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.
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.
mop out your flute thoroughly after playing.
- “Break in” a
new flute gently
- Oil the flute
regularly with a good bore oil.
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!
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.
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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.
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
If keys are not
- 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
If pads are not
- 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.
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.
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”.
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
firstname.lastname@example.org if you need any help.