Friday, February 27, 2009

How to repair a flute


Dear Flutists and teachers,

From time to time on our flute discussion groups we receive requests from well-meaning do-it-yourselfers about repairing old "found in closet" flutes.

Well, finally, there's a resource online which shows exactly how this is done.

By looking at this 6.5 MB pdf manual, you can clearly see.....

...er....um......(ahem)

.....that there's no way in fluteland that you'd ever want to try and repair your own flute!!!

It takes so many years of experience, so much training, and so many specialized tools that only a crazy person would even attempt to take a tiny screwdriver to one of the tiny screws.

You would seriously have to have a tiny screw loose.
I'm serious!!

ahhahahaha! :>D
(I'm laughing but I'm serious!)

So help yourself to a free download of this manual with its incredible pictures of everything, and just say NO to trying it at home. :>)

Then pick up a phone and find the most experienced flute technician in your area, and let them do the work for you.
It will take mere minutes instead of horrible decades, and you will actually be able to play the flute very very easily when you get it back from the repair shop.

Enjoy the pictures in the pdf manual though.
I don't know how much longer the manual will be online for free.

Best,
Jen
Comments (37)
Blogger Sheila said...

Ouch. I can't imagine even trying! I would never get it back together again!

Friday, February 27, 2009 2:37:00 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I tried adjusting my flute once. Good thing I had a COA appointment the next week...

But it looks like fascinating reading!

Shari

Friday, February 27, 2009 5:44:00 PM

 
Anonymous Rebecca said...

Repair Your Own Flute, without any help but this manual? This is bsolutely not a good idea.

However, I do applaud the effort some flute degree programs and Masterclass/Flute Week type instruction groups are taking. These groups have students disassemble, say, a 20 year old Armstrong 104 available from eBay for $50 or less, and go through how the padding and adjustment actually work. Students can get an idea of what happens, and how exacting it is, without ruining their own really nice flute.

I have my own copy of Lillian Burkart and James Phelan's book, "The Complete Guide to the Flute and Piccolo", and it is an excellent reference.

I applaud your link to the flute repair manual, since it could serve as a very inexpensive reference for others- to understand more about how their flute works, rather than teach them to do their own repairs.

My stance is that the more I know about the mechanics of the flute, the better I can understand, myself, when I have a problem that needs my Professional Flute Technician's attention. The sooner a minor problem gets fixed, the less damage will need to be addressed- to the flute, to my hands over-gripping, etc.

I also find that curiosity and questions are welcomed by a good technician. It is always interesting to ME to watch some of the corrections being made, even if I don't do anything myself.

Saturday, February 28, 2009 10:28:00 AM

 
Blogger Jen Cluff said...

Thanks Rebecca. So interesting!!! Best, Jen
P.S. Thanks Shari too! :>)

Saturday, February 28, 2009 11:51:00 AM

 
Blogger StrollingAlong said...

As with anything, some of us took engineering in collage instead of music. Flute repair isn’t necessarily difficult, but it is precise. Now learning to form an effective embouchure for the first time … that’s tough! Thanks for the link to the repair manual. I’ve found it, as well as the rest of this site to be terrific information.

Friday, April 03, 2009 1:23:00 PM

 
Blogger Jen Cluff said...

Thanks so much for saying so sir strolling along. :>)
Jen

Friday, April 03, 2009 4:26:00 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a professional flute player busking on the streets having the time of my life. I don't want to afford to send my flute to a repair person and I'd love to satisfy my curiosity of figuring out how to fix it myself. I sure wish someone out there would take the plunge and show me how to do it. I know there will be obstacles to overcome and inexperience to deal with, but hey. I'm an intelligent being who has enough experience to know what I'm getting into. I can do it.

Saturday, July 25, 2009 4:06:00 AM

 
Blogger Jen Cluff said...

Dear busker,
It's not just inexperience that slows down novice flute-repair trials. Many do-it-yourselfers have discovered that:
1. You need to purchase special tools to repair a flute. Regular tools won't do the job.
2. You need to have a multitude of special skills that have been honed over time and many flutes. (ie: Punching out steel pins, shimming pads; soldering fine points etc.)
3. You need to have a wealth of experience with the tools and the fine skills.

Those I've spoken to (professional flutists and teachers) who take repair courses can understand how to to basically shim, or weld, or punch out pins etc, but realize that to be GOOD at it, and to have success, they need to have fixed about 50-100 flutes reliably before they can completely do their own work.
So unless you can invest in the time to do all this, your own money and time is best spent on paying a qualified, experienced repair person to do the work, as it would take you 3-5 years of constantly repairing flutes to be half as good as a competent repair person.

If I were you, I would take it to a good repair person and then casually, and quietly watch them work.
Then you'll see the level of expertise.
The level of expertise is very HIGH.
The number of frustrating errors you can make as a beginner repairer is also very high.
Save up, and go observe a real professional working on it. You'll soon see.
Best,
J.

Saturday, July 25, 2009 8:13:00 AM

 
Blogger Jim said...

Two thoughts...

Flutists have a good idea when the flute is "right".

Even a great technician at some point worked on his/her first flute - or first 50 flutes.

Thanks for the information on the manual. -- Jim

Monday, March 01, 2010 5:24:00 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't play the flute (my daughter does), but you are really overstating the complexity of this. I have now rebuilt about a dozen flutes, and while the work is precise, anyone with fairly good technical skills and the proper tools can do it. And before you ask, yes, I have them checked out by her teacher and band director, and they are fine.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011 9:09:00 AM

 
Blogger jen said...

Dear Anon,

To me a flute that is inexpertly repaired is like having faulty gymnastic equipment at a school.
When one of the students really starts to get good on it, they'll be the most likely to sustain an injury.

Musician's injuries have 12 main causes (see the work of Richard M. Norris); three of the causes are "pad leaks on woodwinds", being female, and having faulty technique (due to inexpert instruction).

On the other hand:
Musical instrument repair professionals require expert training, years of experience, and they need to play the instrument they specialize in repairing.

You can buck the trends and save a few dollars, but who are you putting at risk?

Best, Jen

Wednesday, September 07, 2011 8:57:00 PM

 
Blogger jen said...

Predisposing factors to Musician's Injuries:
1. Poor physical conditioning; weaker muscles more likely to be injured.
2. Sudden increase in student's amount of playing time
3. Errors in practice habits. (ie; no physical warmup)
4. Errors in technique (excess tension)
5. Change in instrument. (even if to a better, but different one)
6. Inadequate rehabilitation of previous injuries.
7. Improper body mechanics and posture.
8. Stressful non-musical activity.
9. Anatomical variations; hands, neck length etc.
10. Gender - females more at risk
11. Quality of Instrument:
"A wind instrument with leaky pads, a string instrument with a bridge or nut that's too high, or a piano that "speaks" poorly in the middle register necessitates extra or excessive force on the part of the player, with increased risk of injury.
12. Environmental factors; ie: inadequate lighting, music difficult to see due to distance or crowding, or lack of music stand adjustment, cold temperatures, outdoor playing etc.
------from Richard M. Norris

Thursday, September 08, 2011 12:18:00 AM

 
Anonymous Lily Porra said...

Im screwed my flute just stuffed it self and the bottom keys do not work, like the notes F E and D I need to repair it because I have a lead role in a concert in two days and Im not spending any money on repairing it so please help.

Saturday, November 05, 2011 9:20:00 PM

 
Blogger jen said...

Dear Lily,

If a screw has unscrewed itself, you'll see it dangling out of its socket. If the Ab key is leaking open, then you can close it with an elastic band.
If you have a flute teacher, you can phone them and ask if they have a student back-up flute you can borrow.
If you ask your favourite auntie, they might loan you the money for a $40-$60 repair.

Myself, I'd try the latter.
It's like knowing when you need a bonefide car repair person, or a plumber, electrician or computer repair person.
If you can't fix an item you use daily by yourself, you need to come to terms with letting someone who knows how, and has a proven track record of quick and accurate repairs.
That is part of owning the item.

Sorry, but there's not much else I can suggest.
Good luck finding a back-up flute or a dangling loose screw.

Jen

Saturday, November 05, 2011 9:25:00 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, for this. I am learning to be a repair person. I live in northern Canada with the closest repair person living three hours away. This person is an awesome mentor and helps me out tremendously. But I NEED other resources if I am going to be successful. And do you KNOW how many times people refuse to tell me different repair methods and options because 'its better left for the professional'? It pisses me off. So thank you.

Thursday, February 09, 2012 6:24:00 PM

 
Blogger jen said...

Dear Anon,

My closest high-quality flute technician is more than three hours away. A flute case is wrapped with bubble wrap, put between two fairly dense foam box inserts, with a flute-case sized cut-out in the center, the flute remains suspended in the box, and there are FRAGILE stickers on the box. This same box has gone on it's weeklong round trip to an expert technician dozens of times.

What an expert flute technician can do to fix a flute in one day is simply too complex for a flute player, or self-taught flute-repair beginner to imagine.

Their knowledge of the specs of each brand, and the manner in which to achieve perfect padding, and their foresight in maintaining any mechanical wear and tear over the life of the flute is a skill developed over 20 years of constantly fixing 2-5 flutes a week.

Advanced flute players need this level of service on their flute.
Otherwise, it's like buying a used car and then running it into the ground, because you couldn't possibly do all the repairs on the car yourself, and you didn't foresee what was going to degrade on it next.
Trust me. This is experience talking.
I see up to ten student flutes a week, and I test them all and know that a 3-5 day turnaround to an experienced flute technician is worth its weight in gold, and not that expensive.
Best, Jen

Friday, February 10, 2012 10:59:00 AM

 
Blogger jen said...

P.S.
There are training courses for flute repair technicians offered by associations of woodwind repair technicians. I believe you can attend 5 day seminars in the summer, and learn how to choose how specialized you're going to get in repairing a certain instrument.
The classes demonstrate up-to-the-minute techniques for repairing woodwinds. There are certification courses too, with four year training and apprenticeships.
I think that if you don't get certified training, that you can self-teach under a mentor, and guage when to send on instruments that have problems you're not yet familiar with. All of that sounds like a good point of view; all bases covered.
Best, Jen

Friday, February 10, 2012 11:03:00 AM

 
Anonymous Darryl said...

I played trumpet thru high school and followed up in a stage/jazz band, community band, and church orchestra ('65-87). Took up flute in '87, private lessons, community band, church orchestra, local flute society, etc. with about an hour/day practice plus any performance, rehearsals, etc. I've got a "beater" (cheep) flute and plan to learn how to do low-to-intermediate repairs or more. I figure if I can be excellent (per enlisted performance evaluations) in repairing micro-miniature electronic circuits, I should be able to learn how to do a decent flute repair up to a point...possibly beyond if I continue to have a couple days/week in which I could volunteer my help to the local repair tech...perhaps. We shall see. THANK YOU for this site.

Thursday, May 16, 2013 3:55:00 PM

 
Blogger Callene said...

I do believe there are those who are talented and gifted, with a natural bent toward engineering or technical things, such as myself, who have the brain cells to repair a flute with excellence. Please do not shoot down those who say they can do it, because many may have a wonderful career ahead of them! I do acknowledge, however, there are many in this world who went onto excellence in an area mainly because of the naysayers. I am simply trying to convey that you must be careful what you say, because you sound like you're trying to be an ad site for flute repair, and that's not what it should be about. The manual is awesome! My junior high band director taught me quite a few minor fixes, and with even a First Act flute in hand, I was able to make the unplayable into the beautifully played! PLEASE...Keep the balance!

Friday, June 07, 2013 7:22:00 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am thrilled with the repair manual. I am learning tremendous things! Please stop shooting down those who clearly have the capability. If some don't try the repair, and take some risk with, say, an old flute, how will we have new repair folks when the others leave the earth? I would hate to think you're just on here to advertise for repair people. We simply need to know our strengths and weaknesses and use wisdom in this life. Incidentally, I learned tons of repair tricks from my junior high band director, and just took a First Act flute from not playable to playable. I didn't learn any of that in the manual on here, but I am really anticipating great things ahead. Thanks for posting it! (Btw, junior high wasn't yesterday...I'm 53).

Friday, June 07, 2013 7:34:00 AM

 
Blogger jen said...

Hi Callene,
Sorry if I came across slighly negative. It's just that for every one person who's bright, adept, able and improving at making minor flute repairs, there are twenty people who think that they can save money by repairing the flute themselves. What happens is that the flute is not fixed, and often has more problems after they discover how difficult it is. Plus most people who try this don't have tools, and certainly cannot shim pads or replace pads (which is usually what is wrong with the flute; the pads are leaking.)

So in my frustration I made a bold statement in this blog post; don't try and fix your flute yourself!

If there are bright, adept, learned and open-minded handy people out there who wish to learn repair skills, I'm sure they will go ahead and take courses, pursue certification and apprentice with someone who has the skills.
I wasn't addressing them. I was trying to get most people to understand the level of training and skill it takes to do a proper job of padding.

When you're making emergency repairs on school band instruments for beginners/novices who play once or twice a week, it's one thing. You're putting a spring back on, you're bending back a bent lever etc.... But when you are repairing a flute played three hours or more a day by a skilled flutist, it's a completely different level of repair.
It takes YEARS of training and experience.
And those who don't know that, don't know they don't know that.
Sorry.
Jen

Friday, June 07, 2013 9:00:00 AM

 
Anonymous LongTimeHobbiest said...

Don't scare people off the simple stuff. Never touched a flute before and had it apart and laid out on the work bench with just a good jewelers screwdriver. Cleaned the parts, oiled the pins and back together. Just don't over oil it.
Actually I hammered out out a dent while I was there and expanded the foot joint a little (it was loose). You need a special tool for this but the tool was cheaper to buy than having the repair dude do it.
Next week I am going to try replacing the pads. Fun.

Sunday, September 15, 2013 9:30:00 AM

 
Blogger jen said...

Dear Longtime-hobbiest,
This is fine if you don't actually have a high-quality performer playing that flute. The flute can be at 80% (or less)functionality and a novice-level player would never notice it.
However as soon as a high level performer plays that flute, they will immediately put it down and say "It's in bad repair", because the speed at which they play will be hampered by the inexpert repair.
This is very similar to a dad who buys a used trampoline for his kids and decides to repair it himself. Yes, the kids will be able to jump on it, if the dad has fixed it to 80% functionality, but if a true trampolinist visited and even bounced once on the equipment, they would get off, and say: "This does not have the right spring tension for me to perform on".
So suit yourself, but prove your expertise by having an expert play on your flutes after you've worked on them. They will tell you (and if they are a technician they will SHOW you) why they cannot perform adequately on the equipment.
Jen

Sunday, September 15, 2013 10:21:00 AM

 
Blogger jen said...

P.S. Flutes in inexpert states of repair also lead to arm and hand pain in flute students. Whatever flaws you leave in a padding job become repetitive strain injuries in the musicians themselves. So having high-level repair technicians do their highly trained jobs, actually reduces future muscular damage for the users. This is just like gymnasts needing proper equipment to train on.

Sunday, September 15, 2013 10:24:00 AM

 
Blogger jen said...

P.P.S.
Do people realize that annual flute repairs cost less than $100??
Some cost less than $50!
How much money are you saving versus how many new mechanical problems are you introducing into the instrument?
Jen

Sunday, September 15, 2013 10:30:00 AM

 
Anonymous LongTimeHobbiest said...

$375 plus tax to replace all pads.
Flute was $20.
Removing, cleaning and oiling the pins was free.
Doing myself, priceless.

No professional flautist here.

Wrist strain, are you serious? This flute will see Mary had a little lamb and Three blind mice for a year.

There will always be people who are happy with paying for repairs and I don't begrudge them for their choice.

I also think that professional flute players can feel the subtle spring and pin tensions better than most technicians and would benefit from knowing how to tweak their instrument.
Think of it as another aspect of the craft.

The Ferree tenon expanding tool is probably a good tool for most parents to have if their child is as "careful" as most young kids are. Even Ferree's instructions say that it is easy to use.

You and I disagree on this, that's okay.

Sunday, September 15, 2013 4:00:00 PM

 
Blogger jen said...

Well thanks for the interesting conversation; it's okay to disagree; but "Mary had a little lamb" for one year is the lowest level of expectation. Flute teachers think about the development of the flute player over time. You are only thinking about learning a new mechanical "take it apart and fix it a bit" kind of skill (and honing your ability to save money.)Not the same profession. Not the same outcome. At all. At all.
:>)
Best, Jen

Sunday, September 15, 2013 4:05:00 PM

 
Blogger J.T.M. said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Saturday, October 19, 2013 11:57:00 PM

 
Blogger jen said...

Dear JTM,
Thanks for the headsup about the document moving to a new URL. I found it by googling "how to repair a flute" pdf, and here it is:

http://www.thelarsenflutestudio.com/uploads/1/2/7/8/12782668/flute_repair_manual.pdf

The links above in the main body of the text have been updated. Thanks.
Jen

Sunday, October 20, 2013 12:23:00 AM

 
Blogger J.T.M. said...

WOW!! I had never seen a blogger being THAT responsive!
The links were so quickly updated, that I rushed to delete my posting about the links being dead...

Thank you very much for sharing so much valuable information on your fabulous blog.

If i ever get to play "Mary had a little lamb" on one of the junk flutes I have lying around, the paper by Mr. Lin will have served the charitable purpose of making an old tinkerer happy.

(But, of course, I'd never touch my grandkids' flute... That's a promise!)

Sunday, October 20, 2013 1:44:00 AM

 
Blogger jen said...

Thanks for the thanks, and especial thanks for leaving your grandkid's future safe from falling flute parts! :>)
P.S.
(the slight delay in the comments are only for "comment approval").
Great to know I'm a responsive blogger. :>)

Best, Jen

Sunday, October 20, 2013 9:09:00 AM

 
Anonymous Vladimir said...

Being a technically skilled in repairing household appliances and electronics, I tried overhauling flutes. Cheap one at first and recently an older Yamaha.
To my great surprise, it really plays well and local flute repair technician was also surprised.
But I do not recommend doing this at home - to repair a flute perfectly, you need to spend so much time effort and care, that it is much better to give to an experienced technician.

Friday, November 15, 2013 12:46:00 PM

 
Anonymous kari whittredge said...

well i am looking to figure out how to repaire my old flute am wanting to get back to playing but it ain't playing properly anymore and the only 2 repaire shops around here with out having to drives long distance to fix it are both closed so i could use any help yall have on trying to figure out how to go about this i know i need new pads cause some ore old and others are missing please any help would be great

Tuesday, November 19, 2013 9:08:00 AM

 
Blogger jen said...

Dear Kari, It would take you a thousand hours to learn how to pad a flute, seriously. Just ship it to the flute repair shop that is most highly recommended by flute professionals in your area. Many many many flutists ship their flutes to be repaired. Suspend the flute in the case with tiny wads of paper-towel so it doesn't move around. Wrap the case in plastic. Put it in a box with packing peanuts or foam. Insure it. Phone the repair shop and tell them it is due to arrive on such a date. This is common practice. This is seriously not rocket science. Missing pads are no joke. You need to have the entire thing carefully worked on by a professional repair person who already owns all the tools and knows how to use them. Alternately, you could rent a functioning flute for less than $20 a month, while you decide if you can afford to have your old flute refurbished, or whether there's a decently priced refurbished older flute for sale nearby. Jen

Tuesday, November 19, 2013 10:38:00 AM

 
Anonymous Robin Thornton said...

I scrolled down to get to comment, so maybe the answer to this has been left and I didn't see it.

My G# key screw is missing. Surely, repairing it would just be a case of buying a new screw and screwing it in. How much damage can this do? If a handle on a cupboard lost a screw, I would pay a repairer £30 to replace the screw, so why do the same for my Flute? Does anyone know where to buy screws?

Thursday, January 23, 2014 4:05:00 AM

 
Blogger jen said...

Dear Robin,
I dont' know where the price of £30 for putting a screw comes from. Most flute repair perople I've worked with will do this work for pennies. They are also the people who have the correct screws and will find the exact one for your brand of flute. Cupboard doors do not rely on "set screws" to seat pads. Jen

Thursday, January 23, 2014 9:13:00 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would never choose a doctoral thesis document as a user manual for anything!! This seems to more give the history and structure of the flure more than repair techniques, but knowing how it's constructed certainly aids in repair. There are several other resources out there and if you are at all good at this sort of thing and have the correct tools, I don't see why you wouldn't want to try it. I would be prepared for failure and make sure you have a good music store you can run to if necessary. I plan to try it myself on an old flute acquired at a yard sale. We'll see...

Wednesday, September 03, 2014 7:22:00 AM

 

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