Student Flute: How to Buy a Flute (Used or New)

If your child has decided to play the flute, you might be tempted to purchase the cheapest flute you are able to find; however, the quality of the flute is reflected in the tone of the instrument. Purchasing a cheap flute will only hinder your child’s ability to play. So, if your child is excited to play the flute, finding a good-quality flute will enhance their ability to play and add to their enjoyment; it will also sound better (beneficial for you, too). If a professional flautist used a cheap flute, well, let’s just say they wouldn’t be awarded any solos. You might also think that your child will end up disliking it; however, the price you pay for a flute is often indicative of the resale value, too.

Solid silver headjoint with gold-plated embouchure

Used Flutes: No Dings!

If purchasing a used flute, it is extremely important to find out if there are “dings”. Dings are slight dents in any of the three parts of a flute: headjoint; body; footjoint. If any dings are present in any part of the flute, the tone quality is lowered as well as the value of the flute. I highly recommend never purchasing a flute with a ding no matter how small. Surface scratches are completely different and are acceptable, as these often result from cleaning a flute and will not hurt the tone quality.

Another common problem with used flutes is loose-fitting pieces due to mishandling when putting together or taking apart the flute—it must be done with a straight edge and not at an angle. If a flute has been used for six months or longer, and the owner put it together and took it apart at an angle, it is likely that the metal is bent and warped. This will lower the tone quality, cause movement during play (and even vibrations), and the pieces can become so loose that they will constantly need to be pushed back together or even separate entirely.

There are several categories of flutes ranging from student to professional. If a student flute is purchased, you can expect your child to use it for about two years before he/she outgrows it and needs a step-up to an intermediate flute. Student flutes are comprised of nickel and are sometimes silver-plated. They have a C footjoint (not the additional key of a low B, a B footjoint), with stainless steel springs. The keys can be either open-hole, called French key, or closed-hole, called plateau. The benefit of using a French key is the tone quality is much better. Until proper finger placement is learned, plugs will need to be utilized to close the holes; plugs are very inexpensive.

Flutes have either an in-line G or an off-set G. This is referencing the G note in the upper body of the flute; the key used with the ring finger. Inline G means that the key is lined up straight with the rest of the keys, while the off-set G is pushed out a bit further. Because the ring finger is shorter than the middle finger, if your child has extremely small hands an off-set G would be more desirable, especially if you are purchasing a flute with French key; otherwise, your child may need to use a plug for one key at all times; however, it is possible to train the finger to cover the hole no matter how small the child’s hands. It is easier to do this if an in-line G is purchased as your child’s first flute.

When purchasing a student flute, some brands, like Gemeinhardt, offer a nice step-up option in lieu of purchasing a new flute, which is purchasing a better headjoint comprised of solid silver. This will improve the tone quality with a noticeable difference. The Gemeinhardt headjoint is J1.

If purchasing an intermediate flute, you can expect your child to use it for a good four to five years until they require a step-up. It is more costly, but if your child will be playing for a number of years, it is worth the investment. Intermediate flutes are comprised of either nickel and silver or solid silver. The more the silver, the better the tone quality.

Gemeinhardt and Yamaha Flutes

Two popular brands of flutes are Gemeinhardt and Yamaha. Both are desirable and good quality flutes, so the resale value is good on both, as long as the flute is well maintained.

Yamaha flutes are divided into a series of flutes ranging from Y200 to Y800 and are more costly than Gemeinhardt flutes. The higher the number, the more expensive the flute, but the quality is better. Y200 are student models, Y300 and Y400 are intermediate, Y500 through Y700 are professional, and Y800 are custom-made.

Gemeinhardt flutes are not as easy to distinguish as Yamaha flutes. Student flutes are: 2SP; 2NP; 2; 3B. The higher the model number in this category is indicative of the plating (finish).  The 3B and 2 models are comprised of nickel but have a silver-plated finish. The remaining models are comprised of nickel without a silver-plated finish.

Gemeinhardt intermediate flutes are: 2SH; 2S; 3SH; 3SHB; 3S; 3SB. All of the models have a solid silver headjoint with a silver-plated finish, but only the 3S and 3SB models are comprised of a solid silver body.

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