Welcome to another edition of Flute Friday!
One of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2016 is to begin saving for a new instrument, a long overdue goal considering the body of my flute is now over 10 years old (a new headjoint in 2014 put some sparkle back into my sound but the older mechanism still limits my technique). There are several things that must be considered when selecting a new flute – material, added keys and other non-standard features, risers, overall sound, comfort of the keys, sturdiness of the mechanism, intonation and cork flexibility, and simply whether the instrument fits your playing style. There are numerous companies from which to purchase a new flute and flute shows around the country where you may test drive several instruments from different manufactures. If “purchase a new flute” is on your New Year’s Resolution list, I hope you find the guidelines in today’s blog useful in selecting the flute of your dreams.
Establish a Price Range. Anyone who has seen the show Say Yes to the Dress knows that it is extremely important to stay within an established, yet reasonable, price range whenever you are planning to make a major purchase. The risk of trying out a flute that is outside of your price point is that you may fall in love with an instrument that you simply cannot afford (or one that sends you into bankruptcy). There is nothing wrong with perusing a few mega-expensive models at a flute show to get an idea of what $20,000+ will buy you, but when requesting models to take out on trial, it is best to stick within your budget. Companies such as J.L. Smith make this easy by categorizing instruments in pre-determined price categories http://www.jlsmithco.com/flutes-by-price .
Research Basic Flute Buying Guides. Not just this blog :). There are several “how to buy a flute” guides on the internet that explain all of the bells and whistles you should consider when purchasing a new instrument. For example http://thehub.musiciansfriend.com/band-orchestra-buying-guides/flute-buying-guide , or http://www.jennifercluff.com/buying.htm , or http://silentgalaxy.com/buyingflutes.html . There is a lot of good, sensible advice on the internet from flutists that have been there, done that, and know precisely what to look for in a new instrument. Do some light internet research before jumping into the market to familiarize yourself with some of the terminology and standard features available on flutes in your price range.
Beginner, Intermediate, Professional. Flutes fall into 3 major categories – beginner, intermediate and professional. Beginner flutes are typically made of nickel or silver, feature closed holes, offset G keys, and standard C foot joints. I always suggest to my beginning students that they rent their first flute for at least 6 months before purchasing an instrument. Students generally determine if they wish to continue their flute study within this time frame, making the monetary commitment toward a new instrument a reasonable investment. If they are simply not enjoying the flute (it happens….), then the investment is minimal. Intermediate flutes are a bit more intricate, often featuring open-holed keys, inline G keys, and a B foot joint. The open holes of the intermediate flute are difficult to master, so it is best to wait until roughly 2 years into a student’s study before recommending the purchase of an intermediate flute. Open-holed flutes will always come with plugs. It is best to remove 1 plug at a time as your fingers adjust to the open hole design. Finally, professional flutes are generally handmade flutes that come in a variety of metals (silver, gold, platinum), often featuring French arms on the keys, open holes and extras such as C# keys and lip plate risers.
Flute “Extras.” Most professional series flutes come with options such as a split E mechanism, C# key, B foot, inline and offset G keys, and D# rollers. “What is this stuff???” you may ask. According to www.miyazawa.com , a split E mechanism is a “donut-shaped ring that is inserted into the lower G tone hole. When playing high E, this ring decreases venting and improves response.” A C# key is an added key placed on the back of the flute to the left of the thumb keys. This key is activated by pressing a lever placed above the Bb lever key and is used to easily move between a B natural and a C# (for more about this key please see http://www.larrykrantz.com/csharp.htm ). A D# roller is a small roller placed to the far right side of the D# key on the foot joint and enables the pinky to roll easily between the lower keys of the instrument. An offset G key places the G key on the left hand slightly ahead of the other keys of the instrument (ideal for those of us with small hands or players suffering from joint or tendon pain) while an inline design keeps this key in line with the rest of the keys. Finally, a B foot joint includes an additional key on the foot joint that extends the lowest note on the flute to a B natural below the staff. These features are wonderful additions to your flute but often come at an additional price. You will need to decide how necessary you value these components before adding them to your new instrument. I suggest trying out models with these bells and whistles already installed at a flute trade show or through a trial program. Try before you buy.
Flute Shows and Trial Programs. The best place to search for a new instrument is at a flute trade show. One of the most famous flute shows in the country is held at the National Flute Association Convention each year in August. Exhibit halls are packed with booths from every manufacturer and distributor under the sun, each with tables full of flutes of every shape and design available. If you are unable to attend this flute show, local music stores often host smaller flute shows showcasing individual distributors. Try out several models within your price range and develop a list of your top 3-5 flutes. Arrange trials either directly from the flute maker or from distributors such as JL Smith or Flute World. I prefer to order trials through larger distributors because I can try out several different models at the same time. Trials allow you to keep a flute for roughly 1 week before shipping the instrument(s) back to the distributor. The cost involved is usually limited to shipping costs but all packages must be insured for the full cost of the flute(s).
Try it out! During the 7-day trial period, play each model in numerous performance scenarios (band, orchestra, chamber music groups, solo works). Check intonation – Are adjustments relatively easy? How does the flute play in the higher register? Is the sound predominantly on the bright side? The dark side? How does the flute feel after prolonged practice sessions? How clear is the sound? Ease of response? This will help narrow your choices down. Although it is rare to find a flute on your first trial period, you will likely limit your favorites to 2-3 models. Request additional time with the finalists before selecting the model you wish to buy. If you would like additional features or would like to try out different headjoint options, be sure to contact the distributer to make arrangements for additional trial opportunities.
Buy it. This is the hardest part but obviously the most rewarding. If you are not ready to pay the full bill ASAP, explore financing options with the manufacturer. Flute World, for example, is currently offering a 12-month financing option for their pricier flutes and JL Smith offers an easy, 90-day same as cash payment plan. This may help you put a new flute in your hands sooner than you think.
Are you ready to buy a new instrument? Do you have any tips on selecting a new flute? Please comment below and happy flute shopping!