Boston Flutes

When French flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal needed a new instrument he called his friend Louis Deveau in Boston. Three companies produce hand-made flutes there and have made Boston famous throughout the worlds; Louis Deveau is president of the oldest company, ‘William Haynes’.

Rampal says, ”The first ‘golden flute’ I bought, in 1958, was produced by the ‘Haynes’ company. Since then I have only bought flutes from this firm, because when someone finds his ideal, he simply doesn’t want to accept any other.”

Accepted by many as the best flautist in the world, this French musician has three ‘golden flutes’, all of them from the ‘Haynes’ company. In this respect, Rampal is no exception: most professional flautists, from all countries, try to obtain the ‘Haynes’ company’s flutes.

For most of the 20th century, professional musicians – whether playing ensemble or as soloists – prefer the flutes made from gold, silver and platinum in the small workshops in Boston. Thanks to companies like ‘Haynes’, ‘Verne Powell Flute’ and ‘Brannen Brothers Flutemakers’ this tradition continues today. All of them, having at most 20 employees each, make a combined total of 650 – 750 flutes per year to individual order. Each company’s annual turnover amounts to $1 million. Each of these three competing companies strives for the reputation of being producers of the best flutes in the world.

I would like to remind you that flute production began in Boston in 1888. At that time, 23 year old William Haynes from Rhode Island State, who worked in the studio of a silversmith, opened, at the insistence his brother George, a studio to make the instrument in the capital of Massachusetts, Boston. The first flute produced there was made from grenadilla wood from South Africa, but the valves were made from a lead and tin alloy. Although it was a beautiful instrument, it was impossible to disguise the falseness of its sound. Later examples were more successful. Now, throughout the world, there are approximately 50,000 ‘Haynes’ flutes. In 1913, Haynes, after seeing an excellent, handmade, silver flute made by Verne Powell, a Kansas jeweller and engraver, he offered him a job. Seven teaspoons, three pocket-watch cases and some 50 cent, silver coins were used in the making of the flute. After working there for thirteen years, and reaching the position of director of the studio, Powell left and opened his own business, in 1927.

Fifteen years later, the same thing happened to Powell: the brothers Bickford and Robert Brannen, who until that time had been working with him, left and started their own flute production company. Throughout their existence these companies have been led by musicians or by high level craftsmen. For example, Deveau, when he was 16 years old, began sweeping the floors at ‘Haynes’. By moving up and down the service stairs, Deveau learned in detail the process of flute-making and, in 1976, bought the company from its founder. Deveau, in order to maintain good, professional habits, kept his hand in by restoring ‘Haynes’ flutes (piccolos).

Pickford Brannen, who studied at Boston Conservatoire, after becoming a busy head of the company, still found time to work at the flute. In 1980 the company’s business was going very well: the transatlantic flute business was revolutionised – demand for American-made flutes soared in Europe, and has remained high to this day.

In 1977, when the Brannen brothers launched their company, customers of ‘Haynes’ and ‘Powell’ were in seven year waiting lists and the companies’ old flutes were being sold at higher prices than new ones, as they could be obtained more quickly. Further, their company did not consider that their products were just for the musical elite. Bickford Brannen said: “The secret of our success is not to service the superstars. We make flutes for amateurs, for students who want to develop their playing and also for professionals who want to earn their living. They can all buy whatever is suitable for them.”