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VFS 10.22.20 — Modern vs Vintage Headjoints

A good headjoint is one that has a number of important factors and qualities. For a few years I worked with a professional headjoint maker who currently owns his own company. We created a fabulous checklist and grading system. Over time his headjoints got better and better because he took my advice. He told me that my feedback helped him improve.

I was trained to test flutes and headjoints by one of my great teachers Phillip Kaplan. He played in the Boston Symphony for 3 decades and understood quality flute playing and the needs of flute players. He showed me that you must try the headjoints in all 3 registers for tone, dynamics, response, and legato.You never, ever force or exceed your own sonority. Sing, don’t scream! If it is un-balanced the maker needs to make adjustments. There are too many headjoint makers convinced they know how to play the flute better than their clientele. They improperly test the flute. They end up making the headjoint for their own deficiencies. 

Primarily the most important factor in a headjoint is quality of sound! That’s it, case closed! Some flutists today will argue that more important factors are speed and volume. Conversely, character, style, musicianship, and the intent of the composer should always supersede the players’ ego.

My favorite headjoint makers today are people such as David Chu and Ranier Lafin. These are makers who truly understand the important qualities of a headjoint and make them tastefully with a flair for style, balance, refinement, response, character, and tonal colors. My favorite vintage headjoints are Louis Lot and old Powell’s. (My early career was with an old Powell.) If a headjoint is improperly balanced and sloppily finished it has this fat and ugly sizzle and distortion which is bottom heavy and thin on the high notes. These headjoints are impossible to play dolce in the top register! The low register sounds like a trombone! (No offense to trombonists, but I’m sure none of them want to sound like a flute!) It is interesting that flutists today mostly play on  headjoints made by a different maker that made their flute body!

I suggest using a straight centered and focused tone with none to minimal vibrato to hear the headjoint ring naturally. In addition to the balance of the 3 registers and a full pallet of timbres, a good headjoint should feel open and not stuffy. The low register should be full without edge and the middle and high register float. The great flutist Georges Laurent was said to have a liquid tone. Rampal’s sound is sweet and light like a cantata soloist. You should be able to lightly attack a note and the headjoint should speak on the front of the beat. Vintage headjoints require the proper use of embouchure. All levels of players can easily improve their embouchure by regular practice of “wide intervals” as found in a number of Moyse studies.

When you play-test a headjoint make sure you experience all dynamics and nuances. Don’t just blast and overblow. Don’t worry about the high C and above. Those notes are rarely played and will tell you nothing about the instrument.

Antique French headjoints were made with seamed tubing until around 1905 or so when the makers switched to seamless. The tubes were burnished by hand, which only a few modern makers still do. Burnishing makes the tube very hard. (Ted Williams used to burnish his bats made of ash wood for hours until they achieved the correct hardness! ) The vintage embouchures in the early Boehm days were more oval as they emulated the simple system flutes. These metal flutes were designed to have “wood” qualities. As the playing demands of the composer changed the headjoints needed for more volume and projection. The embouchures holes became large and evolved in the modern rounded rectangle which is mainly used today. Antique headjoints do have larger lip plates which will actual feel more comfortable on the lip than many of today’s smaller lip plates.

The risers of the antique headjoints were much lower than today’s. This afforded vintage headjoints the opportunity of the proper resistance between the flute body and the player. Since the tubes today are generally softer than their earlier counterparts, makers make higher walls and thicker embouchure plates. In the 1950’s some companies did a bit of undercutting to higher riser headjoints. Albert Cooper combined undercutting with overcutting and thus created the embryo of the modern headjoint. The modern headjoints are easier to play requiring less embouchure. Articulation can be faster as well as quicker wide intervals. But you always give up something to get something! You lose the pure tone quality and rich harmonics. Projection suffers and players often get an unattractive sizzle or buzz. Traditional headjoints are NOT obsolete or inferior in any way to a modern one.

It is interesting that the last generation of flute players who began their careers on traditional headjoints have the best sound and musical expression regardless of which headjoint(s) they use. Good flute playing is 95% embouchure! A traditional headjoint is only harder to play if one is out of shape, so stay in shape!

 

VFS 10.15.20 — Could you tell me about silver-plated vintage flutes?

The French flutes companies such as Louis Lot, Bonneville, Rive, and Godfroy created flutes with choices of French silver, which is 95% pure as well as in silver-plated or non-plated maillechort. Maillechort is named after its creators the French metallurgists Maillot and Chorier and is an alloy of brass, copper, and zinc.Today this material is no longer used in flute-making but is used for watches.

Flutists believe that a plated flute, sometimes referred to as “tin”, is inferior to silver. This is another misnomer by modern manufacturers and flute dealers since as plated flutes are only made for cheap student models. Modern flute companies have no idea or interest in creating a custom model from this wonderful material. The amount of silver in raw materials today cost only a few hundred dollars. You are paying the rest for workmanship. The 19th and early 20th century flutists played either plated or silver flutes for their differences in tone quality, response, and style. Plated Louis Lot flutes and later Lebret were the recommended choices of the Conservatoire de Paris. The French companies did also offer an option for un-plated maillechort and we have seen such examples including a Barat Louis Lot engraved by the factory with the name of American music shop. In the days when wood flutes were popular, the Boehm mechanism is much lighter in weight than solid silver. It rings beautifully and is rich with overtones. Marcel Moyse only played on “tin” flutes. A plated vintage flute can last lifetimes! My favorite personal Lot is a “tin” Villette from 1878!

Vintage silver flutes often, but not always, are hallmarked with the purity symbol of a boar or crab along with the stamp of the manufacturer. Plated flutes will have no such marks, except on the lip plates which were usually silver on Louis Lots. 1st and and the early 2nd generation Louis Lot flutes have no hallmarks.

Silver plating was done mainly by hand, by a French company still in business called Christofle. They invented the gold and silver plating process using an amalgam of mercury. As the dangers of mercury were unknown in the 19th century, many of these workers died young. The layers of silver were thick and look and felt so much like silver, that hallmarks were needed to differentiate from actually silver. (Here is a very interesting article on the history of plating: https://www.philamuseum.org/booklets/7_42_77_1.html)

The biggest difference with a silver plated flute is plating wear. Some people have a natural acid in their hands which promotes degradation. The other danger is bringing your flute to someone who doesn’t realize it is not silver, and they buff the plating off! The layers of silver are quite thick, however. The most common places to look for plating wear are the tenons, mechanism tubing, and the tops of keys. You will see many plated vintage flutes for sale, and many of them are in poor condition. We at VFS only sell plated flutes in excellent to mint condition.

If you wish to purchase a vintage flute please contact us!

 

VFS 10.8.20 — Q&A

We have been receiving a number of great vintage flute questions so we will address a variety of topics.

Q) How do I start collecting antique flutes on a budget?

A) Vintage flutes are available in many prices from $1,000 upwards. You can find some very nice Lebrets, antique Buffets, and wood Haynes at entry-level prices. Generally the higher prices are Louis Lots and Godfroys, followed by Rive, Bonneville, Powell, and Haynes. Tell us your budget and we can help you find a wonderful flute.

Q) Are there professional flutists today who still play on a vintage flute?

A) Absolutely! There are a number of fine flutists and teachers that play vintage flutes. Our favorites are Claudi Arimany, Paul Fried, Horacio Parravicini, Gary Schocker, and Alan Weiss.

Q) What are the differences between thin wall and thick walled flutes?

A) Wall or tubing thickness was made in different sizes and affects the depth, sound, volume, and character of the flute. It depends on the air speed and musical style of the player. The tubing on most vintage flutes is ,013-.014 inches, most plated flutes are .016 or .018. These flutes would have been matched with a corresponding headjoint riser, either higher or lower, to match the preferred resistance of the player. Generally the thinner the tube and the lower the riser, the more colorful and vibrant the sound. It will ring most naturally. The thicker the tube and the higher the riser, the sound does get darker but without the same overtones. It will take faster air speed. In the old days, most professionals preferred thinner tubing. It is still offered today by the modern makers by special order, as the standard is usually .016 on silver flutes. I myself have always preferred the thinner tubing for the variety of timbres and control.

Q) Which is better C foot vs B foot?

A) The sound on a B foot tends to be darker, a bit brighter with a C foot. A C foot flute is lighter to hold and the low register responds quicker. On a B foot the high register is a bit easier to play dolce. Most of the old French players played C, though a number played B. Georges Barrere brought his B foot Louis Lot to New York City and started the trend of the B foot preference. I myself own both B and C. My favorite B foot is a Louis Lot with left hand lever, so you never by mistake hit the B roller when you reach for the C!

Q) Open hole vs closed or plateau cups?

A) Most professionals prefer open cups for the subtle harmonics especially in the high register. The plateau cups make the keys easier to close. Acoustically there is not much difference. The majority of our inventory is open hole. An open hole flute can be easily converted to closed with a set of plugs.

Q) Why not just buy a flute on EBay, it looks so shiny?

A) Well, if you can’t go to Vegas you can gamble with your money on Ebay and see what you get! While there are some fine dealers selling flutes on Ebay, they lack the resources and overall skills of VFS. Alan is a first-class performer and teacher and knows how to find and select only the best flutes. We don’t sell cosmetically perfect flutes which do not play well. David Chu is one of the most respected flute restorers in the business and is highly discriminating with a refined ear. We also do our best to beat our competitors’s pricing. When we consider a flute to sell it is highly screened and after we purchase it. Then we establish a very fair market value. We firmly believe that all the flutes we sell are artist quality!

Q) I went to several flute specialty dealers and they mostly push new flutes over used ones, why?

A) The answer is simple, dealers make higher margins on new flutes than anything else they sell. They don’t play the flute at the highest level and can’t really tell the differences if a vintage flute is good or not. Often times they have new flutes shipped and they sit in their box for weeks, months or longer until a customer wants to try it. The modern factories rarely set-up and finish their new flutes properly. At VFS, though we do on occasion sell an un-restored flute, the majority of our instruments are throughly checked and adjusted.

 

VFS 10.1.20 — How to Care for My Vintage Flute

Antique flutes take a bit of extra care, but they are well worth it. After playing, carefully swab out the inside of your flute with a piece of silk and gently wipe the outside with a soft cloth. Flute flags also work well. Do not feel you need to dry the inside of the flute 100% and never force a swab into the headjoint or body. A tiny but of moisture is just fine and good for the pads. 

In terms of general maintenance, you will need to find someone well-experienced for the needs of vintage flutes. A number of the flute manufacturers either do not accept vintage or modern repairs, or solely lack the skills to overhaul and quality control them properly when they do. We absolutely do not recommend installing synthetic pads. While this is the better choice for  modern flutes, the old flutes prefer softer felt pads which will actually enhance the vintage flute’s playability in terms of tone and response. Felt pads will seal better as well, as synthetic pads are very hard and only designed to seal extremely level toneholes with mechanism having no side play.  Key cups on vintage flutes often have spuds and washers rather than a screw and do take more time to seal and balance correctly.

Some vintage flutes have adjustment screws on up to 5 keys. Once these are in the “set”position by your repairman, do not move them yourself. These “set”screws can loosen themselves over time and in those instances a tiny drop of clear nail polish will secure their position.

When you bring your vintage flute for repair, you want to make sure your repairman knows to never buff your flute on a wheel. These flutes should only be hand-polished. The most damage we see to both silver and silver-plated antique flutes is from inexperienced repairmen.

Finding a repairman is extremely important for a flutist, as they will understand how you want your flute(s) set up in terms of feel and action. I myself continue to use only the same repairman and restorer since 2002. Sometimes the headjoint maintenance is overlooked. Make sure the headjoint cork is changed every few years when you change your pads and check your cork position. The headjoint cork is not for tuning, so once it is in the correct place leave it alone. If your tenons are too tight or loose on the headjoint or foot, these can be adjusted properly as well.

On occasion a pad will stick or make a slight noise. Use un-gummed cigarette paper and do not close the key and pull as this leads to tearing of the pad skins. Rather, place the paper under the key and hold it still for 30 seconds. This usually does the trick! Some flutists prefer pre-powdered cigarette paper which also works well. 

More often than not, the antique flute case is not usable. If it is, often the key doesn’t work or has gone missing. If there is mold or mildew, dispose of the antique case as this cannot be remedied. While you should retain the original case if at all possible, there a few good options for new cases. Once you spend thousands of dollars on your flute it doesn’t make sense to carry it in an inexpensive case. Most cases won’t fully protect your instrument or match it’s quality of workmanship. We highly recommend the handmade wood cases made to order and individual fit to each flute made by www.sideblown.com as the best cases made today in terms of aesthetics and protection.

We at VintageFluteShop.com will purchase an antique flute which is in need of more than an overhaul, requiring restoration such as dents, box-joints, and/or toneholes. Any solder problems with an antique flute should only be attempted by a highly qualified restorer, one that not only has repair credentials, but is a flute-maker as well.  Once heat and fire needs to be used to repair a tonehole or box-joint, other solder points may weaken if done improperly. Antique flutes used mainly lead solder and if these flutes were not properly stored, then the solder may have weakened or deteriorated. Adding excess heat to the tube changes the character of sound and response, therefore, using special glues may be preferable to re-soldering.

Once your flute is restored all it will need is for you to make music! VintageFluteShop.com is happy to fulfill your vintage flute dreams!

 

VFS 9.24.20 — Vintage Flute Tuning

I have a vintage flute, should I retune it or alter the headjoint?

NO!! Never ever re-tune your vintage flute or alter the headjoint! If you don’t like your vintage flute, please sell it especially if it is in original condition. 

An antique flute is a work of art. If you have a Picasso (not many of us do!) which doesn’t fit in your living room decor, do you buy new furniture, or have your precious art work repainted? There are some people today who actually cut these flutes in pieces and put on a modern scale! We would never knowingly sell to anyone who would do such a thing. Old flutes play beautifully at the optimal pitch for which they were built and that is how they should remain for future generations.

Several years ago at a masterclass I was giving in Europe a student asked me to try their Barat-era Lot. They were so proud of it. I tried and and told them it has been re-tuned and also had a replaced embouchure, so they were not getting the feel and sound of a real Lot. In essence, this was really a modern flute made of old parts. I had him try an authentic Lot and he could not believe the tone qualities and projection.

It is theoretically possible to re-tune flutes by inserting removable inserts. While this does sharpen the scale, it deadens the overtones and you sacrifice the depth of sound and volume.

Louis Lot flutes are mostly found as A=435Hz. Villette-era is mostly A=438Hz, and some of the Chambille-era flutes up to A=440Hz. Some Lots were sold to the 19th century American market at A=446Hz and to the UK market at A=452Hz. 

Most Rives are set at A=435Hz , and Bonnevilles seem to be mostly A=438Hz. The Lebrets are seen at A=438Hz and A=440Hz scale.

Old Powells are mostly A=440Hz with a few exceptions. Haynes are A=435Hz up to 1918, then A=440Hz afterwards until 1985.

The headjoint on a vintage flutes can be quite special. If you like the flute and desire a modern headjoint, we are happy to find you a modern headjoint to use on your vintage flute. We prefer that the antique flute bodies remain together with their original headjoint, crowns, and cases whenever possible. The crowns of the vintage flutes are beautifully ornamented and light in weight. A modern crown is usually heavier and may give the impression of increased volume, but in reality the overtones and projection suffer.

Our inventory at VintageFluteShop.com is constantly changing  so if we don’t have what you seek now, we may in a few weeks. A number of our flute are never listed on our website and end up selling to customers on our waiting lists. Please contact us soon and we look forward to assisting you!

 

VFS 9.17.20 — What’s my flute worth? Good question!

We are always happy to discuss purchasing or consigning your flute. How do you learn about it and find out its value? Our expertise lies in the area of Boehm system from 1832 to modern day. We have on occasion sold a few outstanding simple system flutes such as a Rod Cameron Grenser model and an original Drouet.

We generally ask for clear photos with a full description of the instrument and condition and ultimately need to examine the instrument in-person while receiving clear proof of provenance.

If you are selling a vintage Powell or Haynes a new pricelist won’t help you as these are not priced the same as a new flute. This is no reflection on the quality or desirability of a vintage flute as a musical voice, merely the number of people who want them compared to those who desire a newer model. Browsing the internet won’t tell the final selling price, merely the asking price! You also have to compare models, condition, and playability which is “virtually” impossible.

We have played, sold, bought, examined, and personally owned many Louis Lot, Powell, Haynes, Rive, and Bonneville flutes. Therefore, we are able to accurately assess their playability, desirability, and condition to determine realistic fair market value. We find it interesting that our competitors list their flutes for long periods of time. This tells us the asking price is unrealistically too high. A shiny flute may appeal to a museum, but doesn’t mean it plays well! We at VFS do not determine actual market value, which follows the principle of demand and supply. We follow worldwide sales so we determine the proper pricing for your flute.

Most French flutes have a beautiful sound and are made of wood, silver, and/or silver-plated maillechort (nickel, brass zinc tubes plated with a very thick layer of silver). The first and second Lot generation flutes are the most desirable and command the best prices. The other generations are quite nice and play well, but as you progress to each successive period the prices are lower because demand is lower and more were made. In our opinion, they also play extremely well and a viable option for those seeking a fine French flute at a more affordable price. Plated flutes play just as well as silver, just different! The later seamless tubes play great, just a bit more modern than their 19th century counterparts.

Years ago, old Powells were the trendy flute to own. Though their prices have dropped considerably, they are still wanted for their great tone, projection, and smooth feel of mechanism. When they do come up for sale we feel they are a bargain.

Remember, condition is everything! A Louis Lot without its original headjoint still has value, but not as much as with the original headjoint. A vintage flute in poor condition also commands a poor price. Most damage can be repaired and then the question is— does the cost of the repair exceed that of the restored flute? If you love the flute and have to have it, then money is no object. These are some of the factors we use to determine the value.

Flutes are to be played and enjoyed, and it is incredible that old flutes still have good value. When you play an antique flute, history is passing through your fingers. Call us today to discuss selling or buying a vintage flute!

 

VFS Blog 9.10.20 Vintage versus New Flute

One of the many questions we receive is: why buy a vintage antique flute over a new modern flute? The simple answer is the high level of workmanship of vintage flutes and their unique tone qualities. Today’s makers have convinced flutists into believing their new products are vastly superior in terms of manufacture techniques and headjoints. The truth is exactly the opposite.

In today’s economy, it is simply a better choice to buy a pre-owned artist quality vintage flute versus an inexpensive disposable student import or sloppily made custom flute.  The major companies churn their flutes out like sausages and charge thousands of dollars. Flutists can buy professional level vintage flutes that play great and are more affordable than their new incarnations. Yes, you will have to practice more to stay in shape. Yes, the scale is slightly flatter, so roll out and push in the headjoint.  Yes, the low notes are a bit flatter and the high motes a sharper, so adjust with your ear and embouchure. The old A=440Hz flutes play well to A=444Hz. (The French flutes are flatter at A=435-438 so only a highly skilled professional will be able to play with modern collaborators.) The headjoints are not undercut or overcut on the old flutes. You can play with a full bottom and also dolce in the high register. Modern headjoints seem louder but do not project as well. They may be easier and faster for the embouchure and tongue, but a good flutist with proper practice can play them just fine. Listen to the recordings of Rampal and Baker playing on traditional flutes in terms of sound, response, and articulation and their mellifluous flute playing!

Experience this yourself—pick up a vintage Powell, Haynes, or Lot and realize the tonal palette. If you do not overblow with excessive vibrato the instrument sings, like a human voice. Moyse used to say that a great flute rings like a bell. People will say that the new flutes are so much easier to play and are louder and faster. Yes, and they are also shrill and have all the tonality of an electric toothbrush. The older instruments are not only great tools for music, but works of fine sculpture and truly made by hand.

Several years ago a principal player of a mid-west orchestra premiered a composition upon a brand new Boston flute in Boston’s Jordan Hall. This is a world class venue with superb acoustics and balance. The comments all around were, “We couldn’t hear the flute over the piano.” Reason being, the new flutes simply do not project nearly as well as the older ones.

We always would advise flutists to consider the depreciation factors. Old flutes have gone down in price in the last few years, but still have good value. If you leave a new flute-maker or flute dealership with a shiny new modern pin-less flute, that flute has depreciated by thousands of dollars by the time you reach your car. Modern flute makers are in the business of making you a flute as fast and cheap as possible with numerous shortcuts. Quality equals time with equals less profits! The art of a real handmade flute is quite rare today and only can be found in a few small workshops.

We advise you try a vintage Powell, Haynes, Louis Lot versus a new modern custom or student model and you will see the differences for yourself!!!

We are a growing company actively seeking to buy and/or sell on consignment your Louis Lot, Rive, vintage Powell, or Haynes, so please contact us.

 

VFS Blog 9.3.20 VFS (founded 2015)

Why sell, buy, consign ,or seek flute advice from VintageFluteShop.com?  As opposed to most of our competitors, we actually know what we are talking about!  Babe Ruth said, “If it’s true, it ain’t bragging.”

David Chu is truly one of the finest experts in the area of flute restoration and flute-making. He is a professional flutist and teacher having graduated from the New England Conservatory. He trained with the renowned flute restorer Robert Gilchrist and worked for three Boston flute companies where he mastered the art of flute and headjoint making.  He has over 30 years experience with antique French and American flutes, knows their strengths, and has an inane ability to solve any delicate padding, mechanic, or acoustic issues. Most repair people today only know how to work on modern instruments with modern pads, a completely different animal!

Alan Weiss has decades of experience and notoriety as an internationally acclaimed performer, recording artist, teacher, and flute historian. Alan studied flute with Phillip Kaplan, James Pappoutsakis, Doriot Anthony Dwyer, Paul Fried, Julius Baker, and had some lessons and masterclass with Marcel Moyse. He performed and taught with major orchestra, university, and flute-making institutions. He has advised many of the world’s best flutists and teachers (and their students) in finding the optimal instrument to complement their flute voice and style. Alan knows the difference between a mediocre flute and headjoint vs a great one! Since 2002 Alan has not let anyone but David Chu work on any of his personal flutes.

We limit our flute business to the very finest playing flutes at the very best prices. Research our competitors and you will see most of their vintage flutes are overpriced and therefore remain sale for many years. Just because an antique has new pads and is shiny means it plays well! Our current stock contains some wonderful wood and silver Haynes, Lebret, etc. including Haynes #1, the first Haynes Flute! If you seek something we don’t currently have please let us know as we are constantly updating our inventory. We have now expanded to offer pre-owned modern flutes. Our flutes move quickly because they are truly a cut above and priced fairly. Please contact us today!

We offer letters for most Boehm system antique flutes for companies no longer in existence. For appraisal letters on vintage Haynes or Powell flutes, please contact those companies directly.

        


For more information please email Alan Weiss at alan@vintagefluteshop.com