Jen Cluff ~ Flute Care
Canadian Flutist and Teacher
Flute Care tips
To keep a new flute in perfect condition, please take note of the following care tips:
If you suspect that the flute is not working properly, even in the smallest way, immediately locate a reputable flute technician.
Ask the top teachers and flute professionals in your area whom THEY trust with THEIR flutes for repair, and take your flute to the top technician.
Many new flute owners assume that the flute is in perfect working order when they buy it, but this would only be true if a flute technician works IN that store where the purchase was made. If the flute is purchased from any store that does not have a flute technician checking over instruments before they are handed over the counter, then it is possible that the flute needs a repair visit before it will play normally.
If you purchased the flute from a "box store" for less than $250, and it comes wrapped in plastic, there is absolutely no guarentee that it has been "set up" by a technician to play correctly or that it will ever play correctly. Shipping, storing and play-testing can all render a flute unplayable, simply by a small screw backing out, or any number of minor problems that might only cost $20 to fix. But the cheap box-store flutes are not made properly and may not be repairable.
In fact, cheap box-store flutes are often unplayable after only a month or so, as the metal they are made with is too soft, and moving parts bend as the student assembles/disassembles the flute. These cheap flutes may be unable to be repaired. That is why you should only purchase recognized brand names with a track record for quality workmanship.
Even with reputable flute brands (Yamaha for example), the flutes do not stay perfectly "in repair" for very long if they are not played and maintained with care. Many students mishandle the instruments during assembly and inadvertently bend keys where their hands grasp the flute.
Often flute students may assume that playing problems they're experiencing (notes that sound fuzzy, buzzing noises coming from the mechanical parts, difficulty playing quickly etc.) are their own fault, not the flute's. However, flute pads can begin to leak after only 1-2 months of playing a new flute, even in very well made flutes, as the pads need adjusting as they begin to seat under the finger pressure and react to moisture. A one to three month "tweak" is normal on any new flute to get the pads to seal perfectly. After that, the flute, if well cared for, and not mishandled should last about a year between repair visits.
Flutes are like swiss watches, with many tiny moving parts, and very delicate mechanisms. They are not as forgiving as other woodwinds. Clarinets and saxes have one tenth of the repair needs compared to flutes. The frequent repair visits you make (twice a year for flutists who play a great deal) are quite inexpensive when repair visits are close together. If you wait 2 years or more, the repair bill becomes more expensive and the flute player feels more and more frustrated and doesn't realize why.
Sometimes repair problems arise gradually, and the true problem is mechanical or caused by leaking pads (made from organic materials very much affected by moisture and uneven finger pressure.). The flute player doesn't notice this gradual problem and compensates by pressing the keys harder and harder, which is very bad for hands and arms. By adhering to a maintenance schedule this can be avoided.
It is VERY normal to take a flute to be inspected and oiled every six to twelve months. If you play the flute two hours or more a day, every six months is normal. The most important thing is regular professional oilings of the moving parts. Without yearly oil, the metal rods get scored with grit and from drying out, causing the metal to wear away inside the moving parts. Oil prevents this.
If band teachers would send their flutes in for repairs more often, more students would excel at playing the flute because the flutes would respond more easily to fine motor control. Nothing is more upsetting to a visiting flute expert than discovering that all a school band's flutes are in terrible condition and can't be deemed "playable", and yet the students have been using them like that for five years.
Repairs done regularly, and the regular care by a flute repair professional make playing the flute well MUCH easier for students. Do not assume you can fix it yourself (almost no amateur repairs are successful, and many are expensive to re-repair), and do not assume that the flute player is the problem.
Often it is least inexpensive to make frequent short visits to the repair shop, rather than wait until there are multiple and more severe problems with the flute.
Read more on this topic in an article called "Is it the flute or is it me?" so you can learn more about testing your flute prior to a repair visit.
To prevent unecessary repairs in a brand new flute, read on:
Flute Care Tips
1. Always swab the flute out to dry after playing. This protects the pads from wear, and allows them to last up to 10 years between re-paddings.
17. Second hand flutes need to be fully cleaned, repaired and oiled before being played. If you don't know there are leaking keys, you will press harder and harder over time, and possibly develop hand and arm pain after long bouts of practicing.
18. New flutes need to go to the repair shop for a "Clean-Oil-Adjust" every six to twelve months. Over the longterm a well-serviced flute will cost less to keep in good repair.
To have tarnish professionally removed is a normal procedure.
You can prevent sticky pads by:
- having flute regularly maintained so any pad surface wear-and-tear is dealt with (sticky noises on a single pad can indicate a tear or abrasion on the pad skin)
- brushing teeth/rinsing mouth before playing
- drying flute out after playing
- avoiding any kind of chemicals on flute (especially 'treated cloths', silver polish of any kind, or use of powder treated pad papers, all of which CAUSE sticky noises from pads.)
A small amount of noise from pads is normal on certain flutes during humid times of year, or if playing in a cold room (air-conditioned etc.)
Most pad noises go away themselves if they are barely audible and simply the result of moisture.
To blot up moisture that's causing loud pad noises, blot with a gum-less cigarette paper, or hairdresser's curl-end-papers from beauty-supply company.
To remove dirt and sticky substances (sugar from the mouth) from a sticky pad, blot with a cigarette or end paper doused in Isopropyl Alcohol (from drugstore.)
Use the paper as a blotter,only, and NEVER drag the paper out from under a closed key.
There are all kinds of myths around sticky pads, as a google hunt will still show---but the expert repair technicians assure me that all the above suggestions are correct.
Never use pencil rubbings.
If you haven't taken your flute for a "clean oil adjust" in the past year, it may be time to do so.
But be SURE that the noises are not caused by silver polish use. I had a student once that had to get ALL her pads replaced because of silver polish travelling to the pad surfaces, inadvertently; and I had another student once who polished his flute with a cloth so much that he abraded all the edges of his pads without knowing how delicate and easily abraded the pad skins can be.
Copyright Jennifer Cluff 2013