What makes one new or used flute better than another? What is the best place to buy a flute? How can I tell if a flute is in excellent condition?
Many times people want to buy a used flute but don't know exactly what qualities a good instrument should have. It's difficult to recognize a good flute, for example, if you're a beginner, or if you're trying to buy for a child who is just starting to learn to play the flute, and don't play yourself. If you find yourself in this position, here are my suggestions.
First of all, don't buy an instrument from a pawn shop unless you plan to have the flute worked on by a flute technician. I have looked at the flutes in pawn shops and I find them overpriced and generally in poor condition. It's a cinch the salesmen in the pawn shop can't play the instrument for you to show you that it works. If you can't play the flute yourself to see if it's in good condition, you are entirely at their mercy.
Second, don't buy a flute off ebay. In fact, that is where I get many of my flutes, so I'm here to tell you, 99% of the flutes I've bought in auctions need work. Many are in poor condition, despite the seller's declaration to the contrary. In most cases, I think the seller knows little about flutes and so their mistakes are not intentional, however, that doesn't help much when you end up with a flute that needs repair to play well and you thought you got a great bargain.
You might be able to buy a good used flute from a professional flutist. My first question would be, "When was the last time this flute was cleaned, oiled and adjusted, and who did the work?" If a flute is not serviced on a regular basis it can have all sorts of minor problems from normal use that prevent it from sounding good and responding properly, being a stumbling block for the flutist to overcome rather than an asset.
If you do know how to play, what do you look for in a good used flute? First, you should be able to play easily and with a good sound all the way down to low C without pressing hard on the keys. The lowest octave of the flute is where any leaks or adjustment problems are most easily detected. If you press harder on the keys and the flute sounds better, then there are leaks or adjustments which need to be corrected. (Leaks are usually caused by air leaking out of the flute between the pads and the tone holes, although poor adjustments can cause sound production problems too.) (and leaking tone holes) (and holes or fraying in the pads) (etc., etc)
Other things to look for: do the three parts of the flute fit together smoothly and evenly at the tenons, without binding or being too loose? Is the cork in the headjoint sealing properly so no air leaks out? Is the spring tension even from key to key? If the springs are too stiff, the keys will be hard to press; if the springs are too loose, the keys will go down easily but they will not snap back properly, making it necessary to lift your fingers off the keys. This can result in hand problems. Is there any side to side motion in the keys? Is there any lost motion? Are all the adjustments correct? Do the pads seat properly? Are the key heights correct? How much wear and tear is on the pads?
My point is, it can be hard to recognize a good flute if you can't tell what it is that makes a flute a good instrument or a poor one. That's where Flutestar can help you.
I don't sell a flute unless it's in prime working condition. Here are some of the things I do when getting a used flute ready to sell:
. Take the flute completely apart and clean it to remove dirt, tarnish, and dust
. Replace the cork in the headjoint, waxing it to ensure it's sealing properly
. Unpin and oil the mechanism
. Check all pads to ensure they seat properly. Flatten the tone holes if they aren't absolutely flat. Replace any torn, worn, or frayed pads. Shim the pads with whole and partial shims to eliminate leaks. THIS is one of the most important steps I take in working on a flute. It takes time, skill, and patience. This is what makes my used flutes play so well.
. Check and correct all adjustments.
. Check and correct key heights, replacing felts and corks as necessary.
. Check and correct spring tension.
. I also clean and repair the flute case so the flute fits in it snugly.
I place a one year warranty on the pads and adjustments of every flute I sell. To see what my customers have to say about buying a flute from me, read my References and also go back to the home page and read the entries in my guest book.