Jen Cluff ~ Flute Care

Canadian Flutist and Teacher





Flute Care tips

 

 

Articles


Flute Care tips

To keep a new flute in perfect condition, please take note of the following care tips:


Flute 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.

 2. Always handle the flute only by the smooth sections and never grip the moving parts.
Twist the flute together, or take apart holding the smooth sections where your  hand pressure will *not* bend the mechanism and keys.

 3. Polish skin oils off with a micro-fiber cloth. (sold in music shops, can be laundered/ironed. Wicks up oils.)
Note: excessive polishing can wear off gold and silver plating over several years, so polish gently. Avoid the use of special flute polishing cloths (polish dust impregnated) more than once or twice a year. Remove all residue with clean cloth so it cannot travel to pad surfaces.

 4. Do not use household silver polish as it will gradually destroy pad surfaces  and the mechanism inside the rods and levers.
 The flute can be re-polished and dipped remove tarnish every 1-2 years when you send it to an expert technician for a "Clean, Oil and Adjust". Keys and mechanism must be removed to clean tubing.

 5. Always put the flute in its case when not practicing or playing.  Laying the flute on a soft surface such as a bed or couch, where it can get sat on, or leaving it on a chair or in
an area where others may knock it down accidentally can lead costly repairs.

 6. Avoid scratching or denting the embouchure area especially!
Other areas can be un-dented or buffed, but not the embouchure area.

 7. Avoid leaving the flute in a hot or cold car. Both heat and cold can  affect the mechanics and pads, and cause mechanical playing problems.

 8. Avoid polishing the flute roughly and accidently buffing and abrading the pad surfaces beneathe the keys. Pad skins are very fragile. To read more about how to prevent pad problems see below under
"sticky pads".

9. Avoid trying to clean between the keys where springs and corks can  become unhooked or caught during zealous cleanings. Use blown air to remove dust or fibers from under rods and between keys or a soft string, or tiny paint brush.

10. Avoid animal hair where you place your flutecase or flute. A professional flute company that cleans and oils hundreds of flutes a year (Cincinnati Fluteworks) published a care sheet once that claimed that 90% of what they find binding the moving parts of the flute's rods was "pet hair".
The fineness of the hair is what allows it to wrap around the inside of the rods so well as the keys go up and down
If you *do* get pet hair inside your flute case, vacuum it out and then blow air to clean between the keys of your flute.

 11. You can put pieces of anti-tarnish strip in a flute case, replacing them every 3-6  months for maximum silver whiteness. The black paper strips are called: 3M Anti-tarnish strips and should be available
hardware stores; sold for household silverware protection. They absorb the sulpher that turns silver black.
If you can't find them, order from
www.fluteworld.com A 10 year supply is about $5 Cdn.

 12. Always place the flute with key work uppermost. The weight of the flute's body CAN warp the rods overtime and the moisture from the tube CAN drip onto the pads causing them make sticky noises, and to eventually harden unevenly, causing pad leaks, finger clenching and fuzzy tone.

13. Keep your touch light: Finger all notes lightly and the pads will  not become compressed, and will seal well and evenly for years.

14. A readjustment of the flute's pads(new pads are noted fortheir delicate ability to seal without additional  finger pressure) is a normal procedure after the first 3-8 months of playing a new flute. The flute will have 'settled' and need minor final adjustments. This should be covered in any warranty, and costs about $40 to $80.

15. Do not leave the flute unattended in public places.

Take a photo for insurance purposes, if you like, and write down the flute's serial number (found on the strapping nearest the trill keys or on the barrel)

16. Always value the flute at replacement cost with insurance companies.
Get a valuation receipt from your repair person every year when you take the flute to be oiled.

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.


Dealing with tarnish 

To have tarnish professionally removed is a normal procedure.

You take the flute in, the flute technician removes all the moving parts, and then dips the flute's body into a cleaning solution, and then cleans, oils, and puts back everything in perfect working order.
It's not that expensive if there are no repairs to be done on the flute.
Go to the top-repair-person you can find, and it will cost about: $40-$80 U.S., I imagine.

It's good to get it oiled at the same time, to avoid wear and tear on the interior moving parts.

Once your flute is perfectly spotless, you go to the local hardware store or Home Depot-type-store and ask for carbon-paper strips (called "3M strips" in some places) that people use to put in their silver-ware drawers to keep their silver from tarnishing.

These look like 1x5 strips of carbon-blotting-paper.
Lay one of these in your flute case (or cut it into smaller pieces to make it fit in the case.) and put your flute down right on top of it. These are also sold under ACCESSORIES at www.fluteworld.com


Apart from that, you CAN buy a special cloth impregnated with silver polishing chemicals that is sold in the retail stores that deal with flutes. However these should be used very sparingly. Maybe twice a year, and all trace of silver-polishing chemicals must be buffed off
with a clean cloth.

The problem with trying to clean the flute only by the use of a silver-polishing cloth is that you can't get between the keys and under the rods, and so these areas will naturally stay dark, anyway.
Avoid poking about in this area in case you accidently catch on some of the springs and sharp pins.

To keep finger marks to a minimum, on a daily basis, you can use a micro-fiber polishing cloth also sold by flute dealers. (these can be laundered and ironed and are very smooth.)

General tips:
 Avoid any other household silver-cleaning products as they can destroy the flute's pads.
Also: to remove dust and fibers from under rods and moving parts, just blow air at them sharply.
 Avoid pet hair in the flute case.
Avoid over-zealous cleaning. (some tarnish is fine and is normal on professional flutes.)

Cheers! :>)
Jen Cluff

 -------------------------------------------------------------

Preventing & Treating Sticky Pads

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.
Never use talcum.
Never use any product that will ADD dirt and contaminants to the pad surfaces.

If you haven't taken your flute for a "clean oil adjust" in the past year, it may be time to do so.
The technician will replace any pads that are wearing or waterlogged, and re-seat them to prevent leaks.

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.
Get expert advice from your repair person.
Best,
Jen Cluff

Back to Jen's webpage index


 

Copyright Jennifer Cluff 2013