quietly making piccolo headjoints for just over twenty years and I’ve
been very pleased to have heard them in a number of major orchestras.
for my headjoints have, in the past, usually been a result of word of
mouth, but now, in this “high tech” age of computers and websites, I have
a more efficient manner in which to make myself available.
the years, I have been the subject of some interesting rumors: You
have to beg for an Eldred Spell headjoint
, or He
doesn’t make them anymore
web offers a chance to communicate a bit about what I do.
hope you’ll find the following information interesting.
Who is this guy?
of all, I’m not a full-time flutemaker. Most
of the time, I’m a college professor. Here’s
the generic biography:
Spell is Professor of Flute at Western Carolina
University. Center. A popular recitalist
and clinician, he has appeared throughout the United States, Canada, and
For many years he served as principal flute of the Sewanee Summer Music
Center. Dr. Spell has recorded for the CRS, Early Light, and Sonus record
labels and many editions of his music are available through ALRY Publications. Spell
has been a member of the Board of Directors of the National Flute Association,
the Performance Health Care Committee, and an editorial adviser for the
Quarterly. He maintains a substantial collection of historic flutes
and performs primarily on a nineteenth-century instrument by famed French
maker Louis Lot. Spell holds
a Ph.D. from Michigan State University. His teachers include Clement Barone,
William Bennett, Israel Borouchoff, Geoffrey Gilbert, and Stephen Preston.
Also trained as a flutemaker, Spell has done considerable research into
the practical acoustics and tuning of the flute and has been a consultant
to numerous flute companies. As
a teacher, Eldred Spell offers a unique blend of personal warmth and musical
expression, combined with a thorough knowledge of historical styles and
the practical mechanics of flute playing.
So what’s with the piccolo heads?
made my first piccolo head in 1968 — I was in the ninth grade. I
literally bored out a tent peg in my father’s shop and used a rifle cartridge
to make the tenon. Amazingly,
it played — though not particularly well. It
wasn’t until the late 70’s that I began to get serious about it. By
then I had trained as a flutemaker and was back in school working on my
PhD (in flute, of course!). I
was also studying piccolo with Clem Barone and had been working on intonation
of flute scales with William Bennett (WIBB). One
thing I learned from WIBB is that the size of a flute embouchure hole actually
alters the tuning of the harmonics. One
swipe of a scraper can make a huge difference in tuning and response. It
began to bother me that, compared to a flute, most piccolo embouchure holes
were proportionally huge. If
you made a flute that way it couldn’t possibly play in tune. So,
I made several experimental heads. I
found that a tiny hole does give good intonation, but it’s impossibly difficult
to play. Guided by Clem Barone,
I worked out some compromises with under and overcutting to make a head
that felt larger than it actually was. I
made one for Clem and to my surprise, he’s still playing it! What
a stroke of beginners luck. He
showed it to few friends – Ethan Stang (Pittsburg Symphony) bought the second one and I suddenly found myself in the piccolo headjoint
the next fifteen years I averaged a two-year wait for delivery. This
was due partly to a lack of time (I was in graduate school and later teaching
full time), but also to my peculiar method of working. I
found very quickly that no two piccolos (piccoli?) are remotely alike. This
meant that I had to approach each one as a new project, with subtle differences
in the bore, tubing and socket; (What an annoyance!) and, I have not yet
found a way to streamline the process. I
still start with an individual instrument and draw tubing, make rings,
and drill the wood to suit. Even
the headcrowns are individual. My
headjoints are not interchangeable, even among the same maker’s piccolos. I
have bought some additional equipment in the last few years and improved
my tooling. I can now usually
deliver a headjoint within a month.
And what’s really so different about them?
are so many wonderful instrument makers in the world today, that one really
needs a niche to justify their existence. My
particular specialty is making, what many piccolo players believe to be,
the best sounding and playing piccolo headjoint available; custom
made for a particular instrument to bring out the very best aspects of
that instrument. I have reason to
believe that my heads play well, and I can say that quite a few knowledgeable
folks seem to like them. Here’s
what I see as the major distinctions:
are truly hand made. Because
every little part is made just so, I
can get an optimum result. Also,
because I spend a considerable amount of time on each one, I have a personal
investment. I only make
one at a time, so it gets my full attention.
The embouchure cut. I
don’t offer cut A, B, or C. After
all these years I have a pretty good idea of what works best. I
start with the same basic cut, then play the piccolo and scrape away until
I’m happy with the way it plays. If
I don’t like it, it never
leaves the shop.
The wood. One
of my favorite rumors is that I use rosewood. What
I actually use is “mountain mahogany.” It
looks a bit like rosewood, but grows in North America. There
are none of the environmental or allergy concerns that arise with tropical
hardwoods. The sound
is less bright, and seems to blend better in the orchestra.
The secret process. Um,
er, well, . . . I actually
do treat the wood. Untreated
mountain mahogany absorbs water and doesn’t sound all that great.
here's one for an Opperman piccolo.
Since they are all made
"one off," unusual sockets are no problem.
Can you send a few heads for me to try?
answer is simple — NO,
because, as stated above, I can’t make them in advance. If
you want to try one of my heads, here’s how it works:
Get in touch and let's find a time
when you can send your piccolo and I am free to do the work. It
helps me to know something about how you play and what you're looking for. Besides,
I like getting to know other piccolo players.
Send me your piccolo and I’ll make
ONE headjoint to fit (unless
you want to buy more than
one; some people seem to collect them!). This
represents a big investment and a gamble on my part that you will be pleased. If you happen not to like it, I'm
screwed ─ so rest assured that I'll do my best.
Try the headjoint for about a week. Most
folks know within two seconds, but it’s still a good idea to play it in
your orchestra and in a variety of rooms.
If you don’t like it, send it back. Mercifully,
this doesn’t happen very often! If
you do like it, send me a check.
business this way for a long time. I
assume all the risks - you make no deposit and no commitment to buy. It
works because of my customer's integrity and because the headjoints really
are good. Please don't order
unless you are seriously interested and prepared to make a purchase. Remember
that you are dealing with an individual human being, not a corporation. When
you do decide to purchase, I really appreciate prompt payment. BTW,
the current headjoint price for a traditional style piccolo is $800.