Flute Swabs

Are you swabbing out your flute before you put it away? Hopefully so, it is critical that you keep your flute clean inside and out. But what are you using to swab out your flute?

I advocate using a simple, 100% cotton handkerchief or bandanna. They are absorbant and nonabrasive, readily available and inexpensive. Cotton works great for wiping off the tenons so the joints go together smoothly, too. Cotton is also washable so when it gets grubby, just throw it in with the regular laundry (using fabric softeners may not be a great idea, though). Very practical!

A silk swab is nice, but it can be fragile and tends to flatten out after a couple of uses. A 10″ or 12″ bandanna or kerchief will stay full enough to clean the whole tube for several uses. You could just use a strip of cotton or a square piece of cotton, but I think the edges should be finished so stray threads don’t get caught in the mechanism.

As for the fuzzy flute swabs that are so popular, I do not recommend them. They are supposed to “wick the moisture away from the pads”. Great! But what do you do after you have done that? You stick it right back into the flute! Where is the moisture supposed to go? I live in Florida and any moisture that is allowed to sit around leads to one thing, mildew. While I haven’t heard of too many cases of “flute mildew”, I do know that once you get the moisture off the pads, you should keep it away from them. If you feel you have to use the fuzzy things to swab out your instrument, fine, but do not store them in your flute or inside your case. Besides, you will still need a soft cloth to wipe off the joints and the fingerprints, so why not just get a cotton cloth or two and leave the fuzzy things alone. I also suggest that your flute cleaning cloth not be stored inside the case with your freshly swabbed out flute.

This is all part of good flute maintenance, which results in better flute performance. It’s easy, it’s practical and it’s cheap. Besides, you can create a collection of cool “flute” bandannas that will make you the most stylish and hip flutist around!

Flute Tip of the Week – Use Your Flute Handles

Putting your flute together properly is one the first things you should learn as a beginning flute student, but it is surprising how many of us are not nearly as conscientious about putting together and taking apart our instruments as we should be. We need to use our “Flute Handles”!

Believe it or not this is one the first things I learned as a master’s degree student. My teacher at NIU, Peter Middleton, had all his new students attend a series of flute ‘basics’ classes, a sort of orientation to keep the flute studio on the same page. Imagine playing flute all those years, and being told to start with your flute in the case, take out the pieces, just so, put them together, just so, etc. It was a very humbling experience, but one I have been grateful for and enthusiastically pass on to all my students. In addition, my flute has needed remarkably few repairs through the years and holds adjustments wonderfully. Following is a description of the 3 Flute Handles and how to use them.

Flute Handle #1 Head Joint. The Flute Handle is the area below the lip plate and just above the tenon. You never twist on the lip plate! I have heard some scary stories about one or two that snapped off, not a pleasant experience and very expensive to fix. There is plenty of room to grasp the head joint below the lip plate.

Flute Handle #2 Main Body. Your Flute Handle here is at the top, above the keys and rods. Gently insert the Head into the Body. if there is some resistance, don’t twist the pieces back and forth to force them together, try to only go in one direction. The key here is to never twist on the keys! I even try to not hold onto my flute anywhere but at the top of the body when I am not playing. If the joints fit properly and you keep them clean, you should never have to force the parts together.

Flute Handle #3 Foot Joint. This is on the very end of the foot joint, between the rod and the end of your flute. Holding the body near its top and the foot joint at its end, between the rod and the end of the foot, slide the foot joint onto the body. Again, don’t twist back and forth, try to slide them together with a slight twist in a single direction.

Reverse these instructions to take apart. Remember, the main thing to remember are to never twist with your hands on the lip plate or key mechanisms! There is plenty of room on your flute to grasp it without ever touching those areas. So use your Flute Handles, your flute will thank you!

Flute Overhaulin’

Wow! Just got my flute back after a long overdue overhaul and I cannot believe the difference! The sound is so resonant, the low notes come out without coaxing, and the runs really rip. It’s amazing!

Finding good repair people can be really difficult, but I have had excellent luck sending mine to the US distributor for Miyazawa Flutes, West Music in Coralville, Iowa. I play a hybrid, a Miyazawa PCM body with a silver Powell head, so sending it to the Miyazawa shop just makes sense to me. The tech Erik did such a great job! It was a complete overhaul, new springs, new corks, those fancy Straubinger pads, and a thorough clean and polish. It looks like a new flute, it is so shiny now. They even crafted and installed a brass nut to replace the washers and putty that I had put in the crown when I was experimenting with adding weight to the head, ala Patricia George. I bet that was a nasty little surprise when they pushed out the cork!

Because it has a ‘foreign’ head joint, all the repair techs had to try it out. The reviews sounded favorable, but Erik did comment on my “funny old head joint”. I had to politely point out that the body is older than the head.

My poor flute had gotten so bad that I was convinced that I needed a new flute (of course, who doesn’t think that!), but now I think I can hang on a little longer. Though I take great pride in being able to do basic cleaning and oiling and make some adjustments myself, I will definitely not let it go so long next time. I’m always telling students to go get their flutes fixed, it’s about time I followed that advice!