Flute Repair Basics

Carolyn Nussbaum • September 2021Wind Talkers • September 7, 2021

September rounds out our focus on repair basics. In October, we will cover essential tips and tricks for teaching woodwinds in the classroom. Our goal is to help you better understand what to focus on and where to invest your time and energy to strengthen your student abilities. – Lisa Canning, [email protected]

Flute Assembly

The flute has three parts: headjoint, footjoint, and main body. To keep the flute in best playing condition it is important to put the flute together properly. Hold the body by the barrel (where the manufacturer logo is located usually) and the headjoint below the lipplate (do NOT grab the lipplate). Put the headjoint straight on and twist in one direction-not back and forth like a seesaw. You may need to go all the way around in a circle to line it up. Then put the footjoint on by lining up the body tenon with it and go straight on as you did with the headjoint in a circular motion.

Unlike all other woodwinds that have corks on the tenons, the flute tenons are metal—keeping them clean is important. Do not use any lubricants on the tenons (pencil lead, cork grease, oil) If the flute was able to be assembled easily before and not now, the first thing to do is clean the tenons and their receivers. If this does not help, check to be sure the tenons are still round and not damaged or loose. 

Flute Care

It is important to swab after each use. Leaving moisture inside creates issues including mold, pad fluctuation, and headjoint cork issues. Do not store anything inside of the flute or on top of the flute while it’s in the case. Wipe off fingerprints on the outside of the flute to prevent pitting on the silver/silver plate. Flute stands are highly recommended so the flute will always have a home. Do not put the flute on the: back of a chair, music stand, bed, ground, or left unattended in a busy area outside its case.

Headjoint Cork

The headjoint cork is hidden in the top of it and effects overall sound and intonation. Headjoints vary in taper size so each cork should be custom made each flute as it is vital to its response. Red repair flags include: crown keeps turning or the cork easily moves in and out. When the headjoint cork gets old it can get stuck to the inside of the headjoint and not want to move at all. Headjoint corks usually last about a year.

Identifying the Problem

A visual diagnostic of the flute is a great place to start. Most reasons why a flute has suddenly stopped playing is from being dropped, stepped on or sat on. Send it to the repair shop, if this has happened, to avoid further damage. 

Are all the keys moving properly? If not, what is stopping it?  If just a spring came out of its catch, putting it back is simple. You’ll need a small screwdriver and a Fixit tool. If a section of keys is all moving at once, this will be caused by any of the following: bent mechanism, rust inside the hinge tube or the oil is dirty and gummed up inside of it. (The hinge tube is the rod section of the keys.) Don’t add oil to the surface of the rods as the mechanism of a flute does not allow for the oil to penetrate when the keys are assembled. The oil will travel underneath the pads and felts and cause further expense at the repair shop.

Leaks in a flute mainly develop in two ways.  There are multiple places on a flute where keys work together and must close at the same time. If they do not close at the same time, you have a leak. Many times this can be a simple adjustment of the proper screw. Follow the connection to see how the two keys are connected and make the adjustment once you can see how it works in tandem. 

If the leak is in the pad itself than either the key is bent or the pad has settled/shifted. Flute pads have shims hidden under them – they are not floated like most other woodwinds. You will need av repair tech to assist you.

Pivot screws and rod screws (steels). Many times, pivot screws or rod screws have backed out because the entire flute vibrates when played. This can cause an entire section of mechanism to not be lined up just right. If you see that a screw or steel is backed out, tighten it back into place. After you tighten the screw or steel and a key is suddenly not moving than you tightened just a bit too much, so back it out just until the key is moving freely again.

Did I Fix It? 

Many times, students refer to the keys by the note they are playing, not the name for the actual key, so best to have the player test the flute as you make small adjustments. Less is more when it comes to adjustments. If you cannot find the connection we usually can quickly help you figure it out. See our video for a few more hints on how this all works. https://youtu.be/V-avMwTas1E

Service vs. Repair

Flutes should be serviced every year. This means the flute should not just be “checked” but taken completely apart, keys taken off the steels, oil removed, fresh oil put on, pads cleaned/leveled, body cleaned, and headjoint cork replaced. This is known as an annual servicing or clean, oil & adjust (aka COA). When this is done annually, the flute rarely needs repair during the year. On the other hand, when a flute needs a repair, it is having a specific issue: keys are not moving correctly, a leak has developed, or an accident happened. 

Carolyn Nussbaum is a flutist and a certified repair technician for 25+ years. Learn more: flute4u.com

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