The Shape of the Head
The heads on 19th century flutes couldn't have been simpler
- they were generally straight cylinders. Some very remarkable
makers (notably Nicholson and Boehm) knew that this was not ideal and
tried to do something about it; they made some gains but probably
didn't have the science to guide them to complete solutions. More
work was done in the twentieth century but only in the context of Boehm
flutes. These benefits are now available to the Irish
The issue is this. In the traditional cylindrical head, the
diameter of the head was limited to what was comfortable. Because
the bore diameter was set, the wall thickness and therefore the
embouchure chimney depth was defined automatically at one half the
difference. Not quite enough for best tone development
unfortunately. Still, it's the shape we know and love...
The Classical Cylindrical
Head. The outside diameter
and the embouchure chimney depth are intrinsically linked.
So, how can we dissociate the outer and inner
diameters from the wall thickness? My first solution followed the
path of the 20th century makers (although not their methods). The
head in general was "thinned" but an eccentric bulge was created at the
embouchure. This enabled the chimney depth to be increased, but
the overall diameter to be kept down at this point.
The Thinned Head,
permitting smaller diameter at the embouchure
but increased embouchure chimney depth. This is the lightest head.
But not everyone likes the radical new appearance. Could I
keep to these dimensions, but retain or approximate the old
appearance? This took a bit of thinking. In the middle of
the night, the answer came. "Why does the hole have to be in the
middle of the stick?" So option three is the Eccentric Bore
Head. Acoustically, it presents exactly the same dimensions as
the Thinned Head. Visually, it looks like the Traditional
The Eccentric Bore Head offering
the same effective dimensions as
the Thinned Head but with the appearance of the Traditional Head.
This, I believe, is a pretty serious breakthrough. We
can have a head
which looks like the good old head, while permitting the important
be individually adjusted. The only clue that something is
unusual comes when you remove the cap and look inside. Then you
that the wood at the embouchure side of the head is much thicker than
on the back side.
Finally we can dispense with most of the wood altogether and
have a sterling
silver head and barrel with only a minimum amount of wood at the
hole. Because it's shape not materials that is the most
important, such a head and
barrel still sounds exactly like a wooden flute.
The Silver Head and Barrel
can offer the
acoustic dimensions as any of the heads above.
An obvious benefit of such a head is that, no matter the
climate or degree of
carelessness, it cannot crack. To ensure that shrinkage of the
embouchure plate cannot induce it to split in a dry climate, the plate
extend all the way around the head and is bonded to the head only in
of the embouchure. Because silver is such a good conductor of
temperature in the head cannot rise anywhere near as high as in a
reducing the "warming up" pitch change. The thin socket wall of
the barrel also permits the body at the top of the flute to be thinner,
stress on the left hand. The avoidance of losses into the
material of the
head ensures the most vibrant response right across the range.
works out slightly less than my wooden heads and about 70% of the
weight of a
19th century head and barrel. It does cost a little more though.
So, summarising all the above; there are four head options:
- the Classical Cylindrical Head
- the Thinned Head
- the Eccentric Bore Head
- The Silver Head and Barrel.
It's important to remember that any of the heads can be
allied with any of the embouchure shapes.
As mentioned above, I do not recommend the classical
found on 19th century flutes. It is too noisy and
does have one attractive aspect though - the very dark sound available
played in the Irish manner - turned well in towards the player, and
intense air-stream. This is a skill which requires a naturally
and plentiful air supply. It takes some time to acquire, some
maintain and plenty of stamina for long sessions, and is therefore not
everyone. This style of playing also tends to increase the
sound of air.
For those wishing to perfect that style, I prefer to make an
embouchure which retains the traditional shape but reduces the
But for those wanting (or needing!) easier playing, my
"modern cut" embouchures
bring all the benefits of late 20th century embouchure development to
flute, especially if used in conjunction with my Thinned, Eccentric
The elliptical embouchure blended the sides and the all-important
edge into each other, making it harder for the maker to provide each
with the treatment it requires. My modern cut embouchures permit
the edge and sides to be given the shapes they need to produce the best
results. The differences are very noticeable - a bit louder, much
easier to play, more responsive, faster articulation.
||The Two Semicircles embouchure hole provides
a useful increase in area over the elliptical hole, increased width of
the "edge" and better dissociation between edge and sides.
|The Rounded Rectangle embouchure hole
provides a further increase in area, a yet wider "edge" and even better
dissociation between edge and sides.
The improved venting produced by these embouchures and the
more relaxed playing style does have the effect of producing a slightly
brighter sound than the elliptical embouchure played in the
"half-covered" manner. The Two Semicircles being only a slight
increase over the ellipse is a good compromise if compromise is
sought. For those looking for the easiest and/or loudest playing
flute anywhere, the Rounded Rectangle is the way to go.
Those needing to move easily between wooden flute and metal
flute will find the Rounded Rectangle with either the thinned or
eccentric bore the most convenient.
For more information on the
development of these new head and embouchure shapes
For more details see the: "new
improved tuning slide".
Classical Cylindrical Head with Mk IV New Improved Tuning Slide
Can't afford the tuning slide? Well
here's a way forward
for those looking for a lowest-price but highest quality flute:
The Minimal Disruption Tenon
The Minimum Disruption Tenon
enables you to get greater tuning variation by pulling out the head
from the body that the normal tenon & socket arrangement
permits. Looks better too, as no cork is visible when
extended. Click on the link for the full story.
Business end of a "Grey
Preferred" model in Mopane,
with the head withdrawn to reveal the Minimum
Does the MDT make tuning slides a thing of the
think not. Weigh up the advantages I listed under "About Tuning
Slides" above. But if you're up against a tight budget, and
particularly if this is not your everyday flute, it's a great
just pulling out the normal tenon and socket, especially when it
enables you to
buy a better quality flute than you might otherwise have been
able. Or add
a couple of keys you couldn't otherwise afford. Available on all
including Eb and Bb flutes, and all materials, including polymer.
Is an MDT flute a "down-graded model", devoid
important features? No, an MDT equipped flute is otherwise
same as all my other flutes, with the same excruciating attention to
And if you suddenly come into the money or you
find what wasn't
supposed to be your everyday flute has wheedled its way into your
can easily install a tuning slide and revert your tenon arrangement to
Next, let's talk about
to McGee Flutes home