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PostPosted: Fri Dec 21, 2018 8:22 am 
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I was fortunate enough to do both the Cambridge Woodwind Makers course (Wooden flute making with Robert Bigio) & the Newark Woodwind instrument making & repair course. Dave Williams did indeed do the course in the '70's, it was Dave that originally told me about the course (around 25 years ago when I first bought a flute from him). The overall format of the Newark course has changed a lot over the years and the primary focus is on Boehm system instruments, but it is a fantastic place of learning. Other notable makers who have been through there include Marcus Coulter (Uilleann pipes), Glenn Watson & Solen Lesouef (amongst others). I would recommend the course to anybody seriously interested in flute making.
There is a link to a video of a clarinet being made at Newark (from raw materials) on my website if anyone's interested.
https://www.thompsonflutes.com/
Newark woodwind course clarinet making video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D76nBZ02WOo



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PostPosted: Fri Dec 21, 2018 7:35 pm 
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Thanks for the clarinet making link, Damian. I imagine that course was fun!

And nice clean-looking work on your website - well done!

So, plenty happening in the staid old world of Irish flute making, eh? New flute makers coming on line, several courses available to train more, a fresh look at computer modelling underway...

So here's a question. What do we expect of these new makers? Firstly to get at least as good as we did at making 19th century flutes in either direct copy or updated style, depending on what drives them.

But surely that's not enough - we'd want more than "more of the same" surely. But maybe we shouldn't expect them to do all the heavy lifting? Maybe we should be drawing attention to the limitations of our current flutes (as perceived by both players and makers), and challenging them to improve on them?

So, instead of crowing about how wonderful our flutes are, we should start talking about how awful they are? Perhaps the lead question should be "what feature of your current flute bugs you the most?" Or maybe I should say "limits you" the most?


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 22, 2018 3:43 am 
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I bought one of Damian's beginner delrin flutes as soon as he mentioned it, it is lovely work, & to my untrained ear, well intoned, really pleased with it.
Though I haven't put in much work on it yet, it has been much easier than my one piece Tony Dixon, to sound all notes.
(Next year is when I plan to get more involved with my flutes, after having started with whistles this year.)

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 22, 2018 3:28 pm 
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fatmac wrote:
I'm going to be controversial - I think Delrin flutes are the future...... :D

I am glad people like them but I have never played one that stood up to a good wood flute, or heard one that I thought carried a complex tone. But that is just me.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 22, 2018 4:19 pm 
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Terry McGee wrote:

So here's a question. What do we expect of these new makers? Firstly to get at least as good as we did at making 19th century flutes in either direct copy or updated style, depending on what drives them.

But surely that's not enough - we'd want more than "more of the same" surely. But maybe we shouldn't expect them to do all the heavy lifting? Maybe we should be drawing attention to the limitations of our current flutes (as perceived by both players and makers), and challenging them to improve on them?

So, instead of crowing about how wonderful our flutes are, we should start talking about how awful they are? Perhaps the lead question should be "what feature of your current flute bugs you the most?" Or maybe I should say "limits you" the most?


Better materials: Hypo-allergenic, warp and humidity related crack proof, environmentally friendly body materials. Let’s face it, the current (raw) woods leave a lot to be desired. We’ve learned to live with them, but improvement is way over due.

Polymers are good, but some makers refuse to work with it. Resin stabilized woods seem to be gaining a foothold here and there, another step in the right direction. Still more room for improvement with regards to materials though I reckon.

Better keywork: Again, we’ve learned to tolerate “functional”, but compared with our most of our other keyed woodwind brethren, we’re way behind the times. Yeah, I get that the trad look is cool, I like it too, but the option to move beyond big wooden blocks and clunky keys is long overdue. As with resin stabilized wood, some makers do offer post mounted keys, but again more room for improvement exists.

Improved production processes and professionalism: Many makers have unnecessarily long wait times, at least in part, because their production processes were never thought out and scaled up for current demand - they basically do things exactly they way they did when they had a fraction of the orders. OK, I get that some makers just do what they like and say screw the production times, it’s certainly a craftsman’s prerogative, but it’s unprofessional, and I, for one, would like to see more professionalism from future flute makers. There are multiple areas that fall under professionalism, from communication to meeting delivery time commitments where makers fall down and could do better. And to be clear, I have dealt with some makers that are highly professional, others that in fact are down right ethically challenged, and many who fall somewhere in between, so I am not slagging off all current flute makers, but man, there is seriously some room for improvement in many cases and I hope the next generation get some education in the professionalism department.

Ok, I’m going to put on my Nomex undies now and await the heat that is bound to come my way for that last bit, but Terry asked.....


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 22, 2018 4:30 pm 
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busterbill wrote:
fatmac wrote:
I'm going to be controversial - I think Delrin flutes are the future...... :D

I am glad people like them but I have never played one that stood up to a good wood flute, or heard one that I thought carried a complex tone. But that is just me.


I’d challenge to do a blind listening test with a decent player playing 3-4 identical flutes (same maker, same model) out of different woods and one Delrin, and you try to pick out the Delrin flute. It is VERY difficult to do, I know this having actually done the experiment. Psychology seems to influence many people’s perception of the polymer sound. There is a slight difference, but less than what there is between many woods that most people say sound the same.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 22, 2018 5:38 pm 
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Loren wrote:
busterbill wrote:
fatmac wrote:
I'm going to be controversial - I think Delrin flutes are the future...... :D

I am glad people like them but I have never played one that stood up to a good wood flute, or heard one that I thought carried a complex tone. But that is just me.


I’d challenge to do a blind listening test with a decent player playing 3-4 identical flutes (same maker, same model) out of different woods and one Delrin, and you try to pick out the Delrin flute. It is VERY difficult to do, I know this having actually done the experiment. Psychology seems to influence many people’s perception of the polymer sound. There is a slight difference, but less than what there is between many woods that most people say sound the same.


I've had a similar experience: with your eyes closed there is no clearly (or consistently) audible difference between Delrin and wood. If anything, Delrin is more reliable from piece to piece in terms of tone. But that's just the sound, and sound is only part of the total experience, of course. For some players, a natural material is far more important. That's why I started using ebonite. Amazing sound, consistent and non-synthetic. A non-wood, non-synthetic option.

As for professionalism, I've not dealt with other makers from a buyer's perspective, but I'm highly sympathetic (or at least familiar) with what goes on behind the scenes in a solo maker's workshop. I have no doubt there are thoroughly unprofessional makers out there, and I have certainly heard of a number of makers who I would considered bold-faced crooks :-) However, they are rare.

Delivery times are something that I consider impossible to promise. In fact, to promise a delivery time when you work alone is essentially telling a falsehood from the get-go, because you don't know that you can actually adhere to a promised timeline. When I take an order I estimate when I think it might be done, but I don't know. What if I get sick? Have a family emergency? Injury? What if a piece of equipment stops working (had several instances of this over the years)? That throws everything off, sometimes by months. It's part of being a solo artisan. No amount of professionalism can fix this and suddenly make a reliable delivery time anything other than an educated guess. Usually I hit pretty near the mark, but I make a point of telling customers that I cannot guarantee the delivery time. Fortunately, I have yet to have a buyer who really cares one way or the other. Most people are very understanding and actually implore me to take my time because they don't want to rush the artisan. That's always nice :-)

And I know other makers who are, by my standards, pretty slow or limited in their production. This is not because they are incompetent or anything, they merely adhere to a different philosophy as an artisan. They are not looking to make more money by cranking out more flute, they just like the process and enjoy making quality instruments. I respect that a lot, even though I'm much more pragmatic about my own business. I'm always willing to make my production more efficient and streamlined. Being able to supply the same level of quality on a larger scale is one of my goals, but not all makers share it.

As far as advancing the design of current instruments, computer bore modeling will likely be implemented at some point to create flutes that have better intonation and a more consistent voice throughout the entire range.

I probably posted about this somewhere before but I'll share again: at one point I made an optimized Chinese xiao using data provided by a researcher at the University of British Columbia. He had "optimized" the bore of the xiao to achieve this same goal, and had succeeded. The bore was not conical or cylindrical, but rather "undulating". It looked like a python that had swallowed a series of rats. Making it from wood was impossible so I recreated it using a cast bore inside a wooden body using trapped tooling made of wax that I melted out later. Long story (I'll be writing a blog about it), but the effect was profound. But there was a problem. The flute changed it's character and didn't really sound like a xiao anymore. It had improved intonation and a strong, reedy voice with very balanced harmonics. But the idiosyncrasies that made the xiao sound like a xiao were altered. I actually liked it, but other xiao players were not impressed. Funnily enough it sounded a lot more like an Irish flute after the optimization!

So with conical bore wooden flutes, it might be possible to engineer an "improved" instrument, but would it loose it's character? I have no views one way or the other as to whether this is a good or bad thing, but it's an evolution that will change what people are accustomed to.

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 22, 2018 6:16 pm 
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Having worked in a woodwind production shop, I am well versed in most, if not all of the things that can go wrong, thus slowing down the process. Being professional means planing for those things and building extra buffer into the estimated delivery times you give a customer - under promise and over deliver.

Sure, if someone dies or you jacked up in a car accident, things must change. But broken down equipment, and most of the other “reasons” I’ve heard that lead to long delays are just poor planning or the maker just not really caring if the customer has to wait. Again, makers can obviously do whatever please, but as someone who has been on both sides of the fence, I see things for what they are on the makers side, and on the customer side I see lots of room for improvement.

It’s interesting that publicly (on forums and whatnot) lots of people act like it doesn’t bother them much, but in private it’s clear folks don’t like it but are afraid to anger makers for fear of getting on their s***t list and then being bumped back another x number of months or years. Just the fact that this is even a thing speaks volumes.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 22, 2018 8:10 pm 
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Loren wrote:
It’s interesting that publicly (on forums and whatnot) lots of people act like it doesn’t bother them much, but in private it’s clear folks don’t like it but are afraid to anger makers for fear of getting on their s***t list and then being bumped back another x number of months or years. Just the fact that this is even a thing speaks volumes.


Is that really a thing? I mean that sincerely--I've never heard of this. What a tangle! Customers telling flute maker that they don't mind waiting when they really do. Flute makers getting angry and bumping people down the waiting list? I didn't know this was a thing, though given human nature I'm not totally shocked. Seems a shame.

Well, as a maker I like to try to provide flutes in a reasonable amount of time, but I'm okay with the vagaries of life introducing delays and while I would certainly not go so far as to say I'm indifferent to the effect this might have on one of my customers, I'm okay with it, but that's because I don't give hard delivery times. I think artisans can work on whatever terms suit them as long as they are upfront about those terms, and the customer goes into the relationship knowing that. I think a maker who plans ahead (under promise and over delivers, as you say) can be very professional, but I also believe a maker who does good work but chooses not to be held to a timeline can also be very professional. It all depends upon the communication they have with the customer. Now, makers who promise hard delivery times and lead their customers to believe that they will adhere to these deadlines, but who in fact routinely fail to do so...I do think that is unprofessional. Is it really that common? I've only bought a few flutes in my life and they were not custom orders, so I honestly don't know.

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 22, 2018 8:41 pm 
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Yeah, it’s really a thing.

Regardless, I’m really not commenting to gripe about some of the current makers, again, just answering Terry’s question about what I think the next generation could improve upon, professionalism being one of the areas.


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 23, 2018 12:11 am 
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Have I introduced you to the head of our new Code of Professional Conduct Compliance Unit?

Image

Good to raise those issues, Loren, and in a non-confrontational way as you have. I think in most cases failing to meet delivery estimates is due to a sudden accumulation of life's little surprises, rather than intention to mislead. But it does raise the issue of what should our collective responsibility be if we become aware that a maker or repairer is repeatedly misleading or even behaving more reprehensibly to clients. One to mull over.

And yeah, the topic of materials is timely, given CITES and a carbon-constrained future. Will extremely high density timbers be reliably available in the future? What about polymers made from oil? Or since the oil still seems readily available and given we might hopefully soon stop burning it for energy, perhaps polymers will remain a good option? Transport ("flute miles") is a related topic - will Australian makers still be able to serve European and US markets in future?

It's instructive that we're still in the "he said, she said" phase of whether polymers can produce as good a flute as select timbers. Perhaps we need to indulge in a little science here? And could criticisms like "slippery" be countered successfully with different finishes, or a bit of Nicholson's sharkskin? Um, that's synthetic sharkskin I hasten to add....

But if we're talking polymers, should we be talking moulding rather than excavation from solid? Hmmm, lots for makers of the future to think about....


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 23, 2018 12:44 pm 
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I can barely play a major scale on the flute but this thread has been really interesting. I do a lot of woodworking and some strictly amateur luthiery--I've made about two dozen guitars of various types. Some ended up as firewood, some I'm still playing.

Guitar world is full of people claiming "rosewood has more midrange" or "maple has more snap" or "adirondack spruce has a unique clarity." I think that's a bunch of bushwa, and it's not the materials it's the construction, like how thin you can make the top or how much bracing it needs, and that of course varies with the boards you're using, which are generally similar as species but vary from board to board. Flutemakers seem a lot like luthiers in that they start out being interested in a traditional craft and end up getting curious about how to make things better. Luthiers experiment with "double tops," which have two thin spruce boards sandwiched on either side of a piece of Dupont Nomex. In some guitar traditions, like the Selmer "Gypsy style," plywood backs and sides are the norm. I've done a lot of experimenting with using native N. American hardwoods and also with alternative fingerboard materials. A company called "Rocklite" in England makes a material called "Ebano" which I've seen luthiers rave about. They make a version called "sundari" that looks more like Rosewood. It's supposedly wood fibers and some kind of resin.

https://www.rocklite.co.uk/


I love the idea that computer modeling could be applied but in my experience a lot of the things that are annoying about guitars are also the things that make them distinctive and a pleasure to play. Sort of like people


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 23, 2018 3:45 pm 
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Terry McGee wrote:
But if we're talking polymers, should we be talking moulding rather than excavation from solid? Hmmm, lots for makers of the future to think about....


I'm curious as to the density of injection molded plastics versus something like Delrin, which is incredibly dense. I don't know that it would make any audible difference, or if there is that significant of a difference in density to begin with.

I think molding plastics has great advantages for larger scale production. I have a friend who knows Geoffrey Guo (creator of the Guo plastic Boehm flutes) and got to see a bit of his production and speak with him about it. He came away with the understanding that getting set up for plastic molding is expensive and very involved. I've read some confirmation of that from some folks with experience in production mold making for plastics. But if someone were to invest the time and money, and they were working from a very high quality model, we might find that high quality, affordable flutes are suddenly everywhere!

With Delrin there is waste, of course, because of the subtractive process of machining it, but it has the advantage of being something a maker can use in lieu of wood, working with the exact same tooling set up and not having to master mold making. But it is slippery. I made a shakuhachi from it and polished it so that it had a lovely luster, but found I could barely keep a hold of the damn thing!

And I wonder about the future of plastics from a perceptual standpoint. My own experience is that the majority of players prefer wood to plastic of any kind (or in the case of Boehm players, they prefer metal or wood to plastic). I've been curious as to whether this perception of plastics will get better or worse in the future. If quality woods are harder to come by, there may be more plastic flutes and that might slowly grow the acceptance of plastic as a material. On the other hand, plastics are also an eco-disaster that is very much in the consciousness of the younger generation, so they might look askance at them.

But hopefully people will be able to distinguish between single-use plastics of the type that are filling the ocean and the higher density type that are being turned into instruments, and are therefore most unlikely to be swallowed by some innocent sea turtle. I would not want to work exclusively in Delrin, but I can't deny that it is a material with a lot of utility.

Wasn't it Barna Gabos who made the bamboo Pratten? I don't see any on his website, but that was really cool. Bamboo is a great material to cultivate in lieu of wood, if it has the necessary properties (I've never made a bamboo instrument).

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 23, 2018 7:47 pm 
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Geoffrey Ellis wrote:
Wasn't it Barna Gabos who made the bamboo Pratten? I don't see any on his website, but that was really cool. Bamboo is a great material to cultivate in lieu of wood, if it has the necessary properties (I've never made a bamboo instrument).

Per his web site Barna Gabos says, "I no longer provide bamboo flutes with a tuning slide, since I prefer keeping the acoustic characteristics of the natural bamboo bore."

Still makes all-bamboo flutes though.

Happy Holidays.

Steve

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 23, 2018 8:58 pm 
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Geoffrey Ellis wrote:
getting set up for plastic molding is expensive and very involved


I imagine. But maybe the "maker" could outsource the actual moulding work to a factory, but then tidy up the received casting, fit it with keys, slides, rings etc. When you think about it, we already outsource our timber getting, and poly rod manufacture. It might come as a shock for some to find out I don't even mine my own silver. I get it from a company who removes it as an impurity in lead!

One of the (several) aspects I don't like about working in Delrin is what to do with the stuff we turn off and bore out. If the recycling industry were going as well as it should be by now, this should be ideal stuff to recycle. But when China decided recently to stop being the world's garbage bin, it exposed massive weaknesses in the recycling industry here in New South Wales. Probably similar deficiencies showed up elsewhere, or would show up if anyone investigated.


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