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Learn More About Wood Headjoints

Q. Why make headjoints of wood when metals have been generally acknowledged superior over the past 100 years?

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 silver?

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 timbre?

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 piccolo headjoint.

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.