Launch of the Flute Swap Stopper

After 12 months of prototyping and play-testing, I've decided to advertise my swap-stoppers for sale. 

I'm still putting together some better photographs and videos, and will update this site as I gather more. But as a few people had asked about buying them now, I thought I'd get going with what I have.

What is the swap-stopper?

There are two parts to the swap-stopper: The stopper back; and face.

Swap-Stopper Back

The back replaces cork assembly, with the following immediate benefits:

  • no need to change the cork as it dries and shrinks, resulting in a better long-term seal.
  • adjustable weight. Some people find a heaver stopper focus the sound (especially in the low register). Others m ay prefer lighter stoppers, to help flute balance or wrist issues.
  • It opens up the chamber in the end of the headjoint, so potentially adding resonance.
  • It is easy to remove to clean. Corks I've removed in the past are often caked in dirt affecting he sound and cleanliness.

Swap-Stopper Face

The face allows you to swap the material the air column interacts with. You can swap them in seconds easily using the tool included, while you leave the stopper back in the flute.

The starter kit includes three materials, semi-polished Sterling Silver, and highly polished titanium and zirconium. These are materials that, in my opinion, provide an attractive range of resistance, colour, and feel, at a cost effective price. They are also hard-wearing.

Why change the face material?

Changing the face is similar to changing the blowing edge/riser material on the embouchure: it effects resistance, response, and timbre. Each material and finish can feel quite distinct to play, and perhaps suit different playing styles, acoustics and musical style.

What about other materials?

I've experimented with over 50 different materials; with manufacturing techniques including casting, sintering, and 3d printing;  and with many variations of size, shape, and finish.

I've decided on a starter kit that includes silver, titanium, and zirconium faces as they are attractive to play, and cost effective - although production of the parts with a mirror finish in titanium and zirconium is a challenge.

The system

The swap-stopper allows you buy one system and play around until you find a setup you like. And benefit from new stopper-faces as I (and others) develop them.

I plan to also offer more faces in materials and shapes that I've also found to feel good when played, such as rose, yellow and white 18k gold and platinum. But these precious metals come at a very high material cost - which is partly why I worked hard to achieve similarly attractive results with the zirconium, titanium and silver. 

I owe a great debt of thanks to Dr Robert Bigio. Discovering his stoppers inspired me, and he has been an ongoing source of advice, feedback and assistance in all manner of flute and manufacturing-related matters. And he is responsible for "discovering" the attractive qualities of zirconium for flutes. I can't recommend his own stoppers and crowns highly enough.

Who should buy this?

The swap-stopper is aimed at advanced amateurs and professionals - though I'd like to see something like this standard in most headjoints to replace corks. You should really have a well-setup instrument, with well fitting headjoint, free of leaks before experimenting with any kind of flute gadget. 

I personally think that the good-fitting of a headjoint can have far more effect on your playing and the feel of a flute than many of the add-on gadgets that are available.

Customising is best done when you are comfortable with your own technique, and able to critically judge the effects of changes in resistance and attack. Assessing any flute gadget should be done across a range of days, in varying circumstances and in different acoustics. And ideally by getting feedback from colleagues. What sounds powerful in your living room, 
may not carry for you across a symphony orchestra. For someone else, it might.

Practically speaking, you have to be comfortable removing your existing cork, or able to take your headjoint to a flute shop to have them remove it. Installing the swap-stopper is far easier than removing the original cork.

Why did you develop this?

I'm a flute player, but I'm also a product designer. The swap-stopper is a result fo a few different ideas coalescing into one product. I'd recently changed the stopper in my flute, partly because I didn't understand why we were still using Cork, and partly because I was intrigued as to the effect it would have. At the same time, I was learning to make flute headjoints, and also met a friend and amateur player who has serious wrist issues. We discussed the problems of weight, and the effect that stopper weight has on balance and, for them, pain. I set about trying to make a lightweight stopper from Titanium that had the same benefits as heavy stoppers.  I tend to design modular systems, with re-use and re-configuration in mind, and so the swap-stopper was a means to achieve a customisable and extensible stopper. I tried to design it to take account of future innovations in materials and addons, for both the face and the chamber between the stopper and the crown. A few novel experiments are underway for cost-effective addons.

1 comment

  • Hi,
    I’ve never had a chance to play around with different stoppers. My duet partner changed her crown several years ago, but I never heard her play with her old crown. Do they really make a big difference? My duet partner swears she sounds better after changing crowns but I myself have never been anywhere to try them out for myself. The science behind it is sound, giving the end of the flute more resonance but do these make a difference in any flute? I’m waiting for a Miyazawa Vision to be finished being made how I wanted it and wonder if a different crown will help? I am buying one of the last MZ8 headjoints (it’s discontinued but they had 5 left in the warehouse). It’s got a gold lip plate and platinum riser with the body being silver. It’s a big powerful sound, excellent articulation, and plays effortlessly and I am not certain about trying a different crown. What would you recommend for it? I’m willing to try them at some point to see if they do improve my flute in any way. The flute is a heavy wall silver with Straubinger pads. I would’ve liked soldered tone holes but it was $4,000 upgrade that I just couldn’t see $4,000 worth of benefit. Would the crown help alter the sound in a good way? I know it’s a little silly to ask that, you wouldn’t make them if they didn’t make a difference. But, I’m just wondering if it would really be beneficial to change it out? What would it significantly change?

    Mike Barbour

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