Abel Siccama invented a flute in 1845 which became
extremely popular and was copied by many other makers at the time and into the
next century. The instrument was essentially a normal 8-key flute but had
two extra keys, used to extend the stretch of the third fingers of both
hands. This permitted Siccama to move holes 3 and 6 down the flute to
their proper place, and to move the others slightly up the flute to their proper
Summarising the benefits:
- Intonation (accuracy of tuning) throughout the flute greatly improved
- stretch reduced and comfort improved very considerably
- the notes A and E as full-toned as the notes adjacent to them
- the tone of the flute rendered sweeter and purer due to better harmonic
- ease of playing improved due to greater efficiency
As with all things, there is a trade-off; the two keys are inevitably noisier than the fingers they extend. But, if stretch is a problem
for you, this is the ultimate solution - the stretch is now better than the fully
keyed metal flute, but no alteration in fingering is required. The keys
are lightweight, direct and fast, and I use magnetic repulsion instead of
springs, ensuring no friction and the lightest touch. The magnets are
rare-earth type (Neodymium Iron Boron) and are lifetime guaranteed.
Siccama used post mounting, which placed one of the posts in a position where
it tended to rub against the side of the third finger. In my arrangement, very low blocks are used, completely overcoming the contact problem
and remaining consistent with the appearance of any other key blocks on the
flute. The keys are offset slightly from the centreline to give the most
comfortable access, and the touches slightly curved to avoid their edges coming
into contact with the finger pad.
"Keyless" Siccama-style flute
Another issue with Siccama's flute was that it was easy to tear off the right
hand Siccama key by rotating the foot so that the Eb key touch clashes with the
cup of the Siccama key. I get round that by introducing a graceful curve
into the stem of the Eb key so that it skims over the top of the other
key. I also put a block just below the 6th hole to protect the key and to
provide a stop for the Eb key touch to descend upon when pressed. This, in
conjunction with a long well-designed leaf spring, gives the Eb key a very light
and positive feel.
6-key Siccama-style flute, employing
magnetic repulsion on the two open keys
Note how far the 6th hole is moved away from the others for best results.
In 1847, Boehm brought out his new design, a flute using a cylindrical bore,
with a tapering head. It was patented in England by John Mitchel Rose, of Rudall
& Rose, and became the standard metal flute we know today. Rudall Carte,
as they soon became, offered a number of flutes based on this bore, including
some with the old 8-key fingering. As soon as the patent ran out, some 14
years later, makers in England began to offer 8-key wooden versions of the new
flute. You can see a few in my collection at
The McGee-Flutes Research Collection.
Boehm bore 6-key flute
In my version you see above, you'll note some features different from the
19th century examples. I've made the embouchure rectangular (like modern
Boehm flutes), although any of my usual embouchures would be available.
Not so noticeable, the head is my Eccentric Bore style, offering a deeper
embouchure than those normally provided in the 19th century. A thinned
head (see my page on heads) would be another option. A deeper embouchure
chimney is desirable to bring out the tone possible from this bore.
The body is thinned, as was the practice on the best of the 19th century
flutes, for greater comfort and response, but I've thickened it at the joints.
The 19th century versions are dangerously thin at these points and many, if not
most, are cracked here. As there are no holes at the joints, the
thickening is purely structural and has no acoustic ramifications. As you
can see above, I have chosen to extend the thickening on the foot to encompass
the Eb key. The Eb key hole is large; without the thickening the seat
would have to be very shallow.
This model might suit a player who is firmly attached to the Boehm flute but
wants the benefit of the faster fingering afforded by the earlier system.
Because the holes are smaller than those on the modern Boehm, the tone is
Comparing D flutes
It's helpful to have some basis for comparing flutes by
differing makers and from differing traditions. Our most useful single
indicator is the size of hole 5 - it's the hole that changes most.
||Hole 5 (mm)
||Hole 5 (inches)
|Grey Larsen Preferred
Generally the larger the hole the more powerful the flute, the smaller the more
economic of air. Like all generalisations it has its failings, but it's a
start. You'll notice I've put the Siccama higher in the list than the hole
size might suggest. This is because of its large bore (same as Prattens)
and more uniform venting.
Flutes in Eb
Flutes in Eb are popular session instruments in some parts of Ireland.
The shorter length of an Eb flute makes it surprisingly more responsive than
flutes in D. I can make all of the above models in Eb as well as D.
Flutes in C
It's also possible to have flutes in C or combination D and C
flutes fitted to the same head. See the separate page on
C flutes for more details.
The models above are my current favourites, but if you didn't
find what you were looking for, other models are