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equipment > flutes > guitars > how
to play the flute > amplified flute
My first ownership of a musical instrument
was the more than slightly disappointing result of mail-ordering
a genuine high grade plastic Elvis Presley ukulele. With imprinted
likeness of the great man's autograph and different coloured
nylon strings, this wretched piece of tat was just about playable,
but failed to stay in tune for more than thirty seconds. It
was supplied with pitch pipes to enable tuning the notes of
the open strings and a chord chart to songs like The Campdown
Races and Yankee Doodle Dandy, which I could not remember Elvis
actually having made famous. I was about nine at the time.
At age eleven, I persuaded my father to buy for me a Spanish guitar, spied in
a music shop in Edinburgh, where we lived, and suspiciously cheap at £5
($8). This ferocious beast would not be tamed until fitted with steel strings
and pressed into an orgy of three chord strumming with the young John Evan and
Jeffery Hammond as reluctant witnesses, some five years later.
A solid electric guitar of nameless and vague origin came and
went before the purchase of a true name instrument, the Harmony
Stratotone. Harmony and I taught each other the rudiments of Black
American blues courtesy of T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters, John Lee
Hooker et al, whose records were bought by pooling our meagre resources
or, more than likely, by just pooling Jeffrey's.
Later came the Burns Black Bison, an elaborately horned devil
played through a Burns 30 watt amp and which was soon traded in
against a vintage (although then a mere few years old) white Fender
Stratocaster. This was purchased from Lemmy, the rhythm guitarist
with Reverend Black and The Rocking Vicars for thirty pounds. Lemmy
and I probably both wish we had kept the thing to this day, since
it would be worth around ten thousand in the condition in which
we owned it. Lemmy went on to a lengthy career with Motorhead and
a lifelong entanglement with the loudest bass guitar on the planet.
Around this time, I coveted the Shure microphones used by some
of the professional bands around the Blackpool area. Trading in
the Fender, I acquired the services of a Shure Unidyne Three and,
to pad out the part exchange, a shiny Selmer Gold Seal flute, in
neat carry case with no playing instructions; not even in Japanese.
longer playing the guitar, since Mick Abrahams had by then joined
the band, I rounded out the musical trio of '68 instruments with
a Hohner blues harmonica, the Marine Band single reed version which,
as I quickly learned, you had to suck more than blow to get the
blues thing happening.
At this time in mid '68, the Tull PA system was a brace of 30
watt Vox AC 30's, wired through a little mixer made by someone
called Edwards. It had five inputs and two mono outputs. Since
one of the Vox's was a bass model, you didn't want to stand on
the left side of the Marquee club when Tull were on if you wanted
to hear the vocals.
My instrument line-up increased to include a hot water bottle,
alarm clock, tin whistle and the mysterious and almost legendary
Claghorn, the resultant bastard offspring of an unlikely midnight
pairing of ethnic bamboo flute and a saxophone mouthpiece. At the
bottom, was taped the plastic bell end of a child's toy trumpet
and the whole thing wrapped in layers of parcel tape to hold it
all together. "Dharma for One" soared on the searing
strains of the mighty Claghorn, if a little loosely in terms of
pitch and reliability.
The only guitar which I had retained, principally for writing
songs, was the Harmony, which now resonated uncertainly with knotted
strings and missing pick-up. The first songs for the Stand Up album
were written with this poor old wreck and the missing pick-up was
found and later fitted to a three string Balalaika in time for
the recording of "Jeffery Goes To Leicester Square".
My first Tull acoustic guitar was a Yamaha, the cheapest model
in their range, and the first mandolin was a bowl-back European-made
thing purchased from a little shop in Denmark to annoy Mick with
on the return trip by ferry, when I wrote "Fat Man".
Martin Barre kindly gave me a Gibson SG pointy horn electric guitar
which I ventured to use on the Benefit album, as occasional rhythm
our first trip to America, my French Selmer flute gave out and
was replaced with a US made Artley, a basic student model sturdily
made for the school band trade. At one time I owned more than twenty
Artleys, in various states of repair (or lack of) and each tour
in the seventies started with my finding the best bits to put together
to make up three playable instruments for the duration. Having
given most away to charity auctions over the years, I retain only
a couple, now largely unplayable.
For a while I switched to 600 series flutes by Pearl, a Japanese
company, and then more recently in the early nineties to Sankyo
Silversonics and the US-made 2100 and 3100 Powell flutes. I use
the Powells for recording and take a Sankyo and a Powell on tour.
The intonation and sonority of the Powell is better, but the Sankyo
blows louder and easier, especially when the player's lips are
fatigued and thus less articulate. The Powell has a narrower bore
and a more demanding Q or P headjoint than the free-blowing Sankyo
raised shoulder NSR1 headjoint. My practice, or kitchen, flute
is a Yamaha student model, cheapest in the line, and well recommended.
I take it on holiday and leave it assembled when at home to pick
up and puff on whenever passing. It undoubtedly helped when I gave
up smoking, a good few years ago.
The guitar with which I am most associated, especially in the
seventies, was the US produced Martin 0-16NY, a small bodied so-called "parlour" guitar
which I first found in a shop (would you believe it?) in Tokyo
during our first visit in 1972. I still own three of these guitars,
although they have been reworked with slimmer contoured necks and
new bridge pieces to improve intonation. At the time of recording
the "Aqualung" album,
I was briefly playing an Aria Japanese guitar. By "A Passion
Play", I was on the Martin New Yorkers. I also have about
twenty classic Martins dating from 1834 to the late 1930's. These
are all wall-hangers rather than players but they have featured
on some recordings, notably "Too Old To R & R" and
other tracks from that period where I used 0-42 and 0-45 models.
During the eighties, I switched to guitars from Andrew Manson,
an English luthier, who works in Devon producing hand-made guitars
for aficionados of acoustic instruments. Based on traditional designs
by the Martin Company as well as on the ideas of Andy and myself,
we have come up with modern variations on the theme, giving a compact
guitar with the resonance and playability associated previously
with the big "jumbo" style guitars favoured by Country
artists. The sexy little parlour guitars are not at all common
in pop and rock music: indeed, I am probably one of the very few
to use them. The instrument currently on tour with me is the smallest
ever! It is a 3/4 size parlour guitar based on a French design
of 150 years ago. I sent Andrew Manson the drawings and measurements
and even he was surprised at how well it played and sounded, especially
fitted with one of the Fishman transducer pick-ups which I have
been using since the late eighties.
Below are a few more of the instruments which I currently use,
together with the more pedantic but equally important electronic
counterparts to make them actually heard in concert. Also listed
are some details of principal recording equipment in my studio.
am also testing a new model Martin guitar, both with nylon and
steel strings pictured here. More on this guitar (and where you
can buy one!) soon.
Concert Flutes by Sankyo (Japan) and Powell (USA)
Alto flutes by Sankyo
Acoustic Guitars by Andrew Manson (UK)
Kitchen practice acoustic guitar by Norman (Canada)
Electric guitars by Schecter (USA)
Acoustic bass guitar by C. F. Martin (USA)
Bamboo flutes by Patrick Olwell (USA)
Tin Whistles by Generation (Ireland?)
Piccolo by Phillip Hammig (Germany)
Harmonicas by Hohner (Germany)
Mandolins by Ozark and Ibanez (Japan) and Fylde (UK)
Mandolas by Andrew Manson and Ozark
Octave Mandolins by Ozark and Paul Hathway
Bouzoukis by Paul Hathway (UK)
24 track analogue recorder by Otari
2 track digital recorders by Panasonic and Sony
Mixing desk by Soundcraft (Saffyre)
Monitoring by ATC 100A speakers and Genelec 1030A speakers.
Headphones by Sennheiser (HD480 Classic)
Microphones by Shure Bros.
Various signal processors by Sony, DBX, Alesis, Yamaha, Drawmer
Recording tape by Ampex and HHB.
Live performance electronic equipment:
Flute radio system by Shure
Monitoring by Shure in-ear system
Sound processing by Alesis (Q2)
Microphones, Shure SM Beta 58
and Countryman Hypercardioid headset flute mic
Guitar pre-amp and sound-shaping by Zoom (9030)
Monitor mini-mixer by Mackie (1202)
Standby monitor for keyboards, Turbosound passive low profile 2 x 12
Tuner by Boss (TU-12)
HOW TO PLAY
I am probably both the first and the last person to ask about
learning to play the flute. Not because I don't take seriously
the many requests for advice, but because, although fairly widely
recognised as an interesting but self-taught fumbler, I have neither
the vocabulary nor the skills to be able to pass on what I have
discovered for myself. But since you ask…….
I began with the instrument in 1967 when I had just turned twenty,
and at a time when my guitar playing had become a bit stale and
unfulfilling. Also, we had at that time
decided to find a really good guitarist and with the interest shown
by Mick Abrahams in joining the group (then the John Evan Band),
it seemed like the perfect time for me to learn another instrument
as well as concentrate on the not-too-good vocals with which I
was stuck since no one else could sing at all!
So, after fiddling around with the Irish tin whistle and the blues
harmonica, I took the fateful plunge and part-exchanged my Fender
Stratocaster (purchased a couple of years before from a certain
hard-up Lemmy, later of Motorhead, but at the time with Reverend
Black and the Rocking Vicars).
The choice of a new Shure Bros. professional microphone was easy:
what was more difficult was to find another instrument to at least
make up the difference in the part-exchange, since the shop owner
wasn't too keen on giving me cash. The notion that violin or cello
might prove possible was quickly swept away when I confirmed that,
having no frets on the fingerboard, both might be a tad tricky
to play in tune. The saxophone looked dauntingly big and complicated
and anyway, we already had two sax players in the band at the time.
Then, my Jackdaw eyes caught sight of a shiny silver flute hanging
on the wall. This proved too much to resist. It seemed at once
to combine the portability and compactness of the mouth harp but
with the greater potential for playing in different keys and all
(I think chromatic is the musical term.)
And so I became the proud owner of a Selmer Gold Seal concert
flute in C and joined the other guys in the van to head off to
some awful pub gig in the north of England. Sadly, while everybody
else, or so it seemed, was able to get a note or two out of the
wretched thing, I could not, for the life of me, produce so much
as a twitter and put the new acquisition away for the next few
weeks in acute embarrassment.
Towards the end of that year, we were due to head south to Luton
to meet up with Mick who was set to join the Evan band, but the
reality of the commitment was already proving too much for some
band members. First the two sax players announced that they would
not stay, and then John Evan and Barrie Barlow decided that they
too had had enough. That left Glenn Cornick and me to team up with
his regular drummer Clive Bunker in a group which, although calling
itself the John Evan Band, merely grasped the opportunity to take
advantage of the few gigs which had been arranged by our new London-based
agent Chris Wright.
Our first few rehearsals were taking us down the path of blues
based improvisation and a repertoire mostly of things which Mick
had played for a while, giving me the chance to chime in with some
elementary huffing and puffing on the flute which Mick, to his
credit but ultimate undoing, encouraged. I figured out (or so I
thought) where to put my fingers on the instrument since Theobald
Boehm's ergonomic excellence of design left few alternatives. (I
By trial and error I hacked out the riffs and simple improvisations
which echoed my limited guitar technique, which earlier had posed
no immediate threat to Eric Clapton's burgeoning career. But the
major crossroads (O.K., O.K.) was about to loom large.
Jeffrey Hammond, my chum from the early days of the John Evan
Band in Blackpool was, by now, also in London studying fine art
at the Central College Of Art And Design, and had acquired a liking
for Jazz, and a few L.P.'s to go with it. Notable amongst these
were an album by Roland Kirk, the sax and flute player, and Ornette
Coleman. Of the two, Kirk had the simpler and to me, more useful
approach: punchy melodies and gutsy, bluesy, improvisation which
sent me walking home from Jeffrey's bed-sit near Archway, North
London, one night with the strains of "Serenade to a Cuckoo" ringing
in my ears.
The next day, after a few minutes of trying, I managed the first
few bars of the verse and found the courage to take the idea to
Mick as a fully fledged flute instrumental for me to attempt on
stage. The simultaneous singing and playing which Roland Kirk employed
had already come naturally to me: I had used this approach before
as a guitarist and to an extent on the tin whistle and mouth harp,
as well as flute, knowing that such "scat-singing" techniques
were legendary in the traditions of both Blues and Jazz.
The reinforcement of my tentative flute tone by singing the note
in unison gave me confidence and, ultimately, the bravery to trade
phrases with the guitar and drums and to lay down the basis of
the style which started to make an impact on our listeners in the
early months of 1968 when we gratefully took on a residency at
London's famous "Marquee Club" in Wardour Street. John
Gee, the manager of the club, was a Jazz buff and saw in me, I
suppose, the more sensitive fledgling musician of which he approved;
more so than, perhaps, the loud and aggressive guitarists who would
rock the Marquee in a fashion less subtle than in its initial days
as a Jazz club.
It was to honour his support and encouragement on a personal level
that I wrote and recorded the not very good, but well-intentioned "One
For John Gee" later that year.
While the double act resulting from Mick and I having a more or
less equal role in the early days of Tull proved popular, the impact
of the flute, from a media point of view, gave the band an identity
which offered something unique in a developing British music scene
populated by guitar heroes. From a musical perspective however,
it was sometimes an uphill battle, struggling to be heard above
the exciting clamour of the blues and rock guitar-driven music
which formed the backbone of early Tull.
When Mick left the band in December of '68 to be replaced by Martin
Barre, it offered me the chance to broaden my flute playing by
moving out of the blues form and towards the use of a more eclectic
mix of influences, some half-formed from childhood memories, some,
more recently adopted from Classical music, Asian music and the
more adventurous peer group progressive pop and rock work of the
Curiously, Mick's departure also re-awakened the guitar player
in me; not only acoustic and electric guitars but mandolin, bouzouki,
balalaika and almost anything with strings (and frets) attached!
But that's another story.
The Bach piece "Bouree" became my next flute party piece
on stage, after hearing it repeated over and over from the bed-sitbelow
mine in Kentish Town where an English student was attempting to
learn Classical guitar in his spare time.
Although, as I recall, it was the harmonica playing which prompted
my tendency to stand on one leg during solos, the press put the
one-legged bit together with the novelty of my flute playing to
come up with an "image" for me. Although I self-consciously
resisted this to begin with, it soon came to provide an enduring
visual focus for the band and I had to remember to dutifully comply,
at least when the photographers were snapping.
For the next twenty, or so, years, I continued with my home-grown
style of playing. This, unfortunately, embodied many incorrect
fingerings and dubious harmonics requiring constant changes to
embouchure and angle of breath stream to compensate as far as possible
for the tuning discrepancies induced . Playing some passages quietly
was a problem: to get the note to sound at all sometimes required
brute force and a more subtle performance seemed often beyond my
I began to regard my flute-playing reputation as an impediment, rather than
an asset, and the chore of integrating my performance with the complex and
often forceful band arrangements, tended to become frustrating.
When my daughter, Gael, was coerced (as little girls often are)
into taking up an instrument at school, I suggested boldly that
the Tuba was too big; Violin and Cello too difficult; Saxophone
too expensive and that I might just have a perfectly acceptable
old flute which she could borrow, quite cheaply, for the year or
A month or so later, on hearing the customary struggle to play
some perfectly easy passage of infantile musical mediocrity, I
offered with benign and lordly patience, a few tips on how to perform
the said novice piece.
"Oh no, Daddy," came the swift and deflating response: "That's
not how you play an E. You have to have your little finger there
on that funny key down at the bottom at the same time. And you
don't put your first finger on the left hand down for that D in
the second octave. Oh, Daddy! Get a life. Or a second job." (Actually,
I'm making that last bit up, but you get the drift).
I was off to India on a promo trip the following morning and so,
it was a few days later that I called our Production Manager, Kenny
Wylie, to get one of the flute specialist shops in London, to send
by fax, a fingering chart to my hotel in Bombay.
In between amusing accusations by the usually polite but occasionally
contentious Indian media of ripping off the frighteningly similar
one-legged stance of Krishna, the flute-playing God of Hindu tradition
(Honest to Gods: I never saw his act), it seemed like a prudent
idea to retire to my hotel room at every opportunity with the grim
realisation that I had some urgent work to do.
The next few weeks, on my return to the UK, were spent in trying
the correct, although to me alternative, fingerings which I should
have learned in the first place. It was a little like learning
to ride a bike with your hands crossed over on the handlebars but,
with perseverance, it gradually began to make sense.
At about this same time, I received overtures from Roger Lewis
at EMI's Classical Music division, who asked me to consider recording
an album of instrumental flute music.
After my saying, "Thanks, but no thanks," a couple of
times, Roger didn't give up, so I cranked out a couple of demos
which passed the test. Andy Giddings and I began the recording
of the album "Divinities", which was the debut of my
attempt to redress the errors of wicked, uneducated youth. Since
that difficult time, not many hours, let alone days, go by without
my picking up the flute to play for both practice and personal
enjoyment. The old riffs and solos sound the same: they are just
more enjoyable and easier to play. These days, I keep a beginner's
student quality flute in the kitchen as a convenient tool for self
expression, rehearsal, and song-writing as well as stirring the
soup, and a much more expensive and sweet-sounding solid silver
conservatory grade model not too far away, in the event that I
don't mind cleaning it afterwards.
Therefore, the lessons to learn by example, should you so wish:
If, like my daughter, you are taken by the urge to try a musical instrument,
whether by inclination or demand, beg, steal or borrow the object of your
tentative affection. Don't, for goodness' sake actually buy one or worse,
let your parents buy it for you: (Then you really are going to have to have
to play the damn thing, whatever it is). Try whistling or humming Silent
Night, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, or the Spice Girls Greatest Hits and
if the folks around you are not covering their ears, you may assume that
you have something of a musical ear. Then, and this is important, assuming
you like the feel of your new friend between your lips, arms, legs or other
bits, have a lesson or two from a proficient teacher. This will, at least,
get you putting your fingers in the places mine didn't want to go for the
first twenty years.
Finally, a word or three about the types of flute you might encounter.
The shiny silver or gold one you see in the Symphony Orchestra,
is the modern realisation of a design by Boehm patented in 1850.
It was a vast improvement on the earlier efforts of countless others
which embodied the use of extra keys to enhance the playing possibilities
beyond the limitations of the six finger-hole precursors found
throughout the world in many cultures. Indeed, the flute, in whichever
of its various guises, is one of the most ancient of musical instruments.
Its pure wave form characteristics, combined with an oft-quoted
Phallic symbolism, seem to have secured for it a special place
in the hearts and minds of many a young female goatherd, not to
mention the thousands of young people who take up the instrument
each year, making it arguably the most popular "real" instrument
both at school and for private lessons.
Assuming that you don't want to take up the six hole bamboo flute,
the Irish flute or tin whistle, or any other of the ethnic varieties,
you will be looking at one of many makes of metal, fully chromatic
concert flutes. It may well be Japanese in origin (fine to excellent),
American (excellent to, well, more excellent) or Chinese (check
please). Over the years, I have played Pearl, Yamaha, and Sankyo
in the Jap camp; Artley and, more recently, Powell amongst US makers.
Roughly speaking, $400 will get you something pretty good if you
are willing to pick a used model from a reputable specialist dealer.
$1000 and you are getting serious. $15,000 - $20,000 buys you a
top quality hand-made platinum or big carat gold professional model.
But make sure that the flute comes from a good retail supplier.
Don't be tempted by the pawn shop or even the music store which
specialises in electric guitars in odd shapes and colours: even
new flutes out of the box have been known to be not acceptably
set up to play, and the unfortunate student may be left struggling,
unaware that the instrument itself, or factory quality control
is to blame.
Some concert flutes have "open" holes, making them a
little more difficult to cover easily with slim feminine digits
such as my own. Some have closed holes which are easier to play,
the only disadvantage being that you cannot "bend" notes
(glissandi), although that technique is not like to be part of
the normal teaching convention, or often applied in classical music.
The lowest note on the concert flute is normally C, but an extended
length foot joint may be available to take the lowest note down
to B but the extra weight and length probably don't justify the
extra cost for a beginner, or me!
The traditional "purist" configuration would be an open
hole model with "in-line" keys, but the "off-set
G" makes for a more natural, less stressful hold with the
left hand. A "split-E" mechanism is useful to help with
the production of high E.
The "sharp" end of the flute is the section called the
headjoint. The lip plate and embouchure hole, (the bit which your
quivering, tired lips freeze against in cruel parody of the shark
in "Jaws" after dental anaesthetic) can vary in design
and sophistication, but the standard version supplied with your
flute is probably best to start with. I use headjoints with slightly
raised lip plate and deeper "chimney" to the hole giving
better projection and ease of playing to the lower notes, but it's
all too easy to get caught up in the never-ending search for the
unattainable when the problems lie with basic technique rather
than with the equipment.
The student range of concert flutes will most likely be of brass
or nickel/silver construction, plated with nickel or silver, but
solid silver or even gold and platinum can be used, albeit expensively.
These metals give, usually, a more mellow, darker tone. The brightest
sound comes from silver, plated again with a fine layer of silver
and with thin walls to the tube, particularly the headjoint. The
headjoint itself contributes most to the identity and quality of
tone: even a cheap student flute can be dramatically improved by
the purchase of a better headjoint, provided, of course, that the
main body of the flute, its key assembly and key pads are in good
working order and are well adjusted to prevent leaks or "sticky" keys.
So, there you have the potted guide to the decision-making process
of taking up the flute. The fun of playing any musical instrument,
even rather badly, should make the effort worthwhile, but if you
ultimately prove to be simply not cut out for musical performance,
remember that the best and easiest reward of all comes from sitting
back, closing your eyes and listening to the liquid dreams which
we call music.
The best flute teachers in the history of planet Earth are out
there on CD just waiting for you to listen; whether they are playing
the works of Bach, Haydn, and Mozart or providing some of the great
moments of American Jazz. Consider the work of the Indian Bansari
traditionalists like flautist Hariprasad Chaurasia or the wonderful
Irish Low Whistle playing of Davy Spillane. Or if your liking is
for the rock stuff, then in the best Spinal Tap tradition, "Puff
Ian Anderson, 1998.
Over the years, I have tried a number of microphones and pickups
to attempt the difficult task of making my flute audible above
the sound levels generated by a rock band.
I began, when I first took up the instrument, by playing into
the same mic as I used for vocals - the Shure model 57. This is
one of the most commonly used dynamic mics for a variety of purposes,
including micing drums, guitar and vocals where a relatively flat
response between 100 hz and 10 Khz is desired.
The close and slightly preferable cousin to this mic is the Shure
model 58 which has a slight peak response of around 8 - 10 Khz
as opposed to the 6 Khz peak of the 57. This, combined with the
greater rejection of the familiar "golf ball" pop shield
makes, in my opinion, the 58 the mic of choice to play into for
stage use. The two mics are similarly priced and widely available
for around $160 if you shop around a little.
I still use my vocal mic (Shure Beta 58) for about a third of
the time where I have to make quick changes from voice to flute
or am otherwise encumbered with an acoustic guitar or mandolin.
The trick is to get close to the mic (almost touching, say half
an inch from actual contact) to reject, relatively speaking, as
much noise from the other musicians - particularly drums - on the
stage. You would normally get this close with vocals as well for
the same reason. The penalties paid are twofold: firstly, you have
a greater tendency to "pop" on explosive consonants and
to greatly exaggerate wind and breath noise. Secondly there is
the "proximity effect" of added bass response which leads
the unwary sound engineer to add much more treble or "top
end" to compensate. WRONG! This problem should be corrected
by putting in the high pass filter on the mixing console (removing
progressively the frequencies below, say, 80 hz.) Instead, or in
addition, it may be necessary to take out further frequencies from
around 180 hz. and below. A little top at about 10 -12 Khz may,
however, help articulation.
A peak limiter can be inserted in the signal path to control the
loudest notes or better still, a compressor working at about a
ratio of 6-1 with a gain reduction of around 4 - 6 dB will smooth
out the volume peaks in performance and give a little more apparent
volume response in the lower register of the flute (or vocal).
The alternative to the separate mic on a stand (which limits severely
the mobility of the performer) is to use a clip-on mic attached
to the head joint of the flute just to the left, or above, the
lip plate. The make which I have used for several years, is the
Countryman Isomax cardioid wireless model made by Countryman Associates
Inc., 417 Stanford Avenue, Redwood City, CA 94063. They can be
reached by telephone at 800 669 1422 or 650 364 9988. Fax at 650
364 2794. It can be supplied with the manufacturer's own flute
clip which snaps over the head joint with almost no wear or tear
to the silver or silver-plated surface. It is also available from
specialised retailers whose names may be obtained from the manufacturer.
I currently use a new model of microphone from Shure – the
WL51 – which is a cardioid pattern lavalier-type mic designed
for sound re-inforcement of actors’ voices in live stage
work. It does require a top-end boost as well as low-end roll-off
to sound natural when positioned close to the embouchure hole.
I position my mic so the active surface of the mic is facing down
the length of the flute, in line with the front edge of the embouchure
hole. The face of the mic is only about an inch from the hole itself
and is rather susceptible to wind noise exhaled from the nose of
the player. A supplied pop shield is fitted to reduce breath noise
and, for outdoor shows, wind noise.
The Shure WL51 and the Countryman mics are electret mic and requires
power from some source to operate. In my case, the lead from the
mic goes to a Shure UC system radio transmitter belt pack, which
also acts as the power supply to the mic. The signal then goes
to a nearby rack-mounted UC system receiver which feeds into a
small mixer (I use a Mackie 12 channel) along with the signals
from my vocal mic and acoustic guitar.
I add at this stage some echo and reverb to the sound from a rack-mounted
multi-effects unit, controlled by a midi foot pedal. I switch off
the effects between songs for verbal introductions, or for dry
vocals. The flute always sounds sweeter with some degree of reverb
or a short (250 ms) stereo repeating delay, or a mixture of both.
I use a number of pre-programmed effects on both flute and vocals
but, I hope, subtly. Don't overdo it because the varying acoustic
ambience of almost any venue will add further reverberations and
make for a watery quality to everything you play.
The output from my little mixer, which is positioned a few feet
from me on the stage, goes to the main mixer out front in the audience.
There, the stereo mix of effects plus flute mic and vocal mic is
added to the separate feed from my acoustic guitar as well as all
the other musicians' instruments. A further discrete mix from my
little on-stage mixer, which includes the acoustic guitar, is fed
to a rack-mounted Shure PSM 600 or 700 transmitter which sends
the combined signals to my belt receiver pack leading to the tiny
Shure in-ear monitors which I wear to hear myself play and sing
as well as to cut down the apparent volume of drums guitar and
bass etc. on stage. You could send this mix to conventional monitor " wedges" instead.
So, really, there is no great mystery attached to amplification
of the flute. Just a powerful mic positioned close to the instrument.
Various other types of mic can be used, If you are not playing
with a loud group of musicians around you, you might prefer a mic
positioned a little further away, say four or five inches, and
with omni-directional, rather than cardioid, characteristics. This
should give a slightly more open and natural sound but, of course,
will pick up more of the other musicians and, to an extent, the
audience. It will be more prone to feedback when you try to crank
up the sound. But in an orchestral or acoustic band context, it
will sound nicer and more natural. There are a number of small
powered mics available, but you will still have to pay around $200
- $400 for good quality.
There have been some attempts to manufacture contact mics for
the flute, but they suffer from the bugbear of transmitting the
considerable mechanical noise of the key mechanism and unevenly "hearing" the
different notes in the three octaves of the instrument.
The only way to accurately mic a flute is from about six feet
away, with an omnidirectional mic or more than one uni-directional,
or cardioid, mic. This is, however, clearly impractical for all
but the entirely unaccompanied flute performance.
I hope the information above will be of use to the many people
who have asked for advice on amplifying the flute in concert. But
don't be afraid to experiment and if you come up with some great
new idea, share it with me. Good luck with the unenviable task
of working your flute into the world of loud music. Ever wondered
why I am about the only reasonably well-known idiot to persevere
with it for so long? Hmmmmn…… 'nuff said. Even more