Do you play the flute and practice consistently? You will have learned how to maintain your flute clean and functioning and even have had to do little repairs now and then. Often your teacher does them for you or you go to a shop. But what if you could learn to avoid that? Read on and earn a new skill: Flute Maintenance and Repair.
How to do proper flute maintenance and repair
With proper flute maintenance we can avoid frequent repairs in shops or visits to technicians. But if there is a persisting problem and you have considered all the following points, you should go to a professional repair shop.
However, there are many little things you can do to keep your flute functioning and well maintained.
Furthermore, emergency problems might be fixed for a week or two in many of the following ways.
As the most invasive enemy of a functioning flute is not drammatic damage or incidents but moisture, be sure to oil your flute once or twice a year. It depends on the amount of time you spend playing it and also the surrounding environment.
But it also depends on agents in your breath, like bacteria and acids. Make sure you clean your teeth and mouth before playing. Also avoid sugary food even two hours before playing.
Do not exaggerate with the oiling of the flute as it might damage the pads and corks.
Moisture and Oil
The flute from a technical point of view is seen as a machine which is subject to wearing down from up and down movement and moist environment. Did you ever think of your breath containing sugar,
acids and bacteria? Also, the inside and outside of your hands contain a number of elements that increment the wearing down of your instrument, because they are going to sit on pads and inside the mechanic.
So what can one do to slow this process down? There is an easy method to prolong the life in between revisions of the flute ———–> oiling your flute once or twice a year.
Because moisture and oil do not mix, this protects most of the flute from agents contained in moisture. Yamaha provides a good quality key oil to do just that. I would spend a little on proper flute oil. As an example, the one provided in the Giardinelli Flute Master Care Pack.
It includes a silver cloth, duster brush, cork grease, rod cleaning cloths, key oil and cleaning brush.
Put a small drop of oil on each end of the key, starting from the top and working down to the low part. Run the keys up and down a few times to allow the oil in and start to work. Afterwards, don’t forget to wipe off the excess oil. Do not oil the pads!
Never put a moisture or uncleaned flute in the flute case. Clean it often, gently but thoroughly, also during practice.
For more information on how to oil your flute and not bath it in oil watch the video below:
Tuning Cork Assembly – Flute Maintenance and Repair
A very delicate part of our flute is inside the head joint: the tuning cork assembly!
It is responsible as the name would suggest for the overall intonation as it regulates the length of the flute. This is why we should pay attention when cleaning the head joint not to push too hard against the resistance it offers, as moving the cork would alter the intonation. It could also result in an annoying loose crown or end plate.
Test: A very easy way of finding out whether it has been moved is by turning around the cleaning rod that was delivered with your flute and sticking it inside with the lower part. Be sure not to scratch the sides of the flute. There is a line on the rod which should result in the middle of the hole in the lip plate.
Often, due to pushing too hard or shrinkage of the cork due to moisture, it is moved further so that the line appearing in the mouth piece is closer to the crown.
Info:The tuning cork consists of that little end plate that you touch inside the head joint with the cleaning rod. Attached to it is the cork with a screw that can be moved by turning around the crown (the visible part on the outside at the top).
On taking it all apart, so you can have an idea of the inside, but only for professional technician:
What can we do?
Tuning The Head Joint
Now it is time to turn around the crown and screw plate so that we open the flute a little from the top. You will have been told to never touch it as to not alter the intonation. But now is the time to do just that!
Attached to the screw plate you find the tuning cork with the end plate, but they will remain inside of the head joint. Turn the screw to elongate or shorten the way to the screw, so that it gets back into the right position and tighten it. Don’t be afraid to push till the crown clicks and turn the screw just a little to fix it.
Check again with your cleaning rod and if it is still not in the recommended position, do the whole procedure again.
To have a better idea, you can watch the following video.
Just about tightening the crown:
How to identify a flute leak – Flute Maintenance and Repair
If for some reason your flute is not playing at all or just for some notes, you might have a leakage somewhere.
You can identify it by finding out what still works and what doesn’t. If you cannot produce any sound, it is likely to depend upon the trill keys and might just be a spring that became loose. Verify that all springs are in tension and keys that should be closed when not used, are closed. If not, recharge the according spring by putting it back into position.
If just one or two sounds cannot be played, there is a leakage depending on the imperfect closure of one or more keys.
Because, when they are all sealed and the flute is empty (I once left my cleaning rod inside as a student and couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t playing!), sounds will be produced.
There is a nice video on how to identify a leak that I recommend watching if you are a beginnner:
How to fix a leakage on the flute
To fix a leakage effectively we need to understand what actually holds the keys on our flute first:
There are long rods running through key tubes along the whole flute, fixed with posts on both ends. They also run through the keys and keep them from falling off. The posts are fixed to the rods with pivot screws with or without heads.
If a pivot screw has a head with thread in it, then it can be used with an appropriate screw driver to loosen or tighten it. So check for loose ends and tighten them. Do not overdo this, as it is a very delicate balance.
To keep them in position, if they are coming out every second day, my mother and teacher told me to put transparent nail polish, just a drop and fix it to the post this way.
More information and detail in this fantastic video below
However, all the pivot screws are in position and no springs are loose, and there still is a leakage.
What can we do next?
Key Position Adjustment Screws
In case of the very common leakage regarding the F sharp key or B flat key, there are four key position adjustment screws that you might need to balance the proper traction between key mechanisms.
The lowest one is the D key and it helps to synchronize the movement with the F sharp key. If you turn it clockwise it will make it close earlier, provided the same pressure. Do not move them too much as little adjustments often do the trick.
The second one from below is the E key which also balances the movement with the F sharp key and will make it tighter (close earlier) when moved clockwise. Furthermore, the same is true with the third key, the F key.
A different mechanism is used to synchronize the A key with the B flat key.
However, G is played by closing two keys simultaneously, but there are no adjustment screws. This can only be solved by adjusting the pads. I do not recommend that as they are easily damaged and torn.
In my opinion, you shouldn’t over use the adjustment keys as they can also put out of balance and make the problem worse when used too often. This is especially true for the three keys in synchrony with F sharp. They can affect the other keys connected. So be sure to move gently and little and only after having verified exactly what you wish to move and where.
Also, it needs to be stressed that one should use appropriate screw drivers and not scratch the screws. Little adjustments help through a time period that you cannot afford to go to a technician time wise or money wise.
But they do not avoid a need for periodic and professional flute maintenance and repair.
In order to find the exact position of the screws on the keys, please refer to this video
Key position adjustment screws are all set the best way possible and still one or more keys are not closing?
Emergency repair to improve air tightness with seal tape
If for some reason you are in an emergency situation and the leakage can’t be adjusted by the adjustment screws, you can use very cheap seal tape that is used for pipes, to make them airtight. Just be sure to not damage the pads!
Just wrap it around the keys until they fit and seal when pressed. This is the most economical way to repair a flute in an emergency at home. But be sure to make your way to a technician as soon as you can.
This video explains how to repair your flute for air tightness in an emergency situation:
Professional Flute Maintenance and Repair
What is an overhaul?
The whole flute is dissembled completely, with the use of heat, spring hooks, screw drivers and special tools for french holes. Then technicians take down pins and rods to clean thoroughly. Then chemical baths follow to deeply clean and remove all dirt.
Afterwards, the flute parts are air dried and checked for damages. Some parts might need extra baths to become completely smooth again.
Then the flute is reassembled and the keys are in perfect balance.
Most professional flutists have their very own wish on how strong the resistance of the mechanic is best for them. I love it when it reacts very softly even with a small amount of pressure applied. But that type of mechanic is prone to loosen quickly and thus I need more balancing sessions than those who prefer more resistant keys (loaded with more tension towards opening).
Furthermore, the trained technician makes sure that all pads are sealed perfectly. This involves constant testing and readjusting. When the technician is happy with the result, he/she waits for the client to come back and test the flute. There could still be readjusting and balancing be needed. The client is free to ask for it until he/she feels satisfied with the result.
More on professional flute overhaul in the following video:
Flute Maintenance and Repair: How much does flute repair cost?
The cost can be anywhere between just balancing of the keys for far less than 100 dollars. If you add multiple chemical baths, repair of gold or silver parts of the flute and re padding of the whole flute with expensive professional pads, this might come to around a 1500 dollars or even more.
I myself have paid between 20 and 400 Euros in Italy. But I have not done the bathing yet in Italy and in Germany some years ago it was close to 800.
For actual prices in a very professional center, consider the the Flute Center of New York and
Consider also shipment and travel. Depending on your flute (beginner, intermediate or professional) you will seek the adequate repair studio. This is why maintenance and little self adjustments can save you a lot of money.
Look for professional screw drivers that with some attention (to not scratch the flute) you can also use as spring hooks. Choose flute key oil and clean the flute every chance you get!
Avoid eating sugary meals or snacks just before playing and if you absolutely have to, be sure to clean your teeth and mouth and wait as long as possible.
Provide yourself with the minimum maintenance and repair kid and use it so that your flute wears down much slower and needs less professional repair.
I hope this article was helpful and if you have any further questions post them in the comment section.
I would be more than happy to help you out!