How Flute Pads Work – Part 3 – Muramatsu Pads – Flute Essentials

How Flute Pads Work – Part 3 – Muramatsu Pads

In article 2 we talked about Straubinger pads and how they have revolutionized flute playing. Since discovering how much difference a flute pad can make to a flute, other contenders have appeared on the scene with new pads that boast even more improvements. What Straubinger did was to prove how much pads change the playability of a flute.

One of those “contenders” is the Muramatsu company. They 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, and 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 Pads

Muramatsu has been a very impressive company.  Their new generation flute range has been under a constant wave of improvements in materials and design to bring 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, except that the differences are critical.

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 goldbeater’s skin

The metal backing is used in place of the backing card, and 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.  The synthetic felt isn’t affected by moisture and as far as hot environments go, it would need to live inside an oven before its shape would be affected.  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 build 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 are designed so that almost anyone could be trained to 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 be imperfectly shaped?  Muramatsu has taken care of this too.

To be sure that every pad sits over a perfectly flat surface, a metal stabilizer is built into every keycup. In all other flutes, a stabilizer is a flat item that is installed into the keycup just before the pad, to help overcome any imperfections in the cup. For Muramatsu flutes, this stabilizer is a permanent fixture in the keycup. But all this metal inside the keys would make the keys very heavy. In order to reduce weight, six holes are drilled into the stabilizer disc, to make a pattern that would appear quite mysterious if you didn’t already know the purpose of the holes.

The pad, which also has a solid metal backing (but no holes) is placed over this stabilizer, making 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). 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 always 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 f 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…  These pads can only be used in flutes that are in perfect working order.  Not only does the mechanism of the flute need to be accurately fitted (and it usually is on a Muramatsu flute) but 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 that is their use of card and paper for shims.

Card and paper, as we know, are normally subject to environmental conditions, as well as 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 I am not convinced that this keeps them unaffected by the environment, especially 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 servicing is completed.

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, leaving the pads loose, with nothing to keep them held into the keycups.

Conclusion

Muramatsu has developed a pad that is extremely accurate, durable, long-lasting, and 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, lasts years longer than any other pad we have discussed so far, and it can be applied to any serious flute.

It is my absolute favourite pad, and we will have a look at it in the next article.

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Drew Niemeyer

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