Category Archives: Piccolos


Hidden Histories: Being a Flute Detective

Adler-4Whenever we get an older second hand instrument for sale, we research its history and background for its story. Sometimes the maker is obscure and there isn’t much information around, but occasionally a fascinating story is revealed. Often more than a little detective work is required to find an instrument’s story.

This was recently brought to mind, when we had two Adler piccolos for sale. One was marked Oscar Adler & Co while the other was stamped up F. O. Adler.

The first piccolo I was researching was the Oscar Adler. As a maker, Oscar Adler is well-known in woodwind circles: born in 1862, he produced woodwind instruments in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Markneukirchen, Saxony. He held numerous patents: along with a chap named Hermann Jordan, he held in 1903 a patent for an instrument called the Oktavin (page in French), which was a hybrid of a clarinet, oboe and bassoon! By 1902 Adler was the largest woodwind manufacturer in Germany, and the Adler company continues today, concentrating nowadays on oboes and bassoons.

This piccolo was stamped with the Adler roundel with a serial number on the reverse and year of manufacture – 1936 – on the front. The year of the Berlin Olympics in Hitler’s Germany, and the year that Germany reoccupied the Rhineland.

Adler-3Aside from the maker’s stamp on the piccolo body, the headjoint had another mark: Fl. H K Wunstorf. I had no idea what this was: whether it was the name of a previous owner or even if it was another maker’s name. In this case, might the headjoint not be original?

A quick search and it was revealed to me that Wunstorf was (and still is) a German air base in Lower Saxony, not too far from where Adler’s workshop was in Markneukirchen. This air base was built in… 1936!

The Fl. H. K. abbreviation stands for – I believe – Fliegerhorstkommadantur, or Air Field Station Command. So, it seems that this piccolo was purchased by the Luftwaffe specifically for their new airbase and was played by the band of the Luftwaffe! One can only speculate on the rallies that this instrument may have been played at.

This was fascinating to me: what this seemingly innocuous piccolo has seen in its life and the journey it must have made to end up for sale in a music shop in London. The RAF took over the German air base at the end of the war, so presumably this is when the piccolo came in to British hands.

Piccolo by F.O. Adler

F. O. Adler stamp on a piccolo

The second piccolo, which was marked as F. O. Adler, was the first instrument I had seen from this maker. Since I had no information on who this maker was, I turned to the trusty Langwill Index, which is a bible in these situations. It lists thousands of wind instrument makers from the infamous to the obscure: sometimes there is a lot of information, often there is just a scrap, or occasionally there is none at all.

Adler is a fairly common surname in Germany (it means ‘eagle’ – hence the wings sometimes found on a headjoint are called Adler wings, or eagle wings – nothing to do with an inventor), and there are several Adlers listed in Langwill: there are the three Adlers of Oscar’s family tree (his father Johann and brother Robert Oswald who were both also woodwind makers); Adler a brass instrument manufacturer; Eduard Adler a stringed-instrument maker; Frederic Adler of Paris, a bassoon technician and inventor; and Johannes Adler (of Markneukirchen, the same town as Oscar), who started making woodwinds, before branching into brass and strings. But, no mention of an F. O. Adler.

The Oktavin Patent in Music Trade Review

The Oktavin Patent in an 1896 edition of Music Trade Review

I then came across this article in the Patents section of Music Trade Review dating from 1896, which mentions an 1893 patent owned by F. O. Adler and Hermann Jordan, both of Markneukirchen. The text of the patent and accompanying picture shows the Oktavin! Putting two and two together, it turns out that the two Adlers were one and the same, that the initials F. O. stood for Franz Oscar, and that at some point between 1896 and 1903 he dropped the name Franz from the company name. This piccolo was certainly made before 1903 then, but beyond that it is hard to pinpoint a date.

As an aside, during my search through Langwill for F. O. Adler, I discovered one more interesting little snippet that reminds us of conditions in 1930s Germany. Here is part of Johannes Adler‘s entry in Langwill:

“A mid 1930s advertisement stated ‘note the forename – a purely Aryan business!’, an anti-Semitic reference to their local competitor O Adler.”

Perhaps Johannes Adler was envious that his Jewish competitor’s instruments, and not his own, had been purchased by the Luftwaffe. Maybe business was just slow, but either way I thought this was an interesting twist in the tale of these piccolos.

Flute workshop

Sticky Pads: A Perennial Problem

Flute workshopSticky pads can be infuriating. However, they are something that nearly all flute players have to put up with to some extent. Very few flutes have no stickiness at all, and to be honest, there is not that much that you can do about it!

To look at what can cause sticky pads, let’s first look at the pad itself.

Most pads are made up of the following parts :

1. A card washer to give the pad some stiffness.
2. A felt washer (usually about 2mm thick) that sits on top of the card washer.
3. Two layers of ‘Gold Beater’s Skin’ which is stretched tightly over the felt washer and glued on to the underside of the card washer holding everything together and providing an airtight surface that will seal the tone hole.

When a pad becomes sticky, what has happened is that the surface of the skin has become dirty. This causes slight holding of the skin when the pad comes off the top of the tone hole, so that when it releases it makes the characteristic sticky noise.

The dirt usually gets on to the pad when the pad is damp. Dust in the air, or in the flute case, settles on the skin and it gradually becomes slightly sticky.

Another cause is players consuming sweet drinks or food before they play the flute. Stickiness seems to follow soon afterwards! To prevent this clean your teeth, or at least have a drink of water before playing after eating sweet things.

Probably the best way to clean the surface of a pad relatively safely is to use lighter fluid on a cigarette paper:

1. Buy a can of lighter fluid and some cigarette papers from any good newsagent. Make sure you buy lighter fluid, not gas.

2. Put two drips of lighter fluid on to a cigarette paper, and slide this between the sticky pad and the tone hole. Close the pad on to it and gently hold it closed for about 10 seconds. Open the key and then close it again with the paper in a slightly different position. Take the paper out, blow on it to evaporate the remaining lighter fluid, and replace it between pad and tone hole and close the key for the last time on to the paper to blot up any remaining fluid.

You should find that now the pad is not sticking, or at least the noise is reduced.

At no time pull the paper out from under the pad when the key is closed!

My feeling is that the above method is the safest for repairing sticky keys, but some people recommend the following tips. I am not certain that I can recommend these myself, and I have said why here.

‘Put talcum powder on to a cigarette paper and close this between pad and tone hole. The talc will stick to the sticky parts of the skin reducing the stickiness’

Whilst this does reduce stickiness, I feel that adding more ‘mess’ on to the skin surface is asking for trouble later on. Also, I’m sure the pad cannot seal as well after this treatment.

‘Wipe a soft pencil on to a cigarette paper and then close this between pad and tone hole’

Again, this is adding more and more mess to the pad surface. I cannot recommend it.

‘Place a dry cigarette paper between pad and tone hole, close the key and pull the cigarette paper out’.

Don’t do this! It ruins the pads very quickly. Paper is surprisingly rough and acts like sandpaper on the pad skin. When this has been done only a few times the surface of the skin looks frayed. This pad will not last long and will certainly not seal as well.

I hope the above helps with your sticky pad problems. Do remember though, even if using the lighter fluid method, that you should only do this occasionally.

This article was originally written by Ian McLauchlan for the Flutewise magazine.