On making an instrument *7

February 23 and March 2, 2009  (I have combined these two lessons into one post because I was doing basically the same thing in each class.)

Now that the flute is complete with cork and holes, I have now started the finer adjustments.  This part of the work is actually the biggest reason I began taking the class anyway –  I want to understand what happens when you undercut holes, make holes bigger or smaller, plug one corner, and all of these mysterious small things that end up making huge changes to the instrument.  Before I got started, Paul explained a few basics, which I plan to discover throughout the process, but which I’d just like to type up here, in case anyone else has ever wondered these things, or has anything to add.

Finger holes

The bigger you make the finger holes, the higher the note that corresponds with that hole becomes.  On a Renaissance flute there are 6 finger holes, and we number them so: Left Hand 1 2 3, Right Hand 4 5 6.


Left Hand 1 2 3, Right Hand 4 5 6

If I have all fingers down, this creates the basis note – D (or, since my instrument is a transposing instrument, I should call it G.  I finger a D, but the sound is G.  However, coming from years of non-transposing flutes, for my own understanding at the moment I’m referring to this basic note as D.  My fingers say it is a D no matter what my ears are saying.  I have been encouraged to make an effort to call it by what my ears say.)  Therefore, if I want to make the D a little higher, I must make hole 6 a little bigger.  You can see that I took this photo after making 6 a little bigger, which I did by turning round and round a very small metal cylinder wrapped in sandpaper.  Much to the distress of the skin on my right hand, I might add, particularly my pointer finger.   🙁  It was only slightly easier with the longer drill bit there.


Here are the brilliant round files I was discouraged from using – something about using up the tips then having wasted an entire file the whole class needs on my 2 flute holes.  Oh well, it saved my fingers for about 10 minutes before anyone noticed what I was doing.  🙂

round files

Now, by making hole 6 a little bigger in order to raise the pitch on D, that has also magically raised the pitch of hole 5 a little bit.  So, my E (which corresponds to hole 5) was automatically a little bit higher.  I hear, therefore, that a wise builder starts the tuning process with the lowest hole, then working up.

Paul has suggested that I tune the flute first by purely changing hole sizes, which I’m noticing gives me a variety of diameters.  While this might be accurate, I do suspect that flute makers out there have all sorts of beautiful undercutting tricks to create holes of varying diameters, yet with visually the same size.  In any case, this is what I’m doing now, as Paul assures me that I will be able to get the first register nicely tuned just by hole size, and I can use undercutting for the next register.  I’m afraid I cannot explain why at the moment, because I’m still working on that part, spending two weeks sanding away millimeters off both the holes and my fingers. But I think that next week I’ll have a better understanding.

I’ll end with this happy little photo of my tenor and the mini-me.