Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's)
- Why Buy an Instrument From WD Sweet Flutes?
- What Makes A Good Flute / Fife / Whistle?
- Is All Work Done By Hand?
- Are Polymers Really A Good Choice For Top-Quality Instruments?
- How Are The Keys Mounted?
- Why Is The Cork Internal?
- What About The Internal O-Rings?
- Why The O-Rings On The Outside Of The Tenon?
- What Does A=440 Mean?
- What About Dynamic Range?
- How Well Can I Tune My Instrument With The Slide?
- Should I Move The Cork (Endstopper) To Tune My Instrument?
- Break in and Setup
Why Buy an Instrument From W D Sweet Flutes? With years of playing at dances and in drumcorps, I've learned about good instruments and their qualities as sought by experienced musicians. I've also had ready access to a collection of many respected antiques to study from a manufacturing perspective. I have a specialized focus (I can't make every type) and now, after 40 years in the shop, I'm committed to building the best qualities into instruments that people can count on.
Guarantee: I stand behind my work 100%. If for any reason you are not completely satisfied, please contact me and I will be glad to help you.
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What Makes A Good Flute / Fife / Whistle? The tone is rich, can be manipulated by the player, is full when playing loudly and sweet when playing softly. There's a speedy response and accurate scale with comfortable hole spacing. The notes are stable; high and low notes can be controlled for loudness. The key levers have an easy reach; keys move freely and seal reliably. The tuning slide moves smoothly, and the physical appearance inspires confidence in the craftsmanship of the maker. The material is durable, long lasting, and if wood, well seasoned. It has a beautiful finish and is aesthetically proportioned: it is practical and also attractive.
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Is All Work Done By Hand? Craftsmanship is not about minimum machinery: it's about maximum fussiness. Certain aspects of manufacture receive more handwork than others, according to the finesse required to ensure highest performance. I use whatever combination of handwork and machinery that gives me the best results.
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Are Polymers Really A Good Choice For Top-Quality Instruments? Some polymers are better than others, but yes, especially for pennywhistles. I have made hundreds and hundreds of pennywhistles (no exaggeration), finding them to be the fussiest type of instrument I make. To get consistent results, I need consistent material. To a great degree, acetal (like Delrin) has the desirable qualities: it machines readily with control, takes a good finish for a good sound, and stays where I put it, period! Most people understand that wood has a mind of its own: once leaving the maker, the instrument will change its size and shape to some extent, always. These changes are manageable in a flute, but in a pennywhistle, the slightest change always spells a loss of performance. I've seen wooden whistles whose features have moved to the point of unplayability. If I make a whistle that goes bad, it can take my reputation down, and I don't want that to happen. I like to think that I'm no different among makers of any time period: I carefully choose the material that will faithfully preserve my design and workmanship so the instrument can be counted on to perform. Wood has the cachet, but a polymer pennywhistle will play the same on the day I made it, as it will down the road. I make every effort to give my polymer whistles some eye-appeal in addition to the playability, and I hope that others will concur.
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How Are The Keys Mounted? Are There Other Methods? My key levers are Block Mounted in wood that projects from the body. Among antiques, this style tends to indicate older instru-ments made one-at-a-time. Post Mounted keys (as on a modern clarinet) appeared on later flutes made in large numbers at factories. Metal flutes have long Ribs to hold the posts that hold the hinge tube that holds the keys. Another method is Saddle Mounting: here, screws bind the body to a flat plate whose ends are bent upward; these ends are drilled to support the axle.
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Why Is The Cork Internal? The tuning slide pulls open to make the instrument longer for tuning. However, the tenon creates a cavity at the end; the thicker the tenon, the larger the cavity that can distort the scale (see next paragraph). When the cork is designed to stay inside the mortise (cork internal), the scale is better when the slide is pulled out.
Please remember: During storage, if there is internal cork at the joint, please disassemble it so the cork will maintain elasticity.
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What About Internal O-Rings? The plastic instruments have internal o-rings to seal the slide, with the same advantages as the internal cork (see above). It is strongly advised to disassemble these instruments after playing, and use a little bit of cork grease often. Otherwise, the slide may get stuck.
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Why The O-Rings On The Outside Of The Tenon? These o-rings are tuning spacers; they do not seal the slide. They mark a standard setting of the tenon, about 2.5mm out. With the o-rings in place, the instrument will play at A=440 on a good scale for most people. With the rings off and the slide pushed all the way in, the instrument can be sharp overall AND the scale will be distorted: D will appear flat in relation to C#. This happens because the note C# comes from a short tube and D comes from a long tube; 2.5 mm is a greater proportion of the C# length than the D length, with a resulting distortion of the musical scale. This issue is more critical on the small instruments such as the high D pennywhistle. If you need to play a little sharper, try removing one or both of the o-rings.
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What Does A=440 Mean? It means that a pitch of 440 Hz was used as the basis to develop all the chromatic notes in mathematical proportion. An "A" of 442 would generate a new set of numbers. Baroque music sometimes uses A=415.
More importantly, a specification of A=440 means that the instrument is constructed to play a scale that matches those standard chromatic frequencies. Let's say you have a folk flute in E-flat, whose scale does not include the note A at 440 Hz. Nonetheless, a specification of A=440 means that this flute's diatonic scale in E-flat aligns with the chromatic notes derived from A=440 (see above for a table of frequencies).
On some instruments, the scale is less than perfect. In those cases, we take the whole scale into account, placing more importance on scale steps I, IV and V. These notes are then used as a basis for specifying the pitch standard.
For example, 'fife standard pitch' runs about 25 cents sharp of A=440 these days in the drumcorps world. If many of the notes, especially the important scale notes are sharp of A=440, then we cannot say that we have an A=440 instrument. In this case, what is the pitch standard? Use the following formula:
F=(12th root of 2)cents/100x FSTD or
F = (1.0594631)25/100 x 440 or
F= 1.01455 x 440 = 446.4 Hz.
Working backward, what is the musical equivalent of 500 Hz? Using our table, the nearest standard pitch is B= 493.9. Plug that value into the following formula:
Cents Deviation = log (F / FSTD) x 100 so 500 Hz is 21 cents sharp of B4.
log (12th root of 2)
What About Dynamic Range? I've heard people use (and misuse) this term. To some people it means simply the loudness of an instrument. To me, it means the potential for loudness, the degree of control it affords to the player, and how that affects other aspects of playing.
Some flutes and fifes can't play loud no matter what. When the player pushes harder, instead of more musical sound he gets noise (hiss or squeak). Sometimes the result is just resistance: a feeling that the instrument is pushing back because it can't give any more output, regardless of increased input.
On others, I feel locked in. I discussed this phenomenon with my flutemaker friend. He referred to some famous modern flutes, saying the tone was "solid." However, what he explained was that the player had no other choice, and with that limitation, where's the art? Once, I heard a flute concert like this. The tone was solid, but never seemed to vary, and I was bored very soon.
We all like to play loud, but this makes the lips tired. When playing softer, you should still get a good tone (to rest up, if nothing else). Sometimes, an instrument doesn't give me this feeling. I get the idea that it wants to play at one loudness level with one tone quality with one type of attack, while everything else sounds noisy or anemic. I like to vary the tone quality from sweet and legato to bright and percussive. If I'm in good form, I can do more of everything (loudness, tone and attack), but I want a just proportion of all those elements if I'm tired or just playing softly. In short, to say that an instrument has a good dynamic range means that I'm controlling the instrument, not the other way around.
When I build these ideas into an instrument, it becomes fun to play, and helps the art come across for me, and for anyone else who plays it.
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How Well Can I Tune My Instrument With The Slide? Simple, two-piece instruments have a Mortise (socket) and Tenon ("peg") joint. The intention is to tune the instrument by lengthening it, but because most tenons have a thick wall (approx. 1/8"), a cavity forms. This added volume is small when playing on the long tube (all holes closed), but the cavity has a higher proportion when playing on the short tube (all holes open). This can result in a C# (or even B) that is flatter in relation to the other notes. Metal Tuning Slides have a wall that's typically 1/64" thick, so the added cavity is insignificant. They often slide more easily, too.
When I make a mortise and tenon joint, I put the cork on the inside of the mortise. This way, the tenon has a thinner wall and smaller cavity, with the advantages just described. The slide is used to bring the pitch down and up; to do so, the instrument is designed to play a correct scale on A=440 when pulled out 2~3 mm. In practical terms, woodwind instruments play on one pitch standard only (please read the sections about A=440 and Moving the Cork). If your flute has corps de rechange or a differential screw mechanism between toneholes, that's a different story. Meanwhile, make sure your friends are playing at A=440 !
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Should I Move The Cork (Endstopper) To Tune My Instrument? Moving the cork sharps or flats the fife overall (to tune-up with others), but it does other things, too. It changes "octave registration" (that makes hi-G exactly an octave above lo-G and makes harmonies sweet). At the same time, it changes the "response curve" (affecting richness, loudness, control, and wind requirements).
I have taught drum corps fifing for many years and made fifes for over 30 years. My simple advice is that individual fifers should not move the cork on their own. There are times, however, that the lead musician or instructor, given a full understanding, should adjust corks for the group.
First, get fifes that are all the same make and model. Second, hire a teacher who will teach you to play together. Third, get a tuning instrument1 to avoid arguments. Fourth, qualify the source of intonation. Fifth, breathe warm air through each fife before tuning it or tuning to it.
Let each fifer play into the tuning instrument, and determine what person (whether veteran or beginner) blows a steady pitch without wavering. Next, have this fifer play octaves of several notes (except E3, F#3 & B3). If the high notes are too high, then move the cork away from the blowhole. If the high notes are too low, then move the cork toward the blowhole. This player on this fife with this cork setting at this temperature is now #1, the qualified source of intonation. Above all, the other fifers must tune up to #1. When the section is in tune, even non-musicians perceive it to be stronger.
For one-piece fifes, play G3 on #1. Next, play G3 on #2 (the fife being tuned) and if sharp, move his cork away from the blowhole (if flat, move toward). Compare #1 to each of the remaining fifers and adjust accordingly; settings will vary. The low notes tend to blend in.
Two-piece fifes can be tuned better. Qualify #1 as before. To pull the slide out makes the fife flat overall2. Move the slide in or out to the best average as you compare high and low pitches. If fifer #2 is flat on the low notes while sharp on the high notes, then move the cork away from the blowhole and push the slide in (and conversely).
Summary of Effects: To move the cork away from the blowhole flats the fife overall, it flats the high notes in relation to the lows (it compresses the octaves), the low notes become richer, it will be more difficult to control the high notes, and the whole fife becomes louder while taking more wind all the time. To move the cork toward the blowhole acts conversely. Most manufacturers set the cork for the best overall performance.
If you need to tune your fife section, and you know the results of moving the cork, then try it. You can always go back to "standard position"3
Please keep in mind that moving the cork can never change:
A. Overblowing habits (a teacher is important)
B. Difference of pitch standard, especially over the years (on today's fifes, the whole scale is 25-30 cents sharp of A= 440, so it won't tune up to a piano, for instance).
C. The scale of traditional fifes that plays flat on E33, sharp on F#3 & B3. If you want a better scale, drill holes for use with special-purpose fingering or get a Boehm piccolo!
D. Conflicts of scale between fifes of different design. The pitch of F#2, C-nat2, C#2 & D3 is better on some fifes than on others.
1Make sure the tuning instrument is designed for a range up to F7. The analog electronic type (including Strobotuner) is more stable (it clearly identifies the main pitch). The digital electronic type (cassette size) tends to "hunt" (it gets confused with overtones that change by the second).
2But C# goes flat in relation to D. The effect worsens and spreads to B, etc, as pullout increases.
3Theobald Boehm developed a standard position for the cork. The bore is 17mm at the blowhole so the cleaning rod is grooved at 17mm; therefore, the cork on his (Boehm) flutes should be set 17mm back from the center of the blowhole. Important! Boehm's goal was to make the high notes in tune with the low notes. McDonagh fifes and traditional flutes have a completely different design, with the bore tapering in the body, therefore, Boehm's "standard position" simply doesn't apply to these instruments for them to play a sweet scale across the octaves.
Some players are instantly successful on a new flute. It has also been said that time is usually needed for a player to find what techniques are needed to bring out the best in a new instrument. If you are breaking-in one of my flutes now, please keep the following in mind:
My flute may not have the same "feel" as your old one, but that disconnect can be an issue when acclimating to any new flute. I hope that you will give a couple weeks at least to play my flute as is. I have designed all the physical parameters (including endstoper position) to optimize playability. And while moving the cork may make my flute feel like your old one, the new flute won't be playing at its best. If there is any question about your results, I ask no more than any other maker would: in the beginning, to play my flute as adjusted. Within a week or two, you will find new ways to play it and bring out the best in tune, tone-building, response, playability and volume as expected in the tradition. After a good try, if you find that my flute is still not better than your old one, you can always send mine back for a cheerful refund.