The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #61733   Message #994196
Posted By: Uncle Jaque
31-Jul-03 - 11:05 AM
Thread Name: Jacob's Wooden Flutes
Subject: RE: Jacob's Wooden Flutes
I don't know of this "Jacob" chap, but I have made a flute just as you describe out of black walnut about 3 years ago; it's sort of like a "Tenor Fife" actually, but set up to play in the lower register.

There is not a bit of metal on it - not even end ferrules which would actually not be a bad idea for split prevention - and I use a cork salvaged from a wine bottle to stop the breech.
The bore is big - nearly 3/4" and parabolically "jugged" under the elliptical ambrochure as a resonating chamber. There's a little trick to doing that with primative tools!

It is also in the key of "G"; I call it "Old Gillead" as many of the tunes I play on it are circa early 19th Century Hymns and Gospel tunes, with slow Celtic aires on occasion. It is featured on my CD and just yesterday it was used in a "gig" at a local Old-Folks Home; they particularly loved "Danny Boy" on the Ol' Gillead.

The only finish I use on a wooden fife is hand-rubbed oil. I have developed a penchant for dark sesame seed oil for several reasons, not the least of which is it's resistance to rancidity and it's pleasing aroma. Mineral oil will serve in a pinch.

I made the holes a little on the large side and chamfered them to allow for haunting roll-on/roll-off slurs and slides. With a little practice you can go up and down the scale with no transitions, like one of those slide-whistles used for the "Whoooooop" sound effects.

On things like "Mary's Dream" or "General Wolfe" I darn near scare myself! You'd think that Ol Gillead was spitting ghosts out of it's muzzle like a bean-blower!

Animals and birds are frequently attracted to the playing of it out in the wilds, which can be a little weird - but at the same time utterly delightful! (See related earlier MC thread).
Gillead can yodel like a loon, and it drives 'em banannas out on the lake at night!

If you would like a scanning of it (I don't have a digital camera, and the flute is too long for our scanner bed, so it's in two parts) drop me a line @

I had plans to make a few "Gillead clones" to sell; one Music Shop in NH appraised it at around $300 retail (after I played it for them), and will sell them on commission for me - when and if I get sufficintly organized to make some.

So I promptly started turning one out of mahogany (I use whatever I can get, sometimes scrounging old table legs out of the dump to turn whistles or fifes out of) and it sounded really sweet after I opened the ambrochure - but alas, when I set up the tone holes identical to where I placed them on Ol' G., the first hole was way too sharp for some unknown reason. By the time I opended it up enough to bring it down to pitch, I could stick my thumb into it! So into the kindling bucket it went, along with several other less-than successful experiments.

I might try again someday, but wrecking a potentially good instrument like that really whacks the old self-esteem hard, and I need to do something that works for a while.

If I get a lot of feedback that there is a short supply and long demand for this sort of thing, I might be induced to fire up the old 1915 belt-driven Frasse lathe down in the "Laboratory", sharpen up some tools and have another crack at it.