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Ebonite
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Author:  jim stone [ Thu May 16, 2019 2:01 pm ]
Post subject:  Ebonite

I'm checking out the ebonite Rudall Carte F from the Irish Flute Store, in
case anybody hasn't realized this. About ebonite. It sounds really good, at
least in F. I've never played a delrin F so I can't compare, but my sympathies
now lie with those who think ebonite is great stuff for flutes.

One slight issue is that the embouchure hole, after I play it a bit, smells of rubber
or perhaps it's sulphur. Not bad. though not nice, either, but I wonder if this ever goes away.

What do ebonite players think about ebonite?

Author:  Geoffrey Ellis [ Thu May 16, 2019 9:07 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Ebonite

I'm curious about this as well from a player's perspective. I work with ebonite a lot and make a variety of flutes from it, and while it does smell sulfurous when it is being worked, I don't notice the smell once the flute is finished. But if you get ebonite warm enough, it will start to have a mild odor again. I've noticed this when I've subjected it to friction but I have not noticed it when playing. But paddler tried one of my ebonite flutes and noticed a mild odor of rubber (though the flute was quite new, so would it fade over time?)

I also wonder if this tendency is stronger in older flutes because they used a slightly different recipe for the ebonite?

I'd be interested in what owners of antique ebonite flutes have experienced.

I love the material, it sounds amazing and looks great, so I have come to associate it with favorable qualities and now find the smell to actually be pleasant :-)

Author:  jim stone [ Fri May 17, 2019 12:26 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Ebonite

Someone--Nicholson?--wrote in the 19th century that ebonite was the best material
to make flutes. I haven't played enough ebonite flutes, really just this F, but if they
sound this good across the keys, the question arises--why isn't ebonite more in use?
It would seem a good way to replace endangered woods. Doesn't need much care....Probably
not terribly expensive.

Author:  Geoffrey Ellis [ Fri May 17, 2019 1:03 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Ebonite

jim stone wrote:
Someone--Nicholson?--wrote in the 19th century that ebonite was the best material
to make flutes. I haven't played enough ebonite flutes, really just this F, but if they
sound this good across the keys, the question arises--why isn't ebonite more in use?
It would seem a good way to replace endangered woods. Doesn't need much care....Probably
not terribly expensive.


There are a lot of misconceptions about ebonite, I find. First, many people imagine it to be a type of plastic, and therefore imagine it is cheap. Neither is true. Ebonite is all natural (unlike plastic) and very expensive--far more than wood. Colored ebonite even more so (compared to black ebonite). For example, if I make one of my Essential Flutes (a one-piece transverse flute) from something like rosewood or similar tropical timber, the wood might cost anywhere from $20 to $30 for a really nice piece. The same size piece of colored ebonite will be $100. Plus ebonite takes more time and patience to work with and finish properly. I think the cost and the challenges of working with it might explain why it is not in wider use. Personally, I have embraced it as not just a superior material (for many reasons), but also as a way to replace tropical hardwoods for flute making.

If anyone is curious about it, you can read my fascinating blog on the subject: https://www.ellisflutes.com/blog/what-is-ebonite :-)

Author:  jim stone [ Fri May 17, 2019 1:24 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Ebonite

Ah, Rockstro. Thanks for all this. I figured rubber and sulpher would be cheaper than grenadilla! Well, there we go. Given the advantages, anyhow, perhaps there will be a renaissance.

Author:  jim stone [ Fri May 17, 2019 1:37 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Ebonite

One thought is that antique ebonite flutes do tend to change color. Sometimes they turn a rather sickly green. Maybe there's some way of stopping that. I played an F ebonite flute at Ralph Sweet's long ago, that had turned the color of absinthe. Great sound, however.

Author:  Geoffrey Ellis [ Fri May 17, 2019 1:48 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Ebonite

jim stone wrote:
One thought is that antique ebonite flutes do tend to change color. Sometimes they turn a rather sickly green. Maybe there's some way of stopping that. I played an F ebonite flute at Ralph Sweet's long ago, that had turned the color of absinthe. Great sound, however.


I haven't personally encountered an antique ebonite flute, and I'm not certain how different the recipe might be now as compared to then, but in theory the finish can be refreshed. Oxidization causes the color to change, and the folks at Schonberger Ebonite have told me that ebonite can be polished to restore its color. I don't know if it can oxidize to the point where simple polishing would be insufficient to recover it, but if tended regularly I believe it will keep its color. I know a collector of ebonite pens who says simply rub it with a jeweler's cloth if it shows signs of color change.

There might well be a renaissance :-) But I gather that the cost of ebonite stems from the fact that manufacturing it is a bit of art and science mixed together (a bit like flute making!). You can get a glimpse of the process here: https://www.ebonite-arts.de/en/production.php

Author:  Jayhawk [ Fri May 17, 2019 5:54 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Ebonite

I really like the sound of ebonite. I know some folks who have had reactions to it, I have at times smelled a slightly sulphurous smell (which does go away with time), but it sounds darned good. I have owned two ebonite flutes over the years.

I have also played and seen on many occaissons a friend's antique Chappelle ebonite flute from the 1890s. It is greenish brown, but sounds great. I believe ebonite can be polished back up, though, although the player in question just leaves it be. I'm not sure if modern ebonite would do that, though.

Eric

Author:  Andro [ Fri May 17, 2019 8:44 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Ebonite

Where does one buy ebonite for flute making?

Author:  Geoffrey Ellis [ Fri May 17, 2019 9:40 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Ebonite

Andro wrote:
Where does one buy ebonite for flute making?


Depends upon what you are after. I get mine here: https://www.ebonite-arts.de/en/index.php

I understand that there are some Japanese manufacturers as well, but I've not bought from them.

If you are in the U.S. you can find a selection at Vermont Freehand (https://vermontfreehand.com/rods/) Their colored stuff does not seem to come in very large diameters, but they have black ebonite in a variety of sizes. It's marked up in price a fair bit, but that's understandable, and if you live in the U.S. you don't have to pay international shipping charges or import fees.

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