No 742 - A Particularly Famous Rudall



Perhaps the Rudall and Rose original that is most well known world-wide today is the boxwood instrument, No 742, owned and played by Chris Norman.  I've had the pleasure of being in their company - I should share it with you.

I caught up with No 742 at Boxwood, Chris Norman's wonderful wooden flute festival held each year in Lunenberg, Nova Scotia.  Chris invited me to be a maker-in-residence in 2002.  I jumped at the offer and had a ball!  Go there, at least once in your life.  Do it soon!

Chris left the instrument in my care as he went off to teach classes.  I'd already spend some time poring over the dimensions of the flute, but it was nice to spend some time with the instrument itself.  I just hoped the drool marks wouldn't show.

First impressions

The first thing to notice is that it is of the small-holed variety, more valued for refinement than power.  My Rudall, Rose or Carte Models Study reveals that this was one of the company's most popular lines.  This is interesting as it has as much in common with the earlier small hole 8-keys as it does with the large-holed instruments we expect of this period.

We can also approximately date the instrument - the Study suggests that No 742 would have been made some time around 1828.

The flute itself

As you can see, it's a lovely instrument, in unstained boxwood and silver:

A closer look (below) shows:

  • the long F key is rotated more than the G# to give better access to both, a thoughtful feature dropped for some reason in some later flutes
  • the long c key is straight, rather than the hockey-stick shape that we expect in later instruments
  • springs mount straight onto the shafts, rather than onto little platforms as you see on later Rudall instruments
  • cork dot silencers under the short keys (eg. under the Short F key)
  • the axle blocks have steel pins though their bases, presumably intended as a strengthening device
  • the challenge of squeezing in the G# key-cup above the tenon is well illustrated

A close look at the foot reveals:

  • the steel pins in the hinge blocks again
  • pewter plugs on C and C#
  • plenty of room on this long foot for the C and C# key touch shafts
  • overlapping hockey-stick touches on C and C#, but without the rebates and finger-joint to facilitate sliding found on later instruments.

Ok, so enough of the drooling.  Let's get down to tintacks ....

So how's the tuning?

Like any early 2nd generation 8-key, you've got to expect some quirks.  And yes, we found them, but not too bad really.

As usual, the most noticeable quirk is the seemingly inevitable flat foot syndrome.  Note in the chart below how low C, C#, D and Eb are far flatter than most of the body notes.  Note too how that flatness is reflected in the octaves of D and Eb. Note also the old recurring pattern - C# and Eb are the flattest notes, D less so and C the least.

But still, it's not as bad as many early 8-keys, and we'll come back to the reason why. 

There are some other rather flat notes too - what about them?  Let's work our way up from the bottom:

  • F# is always a little flat on an 8-key,  because we simply can't stretch enough to get far enough away from E.  It's bound to be worse in a medium small hole flute, as the F# hole is not as big.  You can live with 10 cents though.
  • G here is probably flat because it's a bit small and F# is flat - a bit more venting here would be handy, but then it would be a medium holed flute!
  • G# and Bb are flat for two interesting reasons.  Firstly, the keyholes are a bit on the small side - this was common in the early days.  But secondly, this particular flute has pads that are a little overstuffed, and cork buffers that limit the key opening a little too much.
  • When we move to the second octave, we generally see the same effects repeated and in some cases amplified. 

Why is it so?

Let's look at the venting of this flute with a view to explaining some of the tuning issues (see Interpreting Venting Charts for an explanation of the format).

Things to notice:

  • how small all the body holes are compared to other flutes we've looked at, and compared to the foot notes
  • how much smaller the key holes in the body (c, Bb, G# and F) are compared with the open holes.  We get away with c and F, but the smaller holes are just a bit too small.
  • the big gap between E (at 280mm) and Eb (at (350mm) (almost double the other semitone intervals).  There's our flat foot.
  • while the foot notes are well distributed, note how the C# is distinctly smaller.  No wonder it's one of the flattest notes.

But not too flat?

I said we'd come back to the matter of flat, but not too flat, feet.  Here's an interesting observation.  

When Nicholson the Elder took to the holes of an Astor small hole flute with a sharp instrument and an evil grin, he ushered in the large hole era.  This brought greater power, and the promise of better intonation, but that promise was not immediately realised.  Indeed, the immediate outcome was that things got worse, and for a very simple reason.  Enlarging the body holes but doing nothing with the foot will sharpen the body notes, increasing the pitch gap between the body and foot notes.  We interpret that as "flat foot syndrome", but it might be fairer and more illuminating to call it "sharp body notes syndrome".

Enlarging, and therefore sharpening, the body notes should be accompanied by a shortening, and therefore sharpening, of the foot, and a lengthening, and therefore flattening, of the head.  Looking at my Rudall Rose or Carte Models Study suggests that this was not done, at least, not for many many years, and then only gradually.  So while the larger hole flutes would have enjoyed better body note intonation, they would have suffered more from flat foot syndrome.  Such is life.

Getting to hear that flute

By this stage, you may well be asking when do I get to hear this flute?  Well, if you don't already have the album, here's what to look out for.  And there's that flute.

If you're a wooden flute enthusiast, do yourself a favour:

For this, and rather a lot more from Chris Norman


Looking after history

Chris is aware that # 742 had already enjoyed a long and probably busy life before it reached him, and it might be too much to ask it to be the workhorse of such a busy professional musician.  So he had Californian maker Rod Cameron make him a copy, in blackwood, for workaday purposes.  No 742, if you like, has been put out to stud.  Not entirely though, Chris reports that he has been playing it a bit more lately for local concerts and recordings.  And it's on the new CD, The Caledonian Flute, for a number of selections.  

I also make a version of that model, my "Rudall Refined", based on RR #5047 in Edinburgh.  The main differences between the two are the shortened foot, discussed above, and the materials - 5047 is in cocuswood, boxwood being somewhat out of fashion by then.  RR# 5047 would have been made around 1845, 17 years later.  The foot is 8mm shorter, substantially reducing flat foot syndrome.


I am indebted to Chris Norman and Rod Cameron for making the instrument and dimensions available for this study.  And to Rudall & Rose, for making instruments that still command our attention, 175 years later.

The Last Word

The last word go to Chris himself:  "I'm pleased that you feel as I do, that it's a magnificent instrument.  It really is one of the best ones I've come across - with a truly magical voice."

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