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Passionate flute maker

Passionate flute maker

GÄHWIL. Thomas Fehr has been playing the flute since he was 15 years old. After studying music, he turned his passion into a profession and became a flute maker. In his workshop in Gähwil, he builds every single element of the wooden flute himself.

Thomas Fehr builds flutes. All kinds of flutes; Recorders, transverse flutes, pan flutes. Small, large, brown, black, bright-sounding and deep-sounding ones. But they all have one thing in common: They are made of wood. He mainly uses olive, cherry, plum, rosewood, boxwood, grenadilla and ebony. The most expensive wood that Thomas Fehr works with is Amboina. The different woods have different shades of brown; from very light to reddish-brown to black. The colors can change: "The boxwood has a light brown that discolors and darkens over time," says the flute maker. "In the past, the flutes were sometimes colored to imitate another, more expensive wood."

According to Thoms Fehr, there is a tonal difference between plastic and wooden flutes. This can also be seen between the individual woods. “Some people choose plastic because it is easier to care for and less sensitive. You have to be more careful with wood. " Nevertheless, he is convinced: "Wooden flutes sound better." The 63-year-old works in his workshop in Gähwil. He was "hereditary" because his father was also a flute maker until his untimely death. However, his workshop is no longer in family ownership. In other words, the two workshops are not identical.

Thomas Fehr learned the profession autodidactically: he looked for information in books and put it into practice. «I developed the flute building myself. I'm still studying today, I've never stopped learning, ”he says. First he started to build wooden headjoints for flutes. So he continued learning and made his first finished flute. "I still have this flute today."

His passion - playing the flute - gave him the job and would choose it again today. "Back then I just did what I wanted and what I had fun with." Thomas Fehr can barely make a living from making flutes alone. That is why he also teaches tango, flute and the Alexander technique. "We are entering an a-musical age," he explains. "This is felt by the whole music field."

Patience and intuition

The job of “flute maker” requires a lot of patience and intuition. "You should be a good musician and be able to work well," says Fehr. In addition, you have to be able to judge for yourself whether a flute is good or not and when it is ready. Concentrated work is also part of it. "I've already had to throw away a lot of headjoints because I was unable to concentrate at work." External influences are decisive: "The handicraft always has to do with how the artist is doing." This means that the quality of the individual flutes is different if, for example, Thomas Fehr drank too much or too little coffee, ate nothing or just played the flute.

Working precisely is the art of the history of flute making, explains Thomas Fehr. It is difficult to treat the holes in such a way that the flute sounds correctly afterwards. For the intonation - the eight small holes - the flute maker needs around two to three hours. First they are milled out by machine and then sanded and polished by hand. This work is, according to Fehr, a "probing", a "change over and over again". "Getting the instrument ready to play is the greatest art of building the flute," he says.

Thomas Fehr works in his workshop with an automatic lathe so that the work is also precise. But every single element of the flute is made by hand. This is not an assembly line job. "The handicrafts are not possible by machine," he explains. The flute maker needs about six hours to finish a flute. "A flute has many parts that you can't see, but that take a lot of work."

Each flute is unique

Thomas Fehr builds everything from the piccolo to the bass flute. Flutes in different lengths and voices. "The longer the flute, the deeper the tone," he explains. Each of his flutes is unique, no one is the same as another.

The period in which a finished flute is created can take several months to a year, depending on the wood. This is because the wood has to be dried at every stage, as the shape changes again and again during the drying process. This means that after the log has been sawn off, cut into boards and then into scantlings, the still angular pieces of wood are temporarily stored and dried. Then they are turned so that they are round inside and out. This is how blanks or rounds are created.

The flute maker from Gähwil sells his flutes worldwide. He has customers from Germany, Austria, Italy, China and Japan, but not in Gähwil. "Nobody here has bought a flute from me," he says with a smile. "My instruments are and will always be a niche product."