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 Alternative key materials
Author: awildman 
Date:   2017-03-02 07:56

My apologies if this has been discussed before. As you might imagine, searching for 'keys' and 'clarinets' brings up quite a few results.

With the recent wood restrictions, and the advent of modern technology like 3d printing, I've been thinking a bit about the direction that woodwinds would be going in the next decade or two. Specifically about key material. Unfortunately, I know little about why we use what we use, and what other materials might be viable.

My first thought is CF or some other form of plastic, but that opens up a whole can of worms with glues, pads, repairs, adjustments etc. And what about simplicity and ease of repair/manufacture? Then we run into the problem of tradition, preconception, and marketplace acceptance. And, of course, cost. If the only meaningful factor was the ability of an instrument to play music well, where might woodwind makers take us?

I'm not much of a space-age guy when it comes to this stuff (if it ain't broke....), but i do like to satisfy my curiosity and imagination occasionally. In this case, I stumbled on an article about Matit flutes and started wondering. Anybody care to jump on the speculation train with me?

I'll admit that some of this speculation springs from my joint problems. Less weight is desirable, and metal = heavy.

Post Edited (2017-03-02 07:58)

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 Re: Alternative key materials
Author: Chris P 
Date:   2017-03-02 11:30

Metals like stainless steel and titanium are from what I've heard, difficult metals to work with whereas the usual alloys (nickel silver, brass, bronze and solid silver) are the easiest to machine, cast, forge and braze.


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 Re: Alternative key materials
Author: ruben 
Date:   2017-03-02 15:56

What about carbon fiber: sturdy light and flexible? Is it possible to use carbon fiber when making 3D copies?


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 Re: Alternative key materials
Author: Chris P 
Date:   2017-03-02 16:12

While carbon fibre is good stuff in some applications, the resin used to bond it is the problem if using any kind of thermosetting glues to install pads as that will melt with the heat.

Keys will have to be made so everything lines up perfectly (pad sets, linkages, touchpieces, key feet, etc.) as you can't bend carbon fibre to make fine or any significant adjustments as you can with metal keywork as carbon fibre will just spring back to its original form as it behaves in an elastic way rather than in a plastic way as metal does once bent past its elastic state.

Threading carbon fibre for adjusting screws isn't easy (I've tried it). You'll need to install metal or plastic bushings for the adjusting screw pips or fart-arse around sanding down key corks or fitting shims to get the adjustments right.


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 Re: Alternative key materials
Author: Caroline Smale 
Date:   2017-03-02 23:01

I think a major factor here is the inate conservatism of most instrumentalists.
Many good ideas have perished owing to lack of take up by the profession.

Having the C#/G# tonehole situated in the wrong acoustical position, even on the most expensive instruments, is just one sign of the reluctance of makers and players to embrace modest, let alone significant change.

Don't let me stop you trying though, best of luck.

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 Re: Alternative key materials
Author: Johan H Nilsson 
Date:   2017-03-07 12:23

Metal is chosen over the alternatives because of its strength. Keys must be strong not only in one direction but several. If you look at the E3 key, it consists of a touch key, a bar with a spring post and two pivot holes in each end, a cup arm and a pad cup. The bar has to be rigid enough to withstand the torque applied by pressuring the key.

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 Re: Alternative key materials
Author: Chris P 
Date:   2017-03-07 14:17

Flexing/torsion of key rods and keys is the last thing any player wants to experience - maybe ceramics would be suitable, but ceramics are often brittle unless reinforced.


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 Re: Alternative key materials
Author: clarnibass 
Date:   2017-03-08 09:26

>> Metal is chosen over the alternatives because of its strength. <<

Not exactly. Different metals vary a lot in strength. Some materials are as strong or stronger than some metals. It is mostly other reasons that the specific metal was chosen.

Some metals would be terrible, mercury or lead, to give extreme examples. Aluminium could be lighter and cheaper but has other issues, for example it can't really be soldered.

Some materials would be too rigid and/or brittle like was mentioned. For example ceramic tools usually cost much more than equivalent steel tools, I imagine because they require more specialized process and tools to make. They would also need to be made far more accurately in advance (since there's no adjustment by bending), which would make it a lot more expensive too and another disadvantage for players who want key positioned slightly different.

Some plastics could easily support the force described in the post above, that's really not a major issue. They could mold it over steel wire, or use glass fibers, etc. The heat is an issue and maybe flex in feel. It is also not as good as a bearing. Actually brass and nickel silver are pretty good bearing materials, another advantage.

Of all the instruments I've seen with non-heat melting glues, or the few glueless systems for pads, I'd say zero were as good as using heat melting glue.

Copper alloys really have a lot of great properties for woodwind instrument keys. As much as companies try to lower cost, nickel silver is a pretty expensive material and this is one aspect where clarinet makers don't really save money (in comparison with brass).

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