Initially my idea was simply to produce a workable flute, given the scarcity of suitable old instruments, and to provide a service for players who needed to have their instruments maintained.So like many other makers, and influenced no doubt by the logic of the time which insisted that the best instruments for Irish traditional music were English, 19th century, large holed flutes, began to make flutes which were as close to that ideal as possible.At that stage I had progressed, in my own playing, through an anonymous German flute, a good English flute ( Jordan Wainwright), to eventually getting my hands on a Rudall, Rose & Carte flute dating from the 1860s, and this last was to be the model for all my early instruments.
Initially happy with being able to turn out instruments that were at least in the same ballpark as the old flutes, I gradually became dissatisfied with various aspects of them. In playing with the tight embouchure required to produce the type of tone that Irish players preferred, I had noticed that over the years, as my embouchure developed, I was having to extend the tuning slide more and more to stay at modern pitch.
This worked in basic terms of staying in tune, but it quickly became obvious that these old flute were not meant to play as low as the modern concert pitch of A=440.
Two obvious indications of this were the extension of the slide beyond the silver sleeve that was meant to hide the head liner from view when the slide was pulled out.
Would the old makers have built this feature in, and then intended the flute to play at a pitch that ignored it? Secondly, and more powerfully, was the fact that from the players point of view, all were agreed that at this modern pitch extension, the flute lost all of it’s response and tone quality.
Freed from the tyranny of historical accuracy in making copies of old flutes, I then began to design the flute around the tone and response I wanted, which led to changes in the embouchure and bore profile, so that the instruments that I then began to make were immediately seen as more suitable for playing Irish traditional music, than the old flutes had been.
If any further evidence were needed that this is the case ( and I don’t just refer to my own flutes here), when I began making professionally in 1979, the attitude to newly made flutes was that they may have been suitable beginner’s instruments, but that the English 19th century flutes were unsurpassed for serious performers.The terminology of the 19th century flute, in the sense of the association between certain makers and their designs, and the perceived results of those designs for the player, remain with us today in the insistence that players have of designating almost all new flutes as either being of the Rudall & Rose or Pratten’s Perfected type.This is largely due to the disruption of the relationship between the length of the cylindrical and conical sections of the bore.In some ways this internal tuning was suitable for Irish music, in that the flat Fs and Cs were also approaching the pitches chosen for these notes by traditional fiddle players and pipers, but those notes, combined with a notoriously flat bottom D and sometimes a sharp A and B, were amounting to a rather large problem in the modern era of playing with instruments in tempered tuning.Firstly the instrument was resized, allowing a good response at modern pitch.Then the tone hole sizes and positions were altered, which gave a simply fingered scale, as close to tempered tuning as could be achieved within the limitations of the cone bore design.