High-end flutes

High-end flutes

Hi all

A couple of months ago, when I was just a beginner πŸ™‚ I asked for advice about good ‘starter’ flutes and got some great advice which culminated in me buying a polymer M&E. I love playing it (and can almost get a whole tune now…) but (and here I bow to Will, who was absolutely right!) I’m now thinking that at some time in the future I’d like to get a high-end wooden flute.

Now I’m not in any rush, but given that most makers have waiting lists of up to several years I think now may be a good time to start thinking about it, at least.

Given where I live (Hebrides) searching second-hand shops for 19th century Prattens etc is not an option so it’s going to have to be one of the new makers. I know that there are several very excellent and highly regarded makers around the world and from searching their websites their prices seem to be more or less the same. It may be that at this advanced level there will be little to choose between them (i.e. they’ll ALL be excellent), but I suspect that you folks will have strong opinions and preferences! πŸ™‚

So, given that ‘money is no object’ (I may even part with my high-end Scottish fiddle to get a decent flute) which maker would you go for?

Thanks

Rhod

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If money is no object, I would spend some of it to travel around and try out different flutes of different makers, to find out what suits you best. This will also give you an idea about what type of flute/how many keys would suit you etc.

I am waiting for the Glenn Watson flute, and must say that his Eb flute that I’ve tried is an absolute ferrari of an instrument. Just recently, had a chance to try out the "Celtic design" flute of Martin Doyle (D), and I’m still under big impression - impeccable high octave, strong base, a true dream of a flute player. However, I’m sure that in next posts you will see people preferring other designs and makers, so it’s best to resort to organoleptic tests πŸ™‚

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I gotta recommend Sam Murray. His flutes are fantastic. They have a brilliant tone and a fantastic "bark." i also find that they have a great low end.

the only problem with Sam is getting in contact with him. I know he is in Galway at the minute, but as far as i know he has moved from the Forge.

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Chris Wilkes

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I suppose the thing is that in 6 years I might just have been playing long enough and have become a good enough player to be worthy of a Wilkes! (Not to mention saving enough to pay for it).

Although as someone said "it is a miracle that we wake every day and think ourselves immortal."

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Hi,
I have limited experience. However I played beautifull Ormiston 6key flute recently. I would order one if I had not ordered an Aebi two months before. These are very nice as well. Also I could recommend Cotter.
I’ d love to play a Hamilton or a Murray once in a while. These must be good ones too.

Here is an interesting list (the rest of the site is great as well!):
http://www.firescribble.net/flute/makers.html

Good luck,

Moritz

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I believe many of the top players are opting for Grinter flutes.

www.grinterflutes.com

Kevin Crawford (Lunasa) and Mike McGoldrick are among some of the musicians to play his instruments that I know of…..

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While there’s nothing wrong with buying a high end flute, remember, it’s the player not the flute (provided you have a decent playing flute - which you do) that makes the difference.

A "better" flute will not make you a better player. However, they sure can be nice pieces of eye candy.

Eric

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Hamilton, Olwell, Wilkes, Grinter, Cotter, Murray, Prowse…

I know next-to-nothing about flutes, except that they all sound flute-like to a fiddle player, but if you want discussion and guidance, I’d recommend the Flute Forum on the Chiff & Fipple discussion board.

I do know different flutes suit different people, and you don’t want to order a Hamilton, wait six years to get it, and then find it doesn’t suit your style.

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Some very good points there. Thanks. Especially the point about waiting 6 years (or whatever) for a flute only to find it doesn’t suit - I hadn’t thought of that. The problem with being so isolated is that I’m going to have great difficulty in trying out flutes by the top makers. Also being new to the flute I currently wouldn’t be able to tell what suits anyway as my style hasn’t had a chance to develop at all.

I guess I may be better off waiting a year or two. It was just that when I heard about these long waiting lists I thought I’d better start thinking ahead (for a change! πŸ™‚)

BTW - I’m curious to know if there is a significant weight difference between a Delrin flute and a wooden one?

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delrin weighs about 20% more than African Blackwood, even more w/ Boxwood. Hard to say w/ individual flutes b/c there is variation between flute designs. My Blackwood flute weighs just as much as my delrin R&R 5501 copy…the Rudall is slimmer w/ thinner walls and has an unlined head while my wood flute is more robust w/ thicker walls and a fully lined head…you get the idea.

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Also, a keyless flute from a good maker doesn’t cost tons more than a delrin flute from a good maker. My wood flutes cost $925 and $1200, my delrin $500….so about twice as much, but in the grand scheme of things wood flutes are a good deal…provided you stick with only 6 holes. Keys are nice but not neccessary for Irish music.

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Rhod, I’ve been playing flute and whistle for well over ten years and remember being exactly in your position..ten years ago. In retrospect, here i what i should have done. I should have purchased a keyless flute made by pat olwell. he’ll have it done in a year or less and you will without doubt have one of the very best instruments for irish flute you can possibly get and for not that much money. Second, put in an order for a fully keyed flute with pat olwell when you order the keyless. the wait for the keyed is, oh, seven years minimum, but who cares, you’ll have a great keyless in the mean time. pat can arrange to swap the body when the keyed section is done too.

btw, i own an keyed olwell, which took about ten years to get. but by getting an olwell you can rest assured that you will be getting a *great flute* that will take you as far as you are capable and interested in going. if you decide later to you don’t like it (you won’t), you can always sell it and assuming you maintain it then it will retain its value and then some.

that’s my two cents. good luck!

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Ormiston may be your nearest maker, though I realise Edinburgh is still a long travel time way away!

His flutes are well thought of, and I’m sure his waiting list is less than 6 years (a couple of years ago it was a bit less than a year for a keyed flute) and less for unkeyed.

But I think you’re really going to have to find a way to try some out. Do you have any good local sessions, flute players are (of course) nice people who can usually be persuaded to let you try their flute πŸ™‚
I would imagine that your local sessions would pull in visitors in summer, widening the range of potential flute lenders.

ps my unkeyed pale coloured Bleazey flute is lighter than a Dixon polymer that I tried. My fixer-up keyed old german rosewood flute is VERY heavy.

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regarding trying out flutes:

look, Rhod, as a beginner you do not have the chops to know if you are getting a good flute. therefore don’t waste your time "trying out" flutes. get a flute by a reputable maker and learn to play it. worry about trying out flutes once you have some chops (say, in five years) to know the difference between a hunk of wood with holes in it and a great flute.

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Hey Rhod, when you decide to sell that Scottish fiddle, let me know. I might be able to help you afford the high-end flute. πŸ™‚

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It would be hard to go wrong with an Olwell. If you don;t like it, someone else inevitably will. Ebay is your friend.

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Ok Will, I’ll let you know - not sure yet as parting with it will probably break my heart… It was made by Sam Grierson, a maker in Wishaw near Glasgow, in 1925. Tommy Peoples has played it (at Miltown) and said it was "all the fiddle you could ever want…" (made it sound better than I could in several lifetimes of practice!). If I was waxing lyrical I’d describe the tone as ‘dark and fruity’. Now I’d better get back to the flute before I’m tempted to get the curvy one from her case. Focus dammit, focus… πŸ™‚

Thanks to everyone else for your helpful comments also.

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I’m intrigued!

And I have a nice blackwood keyless Copley flute for sale….

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The Doyle Celtic Style flute was earlier praised, I must add to this.

I have a Martin Doyle keyless Blackwood and can’t praise this mans flutes enough. Just do a search at Chiff and Fipple for further praise of his instruments. My keyless was about the same price as Hammy or Murray. Martin had the flute to me in 3 weeks of my placing the order. I know you are in no rush, but you can’t be bad to that! The bottom end is extremely strong and very dark and rich. Tuning is precision, volume is ‘session perfect’

All that said, you will probably want something that plays like your current model. If you are going to put a few years into training your embouchure and learning on your M&E, it would make sense to say that when the time comes you will prob favour a ‘similar’ style of instrument. Play all the instruments you can, torture other players at sessions to let you play a set on their flutes etc. you’ll find something you really like. Given the number of great flute makers at present, I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t have trouble deciding between a number of great instruments.

You’re very lucky to even have this ‘money is no object’ flute dilemma! I’m very jelous!

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I have a 6 keyed Ormiston - brilliant flute and it’s around 8 years old now. I seen George a couple of months ago and he has a new design - a copy of a prattan which is stunning!! Hamish Napier (Back of the Moon), Kevin O’Neill, Dougie Pincock all play Ormiston flutes.

Where in the Hebrides are you? I’m often up to Lewis, and if you wanted to try my flute to see if you like Ormiston’s design then maybe we can arrange something.

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Speaking of Scots, does anyone know what Phil Smillie plays?

I would conjecture an antique, but I have no clue.

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Rhod, the world of great wooden flutes is an odd one. On one hand, they’re all high-performance flutes. Give one to a good player, and it will sound terrific. On the other hand, their are subtle differences in embouchure cut, backpressure, intonation, tonal color, weight and balance, and other factors from one great flute to the next. These tend to combine to make one flute feel and sound more familiar or comfortable than another for a given person. Some like smaller bore "ruddall-style" flutes, and others prefer larger bore "Prattens." Embouchure cuts range from rectabgular to small circles, with all sorts of elongated ovals, chimney depths, and edge bevels, not to mention ivory or amber edges, lip plates, etc. And we’re just talking keyless here.

I’ve played several Olwells and they are indeed great flutes. But I’ve found a Hamilton that I prefer over any Olwell I’ve played—to me, the Hamilton sounds warmer, fuller, less edgy, even when it’s pushed at its reediest and loudest. I chalk that up in part to the smaller embouchure hole and unlined head. But it’s also only the 2nd Hamilton I’ve ever played, so I don’t know how repesentative its sound is. And this is all highly subjective, no doubt saying more about me than about the flutes themselves.

In short, one person will say Olwell’s can’t be beat. Another will swear by Wilkes, another by Grinter, and another by Murray or Hamilton or ad nauseum so on. In truth, you’re comparing apples and oranges when you get to the sorts of differences between these flutes and the preferences of good fluters who play them.

At any rate, a list of widely highly regarded wooden flutes (from living makers) would include (in no particular order of anything):

Sam Murray
Patrick Olwell
Stephane Morvan
Martin Doyle
Hammy Hamilton
Chris Wilkes
Michael Grinter
Terry McGee
Eamonn Cotter
Marcus Hernon
Chris Abell
Tom Aebi
Michael Copeland
Skip Healy
Bryan Byrne
John Gallagher
David Copley
Paddy Ward
George Ormiston
Giles LeHart
Peter Noy
Casey Burns

Within this group, you’ll find relatively small differences in precision, finish, and oomph. But those things can add up and do make a difference to discerning fluters. Which partly explains why you can often find a keyless Hernon or Burns for $550 USD or so, but a keyless Morvan will start at $1,600 USD.

Other things to bear in mind:
- Some of the best fluters tend to prefer flutes that would not be "easy" for a beginner. They have less forgiving embouchures, demand more air, etc.
- Most of the best fluters lean toward one model of flute over another—e.g., Ruddall vs. Pratten. This may be personal physiology, knowing the maker, or type of use (say, mostly playing into a mic where flute volume is less an issue than in an acoustic session).
- A flute from any of the above makers will, for the most part, and if cared for, retain its value or even appreciate. You can always try one for a few years, sell it without losing money, and try something else.
- Despite what I just said, used flutes sometimes become available for less than they would cost new. These are an even less risky "investment" if you’re lucky enough to stumble on them before anyone else does.

Check out Doc Jones’ online flute shop (www.irishflutestore.com).

And remember—probably the best way to become a good fluter is to buy a good or great flute and then stick with that instrument until you feel like it’s not able to do what you want and have the chops to do. Then upgrade. The deeper you get to know one flute, the better you’ll be able to play on it.

(Lol, this post may set some sort of new level for most paradoxes in one breath…that’s wooden flutes for ya.)

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$1,600 for a top end instrument. Man, you flutists sure are lucky. Have you priced a decent mandolin lately? That amount will surely get a passable instrument, but you’re still a long, long way from the better builders.

Sorry, for this interuption. It’s just that as someone who knows little about flutes, I was a little taken aback (not to mention envious).

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Think he was talking about a top end keyless there! A good 6 key instrument would come in at about 2500 euro, (sorry I don’t know what that is in dollars), well, that is the current price on Hammys site, imagine most of the other great makers start in and around the same price.

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Hi Jenny

I’m in North Uist, but also frequently in Lewis (Stornoway) for work. If we could arrange something that would be great. Thanks for the offer.

Will - now that’s left my head spinning… πŸ™‚ Paradox-r-us! Which incidentally is a great name for a dinosaur don’t you think? Now, what were we talking about again?

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Lol, sorry Rhod. I know the feeling.

The best thing to do is take advantage of any chances to try other flutes. Jenny’s offer is a good case in point. That way you can get a feel for the differences between small and large bores and the different embouchure cuts.

I know that’s not easy given your location, but keep your feelers out for opportunities.

Bear in mind that the M&E polymer is a heavy flute—evey other flute I’ve owned has weighed less (including a Seery delrin). I love how light my Hammy is—much easier to hold in playing position for long periods. (You and I and our aches and pains—what makes us think playing music is good for us? πŸ˜‰ .)

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will, as usual, has said things much better than I. but i fully agree with the advice of getting the best flute that you can get/afford, and then sticking with it. you can hardly go wrong with an olwell, but it is true that there are other good choices out there. i played a hammy hamilton flute for many years before my olwell, and it was also a great flute.

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I second the notion that M & E is heavy. I used to get wrist stress a lot when I had mine. Since switching to a wooden flute (even with keys) playing has been a LOT more comfortable.

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A friend of mine who plays an Olwell picked up my Hammy last week, tootled a few bars and said, "Wow! What an easy flute to play!" Which surprised me. I think the Hammy’s and Olwell’s are pretty similar, and if anything, the Hammy’s low end is a bit trickier to figure out.

Bottom line is that if you get a top of the line flute, and give it some daily attention, it will teach you to play it well.

Then, even "lesser" flutes will also be fun to play. I enjoy my $80 Tipple pvc flute—the more efficient my embouchure becomes, the better this piece of plumbing sounds.

But nothing beats the feel of a well crafted wooden flute.

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it’s hard to go wrong with a high-end flute. but i have to say that the two olwell pratten’s i have played did everything i asked and did the laundry too; i would even go so far as to say they both played better than a silver flute (which to me means something, because i do love ‘em so). i always planned on following brendan’s advice. i even placed a call into olwell, planning to get on his list… but then a friend of mine gave me a great deal on an antique flute, and we get along just fine. antique flutes are a lot of work to play in tune and maintain, so unless a nice old flute seems to fall in your lap, you cant go wrong with an olwell.

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Hi Rhod,

If you search go to my website jennifermcglone.co.uk then my email is there. If you get in contact I’ll let you know the next time I’m heading up and see if we can organise something.

Jen

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Bail o Dhia oraibh! Been away for a while, nice to be back again!

Many of the comments posted here are good, valid, especially those concerning how one flute might have many diferent qualities in the hands of various players.

HOWEVER I do have concerns and questions about, and over, the value/cost, musically, financially AND professionally (in a back-up/follow-up service) in an area where customer orientated satisfaction is of the greatest concern and of course that which would provide the best possible references.

Believe me, some of the names quoted above have failed in spectacular fashion.

I would not mention their names here, that would not be fair but I would advise that any player wanting to purchase a newly crafted instrument (even acquiring an older instrument) to seek guidance and professional advice.

Makers’ names are neither guarantees of quality nor after sales service.

Buy carefully,not just by name, and you might have an instrument you’ll love to play for your life!

Brian x