Clinton #113 : Pre-Equisonant?

As our list of Clinton's Extant Flutes shows, the earliest flutes that have so far surfaced bearing the Clinton & Co Equisonant label have been relatively normal looking 8-key flutes.  I say relatively normal, as there are a few interesting points which we'll investigate below.

So what can these flutes tell us about Clinton and the new company?

Our example is No 113, bearing the mark shown:

Clinton & Co 
35 Percy St.
Bedford Square

As usual, it arrived in less than pristine shape. The head was not original, not appropriate and appeared to have been modified to fit.  The barrel was original but had the usual crack.

The body was in good shape, apart from those usual consumables, pads and lapping.  The foot hadn't fared so well - the Eb key was leaking badly and there was a split and some marks showing where someone had tried unsuccessfully to remove its hinge pin.  Can't get the pin out, can't fix the problem ....

Before we can see what the flute is all about, we have to get it working.

And here's the finished product, complete with a new head and cap in cocus, to match the rest of the flute.  

As we can see, it appears to be a fairly typical "Perfected era" flute, like the popular Pratten's Perfected.  It has the single-piece body, curved termination at the end of the foot, and the centrally-placed G# hole we've come to expect of post-Siccama flutes.  But when we apply my "C# to Eb - a more useful indicator of flute pitch?" test, we find its scale (256mm) is more in keeping with "Improved" era flutes than the Prattens (245mm).  Consequently, we can expect it to be happiest at pitches below modern pitch.


When we come to try to measure best pitch 9the pitch at which the tuning deviations are the least), we find the picture a little confused.  The flute suffers from the usual "flat foot syndrome" we associate with Improved era flutes (see the graph below).  This itself is of interest, coming many years after Boehm had so amply shown that flutes don't need to be out of tune.  It wasn't just Clinton making flutes like this at this time though, so we do have to assume that that was perfectly OK with the purchasers, indeed, perhaps a better tuned flute wouldn't have been.

We also find some seemingly unnecessary deviation between adjacent notes - note the sawtooth appearance of the traces below.  These might be the result of an attempt to tune the flute for best compliance to a range of keys, but is more likely just to be less than perfect tuning.  An effect of this "graphical noise" though is that it masks my usual pitch analysis system.  We can say though that the flute is perfectly useable in the 430 to 440 Hz range, with the flat-footedness less obvious at the low end.

The Brille

Perhaps the only obvious difference between this and a typical 8-key is the keying arrangement at the top two holes.  This is a Brille (German for "spectacles") and is intended to assist with getting c# up to pitch (it tends flat on most 8-key flutes as it has to be drilled too far down the flute in order to be easily reachable).

A close-up look at the Brille.  You can see it consists of a ring-key on each of the first two holes, coupled to a normally open key, positioned at the same location along the flute as is the c-key (visible below it).  So when you play c# (ooo ooo), it's as if the c-key opens automatically as well.  

And it works!  In the low octave, it brings c# up from about -50 to -20 cents; it helps more in the second octave but the usual oxx xoo fingering is still best for c#. 

In the image to the right we see how those ring key risers are made.  A flat-bottomed depression is made in the body wood, and a separate raised insert is made and dropped in.  You can see the insert in the left-hand hole isn't in place, while the right hand hole's insert is there.

When we look under the two c-keys (central), we find a bit of a surprise - the lack of the usual volcano-style pad seats.  This wasn't a feature of the flutes made for Clinton by Potter, nor is it a feature of later Clinton & Co flutes.  Nor is it a good idea, as pads do not enjoy seating on a flat surface. We can assume it was a cost or effort-saving expedient by a new company still developing its tooling and processes.

The bore

Just as the scale and intonation follow normal Improved era practice, so does the bore, shown in hot pink below

So far, Clinton bores seem to fall into just two camps:

  1. 8-key flutes (e.g. in my Research Collection), 8-keys with brille (ie early Equisonant like the one under study), and the Flute for India follow a generally Rudall & Rose pattern.  

  2. Multi-key Equisonants and the 1851 Potter Clinton follow the general lines of Rose's New Conoidal Bore. 

The difference between the two groups is quite significant and is best noted at the foot, where group 1 goes below 11mm, while group 2 are around 12.5.

It's interesting and not insignificant that he opted to have models in the two major pre-existing camps.  I and lot's of makers do the same today.  It's also interesting that he did not seem to be interested in the small bores used by Boehm and by Rudalls for their early Boehm flutes.  Far too wimpy for the English market.


A bit rough!

Indeed, there are many points of workmanship on this flute that are less good than we are used to seeing from the house of Clinton:

  • as mentioned, the pad seats are just flat bottomed holes, and not always concentric with the hole (not that concentricity is essential, but it suggests the use of interim tooling)

  • there are no striker plates under the springs

  • the cork dot buffer for G# key is not under the rivet (and there is no obvious sign of the rivet having been moved)

  • the keys are more crudely made and not so well finished

  • the body bore wanders towards one side in the middle.

  • the Eb key needed a bit more metal taken out from underneath to stop it hitting the wood before the pad bottoms

Indeed, this last point possible explains why the flute seems relatively unused.  It's quite likely that the Eb key never really seated well, making the lowest notes hard to play and unsatisfying.  

Playing qualities.

Given the Improved era dimensions, the flute plays pretty much like an average flute from the first half 19th century.  As we've seen in the work of other makers, clearly strong demand remained for flutes of this kind, even though by the time this one was made, Pratten had moved the goal posts considerably.  In this context it's good to remember that the market leaders of the Improved period, Rudall & Rose continued to make Improved style flutes for 50 or more years after Pratten's development.  

Earlier than the number suggests?

Now you would hope that such issues as mentioned above might be sorted out by the time we reach flute no 113.  But it's worth noting that this is the earliest Clinton & Co flute number so far reported.  Is it possible that Clinton didn't start at No 1, but perhaps at whatever number he and Potter had reached before Clinton went out on his own?  We know that is at least 91.  That could make this a very early Clinton & Co flute indeed and would explain the slightly rough edges.   

Common Features

Comparing the three early-number 8-key flutes so far reported, we see:

  • all single-piece long-body style

  • all have brille

  • all have the Long F turned up in the Nicholson style

  • all have the Siccama-style rounded end termination.

Market Niche?

So we're looking at a flute that appears to be one of the new fangled Perfected style, such as Boosey & Co were making under the Pratten's Perfected label, but that plays in the manner of an Improved era flute, still being made by Rudall & Rose and most of the other makers of the time.  And with the Brille to fix up the flat c# problem.  My guess this was aimed at amateur users rather than professionals, who would benefit more from a higher pitched flute.  Amateur purchasers always outnumber professionals, as much now as then, so this was common sense marketing.

Training, and cash flow augmentation?

It would be reasonable to imagine that Clinton was meeting other goals or indeed needs in releasing these straightforward flutes.  It must have cost a lot to set up his flute-making operation, cold-bloodedly and from a standing start.  And it would take some further time and effort to develop the more advanced models we normally associate with Clinton.  The set-up costs have to be serviced, and salaries met until the new models hit the market and start earning their keep.

You could also imagine that training of new staff would also be an issue.  Clinton was probably lucky enough to be able to attract some experienced staff (he was a flute professor after all, not a maker), but staffing the whole operation by pilfering personnel from other companies would be more difficult and more expensive.  He probably started with one or so experienced makers, and a sign in the window, boy wanted.  Making some simple flutes up front would be a more gentle introduction than making a complex multi-key.

Equisonant or not?

So is it fair to call these simple flutes Equisonant?  From our view in retrospect, it might seem a little disappointing - we've come to associate that name with the multi-key flutes that set Clinton apart from all the other makers.  But, we have to remember it's Clinton's name, and his to do what he likes with.  Pratten after all had a suite of flutes he called Pratten's Perfected - everything from a simple 8-key wooden conical to a 17 key metal cylinder - why shouldn't Clinton employ a similar marketing tag?

And then there is that Brille - the additional keywork to sharpen up c#.  It's clear in all his designs that Clinton loathed the flat c# normally associated with 8-key flutes and even when he gets to make some 8-keys, he does something about it.  The brille is not new in England, Siccama at least had used it prior to Clinton, and it had passed on to some of Pratten's models.


Special thanks to Adrian Duncan for making this flute available for examination.


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Created: Dec 04.