tl;dr why change your crown?
- personalise your instrument
- choose a unique / beautiful design
- alter the playing characteristics of your headjoint/flute
- as a gift/present to a flute player
What is a crown?
Flute crowns are the (usually) domed shaped decorative "plugs" that close-off the headjoint at the end. They seem at first glance to be little more than a protective and decorative ending to the tube. A little further inside, there is a stopper (a cork, or SwapStopper type thing that actually seals the tube).
Older/Original crowns usually attach to the flute via a screw thread that runs from the stopper toward the end of the tube. This might just be a convenient means of attaching the crown, but also may originally have been intended as a means to adjust the stopper position: unscrew and push to move the stopper inward, and screw down to pull it up. In general, I'd advise against doing that as there are better techniques for moving the stopper - especially if it is very tight.
Is it just decorative?
I have a small collection of flutes dating from c.1880 to the current day - all modern Boehm - and its clear that flute makers have, for a long time, experimented with crown design: weight, material, and shape.
In general, changing any part of your instrument makes *some* difference to the sound, the resistance, the timbre, then "feel". Whether that change is large enough to notice, or large enough for your audience to hear is another matter. And whether that change is positive or negative, another (subjective) matter - and very personal to the playing style of the performer.
It is often said that a heavier/denser crown " centres the sound". And some people have preferences for specific materials, such as zirconium or bronze or silver, which for them makes the sound "ring".
Because my SwapStopper kit necessitates removing the traditional stopper and thread, a new type of crown is required - one that pushes into place rather than screws - so initially I made simple crowns to match my kit.
I got very interested in the effects of weight, fit (how "tight"), internal crown shape and material. I started to test variations on the same test-rig I used to test the stoppers.
Primarily, I think of crowns as nice aesthetic decorations to the end of the tube - and great for presents/gifts to the flute player in your life at Christmas or on Birthdays. This resulted in me making some quite radical designs, such as the rose crown.
That then led to experimenting with the coloured rose crowns - initially with kids in mind, but proving popular with adults too - and lighter crown designs varying the internal shape more.
I like the idea of personalising my instrument, and with kids, I find that helps to build a relationship and attachment to the instrument and therefore their practise :)
Do you think material and weight makes a difference?
For me, and a lot of good players I talk to - it certainly does. The fit and weight have a very obvious impact on the way the headjoint plays - specifically in terms of resistance, which I imagine is related to the dampening of the tube. My crowns have adjustable fitting options to alter the position and tightness of fit- so you can experiment with the effect of these changes.
As I mentioned above, it is often said that heavier/denser crowns "centre the sound", and that is seen as increasing projection and a "good thing". I'm less convinced by this, certainly for me personally with my playing style. These days I'm appreciating the lighter crowns, which feel to me to allow a broader sound across all registers.
But, given that weight is a very personal preference, I've added adjustable weights to the crowns so that, like the fit, these can be personalised.
In terms of material, I was very surprised that different materials have some effect. In the primary picture in this post, you can see four crowns in Gold plated steel, rose gold, rhodium plated brass, and silver. They are the same weight to within 0.2g, and the same dimensions to within 0.1mm. And yet, steel has a "sound", bronze has a "sound" etc.
From recordings I've made, I don't think the "sound" or "ring" of these material changes make much or any appreciable difference to the listening audience directly. But I do feel the difference, when playing, certainly in terms of the resistance and feel between octaves and the attack I can get at low vs. high registers. And that changes my playing, and in turn *is* audible. I notice when others try different flutes, or crowns/stoppers that I seem then taking more . or less risk, more of less extremem dynamic and colours as they "feel" the instrument can allow them to make.
But I have customers who swear by the Bronze crowns for instance, and tell me that, for them, they really "ring". And another who has now purchased several steel crowns and is adamant that they improve her headjoint.
Will yours fit my flute?
All flute headjoints have a slightly different taper, from embouchure to the crown end. This ranges from approx 16.2mm - 16.95mm. My crowns will fit all in that range. If you get the measurement in advance (your local repair shop can make the measurement of the internal diameter of the tube at the end using a vernier caliper), I can setup the crown to best fit before posting. If not, you will have to try the crown yourself, and adjust the little rings for wider or thinner ones until you get the fit you prefer.
The coloured rose crowns are a little easier to fit. Though they have the same adjustment system, they are also flexible/springy at the bottom and so they can often push fit without any adjustment.