Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Winter flute maintenance

My back yard during the February 10, 2011 blizzard

There have been several emails regarding flute maintenance in the winter months recently. 
Two questions come up: how to avoid costly repairs and how to avoid re-infecting oneself after a cold or the flu.

The winter months are especially difficult for our flutes because of the frigid temperatures (which here in Delaware we haven't really seen yet-and no snow!?!) and the very low humidity in our homes and work places.  Did you know that the average concert hall has the same humidity levels as Death Valley when the lights are up? And then, as the lights remain on, the temperature rises, making for a double whammy for the flute. Conversely, in frigid temperatures, some of the glues used to hold corks, felts, and shims in place can become brittle and fail, which will put the flute out of regulation.  Keeping your instrument at a constant temperature can significantly lessen your trips to the Flute Doctor.

How to protect your flute from this devastation?  Invest in a good case cover and insulated "gig" bag in order to lessen the impact of huge atmospheric changes.  Think of it as the same kind of layering you would do for yourself in the winter.  I recommend the Wiseman case as both case and cover because of the insulating properties it offers.  For those of you with French Cases, the Altieri case covers afford wonderful protection, as do the new Fluter Scooter bags, which offer protection AND fashion!!  You know what I would go for...

As far as a gig bag goes, you really can't beat the Altieri Deluxe Double bag, which can be used as a back pack, or with a shoulder strap.  These bags are superbly insulated and will keep your precious flute free from the stress of difficult weather conditions.

Flute Pro Shop carries all of the above mentioned items, by the way ;)

So what can you do without spending money?  The flute must go in its case at the end of the day.  Make sure you swab it out frequently during your practice times, at least every 45 minutes, which is actually the frequency of breaks you should take.  Thoroughly swab it out before putting it away at the end of the day, cleaning up against the cork plate with your swab.  Flute Flags are  superior in this area.  As carefully as you clean your flute, don't worry if droplets remain in the headjoint.  They will help keep the humidity at the right place while the flute is inside the case.  If you are like me, and practice throughout the morning, and teach in the afternoon, keeping the flute out is a very practical way to go.  A flute peg is a great way to keep the moisture away from the pads and at the same time keeping it available for you to pick it up on an as-needed basis.  Find a studio peg that has a weighted base and a solid peg, lined, like the Lyricraft pegs.  These pegs are decorative as well: they multi-task!  At FPS we prefer the filigree pattern.

Let's talk about the cold and flu season and your relationship with your flute.  When you have recovered from whatever nasty bug you have picked up, take a few minutes to rinse your headjoint out with Listerine.  Avoid flavored or sweetened mouthwashes!!! You want good, plain old fashioned Listerine, like my Granny used.  (Really)  Rinse out the headjoint over a sink,  run warm water through it, and then swab it out carefully.  Take a Q-tip, dip it in the Listerine, and very very gently swab the Riser (the little piece of metal that attaches the lip plate to the tube.)  Is your Riser 14 or 18 Karat Gold?  DO NOT use any pressure from the Q-tip on the riser!!!  The metal is very soft and you don't want to alter its shape in any way.

Then there is the regular maintenance of taking your flute to a qualified repair technician on a regular basis.  Make sure this person is your friend!!!  You want them to respond immediately if the unthinkable happens!  I regularly bring in coffee for Dave, our technician, and give him Christmas presents.  At FPS we recommend that if a flute is used heavily, or an average of 2 hours of playing a day, 5 days a week, the minimum is to bring it in every 6 months.  This way you will avoid the last minute disaster right before the big concert or audition.  Think of it this way: if you are under stress for an event, so is your flute.

Just wait till Spring!  Lots of advice for that seasonal change will be forthcoming....

The black patent leather Fluter Scooter bag.  If you look closely, you will see the bag matches her shoes!  A woman after my own heart....

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