I have put together a quick buyers guide for flutes and piccolos to help you find the instrument that will best meet your needs while giving you the best quality for your money. However, if you are interested in more information about what to look for in a quality flute, read on!
If you’re a first time flute buyer, you’re probably wondering why flute prices range anywhere from $25 to more than $30,000. How can they be so different? I recall my own Dad wondering that, even when we were buying my third flute. It’s just a metal tube with holes and cups that close the holes, right? Well with flutes, as with most things, you usually get what you pay for.
I don’t pretend to know a whole lot about the mechanics of flutes, but I have discussed this with many flute repair professionals over the years and even someone who builds handmade flutes for a living. My knowledge about flute quality comes from what I have heard and learned from these professionals as well as having to deal with problems my student’s have experienced with their flutes.
It can take someone months to build a good quality flute. The thickness of the flute wall is important, and the placement of the tone holes have to be perfect for good intonation (i.e. in tune). The pads have to be of a good quality in order to seal the holes properly. The cups over the holes have to be aligned precisely again in order to seal the holes completely. Some cups are controlled by pressing other cups and are linked through a complex mechanism. If these are not again aligned properly then one hole can easily leak. The result is the flutist has to work too hard for a decent sound and may decide that they are not cut out for playing flute without realizing that it was the flute that was the problem, not them! Playing on a well assembled and good quality flute requires a lot of lung power, so you can imagine the extra work needed to play on a “leaky” flute. No wonder I hear stories of flute students passing out! I’ve also come across many flutes with weak mechanisms, where screws pop out, springs break or don’t hold, or foot joints fall off the flute.
Flute headjoints are an art in themselves. They can make a huge difference in how a flute plays. There are companies out there that specialize just in headjoints. You should only be looking to purchase a quality headjoint if you are already a trained flutist working with an instructor who can advise you on this subject.
Because there are many “bells and whistles” that can be found on flutes. I’ve created a quick overview of different flute features.