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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© 2011 Cedar Mesa Music. All rights reserved.


  1. Anonymous7:42 PM

    This is fabulous! Now I'm really anxious to learn how to play Native American flutes!

  2. Great information,
    I have been making Native American flutes for about a year now and have a great teacher in Keith Stanford (ki-e-ta).
    My wish is that someday I hope to have a flute that is good enough to be in the hands of a player and recording artist of your caliber.
    Thank you.
    Bob Runningbear

  3. Anonymous7:15 PM

    My mother is a public school teacher and has been using NAFs in her classroom for years. This summer she spent a month with me in Colorado, and I started playing her flutes. I quickly fell in love. Now I have two flutes (borrowed from my mother) and I am on the hunt for one of my own. This article was very helpful. I feel it steered my in the right directions, gave me specific questions to ask, and reaffirmed some of my skepticism about a few flutes I have already looked at. The questions I have left are related to how you find flute makers and play their flutes before you buy them.


  4. Anonymous, You can find a complete list of the makers whose flutes I have on my web site The list is in the More Stuff section. If you want to play a flute before you buy one you have to meet the maker at a Flute Circle, Art Show, Workshop or some other festival. There is going to be a very big flute festival in Zion in October 2006. That would be a very good place to start and you can find for info by going to the Appearance page on my site.
    Good Luck

  5. Anonymous8:57 PM

    I thought the information was helpful being I am a flutemaker of about 12 years. I to would be nervous if someone pulled out a tuner to check my flutes. There are so many factors that can make the flute not be exactly in tune. The weather, how hard you blow, flute adjustment and many others. And when it was made it may have been perfect? However all these points to consider makes a good check list to help the maker turn out the best flute posible. So far I only sell a few flutes here and there. I am a maker but much of a salesman. But thanks for the checklist. I will definitely be keeping those things in mind as I make my flutes.
    Thanks again,

  6. The points discussed in this article were not meant for flute makers per se, but rather a guide for first time Native American flute buyers.

    No flute is perfectly in tune due to many reasons, not only temperature and humidity but altitude and to a lesser extent, block placement and strength of breath.

    All real instruments have to be tuned. A Native American flute however is only tuned once, during it’s construction, so the point of using a tuner is to get the best flute you can since the player can’t retune it later. Except for pianists, one of the first things any beginning musician learns is how to tune their instrument, this is just a fact of music making.

    Even if you can’t find the perfectly tuned Native American flute most of the well made flutes available today have a margin of error that is close enough to being perfectly in tune to be acceptable. There is nothing wrong with wanting a flute that is in tune and most makers want to make flutes that are in tune.

  7. Anonymous12:24 PM

    Hello there,I loved your site and did learn from it.I am trying make my flute useing hand tools.Any directions that may help me? I did make one useing a kit..Not the same for sure..It was many years ago and i can hardly remember How i did it.

  8. Anonymous12:35 PM

    i have 2 flutes one resin one ceader,the resin plays at a slightly highe note than the ceader but both work well,iv been playing and recording my music for about 6 month,to me its about having a relationship with the flute sounds odd but its that wich helps,in that all that comes from it is from you,your thoughts mood that kinda thing,lol im no pro but in that well all learn all the time,

  9. Anonymous11:30 PM

    I think I have FOS. I have all of the symptoms - I get lightheaded and feel very dreamy and mellow when I think about owning a double drone flute like Scott plays on "Chasing the Sun." Oh well - guess I'd better buy one.