At the National Flute Association convention in Salt Lake City this past August, the 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to master flute maker and entrepreneur Emerson DeFord. Many aspects of the flute that we take for granted today, particularly on student instruments, can be traced back to DeFord’s ideas, and some instruments still bear his name. After an unsuccessful start as an aircraft inspector after the Korean War, he quickly found his calling in the flute world, and we are so grateful he did.
Emerson Ford started his time in the flute business in the mid-1950s when he applied for a position as a flutemaker at the W.T. Armstrong Flute Company in Elkhart, Indiana. He quickly rose through the ranks there and became the vice president of production in 1962. From there, he founded the Heritage Division of flutes which produced higher-end silver instruments. Some of the biggest names in modern flute making, such as Bickford Brannen and Jack Moore, worked under DeFord at that time. In addition to developing some of the finest silver flutes of that time, they also “worked together to improve the quality and design of student flutes and to develop the complete flute family.” DeFord believed strongly that all instruments, regardless of their level or price point, should be made with the same care and attention to detail.
In 1969, DeFord oversaw the production of the DeFord flute, a student model that was successful both in the United States and overseas, and in 1978, production began on a new line of student instrument that many recognize today: the Emerson flute. With this instrument, DeFord’s method of prefabricating the instrument materials for more efficient production was introduced, which is arguably one of his greatest contributions to flutemaking. In addition to this, DeFord was also the first to introduce curved headjoints for alto and student flutes, hand cutting on student instruments, drawn tone holes on piccolos, hidden adjustment screws, and many other innovations. Now 90, DeFord can still be found at his work bench in Elkhart after decades of innovative leadership and craftsmanship in the flute world.
*information for this article was obtained from The Flutist Quarterly, Summer 2019. “Emerson DeFord: Artisan, Entrepreneur, Friend,” by Joanna Bassett