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Technology, Innovations & Flutemaking

Straubinger Pads

Modern day flutists owe a great deal to Theobald Boehm, a brilliant man whose basic theories and imaginative flute designs remain virtually unchanged to this day.

Of course, there have been a number of refinements over the years, most of them to meet the increasing demands on flute players. Today's flutist is expected to spend a great deal of time learning new music and performing that music at an exceptional level of skill and artistry. Today's flutist must also contend with air conditioning, dry central heating and air travel.

One day a flutist may be asked to play a concert in the air conditioning of Carnegie Hall, the next day a concert outside in the high altitude of the Aspen Summer Music Festival. The rapid change in climate and altitude quickly damages the flute's playability.

In addition, today's rigorous schedules demand instruments that can be played with the lightest of touch. The flutist who must play with a heavy hand to overcome pad leaks may fall prey to impaired coordination, forced tone quality, and general distraction from artful playing. Put simply, there is no substitute for an instrument in the finest playing condition.

Boehm, believing some problems to be inevitable, advised flutists to find leaks by strongly blowing tobacco smoke through a plugged flute. However, strongly blowing smoke through a flute with modern spring tension would quickly open the closed-hole D# and G# keys. Boehm's advice reflects the heavy spring tension these pads required to remain sealed, tension a modern flutist would find intolerable.

After more than twenty years of overhauling and rebuilding flutes for professional players and their students, I have concluded that the standard felt pad simply wasn't designed to withstand today's environment and still meet today's needs. Shimming them for a very precise seal with the very slightest of touch proves possible but frustrating; they simply won't hold for long under extreme conditions they were not designed to encounter. The answer is obvious: meet today's challenge with today's technology.

I began my search for a more stable flute pad in the middle 1970's. The purpose of my search was to develop a pad that was stable dimensionally, had a somewhat soft (but not spongy) feel, required little attention, and would seal with the lightest touch. In my judgment a property adjusted pad is one that when touched to the tone hole, and before any compression of the cushion, will be touching around the entire rim of the tone hole. My search was for a pad that could be adjusted precisely and one that would hold those adjustments.

Searching for the Perfect Pad

My first pad used a supporting unit. This pad was very difficult to make and not the improvement that I was looking for. By the middle 1980's, and after much research, it was decided to settle on the concepts used in today's Straubinger Pad. The design offered the stability and other qualities desired while allowing for flexibility in the materials used. The dimensions were changed in 1987 to accommodate standard felt because the synthetic felt used in earlier pads was no longer available in the tolerances and quantity needed. Using regular felt in conjunction with the supporting unit was considered to be an improvement over the conventional felt pad but it did create some unexpected problems. Some of those problems were related to manufacturing defects and others were related to imperfections in the felt. There was also the common problem of felt being unstable dimensionally in changes of humidity and temperature. Finally, an appropriate material with the appropriate dimensions and tolerances was found to use as a cushion. At that time I went back to the original dimensions of the middle 1980's, the design used today.

Much time and effort has gone into research to find a synthetic material to use as a covering and as a cushion. Many materials were considered: some modern exotic materials and some materials known since the Middle Ages. I consulted such sources as DuPont, NASA, Gore Co., Ames Research Center, The Department of Space and Aeronautical Engineering and a host of chemists and engineers.

Many of these materials have been tried with varying degrees of success. It has been determined that, at this time, the Goldbeater skin used on Boehm's pads is still the best material available for covering. However, a synthetic cushion has been found, and it is proving to be superior to anything so far tried. The Straubinger Pad is judged, by those who are using them, to be a revolutionary improvement over the conventional felt pad and for that matter anything else on the market today.

Design of the Straubinger Pad

Straubinger Pads were designed specifically for hand-made flutes. The patented pad support unit and profiled washers are machined to close tolerances, one at a time, on a high precision lathe. The pad cup is designed to keep the pad in place so that the pad will come down on the tone hole in precisely the same place each time. Another purpose of the pad cup is to mechanically connect cups to their appropriate companion key or keys. The profiled washer has a two-fold function. First, it places the pad within four to six thousandths (.004-.006) of an inch to the correct protrusion from the cup. Further alignment is done with full and partial shims. Second, the profiled washer gives the pad a firm and flat base to rest the pad on. This base gives the partial shims a much better foundation than the curved back of a pad cup.

The .004 inch thick shim provides a base upon which to glue whole or partial shims. These shims make it possible to make one portion of the pad protrude more than another or to increase the protrusion of the total pad. On these .004 inch shims, partial shims or additional shims do not ordinarily exceed .001 inch in thickness. Because of the use of these materials and construction techniques, the Straubinger Pad actually becomes more stable with the passage of time. The traditional felt pad, however, becomes more unstable over time and requires frequent adjustments.

The support unit provides a rigid base for the cushion and supports the skin so that it does not distort the shape of the cushion. The skin, in conjunction with this support, controls the cushion. That is, it keeps the surface of the skin in alignment with the rim of the tone hole. An important aspect of this unit is that it is sufficiently flexible to allow for correction of any imperfections that come from the tone hole or cup. These adjustments are made by further shimming. The traditional felt pad, which does not have this support, warps or becomes distorted from the shrinking skin and unstable felt. The result is leaks and poor adjustments.

The cushion provides support for the skin when the pad is compressed. The type of material used for this cushion is crucial. The problem with felt is that temperature and humidity change the material dimensionally. One might think that it would be easy to find a synthetic material that would not be affected by the weather. However, many materials are not suitable for a cushion because their recovery rate is too slow. That is, when the pad is compressed and released the material must snap back immediately. This is necessary because the next time the pad is compressed it may be with less pressure or a different key combination and the cushion will not be holding the skin to the tone hole. A synthetic cushion is now available with appropriate dimensions, tolerances, and recovery rate.

The purpose of the skin is not only to make the pad seal air but also to keep the cushion in check. Because the skin is supported on the outer edge of the pad by a rim and in the center by an inner collar, the skin will be supported in a flat plane, much as a drum head would work but without the tension of a drum head.

 

Quotes:


"David Straubinger's pads are incredible. My flute has never played so well."

Jim Walker, Soloist & USC Flute Professor
Agoura, California


"I can give the Straubinger Pad my highest recommendation. I don't give them a second thought and my flute works impeccably."

Anne Reynolds, Principal Flute
Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra


"One of the problems facing today's repairman is the constant search for a quality, dependable, and long lasting pad to replace the inconsistent fish skin pad which for so many years dominated the market place. Today's rigorous symphony schedule, with indoor and outdoor temperature variances and little time for adjustments, creates a need for pads that are easy to maintain, are durable, and give a quick response. Pads that do not seal well and are constantly out of adjustment create bad habits by requiring players to press harder for certain notes. This can throw off the player's coordination. I have been the first flutist with the Indianapolis Symphony for 38 years. I have watched the development of the Straubinger Pads and feel that this quality pad fits all the needs of today's flutists."

Albert Saurini, Principal Flute
Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra


"I constantly had problems with the Haynes Flute which I purchased in 1980 -- that is, until I had Straubinger Pads put in three and a half years ago. Since then, my flute has played wonderfully with only routine maintenance once a year. It is amazing how my pads always remain perfectly sealed throughout my busy schedule of constant playing. Straubinger pads have changed my entire experience with flute playing -- I never have to worry! My flute resonates beautifully all the time, and I can really enjoy my playing. I wish I could have had Straubinger Pads from the beginning."

Kate Alverson, Free Lance
Seattle, Washington


"Super! Consistently reliable! Florida is very hot and humid. It is not uncommon to have 60% humidity in the winter. This creates all kinds of problems. With Straubinger Pads I needn't worry. When I travel from our humid climate to another much dryer climate the pads respond with precision every time. When I travel I never worry. Precision and accuracy! Terrific response! Precise, accurate, reliable! The Straubinger Pad alleviates anxiety over leaky pads."

Angela Cannon, Graduate Student
Florida State University


"Straubinger Pads are the only legitimate improvement to flute pads since Theobald Boehm's original pad design. They are standard on all our flutes and are used exclusively in our restorations of high end flutes. We have cut follow up work by practically 100%."

Alexander Eppler, Flute Maker and Restorer
Seattle, Washington


"My flute has never before worked so well for such a long period of time, without having had to be fixed by a repairman."

Andras Adorjan, Soloist and Professor of Flute
Munich, Germany


"I have put Straubinger pads on a Miyazawa 14K gold flute, belonging to the principal flutist of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, and now everybody wants to have them on their flutes!!"

Hans Erik Bye, Repairman
Lillestrom, Norway


"Many thanks for introducing me to your pads - they are a joy to play on and to work with, and have had a profound effect on my repair business. I have used them in several overhauls and the results have been fantastic. As soon as I used the first set for a customer I was so excited that I immediately started to repad my own flute which I had previously been satisfied with! Like most good ideas, your design now seems obvious. The design concepts behind the pads are so clear and compelling that the reaction of players is amazement that makers haven't been doing this all along. Also, the blend of new and traditional technology is a real tribute to your desire to make the best possible pad."

Russ Lewis, Repairman
Calgary, Alberta, Canada


"The pads look beautiful and cover perfectly with the lightest finger pressure; everything is smooth and quiet. Thanks for taking the trouble to do such a marvelous job - I can't imagine how an overhaul could be better."

Jacob L. Berg, Principal Flute
St. Louis Symphony, Missouri, USA


"Just wanted to tell you that your new pads are terrific! George Koregelos just put a set in my Haynes, and I'm most happy with these pads. The flute seems exactly the same, each and every day; this is a new sensation for me. Friends listening to a recent performance reported greater firmness of tone, better projection. I feel better intonation and more consistent response. These new Straubinger Pads are really fantastic! The flute feels exactly the same, day after day --- very solid and reliable."

Roberta Brokaw, Professor of Flute
California State, Hayward, California, USA


"I can feel the difference because it's really very good for me. Because I have more sound and probably more expression. All my students say it's so much better. I am very happy."

Maxence Larrieu, Soloist and Professor of Flute
Geneva Conservatory, Switzerland
Lyons Conservatory, France


"I am so pleased with the performance of the Straubinger pads. You put them on my flute almost 8 years ago, and they are still good. Not one has yet needed replacing. As an amateur flutist who plays regularly, it means a lot to have a dependable instrument that I enjoy playing!"

Beth Lawrence
Carmel, Indiana


"I myself have had so many times with the traditional pad where just at the worst possible moment, something will go out, and with the Straubinger pad, I don't have to go in for repairs every month or so to get the flute readjusted."

Karen Moratz, Principal Flute
Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra


"I have to relax more when I play. I don't need to worry so much about embouchure change from register to register because the flute responds better. And if I relax more as I play and concentrate on music then the sound is ---it's strong and the 3rd octave is much fuller."

Benard Goldberg, Retired Principal Flute
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra


"This year when I went to Russia, and I really expected some type of severe changes to occur with my pads, and I found that even with the severe cold weather conditions, nothing happened... I was a little chilly but the pads stayed intact. So I highly recommend the Straubinger Pads."

Laurel Zucker, Soloist and Professor of Flute
Sacramento State College

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