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Can You Repair Your Flute Yourself?

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The flute, with its melodious sound and elegant design, is a cherished instrument for many musicians. However, like all musical instruments, it requires regular maintenance and occasional repairs to keep it in top playing condition. The question arises: should you attempt to repair your own flute, or is it better to leave it to the professionals?

My Own Attempt To Repair A Flute Myself

To repair your own flute or not is a tricky question. I wanted to see first-hand what it would take for a player to attempt to fix a flute on their own (of course, I'm not going to try it out on my main flute!) So I did a little experiment. I bought a cheap, but well-known brand-name flute (cheap Chinese flutes made from cupronickel would create a whole new world of challenges) from Ebay. When the flute came in, it indeed needed repairs. It was missing the crown and couldn't play all the notes. I figured I'd give this flute the makeover it deserved - I'm talking about giving it an entire overhaul. Yes, I fully jumped in on this one. Since I know that many people debate on DIY flute repair due to the cost of repairs, I thought I'd see if I could do this on the lowest budget possible. That means I'm not buying specific expensive tools and more than likely, whatever I'm buying is probably coming from Amazon.

So I did purchase a little flute repair kit on Amazon that was specifically for Bundy flutes (that's the brand I was working on). It cost $20 at the time and included a light, instruction booklet, a cork, a whole pad set, oil, cork wedges, glue balls, foil papers, and shims.

Checking The Pads

The first thing I did was attempt to check the flute for pad leaks. From what I saw, looked like they were all leaking, so I took all the keys off and removed all the pads. That part was easy.

Cleaning The Flute

Since the flute was fully apart, I figured now's the time to give it a 'flute bath'. I did hot boiling water in an aluminum pan with baking soda. I put the flute body, foot joint, and the keys in there (forgetting about corks and felts 🫣). The tarnish came off and so did all the corks and felts. Oops. I don't even know where those go now. Guess we'll figure it out later.

Replacing Pads

I read through that instruction manual (it was awful and far from helpful) and watched some Youtube videos on changing pads. From what I had learned, some of the keys required adhesives - the trill keys and the C keys (the smaller keys). So I melted the glue that came in the kit and glued the pads in.

Some of the videos talked about shims, I didn't understand anything except they are used to raise the pads, as you want them all even. As I attempt to repair this flute, I'm wondering how do I figure that out? With a measuring tape? I left all the shims out.

flute pad iron

I saw videos of techs screwing the pad back on, putting a drop of water on the pad, "ironing" the pad, then creating the indentation of the tone holes with clamps. Okay. That meant I needed to buy another tool - the pad ironing tool.

Everything seemed like it was going okay. I'm not going to lie, I was using... clamps I already had around the house. These clamps were plastic but strong, they're used to clamp up my green screen. Anywho, do not use clamps you have just around your house. The flute is round. The clamp ends are not. I had clamps flying off my setup. 🤣 So that means I had to buy another flute repair-specific item. They have flute pad clips for this.

flute pad clip

Putting The Flute Back Together:

Next I put the flute back together (there's a lot more to it, but I'll cover that below). I literally just put the keys back on together.

The Result:

The flute was unplayable. It was worse off than when I got it. 🤣 And that's why I didn't work on my primary instrument.

I didn't want to give up. I couldn't find a tech to shadow (do an apprenticeship or non-college internship), I didn't want to go back to school for it (I'm still paying off loans from the first round & I don't plan on being a full time repair tech), so I kinda just moved on momentarily.

Until my step-up flute needed repairs. I took a trip to the Flutistry to see how much it would cost. I planned on selling the flute, I just wasn't sure if I should sell as is or get it fixed first. I met with the owner (he's fabulous by the way) and we took a look at the flute. He quoted me $600 which wasn't worth it for a flute I'm just trying to sell. We talk, for awhile and he mentioned he wanted to host a repair class. I'm all in! Teach me everything you know! At the time, he didn't have all the details, but I definitely told him to put me on the list.

A few months later, I get an email with the details. He'll be hosting a COA (clean, oil, adjust) class. It's $1,000 and is for 4 days (long hours). Cool. I'm there!

flutistry coa repair class
Day 1:

We learned all the technical terms, the tools (those are more important than I thought), how flutes vary (even within the same brand - Selmer Bundy has variations from the Selmer Aristocrat for example), & just a lot of flute talk.

Day 2:

We took the keys off. I had already felt comfortable doing that from the previous project but the tools we had made it easier and I learned the correct order of removing the keys.

We learned how to remove the headcork and place a new one in. I didn't do that last time. The job itself isn't too difficult, but you do need to be careful. I applied to much pressure pushing the cork out. It suddenly let loose and my whole hand came scaping againt the flute. Let's just say the flute won and I had a gnarly scrape.

We also gave the flutes their baths. I had it right last time, just don't place the keys in there. 🤣

Day 3:

Lots of cleaning. We took the time to clean the oil from the rods, carefully cleaned the keys, and removed gunk on/around the flute keys, rods, and holes. This took some time, but the flute looks brand new when you're done.

Now that everything is clean, it needs to be put back together, but there's more than just placing the keys back on. You have to put new oil on the rods! (totally didn't do that on my own)

Day 4:

Adjustments. I missed this one completely & this part is the hardest. This is where the felts were important too. As you know, some of the keys come down together. You have to make sure that when those keys do, they all move at the same time and close at the same time, otherwise you have a leak, creating a weak or no sound. Sometimes it's as simple as a screw adjustment, other times it's adding felt or even a small sliver of paper. You also have to make sure all the pads are sealed. If there are leaks, if the pad is still in good condition, you can adjust the pad. Feeling, finding, and adjusting those leaks were challenging, at least for me. After several attempts, I got it.

Lastly, you play test. Does the flute play? Well? Strong? & the play test isn't what you think either. Leave your skills behind. Play long tones. Change the notes chromatically. Slur the notes. Listen. Feel. Is everything clean? If not, back to the workbench!

I was very proud to complete this class and I learned a lot of things that I missed from Youtube.

flutistry certificate for flute repair

So now I've been practicing COA on flutes I find on Ebay, Reveb, & Marketplace and then reselling them. I've done pretty good, but I also have a pile of flutes that all have the same problem too, so I'm definitely not ready to give COAs to flute players. 🤣

So What's The Controversy On Repairing Your Own Flute?

When I posted the video on my first journey, I recommended to not fix your own flute. I got a good hunk of lash back from folks stating how that's how they learned to repair flutes, that's how their flute tech journey began, or whatever. So, as long as they are telling the truth it's possible.

Let's look further at some pro's and con's of trying to fix your own flute.

Pros of Repairing Your Own Flute:

  1. Cost Savings: Professional repairs can be expensive. By learning to repair your flute yourself, you can save money on labor costs.

  2. Learning Experience: Repairing your flute can be a valuable learning experience. It can deepen your understanding of the instrument's mechanics and how different components contribute to its sound.

  3. Convenience: Sometimes, it's more convenient to fix minor issues yourself, especially if you live far from a repair shop or need a quick fix before a performance.

Cons of Repairing Your Own Flute:

  1. Risk of Damage: Without proper knowledge and tools, there's a risk of damaging your flute further. Some repairs require precision and expertise that only comes with experience.

  2. Voiding Warranty: If your flute is still under warranty, attempting repairs yourself might void it. Always check your warranty terms before proceeding with DIY repairs.

  3. Missed Issues: Professional repair technicians can spot potential problems that you might miss. Regular check-ups by a professional can prevent small issues from turning into bigger ones.

Still Considering Trying To Fix Flutes Yourself? Here's what I recommend doing if you're gonna go for it:

  1. Never work on your primary instrument. I don't care. Don't do it. Find a cheap flute from the marketplace and do some practice runs first. Even if all you're doing is taking apart the flute and putting it back together.

  2. With that, Start On A Student Flute. Step-up flutes bring on a whole other challenge - open holes. They may also be made out of different materials, which also can change how certain repairs are done. I wouldn't start with a wood flute either. Keep it simple. Start with a standard student flute.

  3. Get the right tools. Even certain things like pliers. If you use regular serrated needle nose pliers, you'll end up damaging the rods. With that, I also wouldn't get the cheap tools from Amazon either. I get my tools from J.L. Smith.

  4. Start small. Don't start on an overhaul project. Start small. Get comfortable with the flute. Learn to take it apart and put it back together. Learn to clean and oil the rods. Learn to change the cork in the head joint. Then keep on expanding.

  5. Books Will Be Your Friend. The more resources you have, the better. Though I used Youtube my first go around, it was better for an added explanation. I bought a few books for reference after the COA class. It was much more helpful than Youtube since the instructions start from the beginning, instead of jumping right into a certain section. I have The Complete Guide To Flute and Piccolo and Servicing The Flute.

  6. Speaking of resources, if you can, Find A Tech that's open to talking with you, teaching you, and answering questions. Since I took that COA class, sometimes I bring questions in to those who taught the class (I need to ask about that 1 problem I'm having with that pile of flutes 🤣) Sometimes the books, Youtube, and stragers on the flute forum can't really troubleshoot the flute without looking at it, so if you have a repair person who you can see, sometimes you can look over it together and figure out what the problems are.

  7. If you're looking to make a career out of flute repair, Take Classes If You Can. If you can go to school for it, that's great! If that's too much, look for repair classes. Hopefully the Flutistry will make the COA repair class an annual thing and hopefully, they expand to replacing pads and overhauls. Aside from them though, I have seen other companies and businesses offer a shorter repair class. You just have to look for them.

  8. Practice Makes Perfect. Flute repair is like an art. Make sure you practice and keep repairing flutes and as you get better, don't forget to start repairing other brands of flutes as well.

So Can You Repair Your Flute Yourself?

My suggestion is if you need your main flute fixed today, take it to the professional. If you want to actually learn flute repair, find practice flutes to work on and then one day, you'll be able to repair your flute yourself.

And though some people say it can be done, just know, there's a BIG risk to trying to fix your flute yourself.

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