Product Reviews: Ian McLauchlan Flute Headjoint with 9k Rose Riser and Adler Wings
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“This will blow your mind”
I came to Just Flutes about a month ago with a shopping list. On that shopping list was a new flute body and a headjoint that really suited my personality. So, having picked out an altus flute that sat right in my fingers I was presented with a “tray” of different headjoints, containing the Michael Allen pinchback, Sheridan solid silver, several Ian McLauchlan cuts, Brannen Cooper and an Arista solid silver head.
I found the Altus headjoint that came with the flute to be a lovely headjoint but I realised, with all the flutes I tried, that there could be a headjoint out there that would be more suited to the sound I had in my head. I thought it would be helpful to run through what I found with the different headjoints I tried, to give a better idea of what, in particular, jumped out at me with the Adler headjoint. I have a preference for the dark, rich tones of the flute. I wanted something that would get close to the experience of playing the alto flute in the lower range but that would be easy to control in the higher register. I am one of those flute players who thinks the piccolo is best for unblocking drains and do not like shrill, overly metallic sounds.
The ALTUS CLASSIC CUT headjoint is clear, crisp and classical in sound. It is easy to control and is perhaps my second favourite of the headjoints that come with the Japanese flutes (my first being the MURAMATSU, from which it is difficult to get a bad sound and produces a sound I would describe as dark chocolate. This was what I had been playing until a month ago, so the benchmark was set pretty high).
The MICHAEL ALLEN PINCHBACK headjoint looked beautiful and was exceptionally light. In fact, it was the lightest headjoint I have ever played. It blew incredibly easily, with next to no resistance. It was easy to get a clear sound from it but didn't have much range in terms of tone. The lip plates on Michael Allen headjoints feel a little bigger than most, which, for me, is a very good thing. It encourages a relaxed embouchure. I think this headjoint would be absolutely perfect for a reed specialist doubling on flute, as I would say is the case for other Michael Allen headjoints I have played. It keeps the weight down, creates a clear sound without needing much air pressure (which is something my clarinet friends have said they really struggle with) and can be played without facial muscle fatigue. It does however fly out of control as soon as you throw large amounts of air at it.
The SHERIDAN, which I expected to like more, was just too square. I couldn't get much variety from it and the cut appeared to be more rectangular than the others I tried. The sound wasn't as focused for me on this one and didn't offer enough resistance.
BRANNEN COOPER was an immediate no. Apart from anything, the lip plate did not sit comfortably for me. It just wasn't what I was looking for.
The ARISTA was my close second choice and if I had not discovered Ian McLauchlan I may well have come away with this one. Firstly, it looked beautiful and when I played it found it was really easy to find the focusing point for the air stream, which produced a really clear and satisfying centre to the sound. It was also flexible in terms of colour and range. The top register spoke easily but offered a good level of resistance. I still found, in the end, however that it couldn't quite hold as much air as a couple of the McLauchlan cuts.
Then there was IAN McLAUCHLAN. Well, yes, wow. I found all his headjoints very impressive and I enjoyed trying the range of cuts. I tested the solid silver cuts 1 & 3, the B cut, with a low wave “bent” lip plate and the “Adler” Wing with 9k riser and 14k Wing, medium weight crown. My favourites were the B cut and the “Adler” (based on his cut 2, I believe). I think the first thing that suited me with all the McLauchlan headjoints was the lip plate. From examining the headjoints it appeared that his lip plates do not wrap quite so snugly to the tube, so the lip plate is a little more substantial in feel. I felt I could play with a much more relaxed, open and forward embouchure. These are headjoints that like to be played with a french accent and, certainly with the “Adler”, have that little bit of “Je ne c'est quoi.” Really, the decision was made on the ADLER from the first note but, being in a slightly different price range to the others, sneakily making its way into the line up, I tried everything to find fault with it...and I mean everything. The B cut came really, really close to being enough but the “Adler” had everything. I knew I could have spent hours going to and fro, painstakingly analysing, but experience has told me that I should go with my gut instincts because thinking too hard has often led to what I see as the most sensible, but ultimately bad, decision being made. I was at a point where I really wasn't seeking sensible. I went into the testing process with my sceptical head on having read about materials and how they don't really make much difference. Well, that all went out of the window immediately. I found instantly that the gold riser had a quality that none of the others had. It felt like it was singing back at me and gave a very satisfying sensation against the top lip. It was really not what I expected. I also found that any air hiss I experienced with the other headjoints was completely eliminated by the wings, which, I can only hypothesise, must channel the air down the centre, giving a much more centred sound. What was most striking however, was the richness of the sound. The bottom notes seemed to resonate without having to fight with my embouchure. It is not, however, a one trick pony and is capable of producing a whole palette of tone colours. I am finding more and more it can do each day (although it is yet to work out how to do the house work as I play away) and the whole process is incredibly therapeutic. It can produce very clear, uncomplicated classical tones as well as rich, woody, clarinetty tones. It is very special. I would say the gold takes a little longer to warm up that silver and I am aware of blowing against something a little harder but I really needed and like a headjoint with this kind of resistance. When the headjoint is warmed up it feels like it plays at lightning speed and really gels as one with the tube in my .925 flute body. The whole instrument came alive with this headjoint. So, yes, this headjoint was more expensive than I was anticipating but, alas, I was hooked. In the last month I have had both students and professional friends try this and the reaction was pretty much the same in all of them – jumping out of their seat, followed by expressions of envy. To top it all off, knowing where the headjoint was made gives it a story and a connection. The fact that Ian is so friendly, patient and endlessly knowledgeable when it comes to answering (my neurotic) questions (because as a rule, I have many) is a real bonus. McLauchlan is a bit of a rock star name round here at the moment!! :-)