Saturday, March 21, 2009

Last Friday's Fun

or "Going Walkabout In Southwest Florida"

I saw a nach Meyer flute on ebay and it was offered by a shop in Port Charlotte, about 45 minutes away, so I went up yesterday to have a look at it and try it out. The shop fixed it up for a guy and he didn't want to pay to get it back so they are auctioning it off to recover expenses. I don't really need another one until I fix up the ivory headed one I've got and sell one of the two I currently own. So I just went mainly to have a go on the flute and learn something about a different maker's nach Meyer. I've been wanting to stop in at Darkwood too, so it was a good chance to combine both missions.
The Music Stand is a comfortable place with five practice/lesson rooms and a ton of instruments. Dave, the owner has been in the business for many years and plays in the Charlotte County symphony. I didn't ask what he plays, but he could make sounds on the flutes. I'm guessing he plays some sort of woodwind as he's got a string guy working for him.
Anyway I called before I went and got the guitar tech and he said come on up. When I got there he had the flute out behind the counter for me. I checked it out and gave it a couple toots, and tried a tune or two. Dave appeared at that point and asked would I like to step into one of the rooms. I'm thinking "Am I that bad?" Anyway the takes me back to a room and I mess with the flute some more, get it lined up as I like it and played an actual tune. Gotta warm these things up you know. Dave appears again and says it seems I know the music. He then goes and gets a whole arm load of old wooden flutes and piccolos. And a silver Eb Boehm flute that he is quite proud of.
I went to the car and brought in both of my flutes and the banjo. We had fun passing smelly flutes around and trying to play them. The one he repaired had cracked thru the embouchure and the crack wasn't very visible at all. Nice job. Tthe embouchure was a little larger than I though it would have been for that period. It played pretty clearly in the second octave. The low octave was a little more airy. 
He had another flute that appeared to be by the same maker. Same keys and rings. He had not worked over the corks and pads on this one and the joins wobbled a little but it held air and could be played. The tone of this one was much better. I didn't think to put the head from the wobbly on the ebay one. He had one with an ivory head that wasn't in shape to even try. I tried a piccolo or two and don't have the focus for that. He could make sounds on them but a few notes would take his whole lung full of air. I've read they are harder to play than a flute.
I told him about the whistles I make and showed him the one I had in my pocket. He asked the price and said he would like to buy one. I didn't have a good Walkabout with me so I promised to bring one up to him. Which also gives me another chance to hang with them and check out more stuff. He said he'd come to the Ray in a couple weeks once the symphony season is over and he is free on Sundays. His guitar tech was into the banjo and wants me to bring the cello banjo up. He said he's got a bunch of loose strings in the back and he'll see if he can find some that would be good on the CB. He might come to the Ray. He's off at 4 on Sundays.
So I take my leave and head to Darkwood, and when I walk in Chris (a session mate) is there, having just finished giving a hammered dulcimer lesson. She introduced me to her student and took me around the place. It's interesting. A mishmash of cafe, music store, pottery studio and luthier cave. I had "Grandpap's fiddle" under my arm as I was wondering what it might cost to fix it up. RJ, the luthier and main dude had a look at it. "And oh, take it out of this case. I smell mold. Mold eats glue, which is really just horses ass." Chris told him I was the whistle maker and it was sort of "Oh". And as he putters on the workbench a bit he goes to a shelf and hands me two keyless flutes/fifes. "These are from the Civil War, made of oak from the Atlanta area we think." I have a go and it's a real struggle to play because they are so blasted small. Almost like playing a high G whistle sideways. I manage part of tune before the wheels come completely off my playing. I remark that it's hard to play, and my fingers have not learned where the holes are. He said "That's more consecutive notes than anyone else has got out of them" and he wanders off. Guess he's not the chatty type.
Steve (a string playing session mate) appears, and the three of us chat about St Patrick's day gigs, MG A's, MG B's and MG Midgets for at least an hour. I had them rolling holding their sides with the story about driving along under a semi to dodge on-comming traffic on a rolling two-lane state highway in Ohio. Chris allows as how she'd like to buy one of my whistles to practice her whistlin' in the self-consious learning phase. She's got an aluminum one she likes pretty well but doesn't practice it cuz it's so loud. After a while I put the fiddle under my arm and start drifting towards the door, pausing at the banjo mute sitting on the workbench top. (It's a claw hammer) RJ happens in and asks "Are you going to leave the fiddle?" "Not today, I just wanted to know how much budget I needed to work up." "Are you a friend of hers?" "I don't know if she'll admit it." "Gimme it. I'll glue it up for you." WhooHoo! "Come to the Ray some Sunday and I'll buy you a pint." He smiled "I drink Guiness." Chris says "So do most of them." So maybe we'll see RJ sometime. Chris says he's got an Irish song or two.
So, In pay it forward fashion, I gave Chris a whistle as payment for the fiddle repair that she unwittingly facilitated. Maybe she'll learn to play it and fit in a smaller space on the little stage than her hammered dulcemer. Maybe she's looking for a way out of that corner under the A/C vent. 
Whatever the result it was an afternoon well spent. A whistle sold, a fiddle repaired (both just promises at this point) and some tunes played on some strange flutes. Oh, and the best part is that's the first time I noticed I didn't feel like an interloper in a music store. I used to feel like all the instruments were taunting me. Now just some of them are, especially the right-handed ones. . Music shops feel as comfortable to me now as car parts or wood working stores.
Boy, that's a whole chapter in a book!  Sorry about that. That's why I don't twitter. Maybe I should save these ramblings and publish my own "Last Nights Fun"

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cherish The Ladies St Patrick's Day Concert and Parks Whislte Walkabout

herish The Ladies came to Fort Myers, Florida for St Patrick's Day 2009 and I wasn't going to pass up that concert just for a gig or two. I sent Joanie Madden an e-mail ahead of time offering our sessions or general local knowledge if they were going to be in town for a while. Joanie said she was quite busy but would like to check out my whistles while she was here, and I should find her in the lobby after the concert. 

The concert was quite good of course, and afterwards I let the folks finish the meet-and-greet with Joanie. As she was returning to the hall I introduced myself and we had a chat with a few other people for a while. 

During a lull in the conversation, Joanie looks at me and says 

"Well, did you bring a whistle?" 

Of course I did. My sport coat was a virtual wearable whistle roll at the moment, with whistles in every pocket. I took out an Every Walkabout in it's pouch and handed it to Joanie. 

"That's a whistle?" she said with raised eyebrows. 


Joanie liberated the whistle parts from their case and assembled the whistle, still looking at it with an interested but wondering look on her face. She played a riff on the whistle and her eye's widened. 

"That's good!" she said, and went back to more playing. 

"That's very good!!" was the declaration after a minute or two of playing. 

I'm sure I was absolutely beaming. Joanie said she really liked the whistle and would be happy to give me a recomendation. I asked her "How about a picture?" and she said OK. Of course I didn't bring a camera, so Kathleen Boyle the acordian/piano player in the group snapped a photo while Joanie and I played a couple tunes on my whistles. 

From Whistle Promos
Carey and Joanie playing a few tunes on Parks Walkabout whistles. (click for larger image.)

Later Joanie invited me up on stage to peruse her whistle roll while she packed up her gear. She had a great big Sassafrass Grove 25 whistle roll, with two complete sets of whistles, each one's key clearly marked. She mentioned she had the marked whistle roll made for her after grabbing the wrong key whistle from the formidable stack one time on stage. Nice job on the whistle roll Sarah!

When she was about all packed up she put the Walkabout back in it's pouch and said "I'm not going to put this in my roll, I'm going to keep it in my wallet." Yea, it doesn't get any better than that, eh?

So next time you see Joanie, don't be surprised if she pulls a whistle out of nowhere and composes a tune on the spot. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Improved Quality - Silver Linings and Other Truths

Every cloud has a silver lining, right? Sometimes it's not so easy to see it when it is raining on your parade, but I've found the silver lining to be mostly true. You just have to step back and take a look.

In the current case, I got a "bad" batch of pipe from which I made a number of whistles. It wasn't really that bad, not as far as water pipe goes. But it was bad as far as my whistle making was concerned. I had been making the Every family of whistles the same way for quite a while with no problems and had relaxed my inspection from 100% to only several per batch, following the tried and true QA US Govt Mil Spec sampling plans. All was going along fine. 

After sending whistles to a few really experienced whistle players with good ears, I got a phone call from two, and an e-mail from the other saying the intonation of the whistle was off. And not just a little bit. Hmm... what could it be? Could you send me a clip of yourself playing the whistle, and then return the whistle to me for evaluation? I wanted to see how the whistles checked out in my hands compared to theirs. And it looks like I'm back to 100% inspection againg. 

Could it just be due to different playing styles? None of the whistles I put thru the stringent testing showed a problem here in my hands. These folks have all played a number of different whistles so probably not. I'm expecting a problem with the whistles.

I had recently begun using the RTTA intonation analysis software from Terry McGee and Graeme Roxbury  and had been testing some whistles with it, especially if I was changing the location of finger holes or something. I took the clips and ran them through the RTTA software. I now had a pretty good picture of the "live" intonation of the whistles in the customer's hands. When I got them back and did a plot myself, my plots showed intonation problems as well. So I reported that fact to the folks who were kind enough to tell me about it and set to work on finding out why these whistles were so different from the others I have made. 

From Whistle Promos
Poor intonation whistle example. Only a handful of the whistles were this bad due to the thickness of the pipe from the maker. But it gives a good idea of how much a little extra material in the wrong place can change things. (click to enlarge)

My first reaction was to think that there must be something I did wrong. Maybe I got the calipers calibrated to something other that zero for a while. Something. But everything thing I normally measure checked out fine. 

So I had to start checking things I didn't usually measure. The problem turned out to be a narrower body ID for the whistles. It wasn't much when measured, less than one-half of a millimeter, but in relation to the other dimensions that's quite a lot, as it applied for the whole length of the whistle. 

The pipe, when used as hot water pipe, has to hold a minimum pressure, which requires a minimum wall thickness. The pipe must also fit properly into fittings, so the OD of the pipe is the most critical dimension for the plumbers. So if the pipe comes out a little heavy, it still makes good pipe, it just costs the maker some extra material. So the maker wants to use the minimum material, which causes the ID to be pretty darn consistent. 

Until now. Maybe they started up a new line or maybe they started up a new operator. Whateve the cause, some of the pipe had a smalled ID than I had been getting from this source for years. OK, now that I know what happened, what can be done about it? 

I could just measure the pipe and try to use only that pipe which was the size I expected it to be. But just beacuse I measure one spot doesn't mean the whole pipe is the same size. So I decided to take matters into my own hands and ream the ID of all the body sections so I would be sure that the body ID was the same for all my whistles. 

I made the prototype whistles, and found there was an improvement in the intonation right off the drill press, which required less work tuning the whistle. This was good since reaming adds a fair amount of time to the making of each whistle and I hoped to get that time back somewhere. Of course happier customers alone are worth it, but often there's an actual manufacturing savings when you improve product quality. So long as you actually improve the process and not just inspect the quality in by throwing out more product. 

Now that I was going to be reaming the pipe, I was going to be chucking the pipe quite tight and would mar the end of it with the chuck teeth. So this would need to be cut off, wasting a small section of material. Since I was now reaming the body I thought it would make sense for me to do all the body parts of a whistle together and keep them as a unit now rather than make so many heads, so many bodies and so many Walkabout parts and then after they are all machined, match them together. This required a complete change in how I measured the cuts when parting the whistle pieces from the original pipe. 

Well, you get the idea. One small improvement and I completely re-worked my process for making the whistles. They appear to be the same whistles when you pick them up. But from my perspective I make them in a very different way now. 

From Whistle Promos
This is a plot from one of the whistles made after the process change. (click to enlarge)

Even before the process change I have been keeping statistical process control charts on a lot of the steps during the making of a batch of whistles. Here's one on the tuning slide outside diameter. You can see just from looking that they are getting more consistent over time, due to relatively minor changes in how I do things. Note that it's how I do things not what I do that is improving. Maybe I'll talk more about SPC in the future.

From Whistle Promos
In a nutshell, narrower limits on the top chart means more uniform part. (click to enlarge)

Monday, March 9, 2009

Last Nights Fun

As well as being a tune name, it's the name of a book by Ciaran Carson. Good stuff if you are a player of ITM or the flute. 

So far my favorite line in "Last Nights Fun" is the one about the Boehm "... who devised an instrument of cylindrical bore and enormous tone holes which could not be covered by the fingers, but demanded an intricate system of pads, levers and springs to enable each key to open independently as well as interact with the others. The result, in the opinion of many, is a different instrument entirely; and certainly, it is disparaged by many traditional players as a class of typewriter."

I'm sure a Boehm flute is a fine instrument for the intended purpose, but this shows how one school defends itself against the other. I wonder what Boehm players say of simple system flutes?