Frequently Asked Questions
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Q: What is the best wood choice for a flute?
There is a tremendous amount of myth surrounding wood choice and its effect on the sound of a flute. Flutes are fundamentally different (from a physics point of view) from other instruments made from wood, such as violins, guitars, etc. In the case of those instruments, wood choice plays a very large part in the overall tone of the instrument due to its sympathetic resonance. Not so with flutes.
A woodwind gets its tone from the bore–primarily from the shape of the bore and the inner surface of the bore. The individual player has an even greater impact, but we are speaking of materials. If I make two identical flutes from two different woods, they might exhibit some audible differences if the inside of the bore is left untreated. Some woods cut more smoothly than others, and the smoothness or roughness of the inner surface effects how easily the air molecules slide around inside the flute. A brighter or darker timbre can be audible in such cases, and the responsiveness of the flute is affected by how much “drag” is created by a rough surface. This is why I treat the bores of my flutes with a clear coat marine epoxy. I use several treatments of epoxy, polishing in between coats. This virtually eliminates inequalities in wood character, making the bores more universally smooth, regardless of the wood being used. Other qualities of the wood, such as its density, have no audible effect.
A number of well conducted, double-blind studies have been made regarding the effects of materials on the sound of woodwinds, and the results all agree that the material plays no measurable part in creating the tone quality of a flute (providing the material allows for a smooth, leak-free bore). Many players and makers strongly disagree with this, but my personal view is that they may have some attachment to the “mystique” surrounding material choice and this belief skews their perception and judgment. And even very experienced makers and players can fall into the error of mistaking micro-differences in tone that result from variations in flute design for differences resulting from wood choice. Tiny variations in the sound mechanism, the size and undercut of the finger holes, etc. can have profound effects on the tone of the flute, and these variations are often mistaken for tonal differences resulting from wood choice. These studies I mention bear out this viewpoint. Different woods might feel different in the player’s hands and might provide a different sensation during play but these differences are not audible to a listener or to a microphone. However, that does not invalidate personal preference regarding how these woods feel in the hand, nor does it invalidate any other connection that a player might have with one type of wood over another.
So in choosing a wood for a flute, I would encourage you to choose based upon other factors apart from tone, since there is no significant difference between woods if the bore is properly finished. Choose based upon the beauty of the wood or its utility (meaning hard vs. soft, for example, so as to avoid scratches and dents).
Q: Can I order a custom flute?
I should clarify what I consider a custom order to be. If you are unable to find one of my standard flutes in a particular wood or key that you desire, you may request that I make one to order. I don’t generally do custom scales (meaning exotic or unusual scales) upon request. So if you are looking for a transverse flutes that is tuned to the Japanese Akebono scale instead of the diatonic major scale, that would be a custom tuning. On rare occasions I will consider such requests, but it tends to be very expensive. If you are requesting a tuning or design that is likely to be a “one-off” (a unique flute that I’m not adding to my standard offerings) then there are quite a few caveats. It is often quite costly because I might have to make several prototypes, so you might end up paying three times the cost of a standard flute. Also, I require a 25% non-refundable down payment on such work.
Custom flutes are added to a waiting list and I work on them as time permits between my other duties. So the customer should be prepared to wait anywhere from 3-6 months for a custom order, depending upon my schedule.