Jen Cluff ~ Advice on Buying a Flute

Canadian Flutist and Teacher





 Buying a Flute

How to buy a new flute flow chart

Adult beginner wanting to buy a flute online

Adult re-beginner wanting a flute for under $700

 
 

Buying a flute for a child

Buying a good USED flute

Shopping for a flute online

Buying a "step-up" flute for a highschool student

Buying a flute for University or College performance programs

Best flute equipment list (brands etc.)

Buying unknown brands on ebay

Links to online articles about buying flutes

JL Smith Flute Buyer's Guide (very good)

Do I need a gold flute?

Articles about testing headjoints

How to test a headjoint or how to fit a headjoint for testing

How to test a flute for repair needs

 

 


How to buy a flute - the flow chart

Buying a new flute flow chart to see how most folk buy a flute and what goes right and wrong.

The sensible way to shop for a flute:

1. Get your current flute repaired to top notch quality. Why?
a) Improves re-sale value of your old flute and allows you assess its actual abilities.
b) allows you to compare your old flute in prime condition to prime condition new flute(s) and
c) if you are selling your old flute to pay for your new one, you will likely get the repair money back in the price you sell the old flute for, and even sell it much faster with less fuss.

2. Now With your old flute in top condition you can afford to play-test new flutes at your leisure without rushing the process.
Why? a) old flute may have had leaks that made you think it was far worse a flute than it actually is and
b) if new flutes are in poor state of repair from sitting in the store too long or getting bumped in transit, you'll be able to sense it because your current flute plays very well by comparison.

3. Once you've found a brand of flute you think is better than your old flute, ask the salesperson to bring in multiple identical models so you can choose the best one.
Why? a) no two flutes are alike even when "identical". One or more may have a slightly better or different headjoint or key work speed and lightness than the next.
b) not all flutes that are sitting in the shop have been recently repaired to fix minor leaks or other problems that have occured over time in the shop. You want them all to be in perfect repair for play-testing.
c) sometimes large shipments of identical flutes have been quickly sold off, best ones sold quickest, as the batch of "identical" flutes  moves from city center to city center, leaving only one lemon that no one wants, and that is possibly the one that is in the shop when you arrive.

4. Have the new flute(s) tested by a professional flutist or private flute teacher while you listen from a distance of several yards or in a performance hall. Why?
a) flutes that sound LOUD or SOFT up close may sound the opposite at a distance
b) you can witness the acutal ability of flutes that have a professional range of sound quality and agility if played by a pro. (qualities you may not be able to yet get out of a given flute)
c) the pro. will sense far more quickly the limitations of a flute (too thin, too muffled, too slow mechanism, leaks in pads etc.) and within minutes can pick the best flute of a batch.

5. Keep your old flute as a backup for when your new flute goes into repair after first 3-6 months, and thereafer once a year. Why?
a) You don't want to be left flute-less if a repair problem crops up just before a concert
b) You can eventually sell the old flute and your new flute may become your backup flute when you buy a new one (every 10-20 years.) and c) if your old flute is in perfect repair, you can tell when your new flute starts to leak or have other problems by playing your old flute to compare.


The mistaken way to buy a flute:

1. Never get your old flute fixed or oiled, and then think every new flute you try is better than yours is. Result?
a) your old flute becomes mechanically worn out over ten years due to lack of oil, resulting in mechanical "play" that cannot be truly fixed.
b) your finger technique becomes slow and laboured making you think that you're not a very good flute player; or your embouchure technique becomes tight and strained, making you think that your tone is less controllable (really caused by mechanical repair needs ie: cork leaking, pads leaking.)
c) you constantly buy new flutes every few years and then allow them to degrade quickly, leaving you back at square one again.

2. Buy the only flute in the store on the day you go to that store. Result?
a) the new flute you just bought may only be marginally better than the one you own (or worse) but it's shiny and new and so you assume it is superior. (after 1-2 years go back to no.1 mistake above.)
b) the new flute you just bought may actually be the worst of a batch of identical flutes that have been sold, leaving the "lemon" behind in the store. (the chances that the best flute is still in the store although tons of people have tried it are very very very LOW. Most people buy on impulse, and so the best flutes disappear within 48 hours of arriving in a busy city center.)
c) you may buy a brand that is poorly made because the store cannot afford to have large numbers of flutes brought in for trial. If this is the case, go to a bigger store in a bigger city, and call ahead and arrange for multiple "identical" flutes to be there to test-play. If the store cannot do that for you, deal with a flute specialist (www.fluteworld.com or your local flute-only dealers).

3. Buy a used flute from someone who doesn't play at a pro-level, but mistakenly paid alot of money for a worn out or lemon flute. Result?
a) the lemon flute (even if it's gold and really expensive) keeps being sold from amateur to amateur, even though it has had major problems since the day it was made.
b) the used flute may be in a poor state of repair and difficult to play test on short notice so you keep hoping that after repair it will play better (but to what degree you can only guess)
c) you end up trying to sell the lemon flute to an unsuspecting next victim (which feels bad if you know its a lemon but are trying to get your money back out of it.)

4. Be convinced that price tag is equal to quality. Result:
a) you could end up with a $30,000 flute that plays worse than a $4000 one.
b) you spend more in insurance than you ever did on yearly repairs and oilings
c) you cannot afford flute lessons, which is the one place in the world that you could learn all the above first hand, so that you become an expert in flute testing and flute buying knowledge.


Hope this helps.

Best,
Jen


 

Adult beginner wanting to buy a flute online

Q: What kind of experiences do people have with buying a flute online?  What happens if it needs to be repaired?
----------------------------------------------------------------------
A:If you MUST shop online, then I would buy the flute from a reputable flute dealer who will send out multiple ("identical") flutes, and have your new private flute teacher play-test them for you.

Remember too that private flute teacher's often know of good flutes for sale (from their own students who are upgrading) so be sure and send your teacher an inquiry too, about availalbe used flutes they may know of.

To search for flute prices and brands start here:

See prices at: www.fluteworld.com for example.
If you're in the UK or Europe, try:

www.justflutes.com

www.allflutesplus.com 

www.topwind.com

All the above are reputable dealers who thoroughly check over their flutes before sending them out, and make minor adjustments and repairs on factory sealed flutes (which may have tiny maladjustments that a beginner isn't aware of.)

 These places will stand behind the workmanship and warranty. So if you want a new instrument that's being backed up by the shop that sells it, choose the above dealers.

An example of price for Yamaha 200 series would be here:
      Fluteworld Yamaha flute price list


And perhaps a "good deal" on a Yamaha 300 (open-hole) with offset G would be this one:
http://www.wwbw.com/Yamaha-YFL321-Flute-i22657.music

Other brand names that are below $1500, and are worthy of having shipped to you are: Jupiter, DiMedici, and my favourite pick: Azumi.($1800 in 2007) But if you have a smaller budget than $1000, look for a used Yamaha that is verified "Made in Japan" if at all possible possible.

But check all around on the internet for various sales and offers from reputable instrument dealers who deal in flutes. An enormous listing of flute dealers can be found at larrykrantz.com

Also check prices on www.usedflutes.com and see if the brand of flute you're looking for is being sold in your state or area; often people "find" eachother online, and only live blocks apart. :>)

 For more advanced flute models (for serious flutists who intend to make a make a worthy instrumental investment), try these two dealers in the U.S. , who will send out multiple flutes as well:

http://www.flutesmith.com/ and

http://www.flute4u.com/ 

etc. and get the warranty and service that you'll want to have with a new flute. Again; you want to have your teacher help you play test multiple "identical" flutes to find the best flute from a bunch of them. No two flutes are completely alike, and yes, there are lemons, and there are flutes with mechanical problems that will need to be fixed.

Brands to try for those willing to invest in a high quality instrument that they're serious about are:

Yamaha, Sankyo, Altus, Azumi, DiMedici, Miyazawa, Muramatsu. ($1000 to $8000)

For flutes in the $1000 U.S. and under range try: Trevor James, Pearl, Jupiter and used Yamaha and DiMedici flutes. The reason Yamaha is so frequently recommended is that they are very well made and hold their mechanical precision over time. For an article on why I DON'T recommend certain brands, read here.

Buying online can be a bit of a nightmare if the flute is not guarenteed by a repair person who's already gone over the instrument to check for fatal flaws.
You could buy a bad flute for $200, put $150 more work into it, and still only be able to resell it four months later for $150, if it's a lemon.

And since you've indicated that you're looking for lessons too, if you're buying a new flute, I would also have your private teacher help play-test a variety of student flutes (new or used) to find the "winner" from among many different flutes. There are "lemons" for sure, and you don't want to get stuck with one.

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On a serious budget??

If you're going the cheapest possible route, get a Yamaha 200 series student flute from your local Buy and Sell newspaper, and make sure the flute has been gone over properly by a top notch repair person before you struggle with things like bent mechanism, leaking pads, or problems with the cork and headjoint.

The reason that the "blanket brand" seems to always be Yamaha, is that they have proven to be almost endlessly repairable, unlike some cheaper brands. They resist going out of adjustment from bumps and scrapes, and as intermediate flutes go, they are more precision built to begin with.

Also check out brands such as Azumi, Jupiter, Pearl, DiMedici and Trevor James if you cannot afford the steep initial $800 price tag of a new, closed-hole, C-foot Yamaha.

You may find one flute of any of the above brands that both you and your teacher agree is a good quality one that will keep its resale value, or at least last you 10 years or more, that is if you never upgrade again.

Alternately, and this may take all the worry out of the purchase for you, call a flute teacher and ask if any of their students is letting go of a Yamaha 200 (upgrading perhaps) and thus get one that's stood the test of time, and has been properly maintained.
Most flute students sell their old, maintained, flutes at a fairly reasonable price (compared to the markup on used flutes in music stores.)

Or: look for a repair-person who sells used instruments; they're likely to have a Yamaha 200 lying around or about to appear on their shelves. :>)

Best, Jen

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 Links to GOOD articles on buying flutes

A buyer's guide to monetary value of used flutes (woodwinds)

http://www.musictrader.com/buyers.html


Jen Cluff on buying flutes without private teacher's help and without knowing reputable companies is hit-and-miss:

http://www.jennifercluff.com/blog/2007/01/why-some-flute-brands-and-not-others.html

 

E-bay beginner flute buying article:

http://reviews.ebay.com/The-Insider-apos-s-Guide-to-Buying-a-Beginner-Flute_W0QQugidZ10000000000818282


Jeff Smith on how to buy a flute:

http://www.flutesmith.com/flute-buying.asp


The Parent's Guide to buying a flute:

http://www.jbwflutes.com/parents_guide.asp

 


 Articles about play-testing flutes or headjoints

 http://www.drelinger.com/suggest.htm

Testing a headjoint - Brannen Flutes
http://www.brannenflutes.com/try.html

Headjoint testing with Bradley Garner & Nina Perlove on youtube
www.youtube.com/watch?v=HG8u-BSVGP4

 


 

 How to test a headjoint:

Test a headjoint for:
Loud playing for tone
Soft playing for tone
Fast playing for super-legato
Slow playing for richness of expression
Fade ins and fade outs for ease of "tapering".
Hard tonguing for how easy/hard it is to accidently squeak
Soft tonguing for how easy or hard it is to tongue distinctly
Octave leaps for how easy the flute leaps large distances
Overblowing harmonic series using low C, low C#, low D:
How easy is it to lightly blow the harmonics without excessive embouchure change?
Staccato for how the flute rings during silences
Air accents for how rich the tone by using with abdominal breath-pulses and various speeds of vibrato, and accent types.

Test with a tuner to find out how in tune the scale is with the new headjoint.

Check the cork placement with a reliable measuring device (17.3 or 17.5 mm. from cork face-plate to center of embouchure hole.)

Note: Get advice during your flute lessons, and have your teacher demonstrate all the testing methods is my best advice. Jen Cluff.:>)


Fitting headjoints onto existing flutes

Q: I have a Yamaha 200 series student flute. What headjoints should I be looking at that are likely to fit it?

A: Most headjoints will fit a Yamaha 200. If they are too small by a micron or two, you can wrap teflon tape around the headjoint and insert it with a twisting motion into the Yamaha body. Teflon tape is about 50 cents at the hardware store, and is used by plumbers to fit pipe. It stays on for several months if you always twist the headjoint in in the same direction, and smooth the tape well when first applied.

  If a headjoint is too big, it has to be sized down by a repair person, but since you were unable to try it on the flute due to the oversize problem, you're unlikely to purchase it because you wouldn't have been able to give it a proper trial in the first place. I once purchased a Powell Boston headjoint to fit a Japanese flute, and it was just slightly too big, but fit well enough to test. However once it was professionally fitted (sized down) the quality of the headjoint was adversely affected (did not "speak" as well in the middle register as before sizing). So beware of this possible problem.

  Note: Not all headjoints work well with all bodies. It's possible to have a great headjoint that works fabulously on body A, but doesn't work at all on body B, so it is necessary to fully test each headjoint on the body on which you intend to use it.  If a headjoint is too small, and you've been using teflon tape, and now want to get the headjoint sized UP, beware of altering it; sometimes re-sizing of headjoints can change their playability. This can be an issue if you want to later re-sell a headjoint (and many of us only use a headjoint for 2-6 years before deciding to change flutes or headjoints again). So I advise teflon tape over permanent resizing if possible with an eye toward re-sale in the future.

Finally, you will find the best headjoints for a Yamaha student flute to be: Professional Yamaha headjoints purchased separately

Muramatsu, or Miyazawa headjoints (which may be slightly small, but can be sized up with tape) and especially: Sankyo headjoints.  

Sankyo headjoints can be excellent on a Yamaha. See if you can go to a store that has a large selection of headjoints, and try them all. Take a pro-player with you, or take your top picks to a pro-player and have them carefully test the headjoints.

If you have the money, I would buy a new Azumi 3000 flute from www.fluteworld.com or other dealer, and replace the Yamaha, as the Azumi's have the Bennett scale and a really fabulous headjoint cut good for beginners to intermediate players.

These Azumis are fantastic for the price ($1000+, slightly more for the all-silver model.)!!! 

And, of cousre, remember that fitting headjoints is really the domain of an expert flute-fitter/dealer/repair person who will best advise you. You should also have an expert flutist to help you test any new purchases.

Best, Jen Cluff

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 Buying unknown flute brands on ebay:

Q: I was going to buy my daughter a student flute on E-Bay.  The flute is brand new and made by the "Jolly" company of China.  I was wondering if you ever heard of this brand of flute before and what you might think about it.

A: Some of these flutes, like the Walmart and Costco cheapo flutes (under $300) are pure junk, as they are made with metal that is so soft, they cannot be repaired, and actually fall apart while being played (keys bend out of shape just from being handled.) They are therefore "flute brands to be avoided".

Others of these newly created cheap brands some flute folk have said are generally "okay" for the first year of study, but only a very tiny percentage. Undoubtedly the student will soon grow out of them, and need a solidly built flute that gives a good sound and keeps its key adjustments. Junky beginner flutes that are hard to repair are hard to resell too. So do your research with a flute teacher at hand to give opinions.

If no other good quality flutes are within reach I would search for a used Yamaha 200 series closed-hole student flute using your local Buy and Sell newspaper, shopping locally, and then take the flute to be repaired, oiled and adjusted. You can usually find a used Yamaha 200 for around $300 - $ 400.

Other brands by virtue of their low price, that have been recommended recently by flute teachers on the net (but not by me personally) are listed below. AGAIN, I do not recommend brands other than new or used Yamahas in this price range, but you may get several years use out of one of these brands if well cared for and frequently serviced by a reputable technician. Moreover, have a reputable technition set up these flutes precisely when they arrive
 
For an article on why I *do* recommend certain brands, for quality, longevity and resale value, read this pdf article.

 Under $300:
Used Yamaha 200 series [recommended]

Barrington Model 229SP Student Flute (other teacher's recommendation, not mine.)
 

BandNow Silver Plated Flute ( this is another teacher's rec. not mine)

$300-500

Used Yamaha 200 series [recommended]

Jupiter 500 series
Gemeinhardt 2SP Student Flute (other teacher's recommendation, not mine.)

Armstrong 104 (other teacher's recommendation, not mine.)
 
NOTE: Gem. and Armstrong can be problematic. For an article on why I DON'T recommend certain brands, read here.

$500-1000

Azumi 2000 flutes [recommended!] sold for $1000 U.S. at www.fluteworld.com

or Yamaha 200 or 300 series, new or used purchased locally through 'buy and sell' listings.

Jupiter 600 series
Trevor James flutes
Pearl 501 Series (other teacher's recommendation, not mine.)
Emerson Model 6SP (other teacher's recommendation, not mine.)

Other flutebrands will also be recommended by good flute technicians if you wish to contact the source of flute repairs; they usually know all the pitfalls of all the brands, and can tell you which brands are constantly in the shop, and which are a joy or a disaster to repair.

Also, the private flute teacher should always be involved in flute purchases (even if you only visit once to have them test-play a flute) as there are "lemon" flutes to be avoided.

The flute teacher may have several students about to sell their used flutes as they upgrade to intermediate level flutes, and may be able to test-play, give the good housekeeping seal of approval to, and get a fair price asked for student flutes within their own studio.

Also, I've heard "Buyer Beware" so many times after ebay flute purchases, I personally would never buy a flute off Ebay. I would buy one from a reputable dealer who will exchange or refund if the flute is defective.

Best, Jennifer Cluff


 Buying a flute for University or College performance program entry

The worst flute shopping mistake you can make is to buy a flute for college or University without consulting an expert flute teacher.

The best flute teacher to consult would be the primary flute teacher at the college/university you will be attending. They will have brand preferences and advice, and will even know of used flutes from among their more advanced students which will be coming up for sale.
The fact is a good piece of equipment makes the skill-level of the trainee exponential. You simply cannot play at the advanced skill levels required if you're playing an Artley, Buffet, Bundy, Gemeinhardt, Selmer, Emerson, Vito, Winston, Armstrong or other "band flute". And it doesn't matter if you bought the "Professional Model" made by these companies. They're still not fine flutes for REAL skill-building and college level performances. They're too clunky and poorly designed to do what you'll need them to do. Believe me!

Or better yet, believe your own private teacher; have them play these flutes in a test with other flutes such as Trevor James, Di Medici, Azumi, Yamaha, Muramatsu, Miyazawa etc. You'll hear the difference yourself!

So let's go over what makes a good piece of equipment,
and how to go about choosing the one you need.

1. PRICE:
First things first: you can spend $25,000 on a flute---so be realistic. 

 Simply choose a price bracket that you can actually afford and limit your choices to that price bracket.
For example; If you only have $2000-$5000, then you limit yourself to the most consistently reliable brands that make a flute in that price range:

Altus, Azumi, Japanese made Yamaha, Muramatsu, Miyazawa or Sankyo.

All these companies are known for their high level of mechanical accuracy and fine-workmanship.
 "Lemons" do not show up very often among these brands.
So limit your "take-home" test flutes to these brands at this price.

You'll probably need these features for best use:
Solid silver head, body and foot. Offset G; open hole; B-foot.

Phone the nearest biggest musical instrument store and tell them your price limit, the brands you're interested in, and the fact that you need off-set G. (I don't recommend inline G unless you know for a fact that you can play inline with comfort.)
They may need a few days to bring in additional flutes into their store, in order to have at least three or four flutes for you to try of each brand and model.

Be aware that a flute at the pitch of A 442 is the most likely to be useful. European flutes pitched at A444 will be too sharp for North Amercian ensembles, and older flutes pitched at A440 will not allow you to play sharp enough to play along with European CDs.

2. KEY SPEED/PAD SEALING ABILITY:
Well made, sturdy mechanical parts, mechanical lightness, accuracy of fit between parts and key speed are what you are after.
This means you are looking for  the flute that plays fast and evenly without any finger pressure whatsoever.

Any flute that you try that requires finger pressure should be immediately rejected. (including the current band flute you own.)

So test new flutes using only lightest possible finger pressure on the keys, and run fast slurred scales and chromatics.
If the flute does not play fast and easily, then the flute needs to be repaired BEFORE they are play-tested.

[Note: It is normal for a flute-technician to "tweak" up brand new flutes straight from the factory in order to make the pads seal even better than they did when they left the factory. So if this "tweak up" has not been done, or if the new flute has been play-tested too many times in the store without a 're-tweak', then it must be rejected. You can't properly test a flute with pad-leaks, or slow mechanism.]

3. HEADJOINT SOUND QUALITY:
 The headjoint is 90% of the sound of the flute. Having a solid silver body (as opposed to a plated body) will provide the other 10% of the sound quality. If you can afford a solid silver headjoint, body and foot, good. If not, have your college/university teacher help you select a flute with as much pure silver as you can.

See articles on used flute shopping also.

If you're on a budget, consider that you can eventually upgrade a well-made intermediate flute such as a Yamaha 400-series flute, by just upgrading the headjoint (for under $800) at a future date. You can always upgrade to a more professional headjoint, as long as the body can be maintained and serviced to a high degree of accuracy in pad-sealing.
However:
The likely problem in play-testing is that you will tend to choose headjoints that are like the flute headjoint you already use.
Those will seem the "easiest" to play. The ones that may actually be better headjoints (better embouchure cut on the mouth-piece) need to be tested by a professional player who can test them more thoroughly.

This is where having the help of a professional flute performer/teacher comes in. You cannot use skills you don't have yet to test the limits of a headjoint and body of a given flute.

So you have to have to take the the test flutes for at least a week to ten days in order to adjust to the possibilities of sound production on a new kind of headjoint for yourself, and you have to hear a professional play on that headjoint, in order to hear the possible sound and tone colour range from several feet away as well.

How to test a flute headjoint:

Test:
Loud playing for tone
Soft playing for tone
Fast playing for super-legato
Slow playing for richness of expression
Fade ins and fade outs for ease of "tapering".
Hard tonguing for how easy/hard it is to accidently squeak
Soft tonguing for how easy or hard it is to tongue distinctly
Octave leaps for how easy the flute leaps large distances
Overblowing harmonic series using low C, low C#, low D:
How easy is it to lightly blow the harmonics without excessive embouchure change?
Staccato for how the flute rings during silences
Air accents for how rich the tone by using with abdominal breath-pulses and various speeds of vibrato, and accent types.
Test with a tuner to find out how in tune the scale is with the new headjoint.

Check the cork placement with a reliable measuring device (17.3 or 17.5 mm. from cork face-plate to center of embouchure hole.)

Note: Get advice during your flute lessons, and have your teacher demonstrate all the testing methods is my best advice. Jen Cluff.:>)

More articles on headjoint testing can be found here.

Summary:
It's best to take two to three flutes on trial (or one at a time if that's all the store will allow) and work on the sound production and fingering speed for 5-10 days. Only then will you know what the possibilities are for both sound and speed of light-touch fingering.

The whole flute purchase process may well take two to three months, and may include waiting for your local dealer to order in second and third batches of flutes for you to play-test.

Consult with experts at all levels.

Do your research at all the links provided in the following articles:

buying.htm

used.htm

flutequip.htm

And most importantly:

Contact the best flute teacher and best flute technician you can find to carefully go over the flutes you are selecting from. You do not want a flute with a defect, an out-of-tune scale, a hidden malfunction, or a limiting amount of poor workmanship.

You may want to print this article out so you can study it.
Good luck! :>)

Best,

Jen Cluff

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