Intermediate Flute Buying Guide

In the previous blog article, I discussed buying a first flute. In today’s article, we will look at intermediate or step up flutes.

Why buy a second flute?

Marching band season can be hard on flutes. Despite our best efforts to keep flutes out of the rain and snow, there is at least one time each season that bad weather is unavoidable. Sometimes it’s an unexpected downpour in the middle of rehearsal. Other times it’s snow during Friday night football. 

Moisture of any type is bad for the flute mechanism. Even a small amount of water that seeps into the rods will cause rust. Rust will cause the mechanism to seize up and the flute is broken beyond repair. 

For this reason, many of my students will get a second flute around the time they enter high school. If a student already has an instrument they love, they may opt to buy a used student model flute for marching band. When families can afford it, I recommend stepping up to an intermediate flute. Then the student model flute, which has served the student well for many years, can be the marching band flute at school while the new instrument stays at home for practice and lessons. 

bass flute
shopping for flutes- bass flute!

What is a step-up or intermediate flute?

Expect to pay $1000-3000 for a new flute that is not a “student” model. For more information about buying a first flute, check out my blog article on buying a first flute. Step-up flutes will have better quality materials (more solid silver) and other features such as split-E keys, risers, open tone holes, handcut headjoints, etc. We’ll go over these options below.

Quality metals=quality instrument.

A step-up flute will have more silver content than a student model flute, which is a brass-alloy plated with silver. At a minimum, you will want a solid silver headjoint. Other options include a solid silver body, solid silver keys, and gold springs. However, the price goes up with each of these upgrades. The more silver in the flute, the pricier it is. Additionally, a higher silver content usually means a higher level of craftsmanship.

Upgrades

Keys and Tone Holes

Student model flutes often have “closed” or “plateau” tone holes. Most flutists prefer “open” tone holes at the intermediate level. Although it has no effect on sound, the open tone holes offer new opportunities for controlling pitch, greater kinesthetic connection with the vibration of the tube, and more extended techniques.

There are also two different construction methods for the tone holes: drawn and soldered. I am not convinced there is any difference, but in the video at the bottom of this page, you can see how soldered tone holes are constructed.

Offset or Inline G

Student flutes will almost always have the “offset G” but intermediate flutes will have the option of “offset” or “inline.”

I recommend “offset G” mechanisms for all of my students. I feel that the offset is better ergonomically for our hands and most of my students have hands on the smaller side. The comfort of the “offset G” outweighs any drawbacks of the slightly heavier mechanism.

Footjoint

When a student is ready for a step-up instrument, they are also ready for a “B-footjoint.” This adds one more low note to the flute’s range. While the extra note also adds a bit of weight, at this level students are able to adjust to it. There are some other small advantages to having a low-B footjoint and the gizmo key. Suffice it to say this is a good option.

Tube Thickness

Silver flutes wall thickness can be 0.014, 0.016, or 0.018. These are classified as light, regular, and heavy. I have flutes with all three wall thicknesses and each have their strengths and weaknesses. Most flutists will find they have a personal preference. You should go with which one feels and sounds best to you.

Optional Options (in order of usefulness)

  • Split E / E Facilitator / Donut – this mechanism or device makes the high E come out clearer and more easily. Different makers of flutes will prefer one solution over the others.
  • C# Trill Key – a useful gadget for certain trills and a more in-tune C#.
  • Hand-cut headjoint – often a better sound, but every headjoint is unique and you should pick the best one for you, not because it has additional marketing. Same is true for “wings” and other fancy cuts.
  • Gold Lip Plate – recommended for people with silver allergies or those whose skin chemistry makes silver tarnish; a costmetic upgrade for everyone else.
  • Expensive metals anywhere (riser, crown, keys, etc.) – indicates higher craftsmanship and looks fancy but has no acoustical benefit.
  • Engraved lip plate or keys – helpful for those who feel the keys and lip plate are too slippery, but otherwise purely cosmetic.
flute acoustics modern flute
flute with gold lip plate

Other ideas

New England Flute Shop: Guide to Purchasing a Flute

The Hub Flute Buying Guide

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