One year is a good benchmark for bringing in your instrument for adjustments. Regular adjustments are great as preventative measures and help keep the instrument in more consistent playing shape. It can also help rule out the nagging question: “Is it me or is it the flute?”.
Musicians are always compensating when playing their instrument. The more consistent your flute, the less compensation you may need to make. It is important to note that even in the best adjusted instrument a musician compensates: that is the nature of music and the flute. Everything in you and the flute are constantly changing. Practice and proficiency are primary and the flute is the means by which you convey music. However, you want to spend more time working on musicianship than fighting your instrument.
How flutists possibly compensate for an instrument that is significantly out of adjustment include:
- pressing very hard
- blowing hard to get notes
- blowing gently so notes won’t break
- key slapping to get notes to speak
- tonguing lightly so notes won’t break
- rolling in and out excessively to correct pitch and/or find the center of a note
- warming up half an hour or more and building up moisture between pads and tone holes to create a seal in a leaking instrument to find ones sound
In some cases I’ve seen people compensate to the point where they have to relearn aspects of playing when their instrument is put back into correct adjustment. This process can take up to a couple of weeks. So it’s easier on the player and the instrument to have regular checkups. And it is prudent not to have significant work done on the instrument right before a major event (e.g., concert, recital, recording session).
I work according to need and I don’t have a set formula for what I do for a clean, oil, and adjust. If your instrument was used heavily and needs more work, then I’ll do more and charge more. And if your instrument is fundamentally okay and needs very small adjustments, then I’ll charge less. Not all flutes are made the same and some will go out of adjustment more readily than others will. So when I can, I will spend more time to correct an underlying problem to improve the long-term functioning and stability of the instrument. How well I can bring an instrument into adjustment depends on the quality of the instrument and the existing work in place.
Waiting longer than a year for a checkup is not necessarily a horrible thing. It’s not always possible to get your flute in for regular work. And there is the philosophy of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” to which many people ascribe. If you have large gaps of time between repair work, then when you bring your instrument in you should anticipate paying more for a visit than the person who brings in a flute annually.