Used Flute FAQ

Buying any level of flute, from a used student flute to a new professional flute, can be confusing and overwhelming. There are so many brands and options to choose from! Worst of all, there is such a wide range in price tags―from less than $100 to $20,000 or more. While all this might make your head spin or cause you to avoid buying a flute altogether, with just a little help and knowledge, you can find the best solution for your circumstance.

 

What is the difference between a student, intermediate, and professional flute?

Which level flute is right for me?

What is the best brand of flute?

Should I buy or rent a flute?

Should I buy a new or used flute?

Where should I buy a used flute?

What about those cheap flutes on eBay? Are they good deals?

How do I choose a flute?

How do I test out a flute?

Should I get an open or closed holed flute?

Should I purchase an inline or offset G flute?

What are the other features I've read about?


What is the difference between a student, intermediate, and professional flute?

The major differences between the various levels of flutes are the quality of materials used and the quality of craftsmanship put into making the flute. Higher end flutes are silver-plated, sterling silver, or even made of gold or platinum. They are also given more hand-craftsmanship instead of being machine made. In contrast, lower end flutes are made from nickel and other blends of soft metals. They are machine made as well, lacking human touch. Generally speaking, little to no attention is paid to the finer details necessary to properly craft such a complicated instrument.

However, keep in mind that not all flute makers are equal, and not all companies classify their level of flutes the same way. There can be “professional” flutes from Company A that do not even come close to the low end (yet high quality) flutes of Company B. So whether you are a beginner moving on to the novice stage, or a seasoned veteran looking to raise the bar for yourself, research is invariably necessary to find the right flute for you. (return to the top)

 

Which level of flute is right for me?

A beginning player should start out on a student model, a budding flutist of a few years can consider upgrading to an intermediate flute, and a person who makes at least part of their living from playing the flute, or who is studying the flute performance in college or conservatory, should be on a professional flute. However, there are many shades of gray, as well as many different personal situations. This is where the advice of flute teachers, professionals, and dealers can be helpful. They can take into consideration your unique musical goals and financial means. (return to the top)

 

What is the best brand of flute?

This question means different things to different people. Is best meant as in terms of reliability, cost, or easiest to play? Is there a best brand for student flutes and a best brand for professional flutes? The answer to any question relating to the best brand of flute is "no". The only question that truly matters is "What is the best brand of flute for me?" That can only be answered by trying flutes to see what you like and dislike in a flute.

 

There is no one best brand, and that is a good thing. Not all flutists were created equal, and that is why there are so many different brands available. As long as a reputable, reliable flute is purchased, it does not matter what brand of flute you play. All that matters is how you sound, both to yourself and to your audience.

 

However, some flutes are built more reliably than others, and this equates into fewer emergency repairs and lower maintenance costs. But no matter what brand, all flutes should receive some level of yearly maintenance (commonly called a clean, oil, and adjust or COA) to remain in top playing condition and not hold you back as a player. These better-made, more reliable flutes should be the brands you consider first when making a decision to purchase a flute. But again, ultimately what matters is how good you sound on a flute and how much you enjoy playing it.

 

If you have questions about a particular brand and its history or reliability, feel free to contact The Flute Market to find out more information. (return to the top)

 

Should I buy or rent a flute?

Many parents and flutists believe it is much more economical to rent a flute as opposed to purchasing one, especially when they believe the flute will be a passing whim and suspect the child will stop playing after a year or less. But when the complete price of renting a flute―including taxes, interest, and fees―is factored in, it readily becomes apparent that buying may be the best option. In addition, consider if a child does stop playing the flute you have bought; you can now resell it to recoup some of the loss. This is especially true of buying a used flute. You are already not paying the markup, and you can usually sell it for around the original price you purchased it. In contrast, a rented flute must eventually be returned, and when it's all said and done, you have nothing to show for your time and money. (return to the top)

 

Should I buy a new or used flute?

This is a highly personal decision, and one with no right or wrong answer, for there are many factors at play. However, there are a few generalities. New flutes can carry a 30 to 50 percent markup of the manufacturer’s cost, making it advantageous to find a used flute for that reason alone. Also, if a used flute is bought from a reputable dealer―which means that it has been inspected, adjusted, and fairly priced―it can be a less expensive alternative to buying a brand new flute, and it will play just as well.

Many flutes sold on eBay, craigslist, or usedflutes.com are generally not in peak condition, so any used flute must be inspected and play-tested prior to purchasing. Never buy a used flute without either a trial or a return policy. However, if you are looking for a particular model or a certain list of features, buying a used flute that fits the mold might take much longer. Although the Internet can be an invaluable source for locating a hard-to-find instrument, you are at the mercy of what is available. (return to the top)

 

Where should I buy a used flute?

Used flutes can be found everywhere, but that does not mean everywhere is a good place to buy a used flute. The key to getting an excellent deal for a nice used flute in good condition is to deal with a reputable person or business. Does this person know the history of the flute and seem knowledgeable about flutes in general? This is important when trusting their judgment and description regarding a flute you may want to purchase. If they know very little about flutes, then how do they know their flute is truly in as good of shape as they say? Does this person seem interested in you, or is only trying to make a sale? If you feel pressured to purchase, or are simply unsure, wait to buy it. Don't feel like you are letting a "great deal" get away. If if was truly that great, you would not be put under pressure to purchase it.

 

And remember, if the price seems too good to be true, then it probably is. The caveat "you always get what you pay for" rings true in the world of flutes. A great deal for what seems to be a quality flute isn't much of a deal if it needs numerous repairs to get it in top playing condition.

 

The best way to avoid buying a "lemon" flute is to purchase a reputable brand name, try it out or trial it for a length of time, and find out what the specifics are for the return policy, should you need to take advantage of it. This is especially important if you are buying the flute sight unseen over the internet. The flute could have been not described accurately, and with no stated return policy, you could be stuck with a less-than-ideal flute. Likewise, buying a flute "as-is" without knowing the last time it was serviced or without a warranty on it can be trouble. Buying a flute, particularly an expensive professional model, is much like buying a used car. If you think of the process in those terms, it may help you while trying to find a used flute that meets your needs.

 

If you are looking to purchase a quality used flute, browse our inventory or contact The Flute Market for other possible suggestions. (return to the top)

 

What about those cheap flutes on eBay? They’re so inexpensive and shiny. Are they good deals, even though I've never heard of the name?

 

In a short answer, No! While their price tags may seem attractive, many of these flutes are of very low quality. The quality of the metals is very important to the longevity of a flute. Many of these flutes literally fall apart after only a few months’ use because they are made of metals so soft that the flute bends in your hands! Furthermore, once the flute starts to slowly bend and fall out of adjustment, repair technicians won’t even work on them. Aside from their poor construction, their tone quality often leaves little to be desired, their key mechanisms don’t seal very well, and their scale (which affects intonation) is often not as good as the well-known manufacturers. This amounts to frustrating any player just starting out at a time when they need to play a quality instrument, not struggle with an inferior contraption. Learning to play the flute can be difficult enough, even with a quality instrument!

 

Likewise, beware of “knock-off” flutes―flutes of the aforementioned low quality, but with a high quality name engraved into them. Always check the name stamped on the barrel to make sure it matches the company’s name and design. If you are unsure, contact either your flute teacher or the company itself with any questions. Professional manufacturers like to be made aware of these imposters so that they can take appropriate action. (return to the top)

 

How do I choose a flute?

The best way to decide if a flute is for you is to personally play it. After figuring out what your musical goals are, what your budget is, and what features you would like to have in a flute, then you are ready to begin trialing some. Don’t be dazzled by very expensive flutes equipped with all the bells and whistles, and don't pursue a name brand simply because person X plays that brand. A flute has to fit you and your style of playing. Once you have selected some potential flutes within your price range, play them blindfolded, or at the very least, don’t be aware of which one you are playing. Your goal should be to trial each one equally and without bias. Also, it's a good idea to have others (preferably a flutist or your teacher) listen to you play the flutes; sometimes what you hear sounds very different from what others hear. Immediately, you should be able to toss some out while leaning toward others. Keep repeating the process until you have narrowed it down to a couple of flutes. Sometimes you won’t find a single flute that truly speaks to you, and that is okay. Try another batch and keep experimenting. Eventually, you will pick up a flute, play it, and feel a sense of energy rush through you. When you get excited about a flute, then it may be an excellent match for you.  (return to the top)

 

How do I test out a flute?

Once you have found some flutes you might consider purchasing, you must try them out. Moving from flute to flute, assemble each one and inspect it. Is the flute in good condition, with minimal (if any) scratches and no dents? Does the headjoint and foot joint fit snugly? Do they come off easily? Turn the flute over and look at the pads. Are they smooth and flat, without any tears or stains? The case is important, too. Is it in nice condition? Are the hinges sturdy and do the latches close properly and securely? The flute should not move at all once secured inside the case.

 

If it passes a visual inspection, then begin playing it. Pay attention to how well the flute responds to your playing and how the mechanism feels. Listen for noises―pops or clicks from the springs or keys; there shouldn’t be any. These types of noises could indicate that something, possibly minimal, is not in proper working order. Play octaves, scales, arpeggios, and pieces you know well to see how it measures up. A properly adjusted flute should play and seal well with a light finger touch, all the way down to the lowest notes. Depressed keys should not move sluggishly; they should pop up as soon as they are released. Listen to the tone quality, and make sure you have a friend (again, preferably a flutist or your teacher) listen along with you. The tone quality should be pleasing to both you and your audience. Do this for each flute you are considering purchasing. Eventually, you will be able to narrow your selection down to one, one flute that you envision yourself happily playing for hours and hours.

 

Furthermore, if you are buying a flute for the first time, have your flute-playing friends whose judgment you trust or a flute teacher try it out for you as well. A second opinion could be invaluable. And again, make sure you make your purchase from a reputable person or dealer. (return to the top)

 

Should I get an open hole (French) or closed hole (plateau) flute?

This is a matter of personal preference. The only time an open holed flute is needed is in a piece containing avant-garde effects like quarter tones or notes and techniques requiring half-holing, which is pressing only the rim and not covering the hole of the key.

Particularly in the United States, there is the notion that a beginner starts playing on a plateau flute, but that any good intermediate or professional flutist must play an open hole flute. This simply is not true―there are many, many fine professional plateau flutes out there. While it is recommended for a beginner to start on a plateau flute, any future flute that person will eventually play does not have to have open holes. Try both styles and see what you are comfortable playing. (return to the top)

 

Should I purchase an inline or offset G flute?

This decision is personal and depends on factors such as physical build and proneness to injury. For many years, an inline G was perceived as a requirement for a professional flute, while an offset G was associated with student model flutes only. Fortunately, this myth is dying out due to more awareness to strain while playing and occurrences of repetitive stress injuries. Inline G flutes have all the keys in a straight line on a single rod, while offset G flutes have a separate rod for the two G keys, and this puts their position within easier reach for a player with short fingers or small hands. Both inline and offset G flutes are considered the same acoustically, but the advantages of each must be considered by each player individually. A flutist who plays on an inline G that is concerned about future hand stress can plug the G hole with a silicone plug to allow freedom in placing the left hand ring finger on the key. (return to the top)

 

What about other features I’ve read about?

The wall thickness of a flute (which is how thick the flute tube is in millimeters) generally falls into three categories: thin wall, standard wall, and heavy or thick wall. Generally, the thicker the tube, the more air and energy it takes to make the flute speak, and can sound a bit darker than a traditional or thin wall flute. Some players enjoy this added resistance, while others notice little or no difference. Likewise, the thinner the tube, the less air and energy it takes to play it, which results in a more responsive flute, sometimes with a brighter sound. Yet not all players find the same results with the same wall thickness, so it is best to try out a flute to see how it plays for you before firmly deciding which wall thickness you prefer.

 

It is also important to note that different materials have different measurements for what constitutes a thin, standard, and heavy walled flute. Flutes made from sterling silver are considered thin walled at 0.014 mm, standard walled at 0.016 mm, and heavy walled at 0.018 mm. Gold flutes often have a wall thickness of 0.012 mm to 0.014 mm, since it is a denser metal than sterling silver. A platinum flute is typically 0.011 mm, since it is the densest and heaviest of metal used in a flute.

The C# trill key is becoming one of the most sought-after flute options in recent years. This trill key lever is located near the right hand B flat lever and adds a tone hole between the trill key holes and the left hand thumb tone hole. It greatly simplifies many trills and makes possible a few trills that are nearly impossible otherwise. Although an expensive addition to a new flute, it is money well spent due to its versatility, and should you decide to sell the flute with this feature at a later date, it will greatly improve its marketability.

The D# roller is a small roller, typically found on the right side of the low E flat key, which creates a smoother slide between the E flat key and the other low note keys. It is a relatively inexpensive option that can aid players who have certain pinky or right hand pain.

 

Another somewhat expensive option, the Split E Mechanism, lowers the pitch and improves the stability on the high E, a note that is often quite troublesome for novice flutists. This mechanism closes one of the two keys used with the G key, which is played by the left hand ring finger. This closing reduces the venting for that note and makes it easier to play a high E without cracking it. However, unless the split E mechanism has a clutch (equivalent to an on and off switch), the split E can interfere with some trills and can slightly flatten or affect the pitch of a few notes. In combination with an inline G, a split E mechanism can also cause the instrument's keys to bind (lock up and not play properly), and this is why this addition is typically found only on offset G flutes. But regardless of being on an inline or offset G, a split E mechanism will add to the mechanical complexity and weight of the instrument due to the additional rods and levers that must be added to construct its operating mechanism. Because of this potential hindrance―and the added cost of this feature―many players look for an alternative, though some do enjoy having a split E mechanism.

 

The high E facilitator, also commonly known as a G donut or G disk, is an inexpensive alternative to the Split E mechanism. This device is a metal or plastic insert that is placed into the lower G tone hole, the one that would close on a flute with a split E mechanism. When the high E is played, the disk insert essentially reduces the size of the lower G tone hole, which results in more stability and a lower pitch for the high E. The high E facilitator also provides a more natural tone color for this note (compared to the split E mechanism), allowing it to blend better with the surrounding high notes. This disk is mechanically unobtrusive to the mechanism, which means less room for mechanical failure and maintenance. (return to the top)

 

If you have more questions about used flutes or buying flutes in general, please don’t hesitate to contact The Flute Market.


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