7120 - A very late Rudall Carte

Let's take an in-depth look at a very late instrument from the illustrious Rudall company, by this stage Rudall Carte & Co.  The instrument is No 7120.  The company records remember it as an "Old Style Concert Flute", completed on the 27th of February, 1893.  It is made from cocus wood with 8 German Silver (nickel silver) keys.  

The barrel, lower body and foot all are marked with the crown, and Rudall/Carte & Co/London.  The top of the body has the same information, plus 23 Berners St/Oxford St and the number 7120.

The actual maker was Totman - whether he was an employee or a outsource is not clear from the records.  Three similar instruments are also listed against this date and his name - there might have been more on the previous page which I do not have.  The next batch of 6 were also made by Totman, on March 17.  He next supplied 4 with silver keys on May 3.  Sales of "old style concert flutes" were pretty quiet by 1893.  Given the batch approach, it seems more probable that he was an outsource.  He does not appear as an independent maker however.

The flute itself appears very familiar.  Surprisingly familiar given its late date.  It seems almost as if the company was in the business of building replicas of their earlier work.  Perhaps most surprising is that the keys are salt-spoons, and the holes provided for them are best suited to purse-pads, even though card-backed pads had been long in use by other makers, and by Rudall & Co for other styles of flutes.  Again sticking with outdated tradition, the C and C# keys are in the old familiar pewter plug style.

There are some non-familiar aspects though.  Firstly, the flute appears distinctly short.  A comparison with earlier flutes shows the difference to be entirely due to a foot up to 20mm shorter than normal.  Indeed, lengths of the body sections are almost precisely the same as every other Rudall flute.  

Secondly, while the right hand finger holes are very large, the left hand holes are not.  One could be forgiven for wondering if it was a combination of leftover bits if it didn't bear remarkable similarity in both matters to No 7174, also here in Canberra.

Performance aspects

Analysing the performance of the instrument throws up some very interesting information.  

With the tuning slide pressed hard in, this player gets a lower octave A of 467hz.  But it is clear from the curves above that intonation is not acceptable at that pitch.  The intonation of the low octave slopes dramatically, the second octave is considerably flatter, the notes in the break (D5 and Eb5) do not bridge the gap effectively, and the footnotes are extremely flat.

The remaining curves are taken with tuning slide extensions increasing at 6mm increments. Ignoring the impact of slightly flat foot notes, A452 appears to be the best pitch, at an extension (for this player) of about 12mm.

Looking at the data a different way, we can see the average deviations from ideal for notes in various parts of the flute.  As is obvious, most parts of the flute agree with a pitch of 452 Hz, apart from the flat foot which would be happier at 445Hz.

So, a flute that seems at home at British High Pitch (452).  But how is this achieved?  I said above that the flute was shorter, but only in the foot.  Surely a high pitched flute would need to be a lot shorter than a low pitched flute?  

Not necessarily.  Imagine you have a flute which is tuned beautifully at low pitch (A430).  Push the slide in 20mm and try it again.  The flute will be sharper, but unevenly so.  Upper notes will be very sharp, lower notes less so.  Increase the size of the lower holes where possible to gain a few more cents.  Reduce the size of the upper holes, to bring their notes back into tune with those from the lower holes.  Now we have a flute that is back in tune with itself, but at a higher pitch.  This seems to be what Rudall was up to.

To be fair, the shortened foot also assists the process a little by sharpening the lower body notes a little more.  But its biggest contribution is in reducing flat foot syndrome.  Even so, we can still see vestiges of this in the curves above.

Playing qualities

The flute plays well; indeed a benefit of the smaller upper holes is that overall volume balance is better, although at the price of less exuberant performance in the upper tube notes.


Thanks to London maker and researcher Robert Bigio for providing a copy of the relevant page of the Rudall Carte factory records as well as selling me the flute!

More to come

As time permits, I'll look into the performance and best fingering options for the third octave.  

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