What I Wish I Knew: The progression of flutes I’ve played up to college

With back-to-school season in full swing a lot of companies offer these savings and deals to entice families to buy new instruments. The factors that go into making that large purchase are vast – budget, stock, knowledge, trialing, repairs, etc. For each flute I mention, (whether or not it’s still in production) I’ll provide the pros and cons of that experience. With hindsight informing things I wish I knew as a young student.

When I was first starting out as a high school sophomore I was given an unused and unserviced 20 year flute; promptly switching to borrowing a Yamaha from a friend in high school who had stopped playing. Now I’m playing a Weissman Haynes that I trialed from the Flute Center of New York. Here’s how I got from that 20 year flute to today…


Starting Out

When I was 15 years old, I decided to join marching band; to do so required learning flute over the summer. This is went I was exploring temporary flute options. My sophomore and junior years of high school were spent playing silver-plated, factory produced flutes. I played the same flutes in both marching band and concert band so durability was very important. I started with a KING flute, over the summer, and ended up with a Yamaha 221 by the time my sophomore year started.


My first “flute”: King Flute 610

Pros

  • It was a free instrument – An older band family had it sitting around for ~20 years.
  • I was able to use it to practice fingerings.
  • Later on (in my late undergrad), I was able to use it to learn about flute repair and got to see how the mechanism works up close.

Cons

  • The head joint cork desperately needed to be replaced. (Over the 20 years of sitting, the cork began to rot and the head joint had a very strong smell and would not tune).
  • The metal was extremely malleable – easy to bend and dent.
  • Servicing the instrument was a nightmare because KING no longer manufactures flutes.

My first REAL flute: Yamaha 221

Pros

  • Another free instrument: I borrowed this one from a friend who had quit back the previous year.
  • Very durable – the instrument was very low maintenance as far as COAs go (minimal mechanism issues).
  • Easy to get a sound out of and great sound quality for a student instrument (since it was well maintained and cleaned).
  • Open hole.

Cons

  • I was going to need a more permanent solution for continuing in band (which you’ll see I ended up purchasing my own Yamaha 221 after this section).
  • Repairs – since I was borrowing this instrument getting repairs was challenging because I didn’t know who I could trust to service it and the family I was borrowing the flute from had absolutely no clue either.

School loaner instruments: Bundy 300 / Gemeinhardt 2SP

If you’re budget is tight… DO NOT WASTE YOUR MONEY ON AMAZON. School loaner instruments are one option. Most schools will give out the higher quality or even brand new instruments out on a first come first serve basis so you should be in touch with the band director early to discuss what works for your situation.

If loaning an instrument is not an option there are flute societies that offer grants for students to purchase instruments or even donate instruments to young students.

Pros

  • In many cases, the repairs for the instrument are covered by the school district so you don’t have to worry about finding a reliable technician.
  • It’s a great option for students who are unsure whether or not they want to commit to the flute – less financial commitment.

Cons

  • The district may hold on to worn out instruments due to lack of funding – these instruments are usually given out as a last resort if all the loaner stock is in rotation. This can make learning the flute frustrating for a beginner.
  • The students need to be responsible for properly cleaning and maintaining the instrument; in districts where the band director is not primarily a flutist this can easily get overlooked.

Preparing for college

The following year I became the section leader for marching band, was promoted to piccolo, and had made the decision to own my own flute. Shortly after the school year had started, I had bought my own Yamaha 211. However, that year I always went through what I’ll call the “tale of many piccolos”…


The piccolo saga: Emerson (silver-plated), Jupiter (half plating half resin), Pearl (half plating half resin), Gemeinhardt 4SP (resin)

To be specific: in the span of 1 month I went through 5 piccolos (since I tried 2 Pearls). It was during the month of September, my Junior year, when these horrific trials began…

The silver-plated Emerson was my outdoor piccolo for marching band – there were no issues to complain about. However, when I needed a piccolo for concert band, I decided the shrillness of the all metal piccolo wouldn’t do so I decided to find a plastic composite or combination piccolo.

For whatever reason, I kept on going back to my local SamAsh to get replacement instruments. I won’t recall all the gory details, but the worst experience I had was one of the Pearls ended up having the head joint come off with the barrel.

Finally, the light at the end of the tunnel, I discovered the Gemeinhardt 4sP which I still own to this day – and has miraculously not given me any technical issues (granted it is taken in for annual COAs). For piccolos, I’ll break them down by make – all metal, half, or all resin.

Emerson (All metal)

  • Great for outdoor ensembles – durable in high and low temperatures.
  • Reliable mechanism.
  • Very shrill for inside rehearsals/closed spaces.

Jupiter & Pearl (half)

  • Good option for outdoor/indoor – if you want just one piccolo.
  • In my experience, the half metal-half resin were not reliable – key issues and that one traumatic barrel accident.

Gemeinhardt (resin)

  • Good for indoor/outdoor playing. Since it’s plastic it is less susceptible to cracking than wooden piccolos.
  • Easier (compared to all metal) to tame – intonation and shrillness.
  • Reliable mechanism.

Yamaha 221

Pros

  • Affordable and high-quality student instrument.
  • Open hole.
  • Very durable when well maintained.
  • This was a good enough instrument for beginning undergraduate/college auditions. (It can last a young student a LONG time).

Cons

  • Another flute upgrade looming for college (for a music education major).

Undergraduate/Graduate

I started out on my Yamaha 221 in the first year of my undergraduate degree, but knew I would inevitably need to upgrade. Since I am a stone’s throw to the Flute Center of New York so I scheduled a visit to trial flutes. All the flutes at this level (as an undergraduate student considering the possibility of graduate school in the future) where handmade and either silver (or silver and some other metal combo).

Flute trials: Powell with a Brannen head, Muramatsu EX, Haynes

There is a lot that goes into flute trialing and flute specs, if you want to see a post on that let me know! After my in person visit to the Flute Center, I ended up with these 3 instruments which I took out on a 7 day trial.

Powell

  • Preowned
  • B-foot
  • The body was an in-line G Powell all silver on the outside and keys, but gold playing on the interior walls; paired with a Brannen head joint.

Muramatsu

  • New
  • B-foot
  • The Muramatsu EX is an economical, sterling silver flute that is a great option for unversity students.

Haynes

  • Preowned
  • B-foot
  • A custom Weissman model Haynes flute with a silver body and head with a 14K gold riser.

After trialing all the flutes for a week, I knew the Haynes flute was the one for me so that brings us to today…

Weissman-Haynes

Pros

  • Handmade, silver flute – instantly a much higher sound quality than my student Yamaha flute.
  • B-foot
  • The extra keys: gizmo, C# trill and D# roller.
  • Straubinger pads.

Cons

  • Adapting to the head joint – compared to the Yamaha (which had a narrow, oval embouchure hole) the Haynes has a much wider squoval shaped hole.
  • Having to find my own local repair technician that was (preferably) Straubinger certified.
  • The heavy wall makes this flute much heavier than my previous flute as well as most other professional flutes.


Have you played any of these flutes? What are your about these instruments? Have any questions about a specific flute – let me know in the comments below.

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