There are a LOT of flutes out there . . .
As a professional performer, teacher, and flute representative, I would like to offer a few of my thoughts with hopes that they will assist in your purchase. This is simply meant to be a brief introduction to the many options in new flutes. This is also meant to be a guide for purchasing a step-up flute. The most important consideration in a flute is the way it plays, sounds, and feels to play; these cannot be noticed in a written description.
Please consider working with a professional flutist in making the decision on this investment. Good luck and happy fluting.
G-KEY: IN-LINE vs. OFF-SET
This decision is completely up to the player. Many flute players find an off-set G key (top) to be more ergonomic, or comfortable for safe flute practice. Some flutists, particularly those with a longer ring finger, do not. There is really no significant benefit of one versus the other, save that of comfort.
VALUE = No price difference. Go with what the student finds comfortable.
OPEN-HOLE vs. CLOSED-HOLE
Most step-up flutes are open-hole (top), which is also referred to as “French Style.” Most beginner models (and some professional flutes) are closed-hole (bottom), which is also called “plateau.” In addition to a slightly enhanced resonance, the open holes will provide opportunities to practice more advanced and modern techniques. Students who practice on open-hole flutes are less likely to fall into bad technique habits as the instruments require more efficient technique. I also feel like I have more of a connection with my sound, since I can feel the vibration in my fingertips.
Value = 80%. I see value of investing in an open-hole concert instrument, with no hesitations nor drawbacks.
HEADJOINT: SILVER-PLATED vs. SOLID-SILVER
The headjoint has the most significant impact on tone, resonance, and response. An intermediate flute will have few options, whereas professional flute headjoints are as diverse as the performers. The most frequent headjoint option will be the materials from which it is made.
The most basic step-up comes with a silver-plated headjoint. These will receive few of the precious metal’s benefits to tone. The plating will likely wear in time to diminish aesthetic value.
Silver headjoints (usually stamped near the crown as “Sterling,” “Silver,” or “925”) will almost certainly have more resonance and responsiveness, often a “clearer” sound. It is hard to say whether the purity and density of the metal is the reason silver headjoints are superior to plated headjoints – perhaps it is due to the craftsmanship and attention the headjoint maker gives the more valuable metals. Regardless, the difference is clear. Literally, a clearer sound.
VALUE = 100%. I think this is the most important investment in a new flute.
LIP-PLATE: SILVER vs. GOLD
In professional flutes, gold lip plates exist. In intermediate flutes, what appears gold is usually a gold-plating or just a finish. In this case it does NOT add much to the quality instrument. Although some find the gold look to add aesthetic value, there is hardly any noticeable improvement to the sound or responsiveness – even to the most trained ears.
VALUE = 0%. The sound of the flute is more important than the look.
BODY: SILVER-PLATED vs. SOLID-SILVER
The body of the flute is still part of the main resonating chamber. Its density, thickness, and finish will alter the tone and responsiveness of the instrument. Very trained ears will notice more depth in the tone of a solid-silver body, but both instruments can be played masterfully. Solid silver bodies (usually marked near the barrel as “Sterling,” “Silver,” or “925”) tarnish less and are less likely to corrode from the pH of our body’s oil.
VALUE = 60%. I think the silver body is a great investment, especially for serious students. But when on a very restricted budget, a student can wait until they consider pre-professional or professional flutes in the future.
KEY ARMS: Y-ARMS vs. POINTED-ARMS
Key arms or tone arms are the stems of metal that suspend the key cups from the hinge tubes. Y-arms are characterized by the “Y”-shaped arms (left). Pointed-arms (right) are distinguished by pointed stems extending to the center of the key. Pointed-arms were long considered superior in quality and stability. However, in modern times, flute makers have improved the production process resulting in high quality key arms in both styles.
VALUE = I place 20% value of the cost of pointed tone arms; there is no functional difference between the two on modern flutes. However, some of the higher models of flute and more expensive instruments receive more detail and attention from their manufacturers.
MECHANISM: SILVER-PLATED vs. SOLID SILVER
The mechanism of the flute also comes offered in different materials. I doubt and audience member will ever notice the difference between the options. The performer might, especially in terms of the responsiveness of the instrument, but it is usually slight. However, do consider that some repair techniques strip the silver-plating from the keys, and that solid silver is less likely to corrode. If your student’s current flute has gold-brown or greenish speckles on the keys, or is rough to the touch, their body chemistry might do better with silver.
VALUE = Variable. If the student does not have any nickel allergies or issues with tarnish, they will likely be fine with silver-plated keys. If the student does, then I think it is worth investing in an instrument that will last in their hands, and provide years of comfortable playing.
To be perfectly honest, I do not claim for any one brand to be superior or deficient. The most important thing to consider is how well the instrument plays. All companies make gems as well as lemons. And sometimes an instrument can arrive with damage incurred from shipping. Consult a professional flutist and/or repair technician when making this purchase. Do not let any one person’s bias for or against a particular brand totally direct your decision. We have each had experiences with instruments, just as we have with people, and each deserves its own consideration.
There are flute embellishments about which you might read or hear. Most of these options are for professional flutes, or might be copied onto student models to improve sales. Some options on professional flutes include:
Briefly, I would like to mention different materials of student piccolos: metal, plastic, synthetic wood, and wood. Generally, that would be my order of preference, from least preferred to most preferred sound.
Metal piccolos seem to be durable and appropriate for marching fields. Usually, the sound is very thin and a little shrill to my ears. Some metal piccolos are made from precious metals, which marginally helps the tone.
Plastic piccolos are durable enough for marching band, but have a slightly more mellow sound. I prefer this sound for young players and see success in their control of sound and blend within an indoor ensemble.
Synthetic piccolos have a wood-like sound, but are flexible to changing atmospheric conditions. They probably could survive the marching field, but I respect these instruments enough to caution against using in band camp.
Wood piccolos are the material of choice for professionals. They have the richest sound, but are also fragile. Extreme temperature changes can damage or crack the piccolo, and they require more regular maintenance.
This chart merely provides a ballpark of the price for new, intermediate flutes. It is a reference to help determine budget, and should not be a price comparison of any brands.
When budgeting for a new flute, there are several factors to consider:
Matthew Allison, D.M.A.