Yamaha – "The Scale Was Dreadful"?

Recently on Galway-Flute-Chat, a member said of her Yamaha flute:

The Scale Was Dreadful! I bought mine in the mid
1980s. Absolutely one of the worst scales ever
devised!

She went on to say that this was somehow because Yamaha had tried to use various Hammig flute scales in making their scale. This is news to me! To date, I’ve never run across a Yamaha flute with a scale as out of tune as she describes. On the contrary, the Yamaha’s I’ve played seem pretty good scale-wise.

The one exception to this was a Yamaha YFL-61 (made between 1974-79) that I bought used about six years ago. It’s my understanding that the YFL-61 was a copy of a Powell (not Hammig), solid silver throughout and Yamaha’s top flute at the time (current model is the YFL-784H) . However for some reason, my YFL-61 had a very flat middle register C# that required a considerable amount of adjustment (i.e., turning the flute outwards when playing) to make it in tune. Why? In my hunt for an explanation, the first thing I noticed was a different patina on the headjoint than the rest of the flute… hmmm.

I became suspicious that the headjoint was not the original, even though it had a professional Yamaha crown. Unfortunately for me, my suspicions were confirmed when under closer scrutiny, I noticed that the headjoint chimney was not soldered on (as the handmade YFL-61 heads are) but instead was drawn, a machine-made job! Somewhere along the way, the original handmade head for the flute had been swapped for whatever this head was (not even sure it was a Yamaha because there was no Yamaha logo on it anywhere) and cleverly (and very cheaply I might add!) disguised by the Yamaha crown.

An Altus headjoint I had on hand fit the YFL-61 perfectly and much to my delight, when I played the flute with the Altus head, voila! – the C# was no longer flat! In fact, the flute played exceptionally well with that Altus head and so that’s the combination I went with. Makes me wonder if the woman with the “dreadful scale” Yamaha has tried different headjoints on that flute. Maybe I’ll drop her a note and find out…

Wood Flute Conference, Seattle, June 16-18

Hello All:

This memo is to alert you to the information and registration website that we hope will be posted by the end of the week or into next week. This will contain current information about the Wood Flute Conference to date, along with the registration form for campus housing and food services.

PLEASE NOTE: THE CORRECT DATES FOR THE CONFERENCE ARE FRIDAY JUNE 16 THROUGH SUNDAY JUNE 18. Earlier information had the dates one day off.

Although many have expressed interest in performing during the Conference, there is still room for additional slots for the Evening Concerts for those of you who are interested, first come first served. If demand warrants, we will move into afternoon performances as well, taking up slots originally set for lectures and panel discussions. I would hope that we don’t have conflicting events so that everyone can attend everything scheduled.

Meanwhile, if you have any questions, please get them to me before Sunday morning, as I will be away from March 12-28.

With all best wishes,

Felix Skowronek

Taffanel & Gaubert #4

Taffanel & Gaubert #4 is one of the most enduring scale exercises, used by countless flutists of all levels of ability. It is quite a workout. For some reason, in talking with Jen Cluff a few days ago, our conversation turned to talking about intonation and Taffanel & Gaubert #4.

I recalled how double-bassist Edgar Meyer had told a friend of mine (this was about twenty years ago – yikes!) that to improve his intonation, Edgar used a synthesizer and programmed in the parts he was working on. I remember at the time thinking what a brilliant use of technology that was and so, shortly thereafter, programmed in Taffanel & Gaubert #4 into my keyboard to give it a try.

Right away in playing along with the keyboard, I could see the weak spots in my scales – both in terms of evenness, as well as intonation – everything was so transparent! Unfortunately, that synthesizer program got lost a long time ago. The good news is that Jen said she’s got a Sibelius version of it done and just needs to upload it to the Web. I’ll post that link here as soon as she does.

Flute Models – a shifting landscape

Yesterday, I got an email from a former student of mine asking about buying a used Sankyo “Artist” model flute. I explained to him that it was my understanding that the “old” Artists were a different – and more expensive model – than the newer ones. In other words, at some point a few years ago Sankyo had moved the name Artist to an entirely different model of flute and lowered the price.

In checking the Sankyo Web site, I noticed that now gone are the model names Artist, Etude, Silver Sonic et al from their product line. In their place, names like CF201, CF301, CF401 etc., instead.

Yamaha too changed their naming system a few years ago. For example, gone was the well known YFL-581 and in it’s place now stood the YFL-674. Unless you’re paying attention – and asking questions – keeping track of “what’s what” can cost you.

Yamaha CY headjoints

Back in 1990, I bought a handmade solid-silver Yamaha CY headjoint at Best Music in Oakland. I bought this particular CY head (a demo that they had behind the counter for $370), because I was so impressed by the way it played in comparison to all the other headjoints I had. In fact, so intrigued was I by this head that I ended up calling Yamaha in Michigan to find out more about it.

During my conversation with the Yamaha rep (Tom Wheeler?), I was told that Yamaha had seven old men in Japan that handmade their pro headjoints (starting in 1992 however, Yamaha began machine manufacturing the CY heads except for those on their most expensive pro model flutes). When I inquired as to how they came up with the CY cut for their 581 model pro flute, I was told that when Yamaha was doing their R&D, they actually had sixteen headjoint designs in a box. This box had been flown all over the world to professional flutists in major symphonies. The flutists were asked to vote for the cut they liked the best and the overwhelming favorite was the CY, and so Yamaha went with that. Apparently, such R&D is typical of the way the Japanese do business – smart!

Nickel-plated flutes?

Recently on flutenet, there was a thread weighing the pros vs cons of student nickel-plated flutes. One thing I didn’t mention in my replies there was that the common practice of flutists these days to upgrade or change the original headjoint to a pro model (often by another brand), in *most* cases means a silver headjoint – not nickel. Silver head on nickel body? Not a good look, sorry.

Footjoints and response

I have three footjoints for my Haynes – B, C and D. Without a doubt, the response on the low end of the flute gets worse the longer the footjoint is. In other words, low notes like D, E and F sound more open and resonant to my ears with the D foot, less so with the C foot and less again with the B foot.

That is not to say that I don’t use the B foot because I don’t like the tubby response of the low end, I do use it and use it fairly often. That’s because low B is a very useful note, especially in jazz (and some 20th century stuff) – even if I think the flute sounds and feels “wrong” the entire time I’m playing it…

And lively as the D foot is, unless I’m playing Mozart, the loss of having a low C and C# can be frustrating too. So the moral of the story is that I look at the musical situation first, then decide which footjoint is best for the job.

"Hot rodding" the Yamaha YPC-32 piccolo

The plastic Yamaha YPC-32 body has the same sized headjoint tenon as the professional model wood Yamaha piccolos (YPC-62, YPC-81). This means that you can stick one of the pro wood headjoints on the YPC-32 without any modification and it will dramatically change the sound of the YPC-32, and for a fraction of the cost. However, in order to get one of the pro wood headjoints you’ll need to special order it from a Yamaha dealer, so shop around to find the best price.

Wood Flutes

The wood flute has been making something of a comeback in recent years with many top brands, Powell, Sankyo, Yamaha (just to name a few) offering them as part of their product line. However, these flutes are not cheap ($6,000 – $11,000 +). In response to the cost, what invariably happens for many flutists wanting a wood flute – but not wanting to pay modern prices – is that they start shopping for used instruments and therein lies a problem.

Why? Because most of the old wood flutes floating around on the used market are either low-pitched to A-435 (Haynes for example) and/or in the key of Db. While the relatively low prices for these old flutes at first appear as bargain (even with the costs of a full overhaul factored in!), the problems of scale, pitch and tubby headjoint design, quickly take their toll on players used to modern metal instruments. One of the exceptions to the above are *some* old Rudall-Carte wood flutes pitched at A-439/440 which, because of their pitch, can be played reasonably well in modern ensembles.

Unfortunately for bargain hunters, the word is out on the old Rudall-Carte wood flutes at modern pitch with many flutists, dealers and collectors all looking everywhere for them. Consequently prices have risen for these flutes, and risen dramatically. Be advised too that there are plenty of Rudall-Cartes on the market that are not anywhere near modern pitch – stay clear of these flutes unless you plan to play solo most of the time.