A friend came to me and told me that he had not played his old Bundy flute for a few years. He said when put it in his closet it was working fine, but when he pulled it out last week, he simply could not play anything on it. He looked it over but did not see any obvious damage, nothing bent, etc. So, he brought it to me asking if there is a problem with his flute or had he simply forgot how to play it...
It only took a quick visual inspection to find that the flute had some problems. I found that several of the pads were damaged and leaking very badly. Repair techs have seen this many, many times, but most players have not. I thought I would share this story and some photos for the benefit of players.
My friend asked: "How could that happen? The flute has been stored safely in the closet and no one has touched it. Did the pads just fall apart by themselves?"
Well, the answer is "No, they had some help." I informed him that his flute pads had been eaten by bugs. Yes, that's right, EATEN BY BUGS! They are often referred to as "pad bugs" but they are actually carpet beetle larvae. Here's what the nasty little critters look like.
The photo is not to scale. The bug is typically only about 1/8"-1/4" long, but they have a voracious appetite for wool and guess what is a major component of most woodwind pads? WOOL! So, to these larvae, a flute is a veritable feast.
Here's what some of the flute pads looked like after the bugs had their fill.
Now, you may ask how to prevent this from happening to your flute. The carpet beetle larvae do not like bright, well lit spaces, so they tend to congregate in closets or other similar, dimly lit areas. If you play your instrument daily, this will usually not be a problem. However, if you store it away in a corner of a closet for a few months, you have provided these little buggers with a perfect habitat to feast on your instrument. So, the moral of this story is: Don't store an instrument in a closet or any other warm, dark environment for months on end. Otherwise, when you pull it back out again, you may find yourself in need of repair services or even a full repad. Also, once a case has become infested, it can be difficult to completely get rid of them. We obviously don't want to spray toxic chemicals into the case where the flute is stored. First, the case must be vacuumed out thoroughly, especially all the nooks and crannies of the case. That might do the trick, but sometimes there can be eggs that hatch later resulting in a recurrence of the problem. Freezing the case followed by several days exposure to direct sunlight can often kill any leftovers, but even that is not 100% effective. Often, the best solution is to discard the instrument case and replace it with a new one. While that may be costly, it is much cheaper than repadding a flute several times. I also recommend having the home professional treated by an exterminator to eliminate the source of the problem. The exterminator should give special attention to those warm, dark closets.
"Never give a flute player a screwdriver."