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Flute Related Q&A


1.   What is the best brand flute to buy for my son or daughter?
2.   What is the difference between B foot / C foot?
3.   What is an open hole verses a closed hole flute?
4.   Is Silver or Nickel plating the best?
5.   What is the difference between an Inline and Offset G?
6.   What is a "step up" flute?
7.   What is the advantage of a gold plated lip plate?
8.   What is a Gizmo?
9.   What is a split E mechanism?
10. What is a high E facilitator (donut)?
11. What are the different types of tone holes?
12. Do flutes improve with age like violins?
13. What are "French Pointed Keys"?
14. What is a "French Case"?
15. What is Nickel Silver vs. Solid Silver?
16. What are Undercut Tone Holes?
17. What is a gold/silver riser?
18. How can I find a flute teacher in my area?
19. How do I clean sticky pads?
20. What effect does wall thickness have?

The following information is from Walt at Flutesonline -- Thank You!

What is the best brand flute to buy for my son or daughter?

For a beginner, ease of playing, and cost should be the consideration. A closed hole flute is easier to play than open hole, or French style. A C foot flute is sufficient for a beginner. As it works out, a closed hole C foot flute is the cheapest. An offset G key makes it easier to reach that key with less strain on the hand, although some teachers insist on an inline G. As far as brand, it is very subjective and in a student flute you cannot go wrong if you stick with a major brand. I do not recommend Chinese flutes that are available under many name brands. For what it is worth, my personal opinion in ranking student flutes for tone, ease of play, and workmanship: Yamaha is tops.  Then you have Gemeinhardt, Emerson & Armstrong, these are also good makes. The next level is Selmer, Bundy but the Bundy is not recommended by the Charlotte Flute Choir. These are very popular in my area and are good beginning flutes.  From The Charlotte Flute Choir: Pearl flutes are excellent.  Many of the manufacturers have varied lines, and make both student & professional models.  The hand made flutes, Haynes & Powell, do not make student flutes. (Back to Top)

What is the difference between B foot / C foot?

On a B foot flute, the foot joint is longer and has an extra key (the B key, little surprise here!) allowing the player to play low B. The low B is not required too often. Aside form the lowest pitch, the footjoint influences the timbre and response. All student flutes are C foot and that is sufficient until you advance to a "step up" flute.  (Back to Top)

What is an open hole verses a closed hole flute?

An open hole flute has holes in 5 of the keys that need to be covered with the players' fingers. Closed hole flutes are also called plateau style. Open hole flutes are sometimes called "French" style, not to be confused with "French pointed" keys on professional flutes. Open hole flutes are harder to master but the holes can easily be plugged to allow a student to learn on a closed hole system, and then remove the plugs when they advance. Opinions differ on this feature. Most advanced players prefer open hole for advanced techniques, increased volume, the ability to half cover the holes, and quicker response. It also requires you to have proper hand position.  (Back to Top)

Is Silver or Nickel plating the best?

Most student flutes are made of "nickel silver". Nickel silver is made of a brass/nickel alloy and has NO silver in it. This base metal is then plated with real silver or nickel. In a plated instrument, there is no difference in the sound between nickel plate or silver plate. The difference is in endurance of the finish. Now, nickel does not need to be polished as it does not tarnish when exposed to the air IN THE SHORT TERM. But as it gets older, nickel tends to get, what I call, "smoky" in appearance. This cloudiness will not polish out. Silver on the other hand, does tarnish quickly, and will need to be polished with a silver polishing cloth. (Please do not use liquid polish) But a tarnished silver finish can be made to look very nice with proper polishing. In my experience, silver holds up better in the long run, but nickel requires less maintenance.  (Back to Top)

What is the difference between an Inline and Offset G?

The double G key that you play with the third finger of your left hand is the key we are talking about. It can be placed on the same steel rod as the other keys (in line) or on a smaller steel rod of its own, closer to the hand (Offset). There are different opinions on this feature, many professionals & teachers prefer inline G, but an offset G allows for a more comfortable hand position and better hand health over the years of playing.         (Back to Top)

What is a "step up" flute?

After a while your flute teacher may recommend getting a "step up" flute. (This is a good thing!) This flute usually has the following features: Open holes*, a B foot*, solid silver head, sometimes a solid silver body & foot as well. Some of the components are better quality also, springs, pads, etc.  (Back to Top)

What is the advantage of a gold plated lip plate?

It looks nice but does not change the tone at all. (Not to be confused with a solid gold or silver riser which does effect tone, see below) Unless you have an allergic reaction to the silver on your lip, it is for aesthetics only, so save your money!  (Back to Top)

What is a Gizmo?

Also called a high C facilitator, it closes the low B tone hole, providing clear response of the fourth octave C. (High C) This is only found on B foot flutes as they are the only ones with a low B tone hole.  (Back to Top)

What is a split E mechanism?

The split E divides the action of the upper and lower G keys. Normally the G keys close together, in a split E mechanism, that is still true but the lower G can close when the third octave E natural is played providing ideal tone hole venting for the high E. Found mostly on professional flutes. (Back to Top)

What is a high E facilitator (donut)?

An inexpensive alternative to a split E mechanism. It simulates the effects of a split E mechanism. It is a small insert pressed in the lower G tone hole that will optimize the flute's high E.  (Back to Top)

What are the different types of tone holes?

Drawn and Rolled - The tone hole is part of the body of the flute. It is shaped and stretched from the tube body and the edge is rolled over for a smooth lip. Found mostly on commercial production flutes.

Soldered - Short tubes are cut and shaped to fit the flute body and soldered in place. Found on handmade flutes. The tone hole is then "undercut", or machined on the underside of the tone hole for less turbulence of airflow.  (Back to Top)

Do flutes improve with age like violins?

In short, no.  The long answer is a 30 year old student flute will only play as good as it's mechanics will allow, and at 30 years old it would be showing wear & fatigue and a newer student flute will play circles around it.  In addition there have been many improvements in head joint and embouchure hole design so a newer flute has advantages here as well. In the case of expensive hand made flutes, they may or may not play as good as their modern counter parts but they will not "improve" just due to their age. In fact the modern scales and higher pitch of the newer flutes make it a better choice in most cases.  (Back to Top)

What are "French Pointed Keys"?

This is the style of key that has a pointed tone-arm that extends to the center on the pad cup and is soldered to the top of the cup. This type of construction is stronger than the standard "Y" cup mounting where the tone-arm is solder to the edge of the pad cup. The key is pressed in the center of the key with this design rather then the edge with a "Y" cup. French pointed keys are normally found on the higher end step-up flutes or handmade flutes.  (Back to Top)

What is a "French Case"?

This is a flute case used mostly on step-up flutes or hand made flutes. It is a slim, streamlined designed case with no carrying handle attached so a case cover is a must with this kind of case. In student cases, the B foot & C foot case is usually the same length, but most C foot French cases are shorter.   (Back to Top)

What is Nickel Silver vs. Solid Silver?

Nickel Silver contains NO silver. It is an alloy of copper, zinc and brass.  It is used in student flutes for the tube and keys. It is either plated with silver or nickel.

Solid Silver flutes come in 3 general types.
1. Solid silver headjoint. The body & keys are plated nickel silver.
2. Solid silver headjoint, body & foot.  Only the keys are plated nickel silver.
3. All silver. The headjoint, body, foot & keys are solid silver.
Solid silver is normally sterling silver (92.5% pure silver).

Other metals used, but not as often, in flute making include gold (5K to 14K), platinum, & even titanium is on the horizon. All have their unique sounds. There are also other alloys of silver used and combinations of gold fused on silver, etc.  (Back to Top)

What are Undercut Tone Holes?

The tone holes are the holes the pads cover. At the bottom of the tone hole, on the inside of your flute, where the holes meet the body is where the "undercutting" is done.  The edge is machined and beveled with special tools to allow the air to flow with less resistance and theoretically with a clearer tone.  Some people hear the difference, some do not.  (Back to Top)

What is a gold/silver riser?

The riser is the short "chimney" that attached the lip plate to the head joint. This riser can be made of different material than the lip plate and head joint.  For example, Emerson student flutes have a silver plated head joint, but the riser & lip plate is solid silver.  Brannen Brothers has a solid silver head joint with a gold riser.  Again this is done for better tone quality.   (Back to Top)

How can I find a flute teacher in my area?

Word of mouth is the best, or call a local music school, conservatory, orchestra, etc. I would suggest you set up a "trail period" of 4 weeks in the beginning with a new teacher.  If the "student/teacher mix" is not there, no hard feelings when the trial period is over.  No commitment, just try another teacher.  There is also a music teacher locater home page.  I have not used it much but to visit it, click here.  (Back to Top)

How do I clean sticky pads?

If one or two pads on your flute make that little "clicking" sound: Get some cigarette paper or special pad papers and insert it between the sticky pad and the tone hole. Gently press down on the key and pull on the paper just a 1/4" or so. One or two times should do it if it is just a normal stickiness. If oil or other substance is on it you could try lighter fluid on a Q-tip.  (Back to Top)

What effect does wall thickness have?

Some advanced flutes have wall thickness options. Student flutes and most intermediate flutes do not.  A thinner wall makes for a "brighter" sound, thicker walls produce a darker tone. Neither is better, just personal preference. Popular thickness selections are .018", .016" and even .014".   (Back to Top)




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