Tag Archives: flute making


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.

RS 2012 Scale

Albert Cooper in the doorway of his shop.

Albert Cooper in the doorway of his shop.

RS 2012 is slightly different from the original Cooper Scale. As Cooper admitted, there was always room for improvement and this has now been done. That said, I am sure there will be corrections in the future, continuing Cooper’s work. The alterations are small, but to those with sensitive ears, they are significant when expressive intonation is employed.

It was a pity that those who criticised RS 2012 did so before trying it. The comments posted here about the new Scale were made before the only prototype was available.

Burkart Flutes have made several flutes to this scale; Stephen Wessel has now started to use this scale on his flutes too.

Flutemakers are welcome to use the figures freely and without acknowledgement, if they wish. The explanation of the Revised Scale 2012 can be seen at http://www.trevorwye.com/cooper1.html and a link at the bottom of that page will take you directly to the figures.

Trevor Wye

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.

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.