Information to Help with a Flute Purchase & Other Cool Information

Advice for the adult flutist:
When is it time to purchase a better flute?
How to purchase your new flute.
Advice for young flutists and their parents:
When is it time to purchase a better flute?
How should we purchase a step-up flute?

Handmade flutes compared to machine made.
Offset G key compared to inline G.
The C# trill key, an extremely useful option.
What is the High E Facilitator?
Drawn toneholes vs. soldered toneholes.
Standard wall tubing vs. heavy wall tubes.
Adjusting screws or not?
Silver, gold and platinum risers.

Handmade flutes compared to machine made.

How is a handmade nickel silver flute better than a machine made (student model) sterling silver flute?

You may have two choices within your budget. One is a handmade nickel silver flute, perhaps with sterling silver lip plate and riser or sterling silver headjoint. The other is a machine made, student line flute with sterling silver tubes throughout. Which is the best choice?

One line of thought may point to the machine made silver flute. For the same price as the handmade flute you can have a flute entirely made of sterling silver! It sounds like a bargain. Or is it?  Let’s consider the differences between the two.

Machine made, or student line flutes, are a wonderful way for the beginning flute player to get started.  They are affordable because the parts are completely machine made and the flutes are mass produced. One headjoint style is offered, and headjoint embouchure holes are drilled out on a machine. The end result is a flute that is affordable, readily available and well suited for a beginning flute student. When upgrading from that first flute, one may turn yet again to a machine made flute — one made of sterling silver in anticipation of achieving a better tone. Is this really the right step?

A handmade flute, no matter what the metal content, is far superior to a machine made sterling silver flute! Careful craftsmanship is involved on every level. Each key is individually hand shaped and fitted for a precise fit without the side to side play found in machine made flute mechanisms. Such play in the mechanism hinders the performance of a flute by making regulations less reliable and creating a “clunkiness” to the overall feel of the instrument. In order to have a dependable pad seal, it is very important that each key come down in exactly the same place on each tone hole every time a key is pressed. The side play on machine made flutes makes this impossible.

A meticulously fit mechanism provides increased sensitivity and stable regulation. This work results in a mechanism that is smooth and quiet and will retain adjustment much longer than a machine made flute. To compliment the mechanism, handmade flutes are padded with professional quality pads installed by a skilled technician to provide an absolutely perfect seal with the lightest touch.

With a handmade flute various headjoint styles are offered for the player to chose from, all having been painstakingly cut by hand. Machine cut embouchure holes can in no way duplicate the tone quality, response and flexibility of a hand cut embouchure. Hand cut headjoints are cut to provide the player with the ultimate in tonal color and defined response, and are by far the most important component in improving the sound and response of the handmade flute. The handmade flute is a work of art, representing years of experience in providing professional flutists with instruments that will last a lifetime.

A machine made sterling silver flute is an intermediate step. Many players outgrow their “step-up” flutes quickly and are disappointed to find that their machine made flute has decreased in value considerably. Handmade flutes provide a more substantial instrument for the player to grow into over time. They also retain their value long term, even appreciating in value over the years.

Which is the best choice? The machine made sterling silver flute or the handmade nickel silver flute? The better investment, the flute that will provide uncompromising tone, response and longevity, is the handmade flute.

Offset G key compared to inline G.

inline or offset G

Traditionally players have chosen inline G when purchasing a handmade flute. Inline G and offset G are identical acoustically. Inline G is the best choice for some players who have longer fingers or larger hands with adequate strength and control. However, due to increasing awareness of tendonitis andcarpal tunnel syndrome, many players are now choosing professional flutes with offset G because of the more natural hand position it provides. Besides the therapeutic advantages there are technical benefits to offset G keys.

When dealing with repair problems in the left hand, two rods are better than one. Offset G eliminates a number of problems encountered with the inline G flute. Inline G, with so many keys on one steel, can make simple procedures such as leveling pads, straightening pad cups, or refitting keys awkward. Stresses placed on the inline G by the player or during repair can lead to a bowed or bent rod, leaving it more susceptible to binding than the offset G. Repairs to offset G keys are simple by comparison. The added strength of two more supporting posts provides stability and protection to these keys, leaving them less vulnerable to damage. In addition, the technician can isolate any problem without affecting the other left hand keys.

Here at The New England Flute Shop we are seeing a widespread trend toward offset G. With such advantages to the player and technician, this should be no surprise.

The C# trill key, an extremely useful option.

The C# Trill

The C# trill key may be unfamiliar to some flutists, but is an extremely useful mechanism that all flutists should know about.

A flute with a C# trill key is often purchased by flutists who are looking for an easy solution to the troublesome third register G-A trill; however, the C# trill key can also be used for numerous other trills and tremolos.  Additionally, the C# trill key can be used to provide a more stable and colorful middle C# when activated while B-natural is fingered.

The following is a guide to illustrate some of the functions of the C# trill key:

Trills

B-C# (first and second octaves): Finger B and trill the C# key.

C-C# (first and second octaves): Finger C and trill the C# key.

High F#-G#: Finger high F# and trill the C# key.

High G-Ab: Finger high G and trill the C# key.

High G-A: Finger high G and trill the C# trill key and D trill key in unison.

High Ab-Bb: Finger high Ab and trill the C# trill key, the D trill key and the D# trill key in unison.

Tremolos

In the first octave, tremolo to C# from G, Ab, A, Bb, B or C by trilling the C# trill key.

In the second octave, tremolo to C# from A, Bb, B or C by trilling the C# trill key.

In the first octave, tremolo to D from G, Ab, A, Bb, or B by trilling the C# trill key and the D trill key in unison.

In the first octave, tremolo to D# from G, Ab, A, Bb, or B by trilling the C# trill key and the D# trill key in unison.

What is the High E Facilitator?

High E Facilitator

The high E facilitator is a great alternative to the split E mechanism. Compact and effective, it avoids the common problems of the split E mechanism. The high E facilitator is more economical and can be added to any flute (professional or student line) at any time.

The facilitator is a donut-shaped ring that is inserted into the lower G tonehole. The resulting effect is to decrease venting in the G keys when fingering high E, improving the response and pitch of the high E without altering any other notes. The slur from high A to high E is also much more stable and more in tune. Some players may experience a very small lowering in pitch on the high A3, which is an added benefit.

The high E facilitator brings a great benefit to the player at a moderate price, without the added cost, weight and adjustment problems of the split E mechanism. The New England Flute Shop charges $80.00 to install a high E facilitator.

Drawn toneholes vs. soldered toneholes.

Soldered or drawn and rolled toneholes? This is the question that thousands of flutists ask themselves every year as they prepare to search for a flute that will be right for their needs.

In the earlier days of flute-making with silver tubes a relatively thin flute tube was desired for brilliance and quick response, it was not technically possible to draw and roll tone holes without destroying the tube. Thus, the tone holes had to be soldered on. Today the technology exists to draw and roll tubing of almost any thickness. Let’s cover a few of the technical aspects before we touch on playing characteristics.

A. Drawn and rolled tone holes are an integral part of the flute tube. A small hole is punched into the flute tube and a sphere of steel similar to a ball bearing is placed inside the flute tube right below the location of the tone hole. The steel ball is then pulled up and out creating the tone hole. This process is repeated for each tone hole. Another tool comes down on top of each tone hole and rolls over the edges so that the surface is flat and smooth.

B. Soldered tone holes are manufactured independent of the flute tube. Pilot holes are punched in the places where the tone holes are to be placed. The tone holes are then soldered onto the appropriate location, and then the remainder of the flute tube inside each tone hole is machined away so that there is a smooth, burr-free surface for the air to slide against at the intersection of each tone hole and the tube.

We hesitate to try to describe the differences in tone, color and response between the two tone hole styles. Different players often experience different results, but this is our general opinion:

A. Two words come to mind to describe the essence of a flute with drawn and rolled tone holes: flexible and open. Since drawn and rolled tone holes are an integral part of the flute tube and represent slightly less metal than soldered tone holes, flutes with drawn and rolled tone holes tend to be more flexible. The sound is generally very open and can seem brighter than the flutes with soldered tone holes. Some flutists desire a brighter or more brilliant sound, but for those who prefer a dark sound, a drawn and rolled tone hole flute could still be the right choice. The sound can be very significantly darkened by choosing a heavy-wall tube (18 thousandths of an inch = 0.45 millimeters) and/or a headjoint with a 14 or 24 karat gold or platinum riser. Many flutists have discovered that they can achieve the flexibility of a drawn and rolled tone hole flute along with the darkness and complexity of sound of a soldered tone hole flute by finding the optimal headjoint and tubing thickness combination.

B. The words to describe soldered tone hole flutes are positive resistance and complexity or depth of sound. Since soldered tone holes are separately made and not sculpted from the flute tube, they are by nature more consistent and usually thicker than the drawn and rolled tone holes. This fact, combined with the “weight” of the solder or braze that is used to fasten the tone holes to the flute tube, provides a positive resistance. Many flutists who have extremely well developed embouchures and breathing techniques require this kind of resistance as it allows them to play with an extremely fast and compact stream of air without overpowering the flute.

A soldered tonehole flute is more expensive than the drawn and rolled flute due to the time expended in making it.  Several different sizes of toneholes must be made and hand fitted to each flute being made. (A total of 16 to 18 toneholes depending on the flute model.) This requires much more additional time and skill compared with the technique of extruding toneholes on the drawn and rolled tonehole flutes.

Be sure to take full advantage of the choices available to you in determining which flute is best for your playing style. Those variants that should be considered include:

  1. Drawn and rolled tone holes vs. soldered tone holes.
  2. Thickness of tubing  (Our standard of 16 thousandths of an inch or the heavier .018″.)
  3. Adding a 14 or 24 karat gold or platinum riser (chimney)  or perhaps a gold lip plate.
  4. Choice of headjoint style.

It is important that you consider both tone hole styles and make up your own mind which works better for you!

Standard wall tubing vs. heavy wall tubes.

Sterling silver tubing is made in several thicknesses, typically ranging 0.014″ to 0.018″. Miyazawa offers a standard tubing thickness of 0.38mm (approximately 0.015″) and heavy-wall tubing thickness of 0.45mm (approximately 0.018″). Here are some general considerations when choosing tubing thickness:

Medium-wall (standard) tubing provides a brilliant, responsive sound with plenty of color and flexibility.  It is especially well suited for players who blow with a more gentle airstream and/or an extremely compact airstream.  The sound and response of the flute may be customized with different headjoint cuts and materials such as gold or platinum risers to bring a darker or brighter quality to the flute.

Heavy-wall tubing provides a darker, more powerful sound.  This sterling tubing is generally well suited for flutists who put a high volume of air through the flute and/or uses a fast airstream when playing.  The increased resistance of the tubing compliments players who tend to overpower a thinner walled flute, bringing ease of response with rich color.  Again, the sound may be customized with different headjoint cuts and materials.

Available Tubing Thickness Choices

Tubing Thickness
0.27mm 0.30mm 0.35mm 0.38mm 0.45mm
Nickel Silver x
Sterling Silver x x
Gold Silver (GS) Alloy x
9 Karat Gold x
14 Karat Gold x
18 Karat Gold x
24 Karat Gold x
Platinum x x

The choice of tubing thickness is an individual one, dependent upon playing style and desired quality of sound.  Flutists should carefully consider these options together with headjoint choices and materials to find a combination to suit their unique embouchure.

Adjusting screws or not?

Before we discuss the pros and cons of the two adjusting systems, lets talk a little about what purpose they serve.

As you know there are several keys on the flute that move in conjunctin with the actual key that your finger is pushing down.  For instance as you press the F key (first finger, right hand) the upper f# key and the upper b flat key will also move down to cover their toneholes, so there is a total of 3 keys that need to move perfectly together so that they all touch their toneholes at exactly the same time.  What allows flute makers and technicians to ensure that this happens are the adjusting screws. or adjusting tabs, or “clutches” that are built into the flute.  These adjusting systems are manipulated by the flute maker or technician in order to make sure your flute is in perfect adjustment.

Many flutists are unaware that there are two ways that flute makers design the adjusting mechanisms of flutes:

A. The adjusting system most widely in use employs adjusting screws.  Most of you have probably seen these on your flutes, and some of you have turned them, or have beeen tempted to!  We don’t recommend that you do.  By manipulating these screws, as well as utilizing other regulation methods and experienced technician keeps your flute in excellent regulation.

B. The Adjusting tab, or clutch system does not use screws to accomplish these adjustments.  Rather, small pieces of paper of various thickness as thin as half, one thousandth of an inch (or half the thickness of a piece of cigarette paper) are glued onto tabs between the key mechanism to keep the flute in good regulation.

The adjusting tab system as been associated with top of the line flutes that usually come with soldered toneholes.  We think that this is so because it was a more reliable system for keeping a flute in adjustment than the adjusting screw for many years.  The biggest problem with the adjusting screw is that if an instrument is not well engineered, the adjusting screw will fit loose in the threads and will rotate in or out due to the vibrations of the instrument as it is being played, thus putting the flute out of adjustment.  However, a well engineered flute will have adjusting screws that fit precisely into the threads and will not move unless a technician turns the screw.  A well made instrument will also have silencers glued to the adjusting tabs, usually in the form of leather to make sure that the tips of the adjusting screws are silent as they hit.

One of the disadvantages of the adjusting tab, or clutch system is that these small pieces of papger called “shims” can loosen and fall off.  Usually oil from the mechanisms seeps onto the adjusting plate, soaks the shim and deteriorates the glue holding the shim to the flute.  Sometimes very high humidity levels can cause the paper shims to expand, also putting the flute out of adjustment.  The technician is also limited by the thicknesses of paper available to him when using the adjusting tab system.  Sometimes a piece of cigarette paper is actually too thick in order to accomplish a good adjustment.  In this case other techniques must be employed to facilitate a proper adjustment.  The nice thing about a well fit adjusting screw is that the key mechanism can be very finely adjusted sometimes by only turning the screw only 5 to 10 degrees in order to accomplish a very delicate adjustment.

The most important thing to remember is to buy a high quality handmade flute regardless of which adjusting system is used.

Silver, gold and platinum risers.

Whether you are looking for a new headjoint to upgrade your flute or you are in the process of considering a new instrument, finding the right headjoint is an important step.  The design of the headjoint (cut, riser height, over/undercutting, taper etc.) has a significant impact in response and playing characteristics. The metal of the riser (or “chimney”) also plays an integral role.

The riser is the part of the headjoint where the lip plate is soldered to the headjoint tube. When playing, the airstream makes contact with the riser, causing the flute tube to vibrate and sound to be produced.  The properties of different riser metals directly affect the quality of the sound and response.

Here are some general guidelines when considering risers of silver, gold and platinum:

Silver risers provide a full, fluid sound.  Design factors aside, resistance of this metal is moderate, allowing for flexibility and reliable response.

Gold risers made of 14 karat gold bring a more complex and colorful sound to any headjoint style by expanding the harmonic range.  24 karat gold risers provide additional texture and warmth.  Overall, gold risers offer more resistance, resulting in fullness of tone and rich response.

Platinum risers have a dark, deeply penetrating sound.  With noticeably increased resistance, many flutists comment that they can “push” the sound without the worry of cracking notes, and response to articulation is unparalleled.

Choices of riser materials along with various headjoint styles present the opportunity for flutists to find the perfect combination for their playing style and embouchure. Click here for more specific information about Miyazawa headjoints.