Flute Tutelage

 A.  Before you even open the case…

1. The case is vital to the protection of your horn and very much taken for granted. Hard shell cases are a necessity and provide maximum protection. There are countless styles with many storage options including multi-horn compartments.

2. There WILL BE damage caused to your instrument if dropped while in the case, regardless of the construction of the case.

3. If the instrument doesn’t fit snug, damage can occur over time just from everyday carrying.


B. Brass, nickel, sterling silver, and gold are soft metals and care must be taken when handling.

1. Most student flutes are made out of silver or nickel plated brass. Once you step up from the student realm the options drastically multiply! An interesting fact is that most solid sterling flutes are also silver plated to correctly match the silver plating on the keys.

2. Always be aware of how you are grasping the instrument when assembling. Please do not squeeze the keys and try to hold it so you are grasping as few keys as possible. Hold the main body section at the top (above the keys) and the footjoint at the very bottom (below the keys).

3. When assembling, do not force or “rock” the joints back and forth, always twist on and off. No grease should be used for these tenon joints. If assembly is hard, it is probably due to dirt, lime, and scale. Sometimes these joints shrink from normal usage and need to be expanded to make them properly fit again. If this is done incorrectly, it can cause serious problems.

D. Playing your instrument causes damage.

1. Be smart! Do not eat or drink (other than water) before or while playing.

2. Saliva deteriorates the inside of the instrument and needs to be removed as much as possible after every playing session. It also breaks down pads and makes a wonderful home for mold and mildew.

3. Sweat, excess saliva, water, oils, and other contaminates should be removed from the outside as well. These can build up over time and cause sticking keys and can even rust the rods or screws.

4. Everyone has different acid levels in their saliva and skin. That is why instrument companies do not put warranties on any finishes.

5. The wrong finger pressure or the way you hold your horn can be harmful. Never squeeze or put excess force on the keys.

E. Cleaning up the mess.

1. There are so many swabs and cleaning products on the market.  After trying many products personally and consulting various sources, I have come up with the following solutions to remove moisture.

Step 1- Disassemble the entire instrument.

Step 2- Take a soft handkerchief or micro-fiber type cloth and thread it through the eye end of your tuning/cleaning rod. Pull it through each section separately multiple times.

Step 3- Clean any excess moisture from the outside tenon joints and inside tenon sockets.

Step 4- A separate cloth can be used now to wipe off the outside of the instrument if desired. A good name brand plated finish cloth will work well. Heavy tarnish on the silver might need the attention of a professional.  Please do not use silver creams or sprays. It will make a mess! Skin pad surfaces are very fragile! Always be very careful when cleaning your instrument that you do not “rake” across the pads and damage the skin. If the skin is ripped or frayed, the pad is toast!

F. Why do I need to get my horn adjusted when it seems to play fine?

1. Normal wear and tear to any woodwind instrument happens over time. As players, we get used to and adapt to the subtle changes and don’t even realize it most of the time. Even the most careful perfectionist’s instrument needs to be adjusted because of the settling in and perishable nature of pads, corks, and felts.

2. The wrong shop can cause much more damage than good! It is critical to get the right kind of work done by someone that has the precise feel and touch for the art of repair. Some technicians with many years of experience still do not have the ability to fine tune an instrument.

3. On average, an instrument should be adjusted about once every year to year and a half. If you catch potential problems early, it will save time and money in the future and keep your horn in optimal playing condition.

G. The scoop on pads.

1. Flute pads are installed in a completely different fashion than saxophone and clarinet pads. Only three pads on a flute are glued in.  All the rest are held in by washers and/or retainers.

2. Professional pad installations always require shimming of some sort. It is a very complicated process where feel and a light touch are essential. Sensitive “feeler” gauges are used to find leaks and make appropriate adjustments.

3. There are several pad options available today. The most common are made from felt with a card board backing covered with a bladder skin to provide a seal. There are many degrees of quality and firmness of the felt interior and outside bladder skin.

4. Straubinger pads are used on many high end flutes. The idea behind these pads is very good, but unfortunately they do not have a long life span. They have their own hard pad cup with many layers of internal washers, shims, and a hard felt. The entire pad cup assembly is then covered with a bladder skin like other flute and clarinet pads. Extensive pad shimming is required because these pads are so firm. The problem is that the pad skins always tear because they are pulled so tightly around the pad cup assembly.

5. Synthetic pads have come a very long way in the past ten years. The first several generations were very rough and didn’t hold up well at all. The most widely known are made by a company called Valentino. I do not recommend these products at all. They are very inferior and are very squishy, soft materials. They are meant for amateur or shade tree technicians and only require a heavy, sloppy seat to seal. There is no rigidity or “pop” to them at all.

6. There are two synthetic pads on the market that are very well made. Omni pads are a fantastic invention from a high end instrument tool specialist and fabricator. His company is called Kraus Music Products. These pads have a rigid backing and are available in numerous thicknesses and densities. I have been extremely impressed with their quality and feel. A properly installed Omni pad will last for many years, outlasting a traditional pad by a long shot! The other company that uses a great synthetic pad is the Haynes Company on their Amadeus flute line. This line of flutes is extremely well made and are very finely adjusted.

7. Please do not ever use a dollar bill to “clean the surface” of your pads. Use either cigarette rolling paper or ultra thin pad cleaning or powder paper. Remember that skin pad surfaces are very fragile! As previously stated, always be very careful when cleaning your instrument that you do not “rake” across the pads and damage the skin. If the skin is ripped or frayed, the pad is toast!

Some myths, tips, and general merriment…

– Use common sense when playing and handling your horn. It does not take a lot of extra time to really take care of it.

– I do not recommend working on your own instrument. Even the most careful person can do major damage.

– Please do not sit your instrument on the floor or in a chair. Many different flute stands are available and work great!

– Did you know old school techs used to blow cigarette smoke through an instrument to check for leaks?

– I do not recommend key oiling your instrument. Most key oil bottles expel way too much oil and it makes a mess. Many instrument companies are using a heavier weight oil that tends to stay on the rods and pivot screws longer. Most after-market oils are very thin so they can flow very easily. Because the rods and tubes can only hold so much oil, these thin viscosity oils will only run down your posts. In some cases it can soak into a key cork and cause it to fall off. In one extreme case, I repaired an instrument where excess key oil was used and pads were falling off.

– If you are in a marching band situation, please do not play in the rain!

– Make sure your case is latched or zipped closed before you pick it up!

– Never, EVER, leave your instrument in your car or any other extremely hot or cold place. Hot and cold temperatures will reek havoc on it (the instrument, not your car silly)! Your instrument is small so you do not have an excuse. Besides, it might help you meet someone interesting. People are always curious when they see an individual walking around with a strange little black case and will often strike up a conversation. Who knows? You might even get hired for a gig!

– If you happen to play outside a lot (i.e. marching band), do not use your armpit as home for your piccolo, flute or other woodwind instrument (especially if you don’t wear anti-perspirant). That’s all I have to say about that!

– Did I mention that a poorly repaired horn is worse than a horn not repaired at all?