My daughters are both very talented. The older girl is in her high school’s band, and the younger one is in the band in middle school. She plays the flute. At the end of the school year last spring, a family friend’s daughter graduated high school. She had played the flute, and either didn’t plan to continue playing, or was getting a higher quality instrument. Either way, her old flute was given as a gift to my daughter. Musical instruments can be expensive, so a free flute seemed great to me.
After school started again this fall, my daughter was having some trouble with the flute, there were a few notes that she couldn’t play on it. We took it to a local music shop to see if they could find the problem and fix it. The flute is made by Mendini, which it turns out is a low-end instrument maker and the music shop wouldn’t even look at it. They told us that even if they could fix it, it would just go back to playing poorly soon after. We went home disappointed, where I had my daughter play the instrument for me, while I tried to see what was going on when it wouldn’t make the notes. I took a closer look at the keys she was pressing for the bad notes, and what holes those opened or closed. I did find a rod that was slightly bent, and preventing two holes from being completely closed off. I grabbed a jeweler’s screwdriver, removed the faulty rod, and straightened it out as best I could. After reassembling the flute, I had my daughter play it again. It was better, not great, but definitely better than before. My daughter went back to school with the flute, and I waited to hear how the instrument worked out in her band class.
Being a teenager, most of the feedback my daughter gives me consists of shoulder shrugs, “hmmm,” and, “okay, I guess.” That was exactly what I got from here when I asked how the flute was working out. All the while the words of the music shop employee were echoing in my head, that it was just a matter of time before the flute malfunctioned again. Researching the music shop’s website, I found a list of instrument brands they can do work on. Some were familiar like Yamaha, others I had never heard of before like Gemeinhardt. I did some checking online, and found that there were plenty of used flutes from the higher-end makers on Ebay. After a few auctions I was able to win a Gemeinhardt 2SP flute for less than $50, which was thrilling to me, since a brand new one costs over $500.
The flute came in, and I had my daughter try it out. It sounded pretty good, at least as good as her other one, but it was in pretty rough shape, there were a few dents, the silver plating was tarnished, and most of the pads which close the holes looked pretty worn out. I checked Amazon and got a repair kit for under $30. The kit from Instrument Clinic came with replacement pads, shims for the pads, an LED light to check for leaks, oil for the moving parts, silver polish, new springs, a cork for the head joint; everything I’d need to tune up the old flute. It was time to get to work.
Taking apart the flute was easy enough, I took pictures as I was working to make sure I knew where each piece went for reassembly.
After cleaning and polishing all the separated parts, I went to work replacing the worn out pads. That’s where the whole enterprise became something of a nightmare. I’d put in the new pads, then reattach that set of keys to the flute body, take it into a dark area, and check for light leaks around the pads. Not once did it work out the first time. I’d have to take the keys back off, add some shims, put the keys back on, then check it again. I’d say that there was somewhere around five times going through the assemble, light leak check, disassemble, shim/de-shim, reassemble cycle for each key. After three days, it seemed like everything was good to go. I had my daughter try to play the flute, and half the notes she tried to play sounded the same as if I’d taken a copper pipe off the sink drain and blown through it.
Trying to get feedback from my daughter was futile. She gave the same standard responses of shoulder shrugs, “hmmm,” and, “okay, I guess.” Nothing that helped me pin down what specific keys were causing the failures. I went back looking for light leaks, as well as wedging the keys shut, plugging one end of the body, and blowing into the other end to find where air was leaking out. This led to another marathon session of making tiny adjustments to each key, all the while I kept thinking how stupid it was of me to think I could do this, the flute had played better before I’d done anything, and I should have left well enough alone.
I don’t know how to play the flute, and can’t make a sound, even with a good instrument, so every time I thought it may finally be good, I’d have to wait for my daughter to get home from school to try it out. After a week of messing with the instrument, I’d finally gotten it to the point that when my daughter would play it, I could hear a different note for every different note she tried to play. I have no idea if those notes are right, but they’re there. I finished everything up with the instrument, patched up and cleaned up the case which was also falling apart, and passed it off to my daughter, with instructions to let me know if she had any trouble with it, and to stick a piece of masking tape on the keys she was pressing when it didn’t sound right.
I want her to take both flutes she has to school and let her band teacher tell her how they each sound, but so far she is just using the Mendini still. I’m really hopeful that the Gemeinhardt is good. If so maybe I can add flute repair to my resume. Though after stressing over that instrument for a week, I don’t know if I’ll ever want to do that again.