Have you ever thought of why the flute is included in the woodwind family? Of course, there is a history of flutes made partially with wood. The real answer though is much more interesting: the woodwind family is actually classed by the way sound is produced an excerpt from WWBW “the way they produce their sound which is by splitting the player’s air stream on a sharp edge, such as a reed”. When looking at flute specs – especially for younger students – often you are dealing with a cheaper silver – usually nickel. Here is a comprehensive list of both flute specs and flutes for students:

SPECS

There are so many variables with it comes to manufacturing a flute, this is no way a fully complete list (since there are a vast amount of custom variables), I have divided these specs into 6 common
categories:

Choices

New v.

C foot v.

Open holed v.

Inline G key v.

Preowned

B foot

Close holed

Offset G key

Extra Keys/Attachments
  • Gizmo key (foot)
  • Bb side key (body)
  • C# trill (body)
  • Split E (body)
  • C# roller (foot)
  • D# roller (foot)
  • Brossa F# (body)
Materials/Metals
  • Nickel silver – sometimes with silver plating on the exterior
  • Coin silver OR Sterling silver
  • Gold – How many karats?
  • Wood (uncommon)
  • Combination of metals
    • ie. a sterling silver body with gold keys; OR a coin silver body with gold interior wall.
Risers

The riser is part of the embouchure hole and can be any metal (ie. silver, gold).

Wall

Standard v.

Heavy

The wall thickness can impact the color of the tone (and the weight of the instrument).

Also as mentioned, the inner wall of the flute can be made of a different metal than the outer
wall.

Tubing

The thickness of the tube is important because flute players will often upgrade their headjoint
(since it is less expensive than buying a whole flute) and the diameter of the tubing MUST
match the body of the flute.


FLUTES – General Names to be aware of

Beginning Brands (can also be used for outdoor playing/marching band)
  • Yamaha
  • Gemeinhardt
  • Selmer
  • Jupiter
Intermediate Brands
  • Trevor James
  • Yamaha
  • Pearl
  • Jupiter
Conservatory Brands (get through Undergrad)
  • Muramatsu
  • Yamaha
  • Azumi (by Altus)
  • Powell Sonare
  • Amadeus (by Haynes)
  • Di Zhao
  • Miyazawa

More specific – general specs and pricing

Beginner (Grades 4-6)

Close holed

~$300-500

  • Selmer – FL711 Prelude
  • Gemeinhardt – 2SP
Intermediate (Grades 6-12)

Close holed

~$600-1200

  • Pearl – PF 500
  • Yamaha – YFL 222

Open holed

~$800-1700

  • Pearl – PF 505 RBE
  • Yamaha – YFL 262
Conservatory (Grade 10 upwards)

Open holed

~$1800-4500

  • Yamaha – YFL 577(H)
  • Powell Sonare – PS 601
  • Muramatsu – EX
  • Azumi – AZ series (1, 2, or 3)
  • Trevor James – Cantabile OR Virtuoso Voce

What are your favorite student flutes and specs? Let me know in the comments below!

Developing a good relationship with your instrument repair technician is so important to getting the most mileage out of your instrument. As a result, you can become aware of the tendencies of your particular instrument (what is the first thing to go out of alignment? What little things should you be taking note of that could lead to bigger issues?), how to preserve your instrument (ie. brushing your teeth/rinsing out your mouth before playing), and what cleaning tools are helpful or harmful to your instruments.


The Beginning

Like most beginning flutist, I started with the cleaning rod that came in my flute case and an interior cloth to swab through the flute. . . That was it.

At the basic level, that is all you really need to keep the flute from rapidly becoming worn out. HOWEVER, you must not leave the cloth and rod INSIDE the flute.

Why? Because leaving the rod and cloth inside the flute – the moisture that your just swabbed out (with the rod and cloth) will be sitting in the flute as if you didn’t even both to swab which is problematic for the flute’s pads which will – as a result – collect moisture and start to stick and deteriorate. Likewise, you do not want to take the interior cloth and place it OVER the flute for the same reasons. So what do you do with it?

SOLUTION! If you are working with a standard student flute case – that would be one that does not have a separate case cover or exterior pocket – this is one smart way to store your rod and interior cloth. The rod already has a spot in the flute case (typically this is at the bottom edge adjacent to the case latches).
If you take the interior cloth and tie it around the case handle – the cloth will be able to dry much faster than it would in the case and it will not be damaging the flute.

It is also IMPORTANT to note that for the interior swab there are two options that DO NOT work well with the flute. Avoid these swabs types with your flute:

  1. A weighted swab – these work well with instruments like the clarinet or saxophone – however, given the thin diameter of the flute and delicate keys: the string and weight can cause damage to the flute.
  2. The caterpillar or fuzzy swabs (you’ll know them when you see them) – these are problematic for two reasons.
    1. The fuzzy fibers can pill off and get stuck on the pads or within the mechanism (causing it to become worn down).
    2. The tendency with these swabs is to just leave them inside the instrument. As mentioned earlier, this will allow moisture to collect and can cause damage to the pads.

A good interior cloth will not have any frayed or loose edges that can get caught on the small parts of the flute. Likewise, the material should be able to absorb any moisture inside the cloth with 1-2 pass throughs; and should be thin enough that it is not getting stuck in the instrument. Interior swab suggestions:


Moving On Up

These are cleaning supplies I found useful as I started to play more.

Pad Paper

Pad paper was the first addition to my cleaning accessories – if you do not have a case with storage or a case cover, I would recommend keeping these in a separate bag. Pad paper does not need to be used after every playing – if you hear a sticky key or feel like key is leaking you can place the paper under the key, press down for several sections (DO NOT PULL THE PAPER OUT WHILE THE KEY IS DOWN) and then lift the key and remove the paper. Repeat on a different area of the paper becomes soaked.

Things to be aware of:

  • NO DOLLAR BILLS!!!! You may of heard of band directors using dollar bills as a quick fix… it would be better off if you did nothing at all than use a dollar bill. Ask your repair tech, a dollar bill may absorb some of the liquid, but can very easily add gunk (dust, bacteria) to your pads.
  • You CAN use cigarette paper though.
  • I will say it again, DO NO pull the paper out while the key is pressed down – this can tear your pads (to replace your pads can get expensive real fast, ask your tech what their rate is for pad replacement and the number will amaze you how much those tiny things cost).
  • Be wary of powdered pad paper, sometimes okay – I prefer to er on the side of caution and avoid it.
Anti-Tarnish Strips

Look at the body of your flute – particularly where you place your right hand (behind those three keys). What do you notice? Overtime, you may see what appears to be dust and gunk build up. Whatever you do DO NOT attempt to clean it with Q-tips or even think of sticking anything near the rods. Ask your repair technician and they will warn you to proceed at your own detriment. So if you can’t go in and clean it – what are you meant to do?

In this case, there are 2 solutions you can use in tandem:
(1) You can blow a quick stream of air to loosen or remove the visible dust. You don’t want to spit on your flute, but using your air to dislodge the dust is the first step.
(2) This is a preventative step. What you are most likely noticing is tarnish, hence, placing anti-tarnish strips somewhere in your case – usually underneath the flute. Please know, there is not anything you can do to fix it on your own (please DO NOT try to DIY this at home), you would need to bring your flute in to get a full COA to remove the tarnish – do not worry so much about tarnish because it is a cosmetic issue that in most cases does not effect the mechanism.

Anti-tarnish strips can be placed in the case with your flute. Read and follow the directions for the specific strips you buy – typically, they will need to be changed out every 6 months (and one pack of anti-tarnish strips will be more than enough; especially if you end up cutting the strips to fit into the flute case).

Exterior Cloth

Exterior cloths are like pad paper – they do not have to be done after every use. Although with the exterior cleaning cloth, many of us may prefer to wipe down the flute to get rid of finger prints.

Microfiber is the standard material for cleaning cloths. The wonderful thing about these exterior microfiber cloths is that you only need ONE because you can just wash it once it starts to get dirty and it can last you years!

Like interior cleaning cloths you want a cloth that does not have any frayed or loose edges that can get stuck on the flute. Be aware that a cut up shirt or piece of old fabric WILL NOT BE EFFECTIVE because this material tends to unravel (making it very easy to get snag on the flute) and usually can’t fully remove grime.

Here are some exterior polishing cloths:

When using the exterior cloth be sure to avoid going near the pads and rods. When cleaning the body and foot joint with the cloth: just stick to the top of the keys, and parts of metal that are easily accessible. You DO NOT to stick the edge of a cloth into the mechanism and risk moving something out of alignment or tearing a pad!

Isopropyl / Cotton Ball

The days before COVID-19 when conventions and fairs were safe and instrument vendors brought dozens of flutes to try – isopropyl and cotton ball/pad where used on the lip plate to disinfect between players. Of course, currently, instrument sharing is not happening, but it is good to have these on hand. For example, when I get sick, I’ll clean around the lip plate just out of precaution.

REMEMBER you do not want to submerge the head joint because there is a cork that will need to be replaced if submerged (the cork should be replaced annually anyway), but you DO NOT need to apply the isopropyl INSIDE the flute, only apply it (if you feel so inclined) to the lip plate/exterior of the head joint.


Finally…

Flute Flag (Interior Swab)

If you own a case cover or have a case with a separate pocket, I have found the Valentino Cleaning Flag to be an efficient way to swab my flute during and after practice sessions. First, it’s only one piece so I don’t have to worry about threading a cloth through a cleaning rod. It’s easy to just grab and go. And like the exterior microfiber cloths you only need ONE – these are very easy to clean (I usually just do soap and hot water, and let it dry for 1-2 days).


What do you use to clean your flute? Has it changed since you started playing? Do you use any of these tools? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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.