Irish Flutes - About My Flutes

 

Irish Flutes .... My D and Eb Models

My Irish flutes are developed from nineteenth century originals by renowned makers. In those days, there were dozens of makers providing instruments for every conceivable need.  I don't believe in the "one size fits all" approach and consequently I make the widest range of instruments available anywhere.  I find these models cover most eventualities ...

R.S. Pratten's Perfected, after a flute by Boosey & Co, London. I picked up the original (No 8626) in a Sydney antique shop in 1972 for AUD $25.  Developed in the 1850's as a response to Boehm's new cylinder flute, this flute has the largest holes and has become a legend among flute players for its big tone. The six finger holes are all on the central section, which is longer than usual, permitting the g# key (when fitted) to be ideally placed.  The single piece body does not permit the fine adjustment to rotation between the left and right hand which the extra body section of other flutes would allow. 

This style of flute would suit the professional or very serious session player, looking for the ultimate in power.

Prattens Perfected style in Cocuswood
 Classical Cylindrical Head, Mk III tuning slide, 6 sterling silver keys, Long D Foot



Rudall Perfected.  This is a slender, elegant, powerful, responsive instrument with great tone and excellent tuning.  It is based on a large bore, large holed flute by the most prestigious London makers, Rudall & Rose, brought up to date with rather a lot of my own new work.  The inspiration for it (RR No 655, circa 1830) can be seen at the Bate collection in Oxford (Bate No 132). 

The Rudall Perfected is an ideal flute for the professional or serious session player seeking the ultimate in performance in a Rudall style flute.

Rudall Perfected in African Blackwood
 This one shown with Thinned head, MkIII tuning slide, 6 sterling silver keys, Long D Foot

Hear the Rudall Perfected, played by Canberra player Peter Woodley - The Green Mountain


Rudall 5088 

This flute will suit the player looking for a close copy of an excellent large holed flute in the great Rudall & Rose tradition.  It's based on Rudall & Rose No 5088 played by Thierry Mayes in Paris.  It comes from the period where the tuning anomalies had been mostly ironed out, making the flute playable at today's pitch without modification.  I can supply it as an exact copy, or with a few little tweaks to optimise the intonation.  It's a nicely focused flute with great sound and presence.  Like Rudalls in general, it is slender, elegant and responsive.  It can be safely regarded as an ideal Rudall-styled flute for Irish music.

 

Rudall 5088, shown here in keyless form in Cooktown Ironwood, 
This one with Eccentric Bore head and "Two-Semicircles" embouchure.

The same flute, shown here in 6-key form in Red Lancewood.
This one also with Eccentric Bore Head and Rounded Rectangles embouchure

Like all my models, available in other timbers and with up to 8 keys.


Rudall Refined, after a flute in the collection at Edinburgh University, dating around 1845.  The original, No 5047, had small holes, probably to satisfy those who prized uniformity of tone over all other factors.  It is the same model Rudall played and favoured by current classical musicians such as Chris Norman and Brian Berryman.

Like most of the small-holed flutes from the period, however, tuning was an issue.  I have reworked the design to correct the tuning and release the full potential of the bore while retaining the Rudall & Rose sweetness and authority.  It now has medium sized holes making it a very easy and rewarding instrument to play. 

Being an instrument which you can pick up and play well without warm up, this instrument would suit the player who doesn't get to practice as often as they would like! 

 

8-key Rudall Refined in Snakewood 


Grey Larsen Preferred

This is the smallest hole model flute I make and came out of a collaboration between US Irish flute player Grey Larsen and myself in April 2003.  It's based on his original Firth Pond & Co flute, made in New York in the middle of the 19th century.  It's a delightfully easy flute to play, reminiscent of the pipes or whistle in agility and economy of air.  It would suit anyone who, like Grey, values crisp ornamentation highly.    Despite the small holes, the flute produces a very impressive volume of sound.  The small holes and close spacing also make playing easier for those whose fingers no longer move as quickly or surely as they would like.

You can see a full report of our work together at an interesting collaboration.

The original Firth, Pond & Co 6-key in cocuswood and nickel silver (above) 
with a keyless copy in gidgee and silver (below). 

As with all my flutes, this can be had in versions with zero to 8 or more keys:

 

6-key Grey Larsen Preferred, blackwood, silver, eccentric bore head, improved elliptical embouchure.

Hear Grey Larsen playing one of my "Grey Larsen Preferred" flutes:  The Torn Jacket


Siccama 

Abel Siccama invented a flute in 1845 which became extremely popular and was copied by many other makers at the time and into the next century.  The instrument was essentially a normal 8-key flute but had two extra keys, used to extend the stretch of the third fingers of both hands.  This permitted Siccama to move holes 3 and 6 down the flute to their proper place, and to move the others slightly up the flute to their proper place. 

Summarising the benefits:

  • Intonation (accuracy of tuning) throughout the flute greatly improved
  • stretch reduced and comfort improved very considerably
  • the notes A and E as full-toned as the notes adjacent to them
  • the tone of the flute rendered sweeter and purer due to better harmonic line-up
  • ease of playing improved due to greater efficiency

As with all things, there is a trade-off; the two keys are inevitably noisier than the fingers they extend.  But, if stretch is a problem for you, this is the ultimate solution - the stretch is now better than the fully keyed metal flute, but no alteration in fingering is required.  The keys are lightweight, direct and fast, and I use magnetic repulsion instead of springs, ensuring no friction and the lightest touch.  The magnets are rare-earth type (Neodymium Iron Boron) and are lifetime guaranteed.

Siccama used post mounting, which placed one of the posts in a position where it tended to rub against the side of the third finger.  In my arrangement, very low blocks are used, completely overcoming the contact problem and remaining consistent with the appearance of any other key blocks on the flute.  The keys are offset slightly from the centreline to give the most comfortable access, and the touches slightly curved to avoid their edges coming into contact with the finger pad.

"Keyless" Siccama-style flute

Another issue with Siccama's flute was that it was easy to tear off the right hand Siccama key by rotating the foot so that the Eb key touch clashes with the cup of the Siccama key.  I get round that by introducing a graceful curve into the stem of the Eb key so that it skims over the top of the other key.  I also put a block just below the 6th hole to protect the key and to provide a stop for the Eb key touch to descend upon when pressed.  This, in conjunction with a long well-designed leaf spring, gives the Eb key a very light and positive feel.

6-key Siccama-style flute, employing magnetic repulsion on the two open keys

Note how far the 6th hole is moved away from the others for best results.


Boehm

In 1847, Boehm brought out his new design, a flute using a cylindrical bore, with a tapering head.  It was patented in England by John Mitchel Rose, of Rudall & Rose, and became the standard metal flute we know today.  Rudall Carte, as they soon became, offered a number of flutes based on this bore, including some with the old 8-key fingering.  As soon as the patent ran out, some 14 years later, makers in England began to offer 8-key wooden versions of the new flute.  You can see a few in my collection at The McGee-Flutes Research Collection.

Boehm bore 6-key flute

In my version you see above, you'll note some features different from the 19th century examples.  I've made the embouchure rectangular (like modern Boehm flutes), although any of my usual embouchures would be available.  Not so noticeable, the head is my Eccentric Bore style, offering a deeper embouchure than those normally provided in the 19th century.  A thinned head (see my page on heads) would be another option.  A deeper embouchure chimney is desirable to bring out the tone possible from this bore. 

The body is thinned, as was the practice on the best of the 19th century flutes, for greater comfort and response, but I've thickened it at the joints.  The 19th century versions are dangerously thin at these points and many, if not most, are cracked here.  As there are no holes at the joints, the thickening is purely structural and has no acoustic ramifications.  As you can see above, I have chosen to extend the thickening on the foot to encompass the Eb key.  The Eb key hole is large; without the thickening the seat would have to be very shallow.

This model might suit a player who is firmly attached to the Boehm flute but wants the benefit of the faster fingering afforded by the earlier system.  Because the holes are smaller than those on the modern Boehm, the tone is proportionally darker.


Comparing D flutes

It's helpful to have some basis for comparing flutes by differing makers and from differing traditions.  Our most useful single indicator is the size of hole 5 - it's the hole that changes most.  

Flute Hole 5 (mm) Hole 5 (inches) Subjectively
Pratten's Perfected 11 7/16" Very large
Rudall Perfected 11 7/16" Very large
Boehm 11 7/16" Very large
Siccama 10 13/32" Large
Rudall 5088 10.5 13/32" Large
Rudall Refined 9.5 3/8" Medium
Grey Larsen Preferred 8 5/16" Small

Generally the larger the hole the more powerful the flute, the smaller the more economic of air.  Like all generalisations it has its failings, but it's a start.  You'll notice I've put the Siccama higher in the list than the hole size might suggest.  This is because of its large bore (same as Prattens) and more uniform venting.


Flutes in Eb

Flutes in Eb are popular session instruments in some parts of Ireland.  The shorter length of an Eb flute makes it surprisingly more responsive than flutes in D.  I can make all of the above models in Eb as well as D.


Flutes in C

It's also possible to have flutes in C or combination D and C flutes fitted to the same head.  See the separate page on C flutes for more details.


The models above are my current favourites, but if you didn't find what you were looking for, other models are available ...


Where to now?

Check out my other flute models:


Now let's find out about materials.

Or, back to McGee Flutes home page...

Last updated, July 2007