Category Archives: Headjoints

Haynes Flute

8 Top Tips on Testing a New Flute

When it comes to testing out a new flute, the experience can be overwhelming – what is the best way to test a new flute? We’ve put together our top tips to help you narrow down the choice and find your perfect upgrade flute. Whether you are looking for a step-up instrument or a professional model, follow these pointers to help you on your way!

1. Warm up on your current flute first

It’s natural to be excited about trying new flutes, but don’t test one of the new flutes with Flight of the Bumblebee quite yet – hold back! Get your chops warmed up on your existing flute with some long notes first. This has the added benefit of giving you a reference point for what you are comparing the new flutes to.

2. Scales. Sorry!

Once you’re warmed up, hold off the tunes for a little longer. Play some slow scales on each flute – this will give you an idea of how the instrument sounds across its entire range, and may expose weaker areas.

3. Check the dynamic ranges

This is something that can be done while you are playing scales. Can you play the low register with a strong, full sound? Can you play high notes quietly and sweetly?

4. Test the articulation

How responsive and clean is the articulation? Again, simple scales played slowly and tongued will give you a good idea. Also, try without tonguing (diaphragm only).

5. Get an idea of its tone colours

Play low, simple tunes (good ones are Fauré’s ‘Pavane’ or ‘The Aquarium’ from ‘Carnival of the Animals’), and aim at a very hollow, open sound. Go up an octave and see if you can produce the same sort of sound. It is very important that an instrument is capable of producing a similar quality of sound throughout the full range. Next, try a much harder sound with lots of harmonics, again in different octaves (Moyse 24 Easy Melodic Studies No. 10 – strong and trumpet like, is ideal).

6. Get a friend to help

A listener comes in useful when testing the projection. Some instruments appear to play loudly close up, but cannot be heard at the back of a concert hall. Others don’t sound loud close up, but the sound travels better – this is projection, and can be very deceiving. A good way to test this is to compare instruments while you have a listener outside the room with the door closed: which sounds louder?

7. Be prepared to compromise

You may have a pre-conceived idea of your ‘perfect’ instrument, (in terms of sound, feel or any other area really!).  But – take our word for it – it probably doesn’t exist!

8. Be realistic about what an upgrade offers

A new instrument can’t compensate for shortcomings in your playing – only hours of careful practice can do this. But a new instrument gives you the potential to improve your sound in all areas – practice will then make this a reality!

Ian McLauchlan Headjoint

Ian McLauchlan’s Guide To Making A Headjoint: Finishing the Headjoint

Probably the most important stage of making a headjoint is cutting the embouchure hole. It is this that really makes it work or not.

Ian McLauchlan HeadjointWhen I cut the embouchure hole, I use a tool called a scraper. It’s a wooden handle with a blade shaped like a triangular file, about 15mm long. However, instead of having file teeth on each surface, the faces are ground to a mirror finish, giving three very sharp cutting edges.

I start by using a series of gauges which show the angles required at the front, back and sides of the hole, and also the outside curvature of the lip plate. I cut the hole so that it is a minimum size from front to back, from side to side, and so that the diagonals are the correct length.

From this stage, I finish cutting the hole by playing the headjoint on my own flute, until I feel satisfied with the result. This may take 5 minutes, or sometimes I have to put the headjoint aside and start work on it again the next day! Either way the headjoint must blow well and be characteristically ‘one of mine’.

When making a flute headjoint, the following points are the most important to me:

  • Good dynamics throughout the whole range.
  • Good articulation throughout the full range when played loud and soft.
  • A wide range of tone colours available.
  • An even sound throughout the full range.
  • Plays in tune.

When the headjoint has all the above features it is ready to polish and finish.

I polish inside the riser using emery paper. This is done very carefully by hand, being sure not to alter any angles, as this could drastically alter the headjoint. I polish the outside on a buffing wheel, which has a fine polishing powder on its surface and gives an excellent finish.

I then play the headjoint again on my flute, and if I am still happy with it, my name is engraved on the tube!

Every maker aims for different things and produces very different results and, due to the fact that headjoints are so personal to the player, it seems to me that nobody can ever produce ‘the’ perfect headjoint. We all strive for perfection, but there always seems to be room for experimentation and improvement. Long may this continue!

This article was originally written by Ian McLauchlan for Flutewise.

Headjoint showing the riser

Ian McLauchlan’s Guide To Making A Headjoint: The Riser

In my first two articles in this series I talked about how I make a headjoint tube and lip-plate. This article covers the riser: a part that you don’t really see but that is an important part of the headjoint.

Headjoint showing the riserThe riser (also called the chimney, or by some American flutemakers, the ‘wall’) gives the embouchure hole its depth. This depth affects the response and tone quality of the headjoint, broadly a deeper chimney produces more low harmonics in the sound and therefore a richer quality. A shallow chimney will produce a brighter and freer-blowing headjoint.

The riser is shaped like a top hat without a top, and most headjoint makers use a casting to make it. By creating one riser the correct shape and making a mould from it, any number of copies can be made in any metal, the most popular being silver, gold and platinum.

The riser is soldered firmly to the underside of the lip-plate. To hold the riser and lip-plate in the correct position whilst they are heated up, I use a simple arrangement of two U-shaped metal clips. I do the soldering on an old house-brick, as it won’t burn and it retains heat easily: this means that the lip-plate also heats up from underneath, which helps the solder run all the way around the joint.

Next, the lip-plate and riser are cleaned up and soldered on to the headjoint tube. Here I use two pieces of thin wire twisted around everything to hold it all together.

After soldering is complete, the headjoint is now ready to have the embouchure hole ‘cut’. This is the critical stage in making the headjoint, as it is this that ultimately makes it good or bad!

The next article will cover this cutting and final polishing and finishing of the headjoint.

This article was originally written by Ian McLauchlan for Flutewise.

Robert Dick Glissando Flute Headjoint

The Ultimate Flute Headjoint?

Kingma System Flute fitted with a Glissando HeadjointRobert Dick is an internationally renowned American flautist and composer nicknamed ‘the Hendrix of the flute’ due to his ability to create effects similar to electric guitar and push the boundaries of conventional flute playing. He was inspired by Hendrix’s creativity from a very young age and desired to match the sound and abilities of electric guitar on flute.

“I heard sounds that had never existed before…and that’s where I connected mostly with Jimmy… The Stratocaster had a whammy bar so I set out to create a whammy bar for flute.”

After working in collaboration with Bickford Brannen of Brannen Brothers, Eva Kingma and Kaspar Baechi, Robert Dick made his dream a reality and created the ‘whammy bar’ Glissando Headjoint®. At first glance the Glissando Headjoint® may look like a novelty piece of kit, but think again. This headjoint has the potential to completely revolutionise the flute we are all so accustomed to.

Robert Dick describes the design as “a telescoping headjoint, with a high performance contemporary cut headjoint sliding inside a carrier tube! Two ‘wings’ extend from the lip plate and comfortably embrace the flutist’s cheeks.” It can be used to perform in the same way as a traditional Boehm flute when in its “home position” (all the way in) and clearly a great deal of thought has gone into the sound. Throughout the registers you can achieve a rich and full sound which you would expect from a high quality handmade headjoint, but this headjoint does so much more than just that. By moving the lip plate to the left you extend the length of the flute and it is also possible to make a downward glissando from every note… genius!

The Glissando Headjoint® adds another sound dimension to the flute and allows you to keep the tone quality on bends which can be lost with exposed open hole fingerings. Robert Dick foresees this headjoint being used by every jazz, rock, world music and contemporary flautist in the future and there is no doubt that it creates endless new possibilities for the modern flautist.

The Glissando Headjoint® is now made by the Eastman Musical Instrument Company (the parent company of Haynes).

The Glissando Headjoint® is available now at Just Flutes. To arrange a trial, please call 020 8662 8400.

Publications by Robert Dick for flute are available from Just Flutes

Hammered lip-plate

Ian McLauchlan’s Guide To Making A Headjoint: The Lip-Plate

In part 1 of this guide, I explained how tubes for handmade flute headjoints are made. In this article, I’ll talk about the method I use to make a lip-plate.

Making up lip-plates for flute headjoints is great fun because the intitial stages involve just brute force!

Lip-Plate Making Tools

The photograph above shows the three necessary tools for starting to shape a lip-plate. The steel former on the left is a punch which is shaped like the underside of a lip-plate, and it is on this that all the work takes place. The larger round item in the centre is a lead mould which has the impression of the punch in it. The third necessary tool is a nylon mallet.

The first stage of making the lip is to cut out, from a sheet of silver, an ellipse the shape of a flattened out lip-plate:

Ellipse of silver

Position this carefully over the lead mould and place the punch on top. Now, take a large weighted hammer and, preferably in one strike, sink the punch firmly down into the mould. This squeezes the silver sheet between the two, producing a rough – but recognisable – lip-plate.

Hammered lip-plate

Now, on the over-hang around the edge of the lip-plate, it usually looks as if it has been cut with pinking shears! This is obviously not acceptable to flute players, so to get rid of this, hold the steel former in a strong vice. Sit the lip-plate on it, and tap gently around the overhang with a very hard steel hammer until it is tight on the punch and hey presto – one lip-plate! Well… not quite.

This overhang now has delicate hammer marks all over and it may not be symmetrical. Lip-plates look much better with a sharp angle , so the overhang is tidied up using a file which, with care, gives it a clean surface. This is then polished to a mirror finish.

Finally the surface of the lip-plate is made absolutely flat using a file which is run lengthwise over the whole surface of the lip-plate, all while it is sitting in the punch. This surface is then polished to a mirror finish.

Polished lip-plate

In my next article, I’ll discuss how I add the riser.

This article was originally written by Ian McLauchlan for Flutewise.

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.

Headjoints: A Guide to Choosing

The headjoint of the flute is probably the most ‘personal’ part of the instrument: a headjoint that plays well for one person might be another player’s idea of hell! For this reason, no hard and fast rules can be given as to what makes the “best” headjoint, but a few guidelines might be useful.

There are really four basic things to think about when trying headjoints:

1. Dynamic range
2. Articulation
3. Tone colour
4. Projection

I’ll deal briefly with these, point by point.

1 Dynamic range

A good headjoint should be capable of producing a good dynamic range. It should play very loudly in all three registers with a good quality of sound. It should also play quietly in all three registers whilst being controllable regarding pitch. As we all know, when playing loudly it is all too easy to go sharp, so how easily can you pull the pitch down to concert pitch at the extreme of loudness (use a tuning machine as a guide to help you). Obviously try the same test with soft playing. Here, the ability to keep the pitch up is important.

Always compare the results with your existing headjoint as you cannot expect a new headjoint to cure your own playing difficulties! Don’t forget to try all three registers.

2 Articulation

Compare the ease of producing good, clean starts to tongued notes with your existing headjoint. Simple scales played slowly will be a good guide. Try both loud and soft in all registers. Also try without the tongue, diaphragm only. This is a very good test.

3 Tone colour

Try to get an idea of the range of colours available. Play low, simple tunes such as Fauré’s ‘Pavane’ or the ‘Aquarium’ from ‘Carnival of the Animals’, and aim at a very hollow, open sound. Go up one octave and see if you can produce the same sort of sound. It is very important that a headjoint is capable of producing a similar quality of sound throughout the full range.

Next, try a much harder sound with lots of harmonies again in different octaves (Moyse 24 Easy Melodic Studies No. 10 – strong and trumpet like, is ideal).

4 Projection

Less easy to check for this one! The help of a friend is useful here. Some headjoints appear to play very loudly close up, but cannot be heard at the back of a concert hall. Others don’t appear so loud close up, but the sound seems to travel better, it ‘projects’.

If you are able to take a headjoint home for a few days to try it then use the opportunity, if possible, to try it in a big hall. Choose a friend you can rely on to give good ‘musical’ advice. (String players seem particularly good at this, but in my experience don’t ask a flute player!)

Ask them which headjoint sounds louder at the back of the hall, and also which sounds ‘best’ to him, which he prefers. A string player will give you an honest answer, a flute player may have too many preconceived ideas.

If you can’t get into a hall, the next best thing is to ask someone to listen to you from outside the room you are playing in with the door closed. Now which is loudest?

Remember when trying out headjoints to compare them to your own. A headjoint can’t compensate for shortcomings in your playing – only hours of careful practice can do this. But a headjoint can give you the potential to do more things. Practice makes these a reality.

Happy Hunting.

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