Care of McGee Flutes

 

 

This page is all you need to know about looking after flutes made by Australian maker, Terry McGee.  If your flute is a 19th century original, please go to old-flute-care instead.  If your flute is by another modern maker, best to ask them for care instructions.


The Rules

All woodwind instruments require the same care.  Given that care, there is no reason why they should not be in perfect playing order in hundreds of year’s time.  The rules are simple.

  • Never leave the instrument for long in a hot place, such as a car, mantelpiece or window sill.
  • Never leave it on a chair, on the floor of the stage, or anywhere else it may be trodden on or sat on. 
  • Always mop out your flute thoroughly after playing. 
  • “Break in” a new flute gently
  • Oil the flute regularly with a good bore oil.
     

Mopping out

Mop out your instrument thoroughly after playing.  Otherwise, the moisture from your breath will soak into the instrument and cause it to crack or raise corrugations in the bore.  Mopping also polishes the bore, preventing the build up of roughness and ridges that weaken the tone.

Mop out the foot-joint and body sections first, as these tend not to be so wet.  No point in distributing moisture from the headjoint throughout the rest of the flute! 

Using a metal style cleaning rod:

Prepare a piece of absorbent cloth (old T-shirt or handkerchief material is good) that will just pass through the narrowest part of the flute.  I find a strip about 250mm (10") long and 75mm (3") wide about right.  Attach this to the end.

When you mop out the head-joint using the normal metal rod, fold the cloth back over the tip of the cleaning stick to get as far into the corners near the stopper as possible.  Twist the rod both directions to remove as much water as you can.  If you want to be very thorough mopping out the head, turn the screw cap clockways to move the stopper back.  Mop out the head, then unscrew the cap and push it in until the stopper returns to its correct position as shown by the mark on the cleaning rod.

Using our Improved cleaning rod:

If you have one of our “Improved cleaning rods”, a smaller piece of cloth is needed – about 150mm (6”) square.  Twist a corner and insert it into the end of the cleaning rod.  Pull it out through the slot in the side and pull tight to jam it in well. 

With the Improved rod, be careful not to push it headfirst through the lower sections where its larger diameter head could jam.  Pull it tail first through these sections, though use it headfirst to remove any moisture left in the sockets.  If in doubt about whether it will safely pass headfirst through a particular section, try introducing it into the narrow end of the section first.


Tuning slides

Always store the flute with the head and barrel sections joined together, to prevent grit getting into the slide.  A little cork grease rubbed on the outside of the inner slide will protect the slide against wear and make it move more smoothly.  When you notice it’s no longer operating smoothly, wipe off the old grease and replace it with a fresh smear.

Should either end of the New Improved Tuning Slide slide come loose from its wooden section, don’t be alarmed, it just illustrates that wood and metal move in different ways in different climatic conditions.  You can have the cork replaced (any clarinet repairer can do this) or simply put a turn of good quality tape (eg masking tape or electrician’s insulating tape from any hardware store) around the existing cork and reinsert it.  Don't use teflon (plumber's) tape - it's just too slippery and won't hold the slides in.

Don’t try to make the fit too tight, remember some resilience is needed to protect the timber from any risk of splitting when the weather turns dry.  Better add more tape later than try to jam too much in now.  Before reinserting the slide, smear some cork grease into the area where the cork will be.  After reinserting the slide, some of the grease may extrude into the bore – just clean it out with your mop.


Breaking in a new flute

Treat a new flute gently.  For the first week, limit your playing to sessions of about ten minutes in duration.  Mop out the flute and give it a rest before playing again.  Slowly increase length and frequency over the next few weeks.

When you're playing for a while, it's a very good idea to mop out every 30 minutes or so anyway.  Preventing the build-up of moisture achieves several things - the flute is less likely to be damaged, is easier to play and sounds better.


Oiling the bore

Regularly oil the bore to slow down the intake of water.  I prefer to use proper bore oil (not vegetable oils – these tend to wash away).  Bore oil is available from most music stores or me.  Oil the flute each week for the first month, then each month for the first year.  After that, twice a year should be enough.

Prepare a small piece of cloth for oiling your flute.  I find a piece about 75mm (3") by 40mm (1 1/2") useful.  You will find that until the cloth is saturated in oil it tends to rub off as much oil as it applies.  For this reason, I recommend soaking the piece in oil and consequently keeping it in a small plastic sealable bag.  Otherwise you will find your supplies of oil diminishing quickly and you won't be really sure whether you are applying enough.

The bore must be quite dry before oiling, and a few hours or preferably a day should then elapse before the flute is played.  Strip the flute down to its component parts, removing the stopper (see the section on stoppers below).  Don’t bother removing the two sections of the tuning slide.  If you have keys, either remove them (see section on keys below) or slip pieces of plastic sheet (cling wrap is good for this) under the pads to prevent contamination by the oil.

Attach the oily cloth to the end of your cleaning rod (try to minimise skin contact with bore oil - you don't want your pores sealed).  Squirt a little bit of oil into the bore of the flute and use the cloth to distribute it uniformly throughout the bore.  The bore should glisten with the oil, but there should be no blobs or runs forming.  If the bore doesn't look wet, add some more oil. 

Because endgrain of wood absorbs water so easily, make sure to oil any engrain areas where moisture might gather.  Examples include the bottom of the sockets and the ends of the tenons (the parts that plug into the sockets). 

Do this in each section of the flute and set aside to dry.  Pack your piece of oily cloth away in its bag and store it with the oil.  Carefully reassemble the flute when the oil is dry, remembering to reset the stopper to the correct position as shown on the other end of the cleaning stick.

Obviously the tuning slides themselves do not need oiling, but make sure you oil the wood adjacent to them.  Clean the mating surfaces of the slide before reassembling – you don’t want the oil to glue the two sections of slide together!  A little cork grease rubbed onto the outside of the inner slide will prevent that happening and keep the slide running nicely.

The outside of the instrument can be oiled with bore oil applied with a cloth. Buff off any excess oil with a soft cloth.  You can also use furniture polish.


Tenons, Sockets & Rings

Do not leave the instrument assembled for long periods.  This compresses the tenon cork, requiring the cork to be replaced earlier.  Use cork grease on the tenon corks as soon as you detect any sign of resistance when assembling your flute.  Keep the cork grease with the flute so that it's always available. 

For best results, massage the grease into the cork with your fingers.  Grease the inside of the socket too.  If resistance persists, seek attention as the socket wood might have swollen and could jam.

If a joint becomes loose, have the cork replaced by a qualified woodwind repairer – someone who repairs both flutes and clarinets is ideal.  As an interim measure, you can wrap some waxed dental floss or Teflon tape around the joint.  Better not to use cotton thread as this can swell with moisture and jam the joint.

If a joint jams, do not attempt to force it.  Leave it for a few days without playing.  The swelling should go down.  If jamming persists, seek attention from a repairer or maker.

The rings on the flute sockets are not just decoration - they are vital to preventing the thin socket wood from splitting.  If a ring comes loose, do not assemble the flute, but seek attention from me or a qualified woodwind repairer.  Or ask me for a copy of “the old handkerchief trick”.


The Stopper

The stopper is the obstruction in the head of the flute just above the embouchure hole.  It is connected to the cap by a screw mechanism.  Screwing the cap clockwise moves the stopper away from the embouchure and vice versa. 

You can check the position of the stopper by inserting the cleaning rod up the head-joint backwards.  With it touching the face of the stopper, the mark engraved near its end should appear centrally in the embouchure hole.  (This assumes that your cleaning rod is calibrated for a conical flute and not a modern cylindrical flute.  The mark should be 19 mm or ¾” from the end of the rod.)

Having said the official position of the stopper, you might like to experiment pulling it out a bit further.  This strengthens the bottom octave, at the risk of causing the upper end of the second octave to go flat.  So a good position for Irish music is where the second octave B is just starting to go a little flat.  If you want to make extensive use of the third octave (eg for classical music) you will need the stopper at the 19mm position or even closer to the embouchure.

On our Improved cleaning rods, you’ll find three marks – at 15mm, 19mm and 23mm from the end.  Start at the central mark but experiment with setting the stopper more towards the 23mm mark (for Irish music) or 15mm (for better third octave performance).


Removing and replacing the stopper

There are several ways to remove the stopper, but the first thing to do is to break the seal between the stopper and head that will have formed due to breath condensation.  Rotate the head cap in a clockwise direction until you feel the tension build up and then drop as the stopper starts to move.  Now, either push the stopper out using a wooden or plastic rod inserted from the open end of the head, or continue to rotate the cap clockwise for a few turns, then anticlockwise far enough to be able to grip the cap and pull cap and stopper out by hand.

Before replacing the stopper, grease the stopper cork as you would the tenons.  If the stopper cork becomes too loose after some time, any woodwind repairer should be able to replace it.  Or simply wrap some Teflon tape around it to take up the slack.

If you have my “Eccentric Bore” head, you will notice that the shaft of the stopper is also eccentric.  To ensure smooth action of the screw cap, make sure you insert the stopper so that the shaft ends up concentric to the head – i.e. the two eccentricities cancel out.  To simplify doing that, I’ve drilled a small hole on the side of the stopper shaft.  This should be on the top of the head (i.e. the side with the embouchure hole).

Remember to readjust the stopper position when reinstalled.


Keys

To remove keys, press the protruding bullet-shaped end with something firm to get the pin moving.  It should be easy then to pull the pin by hand, with a knife blade or a pair of pliers.

Use a silver cleaning cloth (available from music shops and jewellers) to buff any oxidisation from rings, outer slide and keys regularly.  Doing it more often is better than doing it harder.

Keys shouldn’t need much maintenance, but here are some things to look at if they are not working properly.

If keys are not operating smoothly:

  • Check the sides of the key-slots are free from any ridges – if anything is found, remove it carefully with a very sharp blade.
  • Check the top of the stainless steel striker plate is clean – a small screwdriver blade is good for this.
  • Check that the end of the spring is smooth and polished
  • Smear some cork grease on the side of the key and the tip of the spring before reassembling.

If pads are not seating:

  • Test whether the pad is leaking by closing all other holes in the section and sucking lightly.  Any leakage detectable is a problem and should be investigated. 
  • Test whether the spring pressure is adequate by closing all other holes in the section and blowing.  You should not be able to blow the pad off the seat except with great pressure.  If the pressure is too low, bend the spring away from the key a little with a pair of pliers.  Go gently and try not to stress the rivet which holds the spring to the key.
  • Make sure there is no obstruction on the face of the pad or seat.

Depending on your flute, the pads are likely to be leather sax or clarinet pads.  Your local clarinet repairer can replace them for you if needed, or there are instructions on my web page.


Other things

Dirt building up inside tone and embouchure holes can affect tuning and tone.  Clean out the holes with a cotton bud regularly.  If the dirt has solidified, do not use anything harder than soft wood to remove it.  Be especially careful of damaging the blowing edge of the embouchure hole.


Case

After some time, you might find the case fabric getting a bit grubby or worn.  You can easily replace it yourself.  Using a thin but dull knife (like a bread & butter knife), carefully lever the linings from the lid and base of the case.  You might find they come free easily, or we might have needed some double-sided tape to keep them in place.  Be particularly careful with the lower section as it is quite thin polystyrene foam. 

You will see that the fabric is simply wrapped around the stuffing and backing, and secured with double-sided "carpet" tape, available in hardware stores.   Strips of double-sided tape secure it to the bottom of the cut-outs.  The fabric is crushed velour, available in a range of colours from dress fabric shops or outlets like “The Online Fabric Store”.


Warranty

My instruments carry a one year warranty against defective workmanship. I ask you to bear the cost of returning the instrument for attention.


More information on flutes

Keep in mind there is plenty more information on flutes, how to play, fingering charts, flute research, links to other useful sites and do on at my web site www.mcgee-flutes.com.  And feel free to contact me at terry@mcgee-flutes.com if you need any help.