Guest Blog by Alyse Hokamp
After attending Marina Piccinini’s concert in October, I was struck with the thought that some of the colors and articulations she was using were unavailable to me on my current instrument. I decided to explore that thought and ended up trying a lot of headjoints, a few instruments, and learning a lot.
I’ve had a history of waiting too long to upgrade my instruments. I think it’s partly intimidation over the large expense of an instrument, and feeling overwhelmed about making an important decision. However, I realized I’m now at a stage in my development where I need to take responsibility for upgrades, and not rely on a teacher or mentor to tell me when it’s time.
I took almost 3 months to arrive at my decision to purchase a Burkart S4 9K headjoint. I had previously been playing on a David C. Williams silver headjoint with gold riser.
Here is the process I went through to choose and purchase my headjoint from Flute Center, as well as some thoughts and tips from my experience.
FLUTE STORE #1
I set up an appointment at this store for an in-person trial. I probably tried about 20 headjoints and a handful of flutes. This was a useful starting point for identifying the qualities I was looking for.
I came home with two headjoints, one which I clearly preferred: Mancke with a silver tube, 18k gold lip plate, and platinum riser.
I loved the Mancke headjoint so much that I played it on a performance the day after taking it home from the store. It felt much easier to control, though not necessarily easier to play. The response (note beginnings and ends) was more nuanced than my Williams, and I was able to access colors that were new to me. In particular, I found richness and depth in the low register, and brilliance (without harshness) in the upper register.
FLUTE STORE #2
I was excited about the possibilities of a new headjoint, but didn’t want to rush into a decision, so I submitted a couple of trial requests to other flute businesses. This shop sent me four headjoints, though two didn’t fit my instrument. The two that fit were Powell and Burkart. Interestingly, while searching my email history, I realized I told the salesperson that I preferred the Burkart.
I also submitted a trial request through Flute Center’s online form, which was picked up by Alyssa, a flutist I had crossed paths with several years ago in LA. She suggested I join ClubFC, which allowed me to get free shipping (both ways) on all of my trials, as well as small commissions for purchases made by my students. Incidentally, one of my students was on the market for a new flute, which seemed convenient. But mostly the free shipping! There was no charge for joining, just an agreement to be signed.
The customer service I received with Flute Center was definitely the best I worked with. Alyssa took time on several occasions to check in with how my trial was going, if there was anything else I wanted to try, and my thoughts on individual headjoints. She didn’t hesitate to send me anything I was interested in (and I was open to trying anything, especially with free shipping!). The excellent service from Flute Center is what ultimately led me to purchase from them.
The first box of headjoints was all 14K tubes, and I wasn’t crazy about any of them. I felt like the sound was too dark, and I missed some of the brilliance of the silver tube. After that trial, I asked to try more combinations of gold and silver (every brand has its version of combining metals). I then scoured Flute Center’s online inventory for specific headjoints I was interested in and requested to try those.
In the second trial box of headjoints from Flute Center, I found one I really liked - the Burkart S4 with a 9K gold tube and lip plate, 14K riser, and silver crown. I continued to try the rest of the headjoints in Flute Center’s inventory that Alyssa recommended/I had requested, though I kept the Burkart to compare. By this point, my sound preference had shifted to the warmer sound of a gold tube.
In my final headjoint trial box, I received a used Burkart headjoint with a platinum tube and a 14K gold crown. While the headjoint didn’t fit in my flute, I did try the gold crown on the 9K headjoint and loved the response. I inquired about upgrading the crown, which would have been an extra $850, or $1000 to purchase alone.
I decided to purchase the headjoint as it comes, with the silver crown, and work with it for a while. I figure I can make a better decision about that upgrade once I get to know the headjoint better.
Here’s what I love about the headjoint I chose:
- Clear response at the beginning and end of notes. I feel like it “airbrushes” the attack and taper for me a little, where I had to work hard to control that on my previous headjoint.
- Response and depth of sound in the low register.
- The way the vibrato resonates beautifully within the sound and doesn’t get harsh in the upward part of the vibrato wave.
- The sound is very smooth and elegant, with brilliance but no harshness or tinniness in the upper register. Some headjoints responded well in the low/mid registers but thinned out when I blew in the 3rd octave.
A few thoughts/tips:
- Try everything! Each headjoint is individual. Try used instruments for the best value.
- Ask if there are any discounts available. If you can pay outright, ask for a cash discount. Flute Center has a 2% discount for cash/wire payments (which I used).
- I don’t believe in a “forever” instrument. Tastes and playing change over time, as well as what instruments are available. I think it’s wise to periodically check out what is on the market. If you end up finding that your current setup works the best, good for you!
- Be conscious of how the headjoint fits in the barrel. In one instance, I noticed that I had the tape a bit too big and it was a tight fit, but I tried playing it anyway. Then I adjusted the tape, making it slightly smaller, and the instrument vibrated differently.
- Something new I learned was about the composition of gold. As you might know, karats refer to the percentage of gold (24K is pure gold). However, it can be combined with a variety of different metals, including nickel, copper, silver, and zinc. That means 9K or 14K could be a different blend of metals from one maker to another, affecting the sound.
- What you like at the beginning of the process may be different than what you like at the end, so take your time and try not to get swept away too quickly by finding “the one.” You will hear different things, and get a better idea of what you like and what you are looking for as you try more instruments. Give yourself time to do that research.
Alyse Hokamp is a flutist and arranger based in Denton, TX. She is an active performer in the Dallas/Fort Worth area as an orchestral player, chamber musician, and solo recitalist. Alyse has performed with The Dallas Opera, Allen Philharmonic Orchestra, Highland Park Chorale, Flower Mound Symphony Orchestra, and Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth. Additionally, she has performed with her flute band The Pan-Tones at Denton’s Arts and Jazz Festival, Denton’s Day of the Dead Festival, Texas Flute Festival, and Denton Folk Festival.
Alyse regularly creates online events and resources for the flute community, with a focus on accessibility, honesty, and connection. These include flute duet arrangements of standard flute repertoire, an online mock audition, and a free mentorship program. She openly shares her challenges, and thoughts and observations on the world of professional classical music on her blog.