Saturday, January 14, 2006

How to buy a Native American flute

From Chapter One of
The Complete Guide to the
Native American Style Flute

Many people have asked me about what I look for when purchasing a Native American flute. There are many factors to consider, and in this post we'll cover some of ones I consider the most important. Hopefully these tips will help you purchase a flute even if you've never played one before.

The top 5
When I look at a Native American flute (NAF) with the thought of purchasing it, there are five major things that I look for in the following order:
  • Quality of Workmanship
  • Quality of Sound
  • Tuning
  • Fingering
  • Ease of Playing
I consider all of the points above as a whole before I go ahead and make a purchase. However, one can make a compromise on some of the criteria listed above. As we will see, every player is looking for something a little different, and it should be noted that the the "Perfect Flute" doesn't exist. Keep in mind that Native American flutes are hand-made, so no two are alike. I never expect to find the perfect flute, but rather enjoy each one in my collection for its unique qualities.

Quality of Workmanship
The first thing I look for in a NAF is the workmanship. Simply put, is the flute well made? For example, is the tube perfectly, or near perfectly round? Are the wall of the bore the same thickness through out? Are the seams straight and even? Is there any glue noticeable? Are the finger holes clean, and round or are they ragged and oddly shaped? Take a very close look at the sound hole. This is very important. Are the edges clean? Does the block line up with the sound hole or is it crooked even when the block is lined up with the body of the flute?
We'll talk more about block placement in the How to look like a Pro when buying a Native American flute section later.
Look for any slivers of wood in the sound hole, the finger holes or the inside of the flute. These disturb the air flow and might be a sign of a maker not paying attention to detail. Take your finger and feel the inside of the flute. Is it rough or smooth? Smooth is better.

Fancy or Museum Quality Flutes
Personally I am not as impressed by fancy blocks, exotic woods, intricate carvings or inlays as I am the basic workmanship of the flute. I have seen many flutes that look great as works of art, but upon closer inspection are not well made flutes. This does not mean that all Fancy Flute are not well made, just don't be impressed by looks alone.

When buying from a recommended or well known maker this is not something you need to worry about. The top flute makers today are expert craftsman and produce flutes that are both excellent instruments and incredible works of art. They stand behind their work and want you to be happy with your purchase. Also, as I record my flutes, I know that my microphones don’t care whether a flute is fancy or not. They only care if it sounds good. So I tend to not spend the extra money on flutes that have a lot of decorative elements like carvings and stone inlays.

Pick your flute to fit your needs. If you are just starting and plan to really learn how to play, then a simple, plainer flute is better to start with. If you want something to hang on your wall, well that’s another story. Both options are equally valid.

READ THE REST IN SCOTT AUGUST'S NEW BOOK The Complete Guide to the Native American Style Flute

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