Purchasing a Wooden Flute
Before You Purchase
Please make sure that you are not purchasing a stolen instrument. Brad Hurley maintains a list of stolen instruments and links to other sites that list stolen instruments.
Purchasing a Beginner Instrument
One of the most frustrating experiences that I have had is the difficulty in finding a good instrument at a reasonable price. Even the simple system instruments with no keys are expensive and hard to find. I was looking for one with 8 keys. Most of the makers on the web take 6 months to 6 years to build a new flute after you place an order. I believe that most beginners don't want to wait 6 months before they start playing.
My solution was to purchase an inexpensive (less than $100) bamboo simple system flute made by Patrick Olwell. It is well tuned and has a nice tone, but lacks the tuning slide which is useful for playing along with groups not tuned to A=440Hz. I purchased the instrument through House of Musical Traditions, although Lark in the Morning also distributes a comparable instrument. For closest similarity to a traditional Irish flute, you will want to order the low D instrument. Another possibility is a polymer or plastic flute such as those made by Michael Cronnolly of M&E Flutes. Another reasonable alternative is an Aulos plastic baroque flute.
If you are looking for a keyed instrument, then I recommend that you first read this paragraph of comments on keyed flutes. This paragraph of comments stems from a discussion on the woodenflute email list, which at the time this message was composed, included a wealth of experience and information in the form of some very well known wooden flute players. If you are considering purchasing a keyed instrument, first ask yourself why. Not only will you not need keys for almost all Irish tunes, but they may actually get in your way or leak. Still interested in keys? Then take this piece of advice from both the list members and my personal experience: You will get what you pay for. Some list members believe that purchasing inexpensive keyed instruments may discourage beginners by providing them with an instrument that is exceptionally difficult to play. I am including the following paragraph about inexpensive keyed wooden flutes because this site is all about helping people make informed decisions. It would not help you for me to hide information about the availability of inexpensive wooden flutes, but I would consider it a disservice if I didn't strongly suggest that you play a well made keyed flute before ordering an inexpesive one. If you don't already have a friend that plays wooden flute, then find your local session and introduce yourself to a local player. Ask to play their instrument. Pay attention to tone and tuning of the individual pitches. Play some scales. Ask lots of questions. That will at least give you a frame of reference for making an informed decision about your own flute purchase. Finally, I want to say that the organizations that sell inexpensive keyed instruments are trying their best to fill a large demand for these instruments. They provide many great services to the wooden flute community and it is not my intention to tarnish their reputations in any way through these comments.
You might have some luck finding a keyed instrument in stock at Lark in the Morning or Hobgoblin Music. Lark in the Morning's instrument was not listed in their web catalog at my last check. Hobgoblin Music lists a 5-key wooden flute patterned after a Pratten flute, which is pictured in their web catalog as GR2124. Both of these instruments were in the US$400-600 price range at my last check.
Other alternatives are Pennywhistles (which play an octave above the low D of an Irish flute), or low whistles (essentially large pennywhistles that play in the same range as an Irish flute). Both of these instruments use the simple system fingering used by Irish flutes. They also have the advantage of being easier to begin with because they do no require that you go through the phase of learning to get a sound out of a transverse blown instrument.
Purchasing a Used Instrument
Used instruments are another alternative to the long wait for a new instrument. Each of the dealers listed below typically carry a selection of used instruments in stock.
Purchasing a New Instrument
There are several new instrument makers and dealers with information available on the web. I am particularly impressed by the care that Terry McGee is taking to study Rudall, Rose, and Carte flutes in order to advance the art of making wooden flutes. Some of the flute makers' webpages show an incredibly high level of craftsmanship; I recommend that you visit Michael Grinter's and Chris Wilkes' webpages for online examples because their webpages have great pictures of their fine work.
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