In article 2 we talked about Straubinger pads and how they have revolutionized flute playing. But since then, Muramatsu pads have been created to perfect the Muramatsu flute.
Straubinger may have been a pioneer in the development of the modern flute pad, but since then, other contenders have appeared on the scene. The new contenders boast new pads that display even more improvements. Is the Straubinger pad being left behind?
One of those “contenders” with new innovation is the Muramatsu company. The company are not into pad innovation to sell pads, but they do it to improve their own flutes.
They don’t make a range of pads to compete with the rest of the pad market. Instead, their pads are designed to work best with their own instruments.
So, if you own a Muramatsu flute that has these pads installed, you can count yourself lucky to have what I consider to be one of the best that is available.
Muramatsu has been a very impressive company. Their new generation flute range has been under a constant wave of improvements. The materials and the constant re-designing of the mechanism brings something that is perceived to be more reliable than most.
What are they made from?
Once again, these pads look very much like a normal pad. But the critical difference is what they have done to improve on this.
Muramatsu pads are much less flexible than either the traditional or Straubinger pads. It is as if Muramatsu first asked the question, “How can we produce a pad that is immune to warpage, leakage, and change? Here’s what they are made from:
- a metal disc for absolute stability
- a layer of synthetic felt
- a thick covering of (synthetic) goldbeater’s skin
The metal backing is used in place of the backing card. Unlike cardboard or plastics, there is absolutely no chance of warpage or change of any sort. This is as stable as you can get. As we will see, this makes a great difference in how effective these pads are.
How stable are the pads?
Muramatsu pads can withstand some extreme conditions without suffering change. Moisture has no effect on the pad’s synthetic felt. And as far as hot environments go, it can stand up to a fair amount of heat. And, of course, the metal backing does not change at all. This makes for a pad that is very heavy in comparison to others, so the rest of the flute is built to compensate.
Two hallmarks of the new Muramatsu design are stability and ease of adjustment. They aim to keep their instruments flawless, and in perfect working condition. Everything from pivot screws, adjusting screws, rods and pads have a design that almost anyone could upkeep their own instrument. Muramatsu are so keen to uphold their prestigious reputation that they spend copious amounts in training various technicians in the intricacies of maintaining a Muramatsu flute. Even though the company aims to make maintenance easy for the technician, there are some finer details that are important to know about!
For Muramatsu, stability of the pad alone is not enough. They have also added some innovations to the keycup which houses the pad. Do you remember in the first article on Traditional Pads, we mentioned that keycups can have an imperfect shape? Muramatsu has taken care of this too.
A metal stabilizer built into every keycup ensures that every pad sits over a perfectly flat surface. A stabilizer is a flat item, that sits under the pad, inside the keycup. It helps to keep the pad flat, and overcome any imperfections in the cup. A stabilizer is normally a separate item. For Muramatsu flutes, this stabilizer is a permanent fixture in the keycup.
All this extra added metal inside the keys would normally make the keys very heavy. In order to reduce weight, Muramatsu drill six holes into the stabilizer disc. The appearance of this is something that mystifies those that are unaware of the purpose of the holes.
The pad, which also has a solid metal backing (but no holes), fits over this stabilizer. This makes the entire keycup assembly an extremely secure fit.
How accurate are the pads?
The firmness of the felt, its ability to resist change, together with the inflexibility of the metal backing has created a pad with remarkable accuracy.
When making adjustments to the pad in the keycup, the finest ‘shimming’ adjustments call for very thin materials (shims).
The thinnest shims available are three hundredths of a millimeter (0.03mm) thick. For a traditional pad, this is a very small amount, and not always perceptible. For a Muramatsu pad, however, three hundredths of a millimeter is quite significant. In fact, by combining shims of different sizes, I can usually make adjustments, right down to one hundredth of a millimeter. And that is all I can do with the physical materials. Unfortunately there are no materials available in graduations of less than one hundredth of a millimeter.
After finding the closest adjustment with the shims, I need to use other methods to make the final adjustments of around four to six thousandths of a millimeter, to keep the flute playing as accurately as possible.
And the great thing about Muramatsu flutes is that the keys and pads make it possible to detect adjustments of these amounts.
Best use for Muramatsu pads
Muramatsu pads can only be used with Muramatsu flutes for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, they are designed to be used with Muramatsu flutes – the weight, size and the way that they fit into the keycup are all special elements of its overall design.
Secondly, they only make pad sizes that fit Muramatsu flutes. In order to use them in other flutes, a range of sizes would need to be available to suit the varying diameters of all the different flute brands. So, if you have a Muramatsu flute and you can use these pads, then lucky for you!
Having said that, there is still a little more to the story… Only flutes in perfect working order can use these pads. The mechanism of the flute must have an accurate fit (and it usually is on a Muramatsu flute). And also, the tone-holes need to be in perfect shape, with no bends or damage of any sort. Without this level of accuracy, the pad will never allow the flute to perform as expected.
Fitting Muramatsu pads to a flute
Fitting these pads to flutes is extremely simple.
Muramatsu has already removed so many of the factors that make pad replacement a challenge, and the only thing left to do is to find the right combination of shims to achieve the perfect adjustment.
Once this single step is completed, there is no other stabilizing, steaming or molding to be done. Pad-fitting is complete. Other types of pads need some time to ‘settle’ and then be re-checked. But this is not the case with Muramatsu pads. I normally wait some time and then recheck as a precaution (and out of habit), but this normally turns out to be a pointless exercise – and that is a good thing!
There is only one aspect that I would fault Muramatsu on in the padding of their own flutes. And it is this: their use of card and paper for shims.
Card and paper, as we know, are normally subject to environmental conditions,. This is also subject to the level of care (or lack of) provided to the flute by its player. These particular card pieces used by Muramatsu are all waxed. But from my own observations, I have seen that the environment still affects the waxed card, especially in the harsh conditions we have in Australia.
I prefer to use mylar (synthetic) shims that are going to be less affected by any conditions at all, and I have not yet seen any downside to their use.
Muramatsu – a company upholding a standard
Muramatsu is very keen to make sure that repair technicians are servicing their flutes in the correct manner. Badly serviced flutes can end up creating the perception that Muramatsu flutes are unreliable. For this reason, the Muramatsu company provides a course for technicians to ensure there is consistency in the way that technicians complete servicing.
This is important because, although the differences in their flute design are small, failing to follow the procedures can end with big consequences. Not only can adjustment quality be poor, but I have heard stories of the grommets falling out! This mistake can leave the pads loose, with nothing to keep them held into the keycups.
Muramatsu has developed a pad that is extremely accurate, durable and long-lasting. It allows the flute to be as resonant and responsive as it will ever be.
If these pads could be designed to be used in other flute brands, I am sure the flute world would be better off. But at this stage this chapter is only open to players of Muramatsu flutes.
All is not lost, though. There is one other type of pad that holds all the qualities of the Muramatsu pad. It lasts years longer than any other pad we have discussed so far. The principles of pad fitting can also be applied to any serious flute.
It is my absolute favourite pad, and we will have a look at it in the next article.