Buying a flute: Options and things you need to know
Buying a flute can be an overwhelming process. Not only because of the investment that is involved, but also because there are many options available to choose from and you will (hopefully) spend many hours playing on the instrument for years. Above all, buying a flute a very personal matter. There is really no objective argumentation possible of what the best flute is, so you will have to discover what is the best option for you specifically. On this page we try to help you get started. Would you like personal advice, don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our shop in Edam.
Please visit our flute web shop to view our range of flutes
1. Orientation: Why do you want to buy a flute?
The first step in buying a flute, is to make clear to yourself why you want to buy an instrument. If you are a beginner and want to buy your first flute, or want to buy a student flute for your child?
If you are already an experienced player and you want to replace your current flute? Think about what you expect from a new instrument. If your current flute does not play well anymore or shows defects, consider a overhaul first.
Consider a flute overhaul
Giving your current flute a full overhaul and bringing it in optimal condition, allows you to better assess whether the purchase of a new instrument is really necessary.
Should you then indeed decide that you really want to buy a new flute, it's nice to have your current flute in top condition as a benchmark for comparisons. This way it is easier to assess whether any additional investment in a new flute is worth it.
The cost for revision of a flute are in many cases more than recouped if you decide to sell it later on. A good vintage flute in perfect condition is in fact much more easier to sell than a defective instrument. Even if you are sure you want to buy a new instrument, an overhaul of your old instrument can therefore be advantageous.
Consider buying a better head joint
Of all the parts of a flute is, the head joint is by far the most decisive for the quality of the sound. In many cases, purchasing another head joint may result in a surprising improvement. We have a wideselection of flute head-joints in our shop.
Please note that there are no universal sizes for head-joints and not each head joints (even of the same brand) will perfectly fit each flute. In most cases however, our flute specialist can make the head joint fit perfectly to your flute.
Determine your budget and wishes
Has your level of playing exceeded the limits of your instrument or are you looking for a flute that challenges you to continue studying or produce a new interesting sound? A new flute can certainly make a big difference, if chosen well. There are many different options, and in particular the choice of the material used, can make the price of a flute vary considerably.
Determine broadly how much you can or want to spend on a new flute in advance. This helps in reducing the number of options and prevents you from getting too excited about an instrument that is actually above your planned budget.
2. Information gathering: flute parts, options and definitions explained
The second stage in the buying process is finding information. A flute is a very complex instrument, although the base consists of three only parts: the head joints, the body and the foot joint. Nevertheless, there are as many different options, materials and configurations from which you can choose.
Some tips when buying a flute
Before getting into details about flute parts and options, there are certain rules-of-thumb which the player would be wise to follow.
Beginners should either go to a shop with deep experience in flutes and flute playing or he/she should take someone who has that kind of experience (a teacher or professional player for example).
Even experienced players can sometimes be distracted from listening to an instrument by the simple fact of playing. We are often asked, during blind tests, to judge a number of instruments and reflect, with the player, upon what we have heard. At times it is clear to all present which of the instruments is the best but, far more frequently, it is easy to ascertain that instruments sound quite different from one another without being able to clearly state which is best.
I, as a flute player, base my judgment on a number of very subjective factors. I am looking for tonal beauty throughout the registers (very subjective, of course). I prefer excitement in the sound - the same player on two instruments can sound somewhat vacuous on one and quite a bit more interesting on the other.
I find it is also essential that an instrument permits real growth in the player, that the flutist is stimulated to discover the very interesting properties of his/her new instrument and that there is sonic territory to discover. For playing music is, in the final analysis, a richly rewarding trip of self-discovery!
The head joint is the factor (somewhere in the range of 65 %) which lends the most to the quality of the sound of a flute. The body of a flute is also definitely a factor but less of one than the head joint.
Head joint materials
Flute head joints are made of the following metals:
Nickel-Silver: (also known as nickel silver or alpaca mentioned) - is an alloy of copper, zinc and nickel, and is widely used in students flutes, since it is very durable and substantially less expensive than silver. Usually, head joints made of nickel silver are plated with a thin layer of silver, protecting them from corrosion and making the difference with a full silver headjoint is not visible.
Nickel silver with a sterling silver lip plate: a fairly recent a recent appearance which does enhance the sound compared to a full nickel-silver head joint.
Solid Sterling Silver (.925): sterling silver has a 92.5% silver purity and is the most widely used type of silver used in flutes. It improves dramatically the quality of sound, increasing the palette as well as excitement in playing.
Sterling Silver (.925) with Gold Plating on Lip, Riser and Interior: creates a more robust and more colorful sound than a silver lip plate.
Brittania Silver (.958): A higher purity (95.8%) in silver tends to enliven the sound. This may or may not be an advantage versus sterling silver (.925). Only playing flutes equal in all ways except for silver content will tell.
.997 Silver: The highest purity of Silver tends to, again, increase the excitement of the sonority. This sometimes overflows into sharpness but many times translates into an extremely lively, exuberant sound.
Gold: Flute head joints can be made of many different alloys of Gold (9 karat, 10 karat, 14 karat, etc.) as well as mixtures of Gold and Silver. A Gold Head Joint can be a great improvement to an already good instrument. The enhancement of the sound can be dramatic.
Material of the body, mechanism and foot
A second very important factor in the sound of a flute is the material of the body, mechanism and foot joint. There is a similar correlation with the characteristics of the head joint as described above. I.e. the more precious the metal, the more interesting the flute. Again, use your ears and brain when comparing instruments and why spend more money on a flute that doesn’t clearly sound better than a less expensive one.
Most student flutes have a body, foot and mechanism made of (silver plated) nickel silver. This material is significantly cheaper than solid silver and very hard, making it very suitable for less experienced flutist. The sound is perhaps a bit less rich and exiting than solid silver flutes, but especially with a well-chosen head joint, it can bring satisfaction for a very long time.
For flutes made for advanced and professional players, there are different purities of silver available (as described above for head joints) for the body, foot joint and even the key mechanism.
In the absolute top segment are fully gold flutes (9K, 10K, 14K, 18K up to 24K) and even flutes made entirely of platinum, albeit only on personal order.
Optional features on a flute
Closed holes versus Open holes
This is a choice which tends to be hotly debated in our shop. Proponents of open holes claim that the sound is freed and therefore richer. It is, however, more difficult to explain why this would be the case. Only 5 of the holes on a flute with open holes are open. And yet the other 7 in the chromatic scale don’t seem to suffer at all from being closed. As to which is better the jury seems to be out.
What seems indubitable is that most better flutes come in the open hole , B foot format. We tend to stock these and recommend them because should the player want to resell or trade in, it is advantageous to have one which is generally regarded as better or in any event more desirable.
Given that we have (generally) ten fingers (the right thumb doing nothing more noble than lending support) and some 38 or so notes are to be played on the flute there are bound to be certain notes which are, shall we say, problematic. Middle E, C#, High E and High F# spring immediately to mind.
The split E mechanism is a substantial help in the production of the High E. Through modification of the G key, namely splitting the 2 keys which are pressed to play G, the Split E mechanism allows the lower of these two keys to close when High E is played. The result is a palpable easing in the playing of the High E. For the other wolf tones there is no relief. Only diligent practice and careful listening to oneself will help.
Offset G of In-line G
Flute makers offer the player two options for placement of the G key. In the in-line G configuration, all keys, including the G-key are arranged in a straight line. In the offset G configuration, the G-key is moved slightly to the left. More a question of taste and habit than anything else, flute makers offer the player two possibilities for placement of the G key. Offset conforms to the shorter nature of most ring fingers and would seem to offer more comfort to the player. However also many flutists prefer an In-line G.
I can think of no particular advantage of the one vs. the other but the choice seems to follow national lines. Here in Holland there is a clear choice for Offset G whereas in Belgium (next door to us) the choice is for In-line G. Go figure!
C-Foot joint or B-Foot joint
Flutes come with a C foot or B foot. Again, opinions vary, but my experience is that a B foot tends to darken (and maybe enrich) the sound of a flute while a C foot lends a lightness not only in weight but in sound. Comparisons between the two (preferably on the same instrument) are essential for the flutist to come to his/her own conclusion as to preference.
Drawn and Soldered Tone Holes:
The holes in the flute can be created by one of two methods:
Drawn tone holes are drawn mechanically from the flute body tube. This allows the "chimneys" in which the keys rest, to be made out of the drawn material of the body tube.
For soldered tone holes, first holes are made in the body tube and then pre-made chimneys (as they are sometimes called) are soldered onto the body. This is a complex work that must be done with extreme precision.
Although discussions with flutists yield differing opinions, I have come to believe (through many experiences with both types) that soldering tone holes onto a flute yields a more responsive instrument, a more interesting sound, a flute that literally vibrates in your hands.
The price differential can be great so the player must be convinced of the merits of this extra expenditure. Otherwise why do it?
3. Test and compare flutes at our store
Because there are so many different brands, materials and options to choose from, we recommend to, if possible, visit our shop and try many different models. If you already own a flute, take it with you so you can compare properly.
Large collection of flutes
Matthew’s Music specializes in wind instruments and we are specifically (international) known for our great selection of flutes, piccolos and head joints.
We always have a wide selection of flutes stock of different brands, different levels and different configurations, to enable you to make an informed choice. Are you interested in a specific model or version flute? Then please contact us before you come along, to make sure we have the flute in stock and reserve it for you.
Expert and honest advice
If you come and visit us in search for a new instrument and you need advice, we always take plenty of time for you. In general, we first discuss with you what your needs and expectations of a flute are. Since we offer flutes from a few hundred euros to well over ten thousand euro, we will also ask for the maximum budget you want to spend. This is to avoid becoming too hooked to an instrument and then be disappointed because of the price.
Then we put a selection of different flutes on the table that you can take the time to test-play on your own or with our help if you prefer. We can also add a number of separate head-joints to the selection to try in combination with your current flute.
When you have found one or multiple flutes that you are excited about, we ask you to play the flute in another room with another of our flute specialists. A second pair of ears and other acoustics can provide new insights. Also we can do blind tests where you or the specialist plays on the instrument while the other listens without knowing which is the flute. In this way, the flute can be assessed purely on the sound, unaffected by prior knowledge about the brand or the price of the flute. In this way you can be fully informed and confident to make your choice.
If you still have doubts, we can offer you to borrow one or more flutes you are interested in for a period of one week free of charge. You can then try the flute in your own environment and time and possibly take it to your next music lesson.
A flute in optimal condition
Even with completely new instruments of renowned brands it can occasionally happen that parts do not fit properly or are not perfectly tuned due to transport or effects of temperature or humidity. All flutes purchased at Matthews Music, new or vintage, are always thoroughly checked and if necessary adjusted to perfection by one of our specialists before we hand it over to the customer. If you're not completely satisfied with the quality of your instrument, then the specialists of Matthew’s will continue to help at no additional cost until you are completely satisfied. Guaranteed.