Clinton Equisonant  No: 262

A preview of our next study into the work of flute-maker John Clinton.  I acquired the flute during my recent trip to London on behalf of my research colleague, Adrian Duncan.  I'll be restoring the flute to playability, and analysing its performance characteristics.  We expect to be able to bring you the actual sound of the instrument later.

The flute is a relatively early example (no 262) of Clinton's Equisonant.  It's conical, but fully keyed.  It probably responds to the old 8-key fingering but with some improvements in response.  Here it is:

So what can we surmise immediately?  Let's look at the flute, section by section ....

The upper stack

L1 is the usual c# - well it would be usual if it were just an open hole.  But Clinton has pulled a similar trick to the one he used on the 1851 instrument - the hole is large when open (for a good c#), but smaller when the second hole is covered (for a good c natural and d).

The upper stack of keys ...  

Extensive use of clutches permits a useful set of functions.  

The second pad, which is normally closed, provides c natural when either the thumb key or the R1 trill key touch is pressed.

L2, the ring key, provides B when open and A when covered.

L3 is actually comprised of two independent plates.  The upper plate is a touch to close the pad immediately to its right.  It simply extends the reach of the third finger.

The lower L3 plate controls a duplicate Bb hole, but its task here seems just to provide better venting to the c# note.  Closing either L1 or L2 closes it.  Normally we would expect c#'s venting to come from a hole only a semitone below (c natural) so this is an unexpected feature.  We will have to wait for restoration and analysis to see if the approach has merit.

The Thumb key

On first glance, the thumb key is the old 8-key B-flat.  But wait - there are linkages at both end - what do they do?

The pad-end linkage is easy - it simply permits a trill key near R1 to open the key.  So it doesn't matter whether you use your left thumb or your right index finger, the result is the same.

The touch-end linkage is more interesting.  It opens that small pad on the upper stack, but only if L2 is not covered.  In other words it converts B into c, or if you are playing A, it converts it to Bb.

What a tricky thing!  Pressing the thumb key or R1 trill key can give you either c or Bb, depending if you are playing B or A! 


The lower stack

On this flute, the lower stack works completely independently of the upper stack.  That isn't always the case with Equisonants.

Suspended from the main axle we can see, left to right, a pad, the R1 touch, then two combined touch/pads for R2 and R3.  

The first two are connected.  R1 is simply extended via the axle to close the pad on the extreme left.

R2 and R3 are more interesting.  They close the pads below them, but pressing either will close the key at the top of the picture.  When open (its natural position), this key terminates the column at F#.  So playing xxx xoo gives that note.  Press the next key (xxx xxo), you get the usual E, but press the last key (xxx xox) and you get F natural.

What?  The flute doesn't just respond to 8-key fingering for F# - it also reverts to baroque flute fingering for F.  But an accurate F# and an accurate F.  Saints be praised!

Now before we move for the immediate canonisation for Mr. Clinton, we have to pause and recognise that the same mechanism appeared on Richard Carte's 1851 flute.  So who came up with it first?  Probably Carte, but hey, an idea worthy of snitching!  Interesting that Carte permitted that key to be operated also by a "Long-F" type lever (by L4), but Clinton has dropped that option.

The lower stack, showing the linkages that enable either of the two lowest keys to close the F# key.  Note the lack of a "Long-F" key.
Before we leave the bottom end, let's investigate the three key touches rising up from the lower axle ...
  • The left-most touch is for R1 and operates the Thumb Bb/c key mentioned above.
  • The middle touch is probably also for R1 (but possibly also R2), and opens a d-trill key located at the very top of the tube, a little above L1.
  • The right-most touch is the old "short-F" key, traditional to the 8-key flute; operated by R3.

The Foot keys

A quick look at the foot keys on the overall image of the flute (above) suggests that they follow the Boehm layout.  But look more closely at the touches and we find Clinton has done something apparently unique.  He has placed the C and C# touches above the Eb touch - a location which falls comfortably on this flute.  It will be interesting to see how players find it.

A close view of the key touches for R4.  Note the unusual way of achieving the crossover needed to ensure C is at the right of C#.

Decorative values

Although the flute might appear a little spartan and business-like in the pictures above, check out this close up of the "engine-turning" employed on the head and foot caps.  Nice!

What needs to be done?

Well, it's the old story.  Having a lined head and barrel means both have cracked comprehensively.  The barrel slide has indeed come loose from the cracked barrel and is currently fused to the head slide.  The lip plate further complicates matters, and an altogether new head isn't entirely out of the question.

The rest of the instrument is in surprisingly good condition - nothing missing or broken, but corrosion, dried-out pads and sticking keys need to be attended to.


You only have to look at a few Equisonants to realise that Clinton tried out a lot of ideas in his relatively short career.  We'll be trying to identify the main features of the many Equisonants, and bringing them to you on these pages.  If you have information about Clinton or his flutes, we welcome your input.

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