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Eldred Spell

Flutes

 

  

I¡¯ve been quietly making piccolo headjoints for just over twenty years and I¡¯ve been very pleased to have heard them in a number of major orchestras. Requests for my headjoints have, in the past, usually been a result of word of mouth, but now, in this ¡¡ãhigh tech¡¡À age of computers and websites, I have a more efficient manner in which to make myself available. Over the years, I have been the subject of some interesting rumors: You have to beg for an Eldred Spell headjoint, or He doesn¡¯t make them anymore, etc. The web offers a chance to communicate a bit about what I do. I hope you¡¯ll find the following information interesting.

Who is this guy?

Well, first of all, I¡¯m not a full-time flutemaker. Most of the time, I¡¯m a college flute professor. Here¡¯s the generic biography:

Eldred Spell is Professor of Flute at Western Carolina University. A popular recitalist and clinician, he has appeared throughout the United States, Canada, and England. For many years he served as principal flute of the Sewanee Summer Music Center.  Dr. Spell has recorded for the CRS, Early Light, and Sonus record labels and many editions of his music are available through ALRY Publications. Spell has been a member of the Board of Directors of the National Flute Association, the Performance Health Care Committee, and an editorial adviser for the Flutist's Quarterly. He maintains a substantial collection of historic flutes and performs primarily on a nineteenth-century instrument by famed French maker Louis Lot. Spell holds a Ph.D. from Michigan State University. His teachers include Clement Barone, William Bennett, Israel Borouchoff, Geoffrey Gilbert, and Stephen Preston. Also trained as a flutemaker, Spell has done considerable research into the practical acoustics and tuning of the flute and has been a consultant to numerous flute companies. As a teacher, Eldred Spell offers a unique blend of personal warmth and musical expression, combined with a thorough knowledge of historical styles and the practical mechanics of flute playing. 

So what¡¯s with the piccolo heads?

 

I made my first piccolo head in 1968 ¡ª I was in the ninth grade. I literally bored out a tent peg in my father¡¯s shop and used a rifle cartridge to make the tenon. Amazingly, it played ¡ª though not particularly well. It wasn¡¯t until the late 70¡¯s that I began to get serious about it. By then I had trained as a flutemaker and was back in school working on my PhD (in flute, of course!). I was also studying piccolo with Clem Barone and had been working on intonation and flute scales with William Bennett (WIBB). One thing I learned from WIBB is that the size of a flute embouchure hole actually alters the tuning of the harmonics. One swipe of a scraper can make a huge difference in tuning and response. It began to bother me that, compared to a flute, most piccolo embouchure holes were proportionally huge. If you made a flute that way it couldn¡¯t possibly play in tune. So, I made several experimental heads. I found that a tiny hole does give good intonation, but it¡¯s impossibly difficult to play. Guided by Clem Barone, I worked out some compromises with under and overcutting to make a head that felt larger than it actually was. I made one for Clem and to my amazement, he played it until retirement and his successor, Jeff Zook, is still playing it. What a stroke of beginners luck! Clem showed it to few friends and Ethan Stang (Pittsburg Symphony) bought the second one.  And, . . .  I suddenly found myself in the piccolo headjoint business.

For the next fifteen years I averaged a two-year wait for delivery. This was due partly to a lack of time (I was in graduate school and later teaching full time), but also to my peculiar method of working. I found very quickly that no two piccolos (piccoli?) are remotely alike. This meant that I had to approach each one as a new project, with subtle differences in the bore, tubing and socket; (What an annoyance!) and, I have not yet found a way to streamline the process. I still start with an individual instrument and draw tubing, make rings, and drill the wood to suit. Even the headcrowns are individual. My headjoints are not interchangeable, even among the same maker¡¯s piccolos. About a year ago, I hired Tiffany Lamb (a former graduate student and amazing player) to help out part-time with the shop.  With her handling communications and prodding me to keep busy, the four-year wait is now down to about one month!!!   

 

And what¡¯s really so different about them?

There are so many wonderful instrument makers in the world today, that one really needs a niche to justify their existence. My particular specialty is making, what many piccolo players believe to be, the best sounding and playing piccolo headjoint available; custom made for a particular instrument to bring out the very best aspects of that instrument. I have reason to believe that my heads play well, and I can say that quite a few knowledgeable folks seem to like them. Here¡¯s what I see as the major distinctions:

  1. They are truly hand made.  Because every little part is made just so, I can get an optimum result.  Also, because I spend a considerable amount of time on each one, I have a personal investment.  I only make one at a time, so it gets my full attention. 
  2. The embouchure cut.  I don¡¯t offer cut A, B, or C.  After all these years I have a pretty good idea of what works best.  I start with the same basic cut, then play the piccolo and scrape away until I¡¯m happy with the way it plays.  If I don¡¯t like it,  it never leaves the shop.
  3. The wood.  One of my favorite rumors is that I use rosewood.  What I actually use is ¡¡ãmountain mahogany.¡¡À  It looks a bit like rosewood, but grows in North America.  There are none of the environmental or allergy concerns that arise with tropical hardwoods.  The sound is less bright, and seems to blend better in the orchestra.
  4. The secret process.  Um, er, well, . . . I actually do treat the wood.  Untreated mountain mahogany absorbs water and doesn¡¯t sound all that great.

Text Box: Most of my work is for wooden piccolos, but here¡¯s one I did for a friend¡¯s silver Haynes.

And here's one for an Opperman piccolo.
Since they are all made "one off," unusual sockets are no problem.


     
Can you send a few heads for me to try?

The answer is simple ¡ª NO, because, as stated above, I can¡¯t make them in advance. If you want to try one of my heads, here¡¯s how it works:

  1. Get in touch and let's find a time when you can send your piccolo and I am free to do the work.  It helps me to know something about how you play and what you're looking for.  Besides, I like getting to know other piccolo players.
  2. Send me your piccolo and I¡¯ll make ONE headjoint to fit  (unless you want to buy more  than one; some people seem to collect them!).  This represents a big investment and a gamble on my part that you will be pleased.  If you happen not to like it, I'm screwed ─ so rest assured that I'll do my best.
  3. Try the headjoint for about a week.  Most folks know within two seconds, but it¡¯s still a good idea to play it in your orchestra and in a variety of rooms.
  4. If you don¡¯t like it, send it back.  Mercifully, this doesn¡¯t happen very often!  If you do like it, send me a check.

I've done business this way for a long time. I assume all the risks - you make no deposit and no commitment to buy. It works because of my customer's integrity and because the headjoints really are good. Please don't order unless you are seriously interested and prepared to make a purchase. Remember that you are dealing with an individual human being, not a corporation. When you do decide to purchase, I really appreciate prompt payment. BTW, the current headjoint price for a traditional style piccolo is $1200.


 
 

Contact information

 

Flute related:

email: eldred@eldredspellflutes.com

Phone/FAX:(828) 293-7457

Eldred Spell
871 South Country Club Drive
Cullowhee, NC 28723
 
or
 
Eldred Spell
PO Box 100
Cullowhee, NC 28723
 

***********************************************
Academic Inquiries:

Dr. Eldred Spell

School of Music
253 Coulter Building
Western Carolina University
Cullowhee, NC 28723

email: espell@email.wcu.edu

Studio Phone: (828) 227-3952



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