Flute/What is this make

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Makers Mark
Makers Mark  

Flute
Flute  
I have an old flute, at least I think its a flute that beloged to my grandfather and was brought with him when he emigrated to the US from Germany after WWII.  Can you tell me anything about it, I don't want a value as I would never part with it.

Answer
Hello Daniel!

What you actually have there is a fife, which is part of the flute family, but not generally what one would think of when hearing the word "flute."  Technically, any instrument that produces sound by splitting an airstream against an edge is a flute.  As such, recorders, tin whistles, fifes, and soda pop bottles alike can all technically be called flutes, but are generally considered to be in separate categories from the flute.

Dating back several centuries, fifes have been used primarily for military signaling and in military ensembles, potentially along with percussionists or brass players.  The very piercing tone of the second and third octaves of its range allowed the sound to carry clearly over great distance and to cut across the din of battle.  There are still some active fife and drum corps spread around the world, so if you would like to give the fife a listen, I imagine YouTube would have several good examples.

Traditionally, the fife has a cylindrical bore and six finger holes.  That is to say that the inner diameter of the instrument often remains constant along its length.  However, particularly in Germany during the early part of the 20th century, makers began to mix qualities of their fifes and flutes, and I believe your instrument may have a conical bore (which means there's a slight taper to the inner diameter, which is a trait usually seen in flutes rather than fifes).  Given that it is marked Leipzig, this becomes even more likely.

Your instrument is also unusual for its 7th finger hole.  As I mentioned, traditional fifes have only 6, and are played such that closing all the holes produces the root pitch for a major scale.  So if closing all the holes produced a D, lifting one finger at a time (starting from the footjoint end) would play a rough D Major scale.  It's possible that the seventh hole is there to allow one to play lower than the normal range, or it may just provide additional venting (and thus a better tone quality) to the lower couple of notes.  The fact that it's raised and angled in such a way as to provide easy access for the pinky makes me think it may be a usable tonehole intended to be covered by the fingers, but without playing it I cannot be sure.

Now, unfortunately I am not familiar with the markings on your particular instrument, but I believe that's because it's what is a termed as a 'stencil' instrument.  A stencil is an instrument that is made by the manufacturer and sold unlabeled to a retailer, who then engraves/stamps whatever name they wish on the instrument and sells it on to the public.  This was a common occurrence in the first half of the 20th century (and we're now seeing it quite a lot again).  The reason I say this is because your fife appears to match nearly identically with two found in the Dayton C. Miller collection (one of the most comprehensive collections of flutes and flute-related materials in the world) held by the Library of Congress, one of which is specifically noted to have markings correlating to the retailer and not the manufacturer, and the other of which is completely unmarked.  If you would like to see these instruments, they can be found here:

http://www.loc.gov/item/dcm000600
http://www.loc.gov/item/dcm001378

As such, I'm afraid that we will not be able to pin down a maker for this fife, but we can say with a good amount of confidence that it was made and sold in Germany (which would match with your grandfather's past) and that it produced in the first quarter of the 20th century.  

It appears to be in very nice condition, and if you are interested in playing it, it would probably be very simple to get back into playing condition.  It would almost certainly need a new cork stopper, as these shrink, mold, or otherwise become unserviceable due to age and use.  Replacing such a cork is a very common, very simple procedure for any repairer, however, and if there are no cracks or other damage, that would be about it.  A few minutes and a few dollars spent with an instrument repairer and you'd have yourself a usable fife again.  It's an interesting and surprisingly intricate fife and probably deserves to be kept playable if a new cork is all that's needed.

I hope this is helpful.  If you have any further questions, please don't hesitate to ask.

Herbert

Flute

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Herbert Smith

Expertise

I can answer questions about almost any flute-related topic.

I have trained professionally as a flute repair tech and music educator, and have a broad range of experiences as a performer. I also have experience with a huge array of flutes with any imaginable material or specification, and can comment on the quality of various instruments, as well as guide people through the flute-buying process. I'm willing and able to discuss various flute gadgets (Valgon rings, Foster extensions, etc.) as well.

I'm very familiar with piccolo, alto, and other harmony flutes (including those in unusual keys, such as Eb flute, Db piccolo, G treble, Ab alto piccolo, Flute D'amore, Contrabass, etc.).

I am also glad to offer advice on how to approach difficulties within pieces of music, offer teaching tips to those who give lessons, or answer just about any other flute-related query you can throw at me!

Please note, however, that I am not an appraisal service, and will not provide estimates of value. Please do not ask me about the value of your flute. I also must decline to date instruments based on their serial numbers.

Experience

I'm a professional repair tech with years of experience, and a veteran high school band director. I've maintained a successful studio for private flute lessons for many years, and have performed professionally in just about any imaginable venue.

Education/Credentials
I have bachelor's degrees in music education and performance from highly regarded universities, and have trained with one of the best flute techs/flute makers in the US.

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