Choosing the Right Headjoint
By headjoint maker, Keith Anderson
There are many things to consider when searching for the right headjoint. If you are a student, think about the flutist you are and the flutist you want to be. You will need a balanced, well-rounded headjoint so that as you progress you are able to enjoy more of its complexities.
If you are a professional, you will want to search for a headjoint that has a quality of sound that will excel in your principal performing environments. In general, a good headjoint should have the flexibility to flourish in a wide range of performance situations.
When shopping for a headjoint, it is better to identify what style of cut you prefer before turning your attention to the material the head is made of. Some basic qualities to look for in a cut style are the ability to achieve nuance of color, comfortable articulation, and consistent tone color throughout all registers.
Embouchure hole size and shape
The size and shape of an embouchure hole lends itself toward certain distinctions. A large hole has a big sound. A small hole has a sweet sound. An oval shape tends to be fluid and perform well in the upper octaves. A rectangular shape tends to be strong in the mid and lower registers. My job as headjoint maker is to bring out these qualities to their fullest while maintaining balance, color, and flexibility.
The S4 cut has a large oval shaped hole. This shape is more traditional in style and will facilitate fluid slurs, excellent upper register response and delicate pianissimo passages. This is an excellent headjoint for ensemble playing and for those who like a little more resistance to produce a full, broad sound.
The M2 is rectangular in shape and is regarded as our ‘modern’ cut. The flat front edge that results from the rectangular shape is excellent in handling the air blown from a wider aperture as found in low register playing. Therefore, while the sound produced in the low register is very rich and focused, the middle and upper registers enjoy excellent core and clarity as well. The sound produced is large and orchestral and a popular style for soloists
The angle of the blowing edge affects how much you have to roll the headjoint in or out to find the “sweet spot” with the best focus and tone. The blowing edge angle also impacts how much resistance is given to the air stream and the overall quality of articulations.
The blowing edge of the S4 is gradual and similar to that of traditional headjoint styles. This provides a good amount of what I like to call functional resistance, where the player has room to project with a lot of air and not worry about overblowing or “fracking.”
The blowing edge of the M2, in contrast, is angled for less resistance and quick response. This enables the player to articulate with ease especially in the sometimes formidable lower register.
The main reasons why different metals produce different sounds are density and stiffness. Both density and stiffness are inherent properties of the material. Stiffness can be affected by how that material is alloyed and heat treated. Higher density tends to favor the lower harmonics; lower density, the opposite. In practical terms, a denser metal would have more resistant qualities than a less dense metal but the sound also has potential to carry farther and possess more complexity. Higher stiffness tends to favor higher harmonics; lower stiffness, the opposite. Through our choices of materials, tube thicknesses and manufacturing techniques, we balance all of these factors to give the flutist an incredible spectrum of headjoints from which to choose.
RISERS & LIP PLATE
A gold riser on any kind of silver head will add color and nuance by using a denser metal for the most critical part of the whole flute, directly where the sound originates. Gold is perceived by many to “darken” the sound and add a profound color palate at an economical price.
The gold embouchure is a gold lip plate in addition to a gold riser resulting in subtle additional benefits over a gold riser alone. It supplies gold at the exact tip of the blowing edge, the weight adds substance to the sound and the aesthetic is admirable.
The platinum riser is the densest material we offer. The projection and color added are both striking and beneficial and can be appreciated by orchestral player, soloist, and chamber musician alike. Platinum is widely known for its free-blowing fortes, but its subtlety of color and ability to facilitate upper octave pianissimos is also unparalleled.
.016 Sterling silver is the standard material for our professional flutes. Containing 92.5% silver, the sound produced is one of classic brilliance. Our thin wall .014 silver tubes offer a delicate shimmer and the least amount of resistance in sound production. The thick wall .018 tubes offer a darker more resistant sound that carries well in the concert hall.
Our 5-95 tubes are 5% platinum and 95% silver. In my opinion, they have a nice mellow color while maintaining good projection. 5-95 or platinum risers are optimal combinations and give a rich, velvety tone with great resonance.
Our 998 alloy is 99.8% silver and achieves a more complex sound than sterling silver with amazing projection capability. A platinum riser with a 998 tube is a popular combination for soloists, though any of our embouchure enhancement choices are stunning in my opinion and are a clear step ahead of their sterling silver counterparts.
10K gold is not quite as resistant as 14K. It has the added color depth of gold while embodying the projection qualities of silver and, therefore, is a great middle ground for a diverse musician.
14K and 19.5K heads achieve a dark “Full-On” gold sound with significant resistance, inspiring color and a luscious heft no matter the cut style.
Our platinum headjoints are made with 14K embouchures so that their sound does not become too dark. This combination enables an unlimited palate of color and flexibility for the performer from delicate pianissimos to the most aggressive fortes.
Whether you are a seasoned professional searching for new colors and flexibility or a music student in need of a headjoint to accompany you to the next levels, your headjoint is here at Burkart. If you have specific artistic visions in mind for your headjoint, Lillian and I enjoy the opportunity to work one on one with you. Our cut styles are innovative, our selection of materials is diverse and we’ve spent many years tirelessly striving to make the world’s best headoints.
To try our headjoints, stop by our workshop, have a trial sent to your home or look at our calendar to see when we’re in your area. I think you’ll see why many world-renowned flutists choose Burkart - and I look forward to working with you.