Jeff Weissman and Chris McKenna Are Total F***ing Ninjas

Top: Nickel-plated
 Bottom: Gold-plated
If you've read anything else I've ever written so far, you know that I'm pretty nuts about woodwinds, and there aren't a whole lot of makers out there whose instruments I have not tried...The Weissman-McKenna flute, however, has long been one of the rarefied occupants of that list. Their piccolos I've played quite a few of, and they certainly deserve their reputation, because they are fabulous (and beautiful). The flutes, however, have remained a mystery to me until this past Thursday, when on a day of leisure in NYC during a break from my current international touring gig, I decided to pop by the new Chelsea location of Weissman Flutes and see what I could get my hands on. Boy, am I glad I did! Not only did I walk in to see an old colleague and friend, Michael Laderman, who I haven't seen in ages, sitting there, but the awesome Luke Penella (master flute repairman and sax builder!) was there and brought out a very beefy selection of Weissman-McKenna flutes for me to try.

I'm still recovering from the experience. #hyperbolemaybe

I had absolutely NO idea that these flutes would possibly be as awesome as they are. Now, if you know anything at all about the flute business, you know who Jeff Weissman is. Not only is he a master flute tech, great player, sought after teacher, piccolo guru, and proprietor of the largest-inventoried flute shop in America, he also builds one HELL of a flute. In partnership with Chris McKenna (without question one of the most masterful and innovative headjoint makers of our time), they are turning out some EXTREMELY interesting flutes that play like you wouldn't believe. Among the Weissman-McKenna models I tried that afternoon were a solid silver with soldered tone holes that was entirely nickel plated (yes, I said nickel); a silver head/heavywall nickel silver body, also heavily nickel plated; a silver head/nickel silver body heavily gold plated with some of the richest, pinkest rose gold I've ever seen; and a silver head/silver body, unplated. All flutes had stunningly engraved keys and body rings (but not lipplates), D# roller, and C# trill. (I am extremely fond of the C# trill, and it makes me very happy that they put it on almost all of their flutes. The D# roller is quite nice, too.)

That engraving! That D# roller! 

I wish the C# trill was a standard feature on ALL flutes
Now, I suppose the first thing I should address is the whole nickel situation. The vast majority of flute players, myself included, have been conditioned to view nickel as purely the domain of the cheapest, bottom-of-the-totem-pole, factory-made student flutes. I must confess I raised an eyebrow at first when he handed me a nickel plated $6,000 flute. Obviously used to this reaction, he just smiled and said “Play it. You'll like it”...and wow, was he right. The nickel plating lends a brilliant darkness to the sound, and when you're holding a high-end flute covered in nickel, it's almost easy to pretend it's platinum plated, they look so similar. (I personally believe a large part of the stigma surrounding nickel, in addition to its inexpensiveness and use on basic instruments, is the fact that a small percentage of the population is allergic to it. I myself tend to make nickel go cloudy very quickly, which is why I prefer silver or gold on all of my instruments, but I could probably live with it for that sound!) Consistent from model to model is a huge, voluminous, very present sound that possesses almost infinite color possibilities. With the exception of my Sankyo, I don't think I have ever played a flute that responded so well in the fourth octave. Both my friend Michael (an extraordinarily accomplished flutist) and I played all of these flutes, and not a single one of them missed a high D, E, F, (or in Michael's case), F#. Ever. I even (I swear to Cher this is a true story) played a D7 sustained with a dimuendo to p and vibrato! It was almost...PRETTY. I can't even really do that on MY headjoint, and I've had the damn thing for the better part of a decade! I would need to spend some more time with a selection of the same model in various finishes to determine whether or not the nickel has anything to do with this, but my current impression is that the extreme upper range of the instrument is somehow enhanced on the nickel plated models. I had a tiny bit more difficulty up there on the gold plated and bare silver models, though it was still EXCELLENT. (Never. Missed. An. E7. Seriously.)

The gold-plated "Integrity" model, with engraved rings

In an interesting (possibly refreshing?) departure from the current trend of most flutemakers to have an almost dizzying array of different headjoint cuts, the McKenna headjoint paired with the Weissman-McKenna flute is of one type (quite similar to how Muramatsu does things), and it is the result of a great deal of experimentation to find an ideal cut for the demands of today's orchestral and solo player, but without losing the color and personality of the older-style headjoints found on the prized “Golden Age” Powell and Haynes flutes, and even the vintage French flutes. The Weissman-McKenna flute headjoint is a beautifully rounded square cut with nice pillowy overcutting on the sides, but not too extreme. Riser seems to be of medium height, allowing for a wide range of airstream angles and strike points, but without sacrificing either dynamic range, response, or tone color variation. It's really one of the most perfect heads I've played in a while...I'd put it up there with the Hammig 9K or 15% gold heads, I liked it that much. (In fact, and don't tell ANYBODY I said this...I think I might even like it a tiny bit better than my trusty ol' Sankyo RT-3. I know. Wow.)

The last major thing I want to touch on is the scale...the intonation of these things is just freaking FANTASTIC. I literally could not play the dreaded E6 out of tune at any dynamic. It just wouldn't budge (at least not outside of an acceptable range of say, 2 cents). From bottom to top, it slotted beautifully, with no messy weird C# or D issues in any octave, and nothing sagged or spiked in the top. (Even high Ab!)

During the course of the afternoon, I also played a lovely vintage Powell, a brand new handmade Powell, two Miyazawas (a Boston Classic and a 402), a Sankyo 401 (#TeamSankyo!), a Burkart-Phelan, and an amazeballs vintage Haynes, and I firmly believe the Weissman-McKenna flutes stood their ground admirably next to any of these great flutes. (In fact in several cases, the W-M was clearly superior in many aspects).
Weissmans and Powells and Sankyo, oh my!
The shop is incredibly accessible, as are the fellows themselves, so I really would urge you all to get your mitts on one of these and give it a spin! I think you'll dig them. :) (I also have it on very good authority that one of the biggest names in the NY flute scene traded in his prized Powell for a Weissman-McKenna, and is using it 8 times a week to great ovation :) )

Perhaps best of ALL is that the W-M flute is available in a wide range of price points to fit any budget, and the quality is just as good at the lower end of the dollar scale as it is at the top!

Don't just take my word for it, though, go play 'em! :-) 

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