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More About Wood Headjoints
Q. Why make headjoints of wood when metals have been
generally acknowledged superior over the past 100
A. Firstly, wood piccolos and more specifically, wood piccolo
headjoints have generally been considered superior in sound to
their metal counterparts, and therefore have never fallen from
favor. Flutes are another story as metals have generally been
acknowledged as being sonically and structurally superior for
most musical requirements. But wood flutes, whether pre-Boehm
or modern have a seductive sound all their own which metal
cannot duplicate. It is this unique wood sound technically
called timbre that has of recent lured flutists back to a
renewed interest in wood. And since wood headjoints give a
metal flute much of the timbre of an all wood instrument, wood
heads are of particular interest.
Q. Are there differences in the timbre of different
woods as there are with metals like gold and
A. Yes. Woods vary in density and hardness just like metals.
However, density is the primary focus of observable
differences as it seems to correlate best with changes in
timbre. I wish there was an objective flute language with a
universal meaning so that I could communicate the
distinguishing characteristics of each specific wood. To my
knowledge, no such language exists. In the world of
headjoints, the same words often mean different things to
different people. The word ‘bright’ to one flutist means the
projection of a beautiful radiance, while to another flutist
the same word means strident and steely. Despite this dilemma,
I endeavor to give as general a view as possible so that you
are motivated enough to try these comparisons for yourself.
Generally the less dense woods like boxwood have a mellower or
less complex timbre than African blackwood (technically
referred to as grenadilla wood) which combines sonic
complexities like bright and dark throughout the octaves.
Sometimes the less complex timbre is easier on the ears and
sometimes the more complex timbre is more interesting to
listen to. From a purely functional standpoint, the denser
woods seem to have a quicker response and greater sonic and
structural stability. Within the African blackwood family the
wood varies in density several percent, as specimens from
different trees of the same family vary and can be sorted by
weight assuming moisture levels are consistent throughout.
Color and grain structure also plays a role in sorting,
however this is less reliable than actual weighing of like
dimensional samples from different trees. By sorting African
blackwood by weight, specimens can be divided into medium and
high density so that a particular timbre can be anticipated.
The scale illustrates two sample headjoints made to identical
dimensions of African blackwood from different trees. Our
company makes available our African blackwood headjoints in
the densities described above so that a variety can be
obtained from the same wood family. Naturally blow hole
measurements and other dimensional characteristics common to
all headjoints play an equally significant role in determining
which headjoint you will ultimately prefer.
Headjoints of identical dimensions are sorted by
comparitive weighing - the lighter, the less dense.
Q. Does the metal tenon sleeve (the tube that connects
the headjoint into the flute or piccolo body) effect
A. Yes to some extent. The material the headjoint bore is made
of contributes to its timbre. For example, a wood headjoint
lined completely with metal plays more like a metal than wood
in a number of critical areas. When you change the ratio of
wood to metal in the bore of a wood piccolo headjoint, you can
actually optimize the best of both worlds by maintaining a
calculated ratio between the two. The quick response of metal
and the warm timbre of wood can each co-exist for optimal
benefit as illustrated by the cross section of a Drelinger
Arrowed line A - traditional metal tenon
in wood piccolo head. Arrowed line B -
Drelinger metal tenon provides a balance
of the best characteristics of metal and wood.