Flute headjoint question [Archive] - Sax on the Web Forum

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03-12-2004, 09:25 AM
Hello, continuing my theme of asking stupid questions here!
Are flute headjoints interchangeable? IE will one headjoint fit another flute in the same way that mouthpieces are interchangeable?

Jack W.
03-12-2004, 03:09 PM
As I always tell my students, "There are no stupid questions, only stupid professors." :D

My off-the-cuff answer is "sometimes". Headjoint tenons do vary in size, and not every headjoint will fit into the body joint of every flute.

That being said, headjoints also vary in both quality and type of embouchure hole cut. There is a lot of what seems to me to be black magic involved here (though a lot of careful and scholarly work has also been done by flutemakers, but it is over my head), but much of how a flute plays for any given individual has to do with how the cut of the embouchure hole and lip plate "match" that individual's playing style. Different headjoints work for different people, just like sax and clarinet mpcs, only if anything more so.

I've heard it said that 85% of a flute's playability (or lack thereof) for any given individual, is in the headjoint.

That is the sum total of my knowledge/opinion, but I will defer to the other experts here where my knowledge/opinion falls short. 8)

03-12-2004, 09:20 PM
With headjoints you get what you pay for, material of manufacture, hole cut, undercut, tube thickness etc all come into play here. The price of high end head joints will shock you. Personally I own a wooden headjoint, a silver tube Platinum lip/riser head and a 9ct gold tube Platinum lip/riser. Each head joint has vastly differing characteristics and playability to the other.

The wooden headjoint can be used to give a standard Boehm flute, the wooden flute sound with the keywork flexibility of a standard Boehm Flute. The Gold/Platinum head joint requires more air to get it resonating but when you do the sound is big and dark in all registers. It doesn't project as well as the silver tube in electric settings but for acoustic work, it is exceptional. I love Gold Flutes, the sound is so big and dark, thick and sonorius that it causes good comments whenever it is played out.

You will also notice that when you play various combinations, that the material effects how much air speed you have to push out to make the flute start to sing. Silver responds much more quickly than gold does but also conversely has a brighter cleaner sound. Gold requires more push to get going and gives a darker, richer sound, 14ct requires more effort than 9ct to get ringing. Platinum requires even more air than gold to get resonating, the sound is bright and projecting like silver yet has the dark quality of Gold to the core of the sound. This is my favourite material for lip plates and risers. It will give you a big powerful sound provided youput the air to it.

03-12-2004, 11:58 PM
You will also find that if the top of the strike wall on the hole is sharp, that the instrument will take less air for a given volume, and that the more ronded the top of the stike wall is, the more air it will take to get that same volume, but also the darker the tone will go as well. I am no pro at this, but have had a chance to do some head joint work and slight mods.

bruce bailey
03-13-2004, 06:14 AM
I have found that the thickness of the tubing is critical. A thinner tube will be brighter mostly in the middle register and a thick one will give a stronger low register and stable, but less responsive high register. The front (audience side) of the lipplate puts on the "outside" resistance and by having it turned downward (Emerson American style, Yamaha EC) will make it more responsive. I make them with the front slightly bent in and a very sharp edge on the front of the hole. The standard that most of the better heads have for hole sixe is about 11.8mm long and 10-10.3mm wide with the diagonal measurement about 12.1-12.4mm.
To get back to the question, Yes, heads can be switched. I have found that a Gemeinhardt can benefit the most for a head upgrade, but the cost of the head is usually too much and it is cheaper to trade the whole flute for one with the desired head. Sterling silver custom heads usually start at about $400. All of the flutes I build come with a 14K gold riser which is the next best thing to buying a gold head!. Experiment with some heads and you may just find a winner, no matter who built it!

03-13-2004, 08:59 PM
A good standard head upgrade that works for many doublers is the J cut head from Pearl. The headjoints I speak of earlier are all hand made. The difference in playability of your flute and tone after getting a good headjoint is even more marked than upgrading to a new sax mpc. Experiment with them yourself, try them all out because you will find a headjoint that works well for you.

03-14-2004, 07:36 AM
Greetings Mr. Bootman, -I've recently discovered a site which sell wood headjoints. His name is Mark Hoza. He's American but lives in Australia.
Check this-http://www/woodenflutemaker.com/.

The headjoints look beautiful. He uses many Australian hardwoods for material. I was wondering if you have played any of his headjoints or if you know somebody else who has? Big question- how do they play?

Thanks Ivy

03-14-2004, 07:56 AM
I am not a flute player myself, but I can recommend Ian McLauchlan, a headjoint maker of some repute here in the UK - he is a friend of mine and my daughter plays one of his headjoints. I do not think his work is expensive but then, buying direct from the maker eliminates several people (and their 'cut') from the supply chain. The headjoint styles referred to are, as understand it, mainly different in the way the lip plate sits relative to the tube. I could hear the difference when my daughter and another player palyed them, but I did say I am not a flutist!

From what I have seen, a flute headjoint will generally 'fit' but you need the technician to adjust it properly to your instrument, repairers will usually do this every time they have your instrument in for a service anyway.


Gordon (NZ)
03-14-2004, 10:29 AM
Johnnyc, I would like to re-word the last paragraph of the last post...

Flute headjoints are frequently NOT interchangeable. Although the diameters differ very little, the adjustment of the fit here must be very accurate. Any good technician will have the specialised tools to expand or shrink most heads to fit most flutes, and this is quick, routine work.

When your instrument is in for a service the fit should be adjusted ONLY IF NECESSARY, which should be very rarely if ever, once a good fit is achieved, which should be ex-factory, or after the first adjustment if the factory was slovenly. Or after a different head has been fitted.

The fit of a head does not WEAR loose, unless the fitting was appalling, such that the only fitted part was very close to the open end. It may be made tight by damage or corrosion. The fit should be good again after the damage or corrosion is dealt with. If the LOWER tenon is stressed by inappropriate assembly technique, it can be damaged - shrunk - because of its much shorter length.

Regarding the other posts about heads, and metals here. ... BE aware that design is a far important factor than the metal, and many of the comments made regarding metal are relevant only to a person in the upper echelons of playing, and may also be very highly influenced by psychological factors.. Keep things in context. In 2003 James Galway wrote, among other things, ".....Just in case you think I play only precious metal flutes, let me tell you that I have a silver plated student model with a silver head and it is excellent....." and "..."My favourite flute for a practice session is my Muramatsu nickel silver flute." Unless you are a very serious player, the metal the flute is made from is not likely to be your limiting factor. But choosing a brand that has a reputation for good head design IS important.

A 24 carat gold head with platinum riser and diamond studded embouchure plate and crown, made by the "Parrot, Lark & Wren Flute Company in China" will almost certainly be a useless head.

03-14-2004, 12:02 PM
I know Mark well, he has a great place up the coast from Sydney where Wallabies (like a Kangaroo) roam through his front yard.

The wooden headjoint Ihave is one of Mark's and the material of Ironwood is fantastic for these head joints. The wood is a dense as Grenadilla, tough as Iron and has a big woody sound when played. The workmanship is excellent and it is something that every Flute player should hav ein their bag of tricks.

Being able to get a good wooden flute sound with the flexibilty of Boehm keywork and intonation makes life very easy indeed. I have actually used the head joint on various recording sessions/live and would throughly recommend these headjoints to anyone. I also have an incredible 8 hole Fife in C made by Mark in Ironwood too, this is simply the best Fife I have ever played.

Drop me a line any time.

03-14-2004, 05:53 PM
wanted to say thank you all very much for the replies, really appreciated

Cheers :D