While I was playing the flute the other day, a friend asked me how the flute is made. Well, his question is not easy to answer because the manufacturing of flute requires several processes. The flute, of course, belongs to the woodwind group of musical instruments. It consists of a specific family of musical instruments. Moreover, it distinguishes itself from other woodwind instruments with its lack of reed and being an aerophone. An aerophone produces sound by causing an air body to vibrate sans the use of membranes or strings.
The word “flute” first entered the English lexicon in the Middle English period. It was first registered as floute from the old French flaute. Used in the 14th Century, the word flute came to refer to the musical instrument.
Shape and Made of the Flute
Most flutes used by students are silver-plated metal like yellow brass with 30% zinc and 70% copper. The silver-plated flute gains its mellow sound due to its silver plating. However, many professionals have flutes wrought in 92.5% silver, though some flutes come in other metals. When it comes to shape, the flute has a tubular body. You can play it by blowing wind across its embouchure or opening. This blowing of wind produces vibrating air that creates the sound that we hear.
Therefore, experts categorize the flute as a separate family of woodwind instruments from those instruments that make sound using reeds. The embouchure is usually located at the tube’s end (recorder) or on the tube’s side (traverse) as in modern flute.
Origin of the Flute
The flute might be the oldest musical instrument that humanity had played. The oldest flute was around 43,000 years old, found in the Divje Babe of Slovenia. Yet, flutes were not that popular until the 19th Century. Moreover, the early flutes appeared to be always getting out of tune because of their designs. The olden flutes didn’t have enough holes, which made playing them challenging.
For years, many people had tried to innovate the design of the flute. Yet, it was only in the 17th Century when Jacques Hotteterre made a design that added the D# key. This addition brought the flute a renewed popularity. Hotteterre contributed a lot to the improvement of the flute design. He altered the flute’s shape and added a key to enhance the flute’s playability and sound. He also wrote the Les Principles de la Flute Transversiere, published in 1707, becoming the first book written about the flute.
The succeeding decades also saw more innovations in the design of the flute. Yet, instead of simplifying the flute, the addition of more keys had also brought about more problems. Moreover, there wasn’t enough music written for the flute; hence, many musicians started to drift away from the use of flutes.
In the 1800s, however, Theobald Boehm began to develop the flute further. He calculated the best position and size for the flute’s holes. He also employed different key designs that simplified the flute’s playing and did away with the tricky fingerings. Hence, most contemporary flutes come after his design.
Flute manufacturers craft their flute individually, and every flute is a work of art. Hence, the flute maker should take into consideration the musician’s needs when crafting a flute. Students, for example, require a flute that is reliable and inexpensive but is consistently reliable. However, professional flutists need very high-quality flutes customized for their playing styles and needs.
Professional musicians are very much particular with the head joint of the flute. They meticulously test several head joints before zeroing in on a particular one that produces the sound they want to hear. Thus, head joints are manufactured explicitly for addressing the specific needs and demands of the individual professional flutist.
How Are Flutes Made?
The manufacturing of flutes undergoes several stages, and if you are an aspiring flutist or a professional one, it will still help to know the following stages in the manufacturing of the flute:
Step 1) Shaping of Components
Flutes come with various components. These components range from relatively small pins and screws to large pieces. You can interchange some elements of the flute and can buy these components from other manufacturers. However, it is better to have a vast number of components particularly shaped for each flute.
The olden flutes were mostly hand-forged. However, for manufacturing modern flutes, die casting is the process used. This process includes melting metal and forcing the molten metal under steel dies pressure. Yet, artisans assemble the corresponding connected keys in one piece. They then stamp out individual keys using a heavy stamping machine. Afterward, they trim each key.
Step 2) Keys Assembly
Various components make up the keys. During the manufacturing process, flute makers dip these components into a flux solution that contains chemicals that coats and protects the metal while helping in the soldering process. Then, these components are soldered together. Then, they are also joined to the other elements that move the keys.
Afterward, a cleaning process happens for the keys using a cleaning solution that does away with the grease and excess flux. Then, keys undergo a polishing process and inspection. Flute makers put the keys inside a tumbling machine for inexpensive flutes where agitation and friction of pellets polish the metal in a revolving drum. Manufacturers, however, individually buff the more expensive keys.
The keys are then equipped with pads made of layers of felt and cork. The cork is then cut according to the right size and attached to the keys’ surface to cover the tone hole. The felt is also cut and joined to the cork to create a protective covering.
Step 3) Formation of the Tone Holes
You will see the tone holes in the flute’s body, and there are several ways to form these holes. Manufacturers can cut or solder them. They can also make use of pull and roll to create them. All these processes require the utmost precision to ensure that the tone holes’ locations and sizes are correct.
The pulling-and-rolling method includes drilling holes in the tube. A machine then pulls the metal from the hole’s edges and rolls the pulled metal around the hole, forming a raised ring. Then, the smoothening of the spot happens.
However, the cut-and-solder method requires the die-cutting of metal rings from the sheet metal. Soon after, the artisans clean and polish the rings. Moreover, they drill a hole on the tube and solder the rings around the holes, forming the tone holes.
Step 4) Mounting of the Keys
The next step is the mounting of the keys. First, the manufacturers solder the rods onto the flute’s body. These rods would support the keys. Then, the artisans attach the keys to the rods using pins and screws. Furthermore, they attach springs to provide tension for holding the cork and felt pads onto the tone holes.
Step 5) Finishing
The finishing is the last process in the manufacturing of flutes. At this stage, the mouthpiece is formed and shaped. Then, they solder it to the head joint. Soon after, they fit together the head joint, body, and foot joints.
The flutes are designed for easy assemblage and disassembling. Yet, it doesn’t mean that the fitting should not be tight. Once the finishing process is done, they test the flute for sound quality. Afterward, they disassemble the flute, clean and polish it again, and pack it into a protective case.
As you read through this post, you would have learned how the modern flute is made and the myriads of components that make the contemporary flute possible. As an aspiring flutist, it will help if you know the different flute components so that you can disassemble and assemble your flute and interchange components if needed.
The flute may be the oldest musical instrument. Yet, before it reached its present form, it had to undergo several innovations. It would take a Hotteterre and a Boehm to improve further the design of the flute.