Preserving the Life of your Instrument
Our instrument is a special part of us as a musician, whether it be your flute, string bass or your voice- we must keep our instruments in good working condition at all times, and that means taking proper care of it and ourselves. If you own a car, you should understand how much work goes into taking care of it. Why do we get car washes, oil changes and tire rotations for our vehicles? So they last longer! We don’t want to be driving on the freeway in the freezing cold of a Midwest winter when suddenly your car dies and you are miles from home. You also don’t want to be the soloist in a big concert when suddenly your flute has a serious malfunction.
The first thing to do is figure out how often to get your instrument into the repair shop. As far as flutes are concerned, it depends on the quality of your instrument. If it is a beginner model flute, it most likely is not hand made and will not need more than once a year maintenance. If it is a professional flute, especially one that costs at least $10k and is played often, it most definitely needs to be taken into the shop at least twice a year.
After you have figured out how many times you need to bring your flute in to the repair man, the next step is to figure out where to go to get said repairs and yearly maintenance. If you have local music shops in your area, call the store or check their website to see what repair person(s) are on staff that deal with flutes. Research them, read bios and success stories, find out from friends and colleagues in the music world who they recommend. It is vital that you find a repairperson that can handle your flute with care, especially if it is a foreign made flute and professional model with extra gizmos such as a C# trill. Some repair techs are not familiar with all things flute- many repair techs specialize in general winds, which means flutes, clarinets, oboes and the like. This is okay for a young flutist who is merely playing in the school band and local contests, but it is better for the professional to choose someone who solely works with flutes (especially their type of flute) and/or someone who has veteran experience with handling flutes (this is my own, humble opinion!)
After finding a technician, set up your first appointment. It may be good before hand to meet the repair tech, to get to know them better as they will be handling your life- your instrument! Be sure to set up an appointment at least a month and a half in advance! Repair techs get booked fast, especially if they are notorious for being really good! I personally book mine 2-3 months in advance and travel about 80 miles to their location to get a COA (clean, oil and adjust) completed in one day, instead of sending my flute through UPS, which I do not trust, especially during the winter. When you set up an appointment, be sure you ask roughly how much it will cost for your COA. It varies depending on how dirty your flute is! If many pads need replacing, you are looking at somewhere between $250-350, depending on where you get the repairs and how much the repairperson charges. DON’T WAIT UNTIL SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH YOUR FLUTE TO GO IN FOR MAINTENANCE! This would ultimately mean you’ll be spending upwards of $300-400 on your repairs because something is clearly wrong with your flute. If you ever need a quick fix, be sure you have someone to call or a music store to go to who can fix your instrument in a short amount of time. It is also good to carry a set of repair tools, such as a small screw driver set, in your flute bag so you can adjust rods if need be to get you through a rehearsal or concert until you can travel to get repairs made by a tech. There are some fantastic, tiny tool sets specifically for instrument repair that can be found at Flute World or other great music supply shops such as Carolyn Nussbaum’s.
Overall, it is important to keep your instrument in the best shape between maintenance appointments. Swab out after you play! So many people, especially young students, do not do this and over time, grime will build up in your flute from the excessive moisture. Clean the pads after you play- moisture builds up under the pads, especially after a lengthy practice session. Use regular cleaning paper- not powder paper, as the powder will build up in the rods of your flute and your keys will stop functioning properly over time (something I learned from experience!) Keep the inside of your case clean- don’t let debris or moisture get inside your case. It is great, especially for silver and gold flutes, to keep a silver protector slip in your case to keep the metal from tarnishing. Yes, eventually tarnish will build on your flute, mainly around the keys and tone holes from the moisture after all the blowing, but you can reduce the rate of tarnish and ultimately, keep the shine of your flute longer if you clean it with your polishing cloth after you play (just a short wipe down) and put tarnish strips in your case (be sure to change the tarnish strip every 6 months, or based on what the instructions on the package say.)
I have included my personal routine after every practice session:
Swab out thoroughly with flute flag and flute cleaning rod with silk swab
Look inside each section of flute to check if there is any remaining moisture; swab more if needed until completely dry
Wipe tenons (where flute connects to each joint) with polishing cloth to get moisture off
Use cleaning paper under every pad
Place flute in case. Be sure to replace tarnish strip every 6 months
Whoever you end up getting maintenance from, be sure you trust them and refer them to others if you like their work. My personal repairman is Jeff Tellock of Heid Music in Appleton, WI. He is a pro at what he does, has years of experience and is a senior repair tech. He has done marvelous work on my flutes for over 8 years and continues to do so. I see him twice a year, at the same time every year and stay in Appleton for a few hours while he works on my instrument(s). He is incredibly reliable, knowledgeable, has experience with Japanese flutes, and is the nicest man!