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The Straubinger™ Piccolo Pad

by David Straubinger

The modern day piccolo player is expected to spend a great deal of time learning new music and performing that music at an exceptional level of skill and artistry. Today’s piccolo player must also contend with air conditioning, dry central heating, air travel, and the problems they may create.

For the most expressive playing, it is very important that the pads totally cover the pad/tone hole interface with the lightest touch. Slight leaks caused by instability of the pad can be the cause of poor intonation, uneven tonal response, reduced dynamic range and loss of tonal flexibility. A conventional felt pad carefully installed on the piccolo will in time, because of dimensional instability, no longer cover the tone hole as it should. We have all experienced that problem.

After more than 25 years of overhauling and rebuilding piccolos for professional players and their students, I have concluded that the standard felt pad simply wasn't designed to meet today's needs. The answer is obvious: meet today's needs with today's technology. I began my search for a more stable piccolo pad in the late 1980s. My ideas for the piccolo pad are an extension of the Straubinger™ Flute Pad. The flute pad is designed specifically for the flute.

The Straubinger™ Piccolo Pad is designed specifically for the piccolo and its acoustical needs. The purpose of my search was to develop a pad that was stable dimensionally, had a somewhat soft feel, required little attention, and would seal with the lightest touch. In my judgment a properly adjusted pad is one that when touched to the tone hole, and before any compression of the cushion, the pad face will be touching around the entire rim of the tone hole. My search was for a pad that could be adjusted precisely and one that would hold those adjustments.

The ultimate design uses a support unit precision machined to close tolerances. This unit has a thin sharp outer rim and centrally located inner hump. It is covered with a layer of synthetic felt, 0.031" thick, made from micro fibers one tenth the thickness of a silk thread. When the pad is made and placed on a special ironing tool, the outer rim and inner hump cause the felt to be more compressed in those areas leaving the tone hole pad interface still soft and pliable. The end result is a pad that is hard where it needs to be hard and soft where it needs to be soft giving it the stability needed.

I designed a slight radius on the surface of the pad, which gives a two-fold advantage. The radius helps the skin stay taut on all tone holes that are covered. On a pad that is usually in the closed position, as are the trills G# and D#, the humid air inside will cause the skin on a flat pad to expand, but on a pad surface with a proper radius this is less likely to happen. It is acoustically important that skin not be so loose as to vibrate. A vibration on only one pad greatly reduces the strength of the sound being produced. This radius is also a big advantage on closure of the pad. Slurring is much more homogeneous. A pad that has a perfectly flat surface will slur different from the Straubinger Pad™ with a radius.

Today's rigorous schedules demand instruments that can be played with the lightest touch. The piccolo player who must play with a heavy hand to overcome pad leaks may fall prey to impaired coordination, forced tone quality, and general distraction from artful playing. Put simply, there is no substitute for an instrument in the finest playing condition.

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