David Symington "Flutemet" Flute Crown

Alternative Crowns & Stoppers: A Resounding Leap Forward?

David Symington "Flutemet" Flute Crown

Recently there has been some debate over whether the cork assembly inside the headjoint makes a difference to the way the flute plays and feels. Many headjoint makers and flute enthusiasts have been experimenting with different materials and set-ups, and several alternatives are already available through specialist shops. In this article I want to demystify this subject and find out whether there really is truth to it.

Robert Bigio has been making stoppers and crowns for flutes out of different materials for a couple of years now. I remember that when I first saw his Zirconium flute stopper I have to admit that I was more than a little sceptical and didn’t really give it a second glance. I remember standing with some other players while one of them played a couple of headjoints with and without these stoppers. We all decided that there was indeed a difference in the sound, but we couldn’t put our finger on it.

It’s now a few years later, and Altus have launched a headjoint with a regular cork assembly, but three interchangeable crowns in heavy, medium and light weights. Again, I did not at first take much notice in this development until I was at a Flute Cocktail weekend in Bodmin with Gareth Davies.

Gareth was using one of these headjoints on his new Altus ‘AL’ flute, and he told me how he prefers the light crown compared to the other two. I thought that if one of Japan’s finest flute companies was producing different crowns, and one of the UK’s finest orchestral players was playing one, perhaps I should give these a try! I also have an Altus AL headjoint, so I tried the heavy and light crowns. I really can not tell you how much difference they made: it was vast!

With the heavy crown, I found that the sound became more focused and the top register really started to sing out. I felt that the lower register became slightly reduced power-wise, but I was happy to pay the price. I then wondered: what if I change the whole cork assembly?

Bigio Zirconium Crowns

Bigio Zirconium Crowns

On returning to Just Flutes, I took the crown and cork assembly from my headjoint and swapped them for a Robert Bigio Zirconium stopper and crown. My earlier reservations went out the window: I believe it put even more life into my sound than the Altus crown: more top end harmonics, a more powerful tone, and a little bit more resistance.

I then tried David Symington’s “Flutemet” stopper and crown. David Symington has been experimenting with crowns and stoppers in various materials for some time, and the Flutemet is the culmination of this. Made from a very dense and hard alloy, this is one heavy piece of kit! Even on a flute with a B footjoint, the headjoint was still the heavy end! For me, this set-up had beautifully resonant middle and upper registers, and made the headjoint substantially more resistive. Unusually, these stoppers are also available for piccolo.

In conclusion I found it an invaluable experience to try these different stoppers. I can’t say that they’re for everyone, and maybe not all players will feel or like the difference; but there is definitely something in the hype. Try them for yourself: you might find that you’re pleasantly surprised, like I was.

Alternative flute crowns and stoppers – and piccolo ones – are available at Just Flutes who can ship worldwide.

Ian McLauchlan Headjoint

Ian McLauchlan’s Guide to Making A Headjoint

Ian McLauchlan HeadjointWhat I am intending to do over my next few blog posts is to describe the processes involved in producing a headjoint, from tubes and sheets of metal through to the finished product. I am not for one moment suggesting that this is the only way of making a headjoint, but it is one that I use and which works well for me.

This, the first article, aims to describe how the tube is made, and then in the following issues I will look at lip-plates, assembly and final testing.

The tube is one of the most important sections of the headjoint when it comes to the sound. The tube is tapered, with the open end being about 2 to 3mm larger in diameter than the crown end. This taper (which is curved – not straight) helps to keep the octaves in tune and give an easy and even response to all three octaves of the flute.

There are three common materials used for making headjoints; gold, silver and nickel silver (usually silver-plated). Excellent headjoints can be made from all three materials, but most flute players seem to think that silver has a wider potential for tone colour than the others. It is also worth saying that bad headjoints can be made in all three materials!

The headjoint is made in basically one of two ways:

1. Starting from a cylindrical tube of metal
2. Starting from a sheet of metal

Method one is by far the commonest and involves the following steps to taper the tube:

  • Place the cylindrical tube on a tapered steel bar (shaped like the inside of the finished tube) called a mandrel.
  • Fix the top of the tube to the mandrel, to stop it slipping.
  • Push the mandrel – with the tube on it – through a lead block with a hole in it. The hole in the block starts the same size as the small end of the tube: as the mandrel is pushed through the hole, the tube is squeezed tightly onto the mandrel, giving the tube its final shape.

Method two is similar to method one, except the tubing is made from a flat sheet made to form a cylinder. The edges are then silver soldered together, and the resulting cylinder is then tapered using the above method.

Following the shaping of the tube, the outside is polished, ready to have the lip-plate and riser soldered to it.

To make the tube is not really all that difficult, but time and practice is required to give the tube an absolute mirror-like appearance. A headjoint must play wonderfully, but it must also look the part!

In my next article, I’ll discuss making the lip-plate.

This article was originally written by Ian McLauchlan for Flutewise.

Building A Flute Library: Baroque Sonatas

One of the most bewildering parts of the Just Flutes catalogue is the Baroque section. All the titles seem to be the same, there are a great many composers who wrote a great many sonatas, and there are just so many editions to choose from! No wonder it’s confusing! This is a golden age of flute writing though and some of our most wonderful music comes from this period.

JS Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach

So, everyone needs Baroque music in their library, and there is no better place to start than with JS Bach. There’s one small problem – just how many sonatas did he actually write? The authentic ones – in B minor, E minor and E major – are essential repertoire for any flute player, but the E flat major and G minor sonatas which are now attributed to his son CPE Bach should also be on your shelf. The other ‘must-haves’ from this period are 11 Sonatas Op 1 by Handel, which are wonderfully varied and approachable, not to mention difficult!

These are great works so it is important that you choose the right edition to play from. Composers from this period did not write any performance directions (dynamics, slurs or ornaments) into their music, so editors add markings of their own – and you might not necessarily like what you see on the page. Fashions change – for example the Rampal editions of the 1960s were wonderful when they were done, but now they seem too complicated and fussy. The best editions are those called “urtext” which means unedited, and the catalogue usually recommends Barenreiter. Although more expensive, everything is as authentic as possible and for core repertoire such as Bach and Handel it really does pay to spend the extra money if you can. There are no unnecessary markings in these books, so you can become your own editor which is much more fun!

Choosing what to put on your shelf from the other composers is a matter of personal taste and can be an exciting voyage of discovery. Here are some of my favourites to start you off, and I hope you will enjoy them as much as I do!

CPE Bach actually wrote many more flute sonatas than his father. The G major Sonata Wq 133 Hamburger Sonata is one of the nicest. It is unusual as it has only two movements but the charm of the Allegretto contrasts beautifully with the hectic Rondo. The short link passage is a great place to try out your ornamentation skills too.

GP Telemann

Georg Philipp Telemann

GF Telemann is another composer who is central to this period. He was prolific so there is a great deal of choice. The volume of Sonatas TWV 41 from “Der Getreue Musickmeister” published by Hortus Musicus contains 4 contrasting works, which will delight and entertain both you and your audience. The brooding F minor Sonata is the most difficult with its dark emotional undercurrent but the most famous is the bright and cheery F major Sonata, which also works very well on the piccolo.

The French composer Michel Blavet is one of my favourites from this period. He was a flute player himself and his writing shows a great sympathy for our instrument. His 6 Sonatas Op 2 (Volume 1, Volume 2) are the best-known and for good reason. Blavet had a gift for melody and his tunes are quite often breathtakingly beautiful. The faster movements have an appealing vitality and can be deceptively tricky. All 6 sonatas are good but if I had to choose one, it would be No 4 in G minor “La Lumagne”, which pairs 2 of the most lovely slow movements with three elegant dances.

Another wonderful French Sonata is Jean-Marie Leclair’s Sonata in G major Op 2 No 5. This is such a sunny work and it would certainly light up the start of any recital. It has four movements, opening with an elegant Andante, followed by a sparkling Allegro, then an almost jazzy Gavotte and ending with a vibrant Allegro assai. This is a really exciting flute-playing challenge!

John Stanley

John Stanley

More tuneful music comes from the English composer John Stanley, especially in his Six Solos for a German Flute Op 4. At the opposite end of the spectrum from Leclair, these are short and sweet, simple and uncomplicated – Stanley writes real 18th Century ‘easy-listening’! The first Solo in A minor epitomises his style, a lyrical Siciliana, a rhythmic Allegro and a major key Minuet are all quite delightful.

Representing Italy is Vivaldi with his 6 sonatas entitled “Il Pastor Fido” Op 13. These have lost popularity in recent years and it is true that they are straightforward works that lack the real vibrancy of his concertos. However, I find them all quite tuneful – they are by Vivaldi after all!

No round-up of this period would be complete without mentioning Quantz, and Rachel Brown’s recent edition of the 12 Sonatas written for Frederick the Great (Volume 1, Volume 2) is another ‘must have’. This is a great example of music really well edited. The wealth of information covered in her performance notes applies not only to these works but also to the performing of Baroque music in general so it’s a really valuable resource as well as lovely music. Every flute player should have a copy!