If you've read any of my past posts, watched many of my Youtube videos, or know me in real life, then you know that one of my greatest obsessions is the wooden Boehm flute. I love everything about wood flutes; the sound, the way they feel in the hands, the way they look, the gorgeous variety of woods that are used in their manufacture. The topic of wood flutes has randomly popped up in conversation with several different people over the last week or two, and it has come clear to me that a great many people, even within the flute playing community, are laboring under the same general set of misconceptions about wooden flutes; primarily, that they are unsuitable for modern-day orchestral use and that nobody plays them. Many are unaware that they are even currently being produced!
This...well, this makes me sad. The modern Boehm flute crafted from wood is an instrument capable of just as much power and projection as her silver, gold, and platinum sisters; it is also possessed of a uniquely colored voice that is nearly always distinguishable from metal flutes. Many experiments by many flutists (the multi-flute video demonstrations carried out by James Galway and Nina Perlove come immediately to mind) have pretty conclusively proven that a listener cannot tell the difference between gold, silver, and platinum or any combination thereof. I have done this many times myself, and I personally can't tell the difference, nor could any of the people I played for.
Now, to a player, yes, they feel incredibly different and probably cause different physiological responses (vis a vis transmission of vibration through the cranium, etc), that make them sound different, but to an audience? Nein, mein herr. However, every person I have ever blindly played several flutes for with a wooden flute in the mix has ALWAYS correctly identified the wooden instrument. There is just some magical, unexplainable element of the sound of a wood flute that makes what's left of my shriveled, blackened soul melt just a little bit. A bit of the ghost of Pan, perhaps...I dunno.
In the course of this particular series of blog posts, I am going to introduce you to the wide, wonderful world of the wooden flute in the 21st century, and you're gonna love it. :)
(Where possible, I've included a video of someone playing each of these and a link to either the maker's website or a retailer where they can be purchased.)
I've played (with one or two exceptions) all of these flutes, and I'd be hard pressed to say I have a favorite. I would very honestly be quite happy to own any of them!
Of all the currently active makers of wooden flutes, I think the one that elicits the most surprise when I talk about them is Yamaha. It seems that people are generally rather unaware of the insanely high quality of Yamaha's upper range of flutes, but they are particularly unaware that Yamaha makes an absolutely AMAZING wooden flute. In terms of available customization, it is a rather bare-bones instrument (for the purist, if you will), available in various combinations of the standard options of open/closed holes, offset/inline G, and C/B footjoints. The headjoint is a modified EC cut, and there are no further headjoint options, but they seem to have worked out an ideal cut that does pretty much whatever you need it to. For those who require something outside the realm of possibility offered by the standard Yamaha wood head, there are a plethora of aftermarket wooden headjoints that all fit the Yamaha (which is a standard metal tenon head, as opposed to a cork joint).
I have played quite a few Yamahas to date, and as one expects from a Japanese flute, they are remarkably consistent (insomuch as wood can be), and they tend to favor a darker, bass-heavy sort of sound that projects quite well but retains a great roundness to the sound. The third and fourth octaves are a bit more resistant than one may be used to, but speak reliably, with great control (owing to the resistance). I'd love to experiment with various headjoints on the Yamaha body...I bet it would be spectacular with the Yamaha Type A head in 14K gold!
Also worth knowing is that the Yamaha is the least expensive of the currently available high-end wooden flutes, and they are readily available from any Yamaha dealer. (And you didn't hear this from me, but fabulous deals on them are very often found on That Big Auction Site!)
Wanna buy one? Yamaha Wood Flutes at FluteWorld!
One of my most popular Youtube demo videos is of the Yamaha 894W wood flute, so here it is! :) (It's a C-foot, inline, open hole flute, for the curious)
And here is the incomparable Juliette Hurel, laying down some Haydn on her Yamaha:
Next up, we have our good friends at Sankyo. If I were magically given the money to buy any wood flute I wanted, the odds are that it would be a Sankyo. Of the many wonderful marques turning out wooden flutes these days, Sankyo is one of the only ones that offers theirs with a C# trill key, which makes it very much a frontrunner for me (my previously discussed love of Sankyo flutes nonwithstanding). You can also choose from three different headjoint cuts, all of which possess very individual personalities. The most traditional looking of the three, with a carved lip plate, is a very comfortable all-purpose head that will allow you to do just about anything you want, and for the newbie to the wood flute world, it is probably the one I would pick. The "Traditional" cut is a simple embouchure hole carved directly through the wall of the headjoint, with no surrounding lipplate. This is for the Baroque enthusiast, or the wood flute specialist. It is quite possible to produce a great deal of power with this headjoint, but where it really excels is in smooth transitions between intervals and producing hugely rich colors at soft dynamics. High register response is also stellar with this head. My personal favorite is the Modern cut, which incorporates a cutout opposite the embouchure hole (also with no lipplate), and this head gives you a big, huge, dark, fat sound that will make pant legs flap in the first row. This is a soloist's head, a principal player's head. It's just magnificent.
In addition to the traditional grenadilla wood, the Sankyo wood flute was also built in cocuswood. Now, according to the Sankyo rep that I hung out with in Tokyo 2 summers ago, they are no longer using cocus, as the supplies are dwindling dangerously. However, there should be some still in stock at Sankyo dealers around the globe, so if you happen across one, snap it up! There is nothing quite like the brilliant darkness of a cocus wood flute, with its vast color spectrum. (And it is a gorgeous wood to look at!)
You can see the difference between the two here:
Curious? Call Jeffrey at FluteWorld and tell him I sent you :) They're $14,000, but they're worth every penny! FluteWorld: Wood Sankyo
Have a listen to first the grenadilla, then the cocus Sankyo (start the cocus video at 2:01 to get right to the playing, unless you're fluent in Japanese!):
Returning to our home shores, we find the venerable Boston flutemaking institution, Verne Q. Powell, turning out some truly exquisite examples of wood flute making, which are hugely popular around the globe. There are a great many symphonic players using wood Powells, and an even larger number of soloists and chamber players. The wood Powell delivers enormous power, a smoothness of legato, and an almost mystical sound color. While they do not offer a C# trill (Powell has very strong opinions about the placement of such a large tone hole next to another on a wooden-bodied instrument), you CAN order your wood Powell with a solid 14K rose gold mechanism! :-) (It doubles the price, but some things are just worth it!) Split E and D# roller are options, of course, as are the usual inline/offset, open/closed, and C/B foot. You can also choose from the wood version of Powell's popular headjoint cuts, the Soloist and Philharmonic, and upon special order, there is also a "Traditional" cut, which does away with the lip plate. You want options, they got options! :)
During my time in Japan with the international tour of Dreamgirls, I was fortunate enough to get my hands on a very special Powell flute made of the same laminate wood material that they are making the new Sonare piccolos out of, and I have to say, it was one of the most mind-blowing flutes I've ever played. It had the brilliance of a silver instrument, tempered by the mellowness of wood, and was a surprisingly lightweight instrument, very comfortable in the hands. I do not know the current availability of this instrument, but there are at least a couple of them floating around out there!
Ringing in at $13,200, a Powell wood flute isn't exactly an inexpensive proposition, but it's not much more than a soldered tonehole silver flute, and it is CERTAINLY cheaper than gold! :-)
Buy A Wood Powell!
You can see a wood Powell in many orchestras around the globe, including our very own Cleveland Orchestra, with the always-handsome Joshua Smith in the hot seat, wielding either his wood Powell or his gold Powell with a wood headjoint. The man's got taste! :)
Now watch this performance of Cleveland at the Proms in London last year and tell me a wood flute doesn't project in an orchestra! Hrmph.
And here, we have the NHK Symphony Orchestra of Tokyo playing some Shostakovich 7, with their principal flutist on a wood Powell with 14K gold mechanism. Isn't it to die for?! (there is a fabulous flute feature around the 2:00 mark!)
If it's solo action you're after, here's a lovely performance of Bach on a wood/silver Powell:
Here is our aforementioned handsome wooden flute hero, Mr. Smith, serving us some contemporary flute concerto realness:
And last but not least, remember that magical laminate material Powell I talked about earlier?
Yeah. That one. :)
Though the brand is a newcomer to the flute scene, the man behind it is not. Di Zhao worked at Powell for 13 years, eventually becoming Vice President of Quality; he then moved to Haynes and worked as their Vice President and General Manager. Prior to all that, he had a decade-plus career in China as a principal flutist in two major orchestras. Now, if that isn't a man who knows flutes, I don't know what is.
The Di Zhao wood flute holds a very special place in my heart, if for no other reason that it is currently the only flute I will discuss in this series that could also hold a special place in my bank account. This instrument (which reminds one AMAZINGLY of the wood Powell flutes), will set you back only just a bit north of $3,000, which is absolutely unbelievable for an instrument of this quality. Di himself finishes each flute, making sure the mechanism is completely free of excess play and then play tests it to ensure it meets his lofty standards before it goes out the door.
Please don't let the low price fool you into thinking that this is an instrument of low quality, though. Nothing could be further from the truth. These flutes were a massive hit the moment the were released onto the market, and have continued to be so. It really is like buying a Powell (or a very, very close sibling of a Powell) at the price of an intermediate flute. The sound quality is rich, vibrant, and colorful, and the scale of these instruments is very good. The headjoints are also expertly cut...so much so that they are an incredibly popular choice for people who wish to buy a wood headjoint for their silver or gold instrument. (I personally know 5 flutists who have purchased Di Zhao wood headjoints for their flutes, and they adore them.)
The Di Zhao is also available with a C# trill key (yay!) and a D# roller and/or split E.
Order yours today! :)
Watch the Man himself play one of his own flutes! (With someone else's headjoint, though...)
BUT WAIT! THERE'S MORE!
Let us now take a short trip to Europe and explore some of the flutemakers there who are bestowing gifts of wood flutage upon the world.
First up, we have:
In my very first blog post ever, I wrote a short review of my experience with his "Mezzo" flute, a collaboration with American flutentrepreneur Jason Blank that fits in the intermediate/pre-professional handmade head/Asian body market segment. It's a fabulous flute, and I very much enjoyed playing it. Bernhard makes amazing headjoints, and many people know of his magical 22K gold flutes (he also makes flutes in silver, 9K, 14K and 18K gold), but did you know he also makes a killer wood flute? He uses both grenadilla and cocuswood in his instruments, and they are simply stunning. They are entirely handmade upon order, so you can have them customized however you wish. (C# trill key, D# and/or C# rollers, hand engraving, and solid gold or gold-plated mechanism are all available).
Bernhard comes from a family with a very long tradition of musical instrument making, and his instruments are infused with that spirit. I've been fortunate enough to play several of his handmade flutes (including the aforementioned magic 22K gold flute, and an incredible 9K gold instrument), and I would strongly advise that anybody wishing to make the switch to a wood flute consider auditioning one of his instruments.
Jason Blank is the North American representative for Hammig flutes, and you can contact him via his website: Bernhard Hammig Custom Flutes. You can read more about Bernhard and his instruments at his official site, Hammig Flutes
Aren't they just beautiful?! (photo credit: B. Hammig, via Facebook)
Well known for his wooden headjoints, it seems few people are aware that Howel Roberts also makes complete wooden flutes! A former member of the Flutemaker's Guild of London, Roberts has always been a great lover of the wood flute, and his handmade wooden flutes very much reflect that passion. Like Hammig, you can get a Roberts wood flute built for you in grenadilla or cocuswood, but you can ALSO opt for cocobolo wood (so very fashionable in the clarinet world these days, and to a slightly lesser extent, oboes). Also like Hammig, you can customize your flute with C# trill, rollers, engraving, gold mechanisms, etc. I've never personally played one, but of course I've played a great many of his headjoints, and if the flutes are anything like the heads....well, I wouldn't take umbrage if one were to appear under my Christmas tree. ;-)
Read more about them at: Howel Roberts Wooden Flutes (and DO note that you can click on all photos on that page to embiggen them...I highly recommend it, especially that shot of the entire flute. It's cocus, and the detail of the wood in the large version of the photo is mesmerizing!)
Virtually unknown to the American fluteplaying sphere, Verhoef flutes are extremely well-regarded in Europe, and for very good reason. They are, simply put, freaking stunning. One of the things that sets Verhoef apart from many other makers is the variety of woods he uses in making his flutes. In addition to the standard grenadilla (African blackwood, or good ol' trusty Dalbergia melanoxylon), you can order a Verhoef in palisander (palisander can mean one of several woods, but it is most commonly used to refer to Madagascar rosewood, or Dalbergia baronii, and photos I've seen of his flutes in this wood support that assumption); African rosewood (or, as most people call it, bubinga. Not a true rosewood, as it isn't a Dalbergia, it's still a fabulous tonewood); coromandel, also not a Dalbergia, but a stunningly gorgeous wood often referred to (perhaps a tiny bit erroneously) as Macassar ebony; our old trusty friend cocuswood; and finally, Bahia rosewood, which is much more commonly referred to in the West as Brazilian rosewood (or Dalbergia nigra, which you may also see referred to as Rio rosewood or Bahia jacaranda), which is an incredibly colorful red wood that those of you who are savvy woodwind doublers may recognize as the brilliantly colored wood that Patricola uses in their rosewood oboes and clarinets.
(Now might be a good time to mention that I will be doing an upcoming blog post on all of the woods that are used in woodwind manufacturing, and addressing such topics as "What exactly is 'rosewood', anyway?". I'm sure you'll want to make some popcorn and gather the kids around for that one.)
I digress...back to flutey things.
Mr. Verhoef painstakingly makes every flute by hand to order, and turns out some pretty marvelous works of art that sound as fantastic as they look. There are some lovely photos on his website, Verhoef Flutes, and check out some fabulous performances using his flutes:
Katja Pitelina plays Bozza's "Image" for us, using her rosewood Verhoef:
And HERE is something I was *super* excited to find, a 20-minute interview (in Dutch) with Mr. Verhoef himself, about his flutes. In the latter half of the video, he disappears for a second and returns with THREE of his flutes, all in different woods, and plays them all for us. It's just fascinating!
A name well-known in Baroque flute and recorder circles, Bernolin also makes a wooden Boehm flute in his atelier in France. I've no personal experience with his concert flutes, but I have played one of his traversos, and know several recorder players who swear by his instruments. His flutes are also quite reasonably priced for a handmade wood flute (in the same ballpark as Yamaha), and you can get them with a solid sterling mechanism or a silver-plated mechanism if you're feeling economical.
Take a gander at some lovely photos of his work at: Bernolin Boehm Flutes
From German flutemaker Anton Braun, we have perhaps one of the most recognizable flutes on our list. This is the flute that you will see in the hands of Michael Hasel and Andreas Blau in the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra, and as such, examples of these flutes being played are readily accessible on Youtube. Unique among wood flute makers, Braun inserts a gold riser into all of his headjoints as standards, which gives his flutes a bit more of an edge in an orchestral situation, and adds a crispness to the articulation that is not always found in wooden headjoints. Braun flutes are available only in well-seasoned grenadilla wood, and you can order your flute with a one-piece body, if you so choose.
Like just about all wooden flutes, it's very reasonably priced, a base B-footed model coming in at slightly less than an average silver soldered-tonehole handmade flute.
Have a look around Braun's website, Braun Flutes. There is a bounty of great information to be had, and his C-foot piccolo is also worth a look! :-)
Here is the amazing Andras Adorjan playing the lightning-fast last movement of the CPE Bach D minor concerto on his Braun flute (listen to that articulation!!)
And here is the legendary Andreas Blau, of the Berlin Philharmonic, playing the Reinecke Flute Concerto with HIS Braun:
From the picturesque Tyrolean region of Austria, master flute and clarinet maker Herbert Neureiter is doing some of the most innovative work in woodwinds today. I will expound on his creativity in a future post, but for now let's take a look at his wooden flutes.
Neureiter makes two models of wood flutes, the Vario and the Soloist. The primary difference between the two is in the construction of the head to body connection; the Vario, as the name suggests, is a straight metal tenon which enables one to use various (I see what he did there!) headjoints on the body. The Soloist has a traditional piccolo-style corked tenon, which limits the choices of headjoint you can use on the body, though one must assume that the one supplied with it is the one that is intended for that particular body. :)
Like some of our other wood wizards, Herr Neureiter uses a multitude of woods in the construction of his beautiful flutes, including cocus; cocobolo; what he calls "vera-pok" on his website, but which we know much more commonly as lignum vitae, verawood, guayacan, or gaiac; and violetwood (kingwood). One infers from the Types Of Wood section on his website that other species outside of the dalbergia family can also be special-ordered.
Uniquely among the makers I'll discuss in this series, Neureiter also uses ebonite (or "hard rubber", which happens to be what my primary clarinet is made of, and I LOVE it). The Soloist model can be ordered entirely in ebonite, or you can opt for just an ebonite headjoint. This is a natural material, taken from a tree just as wood is, and the nature of this material enables the maker to produce a variety of colors and patterns in it. See below an example of a Soloist model flute in "emerald marmorate" ebonite (with his patented "Pieno Flauto" headjoint resonance/tuning feature):
Lovely, isn't it? This material can be made in a wide variety of appearances, and completely eliminates the worry of cracking or dimensional changes due to temperature and humidity, while preserving the dark, beautiful sound of the natural wood flute. See below for some of the possibilites! (All photos taken from the Neureiter website, which I will link below)
(the bottom photo is clarinet barrels, obviously, but it's a fabulous illustration of the array of visual options one has with this material!)
There is also a staggering array of wood headjoint options for the Vario, and these headjoints will fit any flute that takes a standard tenon, so you can use them on your silver or gold flute (or your wood Yamaha, Powell, Sankyo, Di Zhao, etc... ;-) )
I am relatively new to Neureiter as a flutemaker (I've experienced only one of his instruments, which was a German system clarinet, and it was lovely!), but I am very, very, very excited about what I've seen; so much so that I have reached out to him for further information. Perhaps a Neureiter demo video and blog review is in the not-so-distant future?? We'll have to wait and see! :)
Read more about his work yourself (really, I highly recommend browsing around the site, even the clarinet stuff!) at: Herbert Neureiter Flutes & Clarinets
That's all for Part Two!! In the third and final installment, we'll come back to the good ol' US of A for a couple final makers, and have a look at one of our British friends, as well!
As always, thanks for reading! :-)
|A much younger, thinner me with my Abell. :-)|
|The Abell flute in pink ivory wood!!|
And, not that I am even *remotely* in these two fabulous players' league, but here's me playing the Mendelssohn Midsummer Scare-zo on my Abell:
Like myself, Alexander was also originally a violist...you *have* to like that in a fellow! :) (He is also an extremely accomplished player of the Bulgarian kaval, which he also builds; the balalaika; and the cimbalom!)
|The Man himself, working on one of his flutes! (Which appears to have a one-piece body/foot)|
As with several of the other flutemakers we've discussed, I like very much that Eppler offers a variety of woods to choose from (namely grenadilla, cocuswood, and *snakewood*, which is very adventurous indeed! Snakewood is notorious for splintering, but Mr. Eppler has devised a proprietary method of treating the wood that prevents this from happening).
Perhaps my favorite thing about his flutes, both wood and metal, is that every flute is built standard with a C# trill key. A man after my own heart, I tell you! One-piece bodies are also available, and he does absolutely exquisite repair and restoration work, so if you are the owner of an older wooden instrument (a Rudall Carte, perhaps, or a Lot or a Mollenhauer), he is THE man to send it to to get it back in tip-top shape!
His wooden headjoints are also widely sought after by flutists for their metal instruments, and having played on several of them, I can certainly see why. They are extremely rich-sounding, with incredible projection and really quite fine craftsmanship.
It's proven difficult to find video footage of an entire wooden Eppler flute being played, but the renowned Seattle flutist Felix Skowronek (who was quite close with Eppler, and in fact inspired him to start making wood flutes) played a cocus Eppler head on his cocus Rudall Carte body, and I've just stumbled across some fantastic footage from the mid-80s of him playing it in his quintet, Soni Ventorum (with Bill McColl, who played a custom-built BOXWOOD Buffet clarinet with gold keys! :) :) :) )
Find out more about them at the Eppler Flutes website!
That about does it for the States, I think...let's head back 'cross the pond and check out some more!
First up, we have the...
FLUTEMAKERS GUILD OF LONDON
Officially formed in 1961 by 7 flutemakers from Rudall Carte who wished to continue the tradition of handmade flutes as RC was being absorbed by a larger corporation, the FMG has turned out some extremely impressive examples of the wooden flutemaker's art. Though they've made numerous flutes in silver and gold, what really sets FMG apart, at least in my estimation, is the quality of their wooden flutes and headjoints. There are few instruments that feel quite as organic and "alive" in the hands as a FMG wood flute, particularly those that were created with a one-piece body/foot. Though their works has largely been in grenadilla, there are FMG flutes and heads out there in cocus, and I've heard tell of a few in various other woods, though I've not seen them.
I would love to point you to the FMG website, but there seems to be a bit of confusion right now as to exactly *who* is currently making up the Flutemaker's Guild...I am under the impression that current FMG work is done by Michael Allen, who is (I believe) the craftsman of the handmade FMG headjoints that are currently offered by the venerable English flute shop Trevor James on their top-tier Recital model flutes. (Though Andrew Oxley may also still be involved?) Past members of the Guild include Howel Roberts, who we saw earlier, in part 2; Harry Seely, Ewan McDougall, Martin Gordon, Roger Harris, Chris Bouckley, and several others, all who have gone on to great renown as makers of flutes and heads in their own rights.
However, I digress (though I would LOVE a clear history of the FMG, so if anybody reading this can shed some light, please do!)...let's have a looksee at some FMG wood flutes!
This gorgeous cocuswood FMG flute is from the collection of Felix Skowronek, who we discussed just a bit ago in the Eppler segment. A great lover of the wood flute, he amassed quite a collection of them, and this beautiful example is currently for sale via David and Nina Shorey of AntiqueFlutes.com. (Photo credit: David and Nina Shorey, Antiqueflutes.com)
This one, as you can see, is in standard 3-piece head/body/foot configuration. FMG is also well known for making flutes with a one-piece body/foot, as the one below (also via Antiqueflutes.com) :
And no, thine eyes do not deceive you, this is yet another flutemaker who offers their wood flutes with a C# trill key! :-)
There is a GORGEOUS FMG wood flute in one-piece body configuration, with an additional Alexander Eppler headjoint, currently for sale via Anne Pollack at YourFluteWorks.com (FMG Wood Flute w/Eppler head!) Contact Anne to try and buy this amazing flute! I would myself in a heartbeat if I had $14K laying around :-D
Let's take a listen to the gifted and stylish Elizabeth Walker play some Bach on her FMG (one-piece body) wood flute!
|The magical Snakewood Sakurai!|
|Sakurai flute in "Complite" composite, tulip-wood finish, with artificial ivory tonehole inserts|
|Sakurai in true ebony wood (with artificial ivory toneholes)|
|Sakurai flute in kingwood, with sterling silver tonehole inserts|
Listen to that high register! It's like butter up there!
The New Voice flutes are only around $1,000, and available in a wide variety of colors. (I prefer the color of the flute I'm playing in that video, which looks almost like aged boxwood from a distance).
Hear some lovely CPE Bach performed on a Grenaditte C flute! (Note that they also produce piccolos, G treble flutes, and bass flutes in this material! :) )
Should you have an interest in any of the Guo flutes, they are available from nearly EVERY flute retailer on the planet these days. Some of my personal recommendations of shops to deal with should you want a New Voice or Grenaditte are:
Flutist's Faire - Betsy Winslow Trimber
The Flute Farm - Robert Strouf
I do hope this has been as fun for you to read as it was for me to write, and I wish you all the best and as always happy fluting! (And welcome to the World of Wood!)
Stay tuned as we next talk about wooden headjoints and all of the different woods that are used in making woodwind instruments!