My flutes are made very much in the traditional style but using
a combination of old and new techniques to bring the finest possible
results. Each flute is made as an individual craft object, using the
finest materials I can find.
The flute blanks are reamed three times over the making period to
ensure the most accurate and stable bore. Sockets are
slightly tapered to ease assembly and the tenons lapped in real
cork for the firmest fit. Under the cork, the tenons are
"combed" to accept thread lapping if preferred.
Rings are made from artificial ivory or sterling silver and
tightly fitted to support the thin wood of the sockets. The
stopper (the cork that fits inside the head just above the
embouchure hole) has a sturdy screw cap mechanism for convenience
Finger, key and embouchure holes are cut with specially made drills
using a precision milling machine modified for the task. The holes are
then finished by hand under the
microscope to bring out the most powerful, focused and clean tone.
Rather than bulk or batch manufacture, I prefer to make each
instrument individually. This permits me to develop each instrument as a
whole, rather than a collection of bits. I also spend quite some time
playing the completed instrument, often returning to make fine adjustments to
embouchure or key-work, and not releasing the instrument until I am satisfied I
cannot improve it further. I then review the design to see if any changes
should be carried on to later instruments. I believe the combination of my
research studies, scientific understanding, craft ability and this process of
"organic redevelopment" is responsible for the superb results.
Nineteenth century flutes were not designed to work at the
modern standard pitch, A440. Pitch changed
substantially during the century and, for a substantial amount of
that time, two pitches (called low and high) were in simultaneous
operation. Accordingly instruments at the time might have
been designed to play anywhere from 425 to 455Hz. This
explains many of the tuning anomalies encountered with old flutes
and is not something we wish to duplicate in new instruments.
Each of my models has been re-scaled from the pitch it was
designed to play at to modern pitch, A440, and further trimmed to get the tuning
as close to accurate as possible.
The old makers also expected the player to open the Eb key for
most notes, the F key for F# and the c key for c# notes.
This is simply not practical at the speed of Irish music, so,
unless requested otherwise, I tune for the straightforward "whistle"
I happily admit to being a tuning fetishist. I've always
been at the forefront of development and use in tuners - it's been my argument
that the maker needs to be 10 times fussier than the average player. When
you play my flutes, I want you to be able to concentrate on all the other
aspects of musicality - rhythm, style, ornamentation, articulation, etc, not to
have to struggle to keep your flute in tune.
We made a major breakthrough in March 2008 with development of
the first practical Reel-Time-Tuning-Analysis system (pun intended) which now
enables us to check the tuning of flutes while we play, rather than as we
sit playing note by note in front of the tuner. Now all my flute models
undergo rigorous RTTA. (See Reel Time Tuning
Analysis for further details about this development and why it is a great
step forward for flute making and playing.)