Flutes – Buying Name Brands
With flutes, buying by name is generally a good practice, since the reputations of the better-known companies have been built by the quality of their products. Though there may be little difference between these flutes and the lesser-known brands in terms of sound and acoustic design, over a long period you will often find a difference in the durability of the instrument. If you don’t yourself know which brands are most respected, ask other flutists what names come to mind.
Metal Flutes—The Flute Hierarchy
There is a definite hierarchy of metal flutes, based mainly on the materials used and the care with which the flutes are made. As you go up the scale of metals, the quality of construction increases, and so does the price.
The least expensive flute, called a student model, is made from nickel-silver (also called German silver). Nickel-silver actually has no silver in it at all—it is an alloy of copper, zinc, and nickel. If well made and properly cared for, a flute of this type can last a very long time.
Student flutes are covered, or plated, with a layer of either nickel or silver, to help resist corrosion. Silver plating lasts longer, gives a smoother, less metallic tone, is less slippery to hold, and can be reapplied when the original plating wears through. The only advantage to nickel plating is that it stays shiny with very little maintenance. Since the extra cost of silver plating is very small, it is preferable to the nickel.
Moving up the hierarchy of models, silver—with its slightly deeper, richer tone and slightly better “response”—replaces the other metals for more and more parts of the flute. The next step above a student flute is one in which the head joint is made of silver. Since the influence of the material on the flute occurs mainly at the head joint, this gives the flute basically the characteristics of a silver flute. The next level up is an all-silver body, and the one above that has a silver key mechanism as well.
Many times someone selling a flute secondhand assumes it is silver but actually has no idea what it is made of. Usually a flute says right on it if any portion of it is silver. Other ways to tell are: ask the original price; check the tenons, to see if silver plating has worn through; see whether it is nickel-plated—if the flute is nickel-plated, there is no silver in it.
Above the all-silver flutes in the hierarchy there is still one more large step—the handmade flutes. Most of these are made in silver, but gold and platinum are also available. Gold gives a “warmer,” “richer” sound than silver, with somewhat less carrying power. Platinum, first used because it would theoretically make the best flute material, has a tone generally considered ‘cold’.
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