke. My parents chain smoked and the habit abhorred me.

I felt bad about this. Under Mickie Zekley's guidance though, I focused on flutes that met his criteria. He is not an easy person to impress - and his opinions come out cutting like a sharp knife sometimes but this is his 100% honesty shining through. With him, I learned to separate his honesty from my ego being hurt and turned these honest comments into tools to make my flutes better. We have remained close friends ever since!

One of the driving forces of my career is the ability to make a flute that is forgiving for most to play. Especially for smaller handed players whose hands cannot possibly cover a Pratten. Mickie actually asked me if it was possible to make a smaller handed version of a Pratten back in 1986 (all of mine were based on the 4 Prattens in his collection). After a number of tries the "Honkers" as well called them were joined by the smaller handed "Honkette". Note that the "Honkette" back then is now called my "Large Holed Standard".

Because of the smoke in sessions, and other musical pursuits such as French Traditional Music and Galician Gaita I relaxed out of the desire to play the diddly-diddly but remained feeling kind of bad for not playing in every available Irish session and almost gave up flute making at that point, feeling bad about myself. But it remained that my flutes were sought after, especially for their small handed versions and all of my clients reported what a joy these were to play. One common comment was they could put it down, and pick it up 6 months later and it still worked for them.

I know and understand the big tone that should be coming out of these. I have worked closely with John Skelton, Grey Larsen, Matt Molloy, Ian Law and many others with great experience and fully understand what is expected. What it took me years to realize is that in the process of making several hundreds of flutes iteratively and allowing some plasticity of design, that I was forcing my flutes to do all the heavy lifting. Simply put, if I practiced as hard and as often as some Chiffers perhaps, my flutes would suffer as a result. For the slackers who haven't put in the effort to play the really great but hard-to-play flutes that require great effort, my flutes are a perfect solution.

Enough on my flute making history.

The opinions of many of the Wilkes flute backers here especially ones that suggest that I "haven't put in the effort" to play one of Mr. Wilkes' flutes and like them frankly reeks of snobbish entitlement and privilege, derived probably from them having had to wait so long and pay so much for them, and essentially buying into this "great" and dubious privilege. I have no need for such attitudes and are happy when such self-important musicians who think highly of their own musical abilities take their flute shopping elsewhere.

Casey

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Last edited by Casey Burns on Thu Apr 26, 2018 2:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2018 2:06 pm 
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I need to get ready for the Handmade Musical Instrument Show in Portland this weekend now and am spending too much time here. The above will be my last post until long after the weekend. Have fun digesting or indigesting it!

If you are in Portland the show is Noon to 5 at Marylhurst College. I'll be showing flutes currently in progress Sunday only, and performing on some of my bagpipes at 4:45 on Sunday.

Casey

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2018 2:18 pm 
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" I saw no flutes-in-progress in the workshop, which seemed strangely quiet, almost disused .... " It is ironic, I was visiting Chris a week before the famous visit, and there where plenty of flutes in the making (I was picking up a Bb flute). It might be that Chris, was, ....,less than very happy about being bothered by some one who he clearly had no need for....And seeing what the bothering one says, one might guess he was not entirely wrong about the whole affair...

What ever happened to decency, one maker can not blow and blames it on numbers of flute produced, and the other invites him self and has only bad things to say about his stay. The both of you are being very childish about the whole thing, you might be all making flutes, but you are not in the same market, there is very little intersection (if none at all) in your markets, and as it is sad to notice, putting some one down in public will not by any means up the value of your flute, maybe spending a wee bit more time on each flute might help (uh oh a secret is revealed...)


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2018 2:24 pm 
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LOL..... Burns makes good flutes for beginners because he has a weak embouchure? ...on the weak side and for a purpose and the key to my success. This is one of my trade secrets actually.
Can we deduce from this that the better the maker's embouchure the worse the beginner flute he will make ? Is there such as thing as a "beginner flute?" Would Olwell's and Wilkes' flutes be more appealing to beginners if Pat and Chris didn't play so much? Casey Burns is beginning to sound like the Donald Trump of flute-making. I always thought that the better a flute-maker played, the better his control of the flute, the more he would understood about flute-making.

Of those makers with whom I've come in contact, those who are the very best players are the very best makers.

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2018 3:52 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.'

The internet is really bad on nuance, I've discovered. If one thinks one is close to the edge of what is appropriate, one can be sure it will be read by many as over edge. I feel discouraged to see makers (I imagine them living in some Olympian realm) criticizing the work of other makers on this board. So I hope we won't do this again, and I am grateful also, since I learned some things. Obviously people may feel differently, but this thread is plainly too complex for the medium, and so will they be if we do it again. If a maker wants to share some critical thoughts that might be useful to all the makers here, there is the option of sending them your thoughts in a private message. My two cents. Back to tooting.


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2018 4:59 pm 
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jim stone wrote:
I feel discouraged to see makers (I imagine them living in some Olympian realm) criticizing the work of other makers on this board. So I hope we won't do this again...

There admittedly is, however, a fine line between maker critique and maker disparagement. Makers here are already subject to rules against the latter. The former, obviously, should be considered very shaky ground for makers to tread in public, and for good reason.

Heated as things are getting, I'm afraid it's time for a lock on this while the mods ponder it.

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