Possibly the biggest deterrent to starting on the flute is the price of a new instrument. A quick look online suggests that a quality new “student” flute retails for around £400 upwards.
Don’t be put off by this – there are many other options for finding a flute to begin your learning on.
- Flutes are everywhere. Start by asking around family and friends. Often someone has a flute tucked away that they no longer play, and have forgotten they still own. You don’t want to spend a mint only to find out a neighbour was desperate to hand on their unused quality instrument.
- Sites such at Ebay and Gumtree (and Facebook marketplace) have endless ads for second hand flutes. If you stick to reputable flute brand names (see below) you should be able to find a bargain without too much risk.
- If your school has a band program (or has had one in the past), ask whether instruments are available.
- If you are unsure about committing long term to owning an instrument, there are options to hire from instrument hire companies, or even some music stores. This is not a long term solution, but it will give you the chance to “try out” a flute.
Some flutes that you will find will have been kept in perfect condition. Others will be in need of a service before they are fully playable. It is preferable to “test play” a flute before purchasing it (new or second hand). That way you will know what condition it is in. Having said that, there isn’t much a good flute technician cannot fix in a service.
New flutes generally come with less risk of something going wrong. BUT, they still need services!!!. Ask if there is a warranty period on your new instrument. Many stores offer free services within the first 1-2 years of the flute’s life. This is what you (should) get for the extra price of a brand new instrument.
Reputable brands for new flutes include Yamaha, Trevor James, Jupiter and Pearl.
As well as the above, second hand brands commonly seen also include Buffet, Gemeinhardt and Boosey & Hawkes.
General advice for purchasing an instrument:
- Watch out for cheap imitations. These are sometimes even made of plastic, or painted crazy colours, and very rarely work from the moment they are taken out of the case. These instruments have even been sold through major supermarket chains, and they DO NOT WORK!!
- Keep your instrument well serviced. Like a car, flutes require regular services because parts wear out (I recommend getting your flute serviced at least every 2 years). Make sure a second hand instrument has been recently serviced. Or be prepared to pay for a service as the new owner. More than anything else, this will ensure that it will work reliably. Those hand-me-down flutes that have come from a relative or family friend, and have sat in the cupboard collecting dust for years, are especially in need of a service before being returned to duty. And they should work like new after it!
- If you are a beginner, don’t be pressured into purchasing a more ‘upmarket’ model. These days, any beginner model flute from a reputable brand will work well. Spending more will simply give you more gadgets and options that you will not need for some time (and options such as open holes will make beginning harder). If you decide to commit more to your flute playing down the track, it is likely that you will face the need for a new instrument no matter what you purchased in the beginning. Keep it simple, and ignore the sales spin!
- Do not buy a piccolo! It may be smaller and seem more suitable to a child’s small hands, but it is not a suitable beginner instrument.
- Do look out for curved head joints if the instrument is for a particularly small child. This is a good option for reducing the awkward reach that young players encounter in the beginning. Try to ensure that the standard flute head joint is also included if possible, as your child will not use the curved one forever.
Some addition helpful advice from a reputable flute store: