Monday, July 11, 2016

Uebel Clarinets In The 21st Century: A Primer

Recently, I wrote an article about the Uebel Superior clarinets, which are my instruments of choice these days. I've received a lot of great comments and questions about that article, but the most common by far is "What about the other models?", so instead of publishing individual articles about each model, I wanted to do one post that touched on all four of the new Uebel soprano clarinet models for those of you who are curious.

Before I break down the individual models, I would like to touch quickly on a few salient points about all of the models: They are all made of naturally aged and unstained grenadilla, and ALL models are available with left hand Eb/Ab key (it's standard on the Superior, Preference, and Advantage A clarinet), and all mechanisms are very heavily silver-plated in the German tradition. All models are also equipped standard with an adjustable thumbrest, and as of this year, all of them feature the Uebel logo on the upper joint beautifully hand-inlaid in sterling silver wire, which will never wear, unlike the foil stamping/gold crayon logos so common in the industry. (The Superior model has an additional solid sterling silver logo-plate with "Superior" engraved on it.)

There has been quite a lot of internet chatter lately about the exact origins of the Uebel clarinets, and as an Uebel artist representative, I wanted to be absolutely clear about it all, so I reached out to the owner/CEO of the company via the US distributor. Yes, Uebel does indeed own and operate a factory in China (it is their own factory, staffed by their people; it is not a subleased/contracted situation, and all work performed there is to their own very high German standard), but the French-system clarinets are in fact made entirely in Markneukirchen, Germany. As I understand it, the China factory's primary purpose is large-scale production of the German-system clarinets, which are exceedingly popular in the German market.

I won't write too much about the Superior here, since my last blog post is about nothing BUT (you can read that here if you haven't yet: The Uebel Superior: Why Yes, Yes It Is! ), but let's start with it anyway.

The Uebel Superior is a top-of-the-line professional handcrafted instrument made of the choicest grenadilla wood that is naturally aged for a minimum of 7 years, the finest pieces of which are chosen via X-ray and frequency selection (hanging the billets and then tapping with a rubber mallet and choosing only those which produce the most pleasing sound). The bore of the Superior is a very Germanic style, quite similar to the Schwenk & Seggelke model 3000, and produces an extremely beautiful, thick sound that both blends very well with a section and creates a lovely solo voice on its own. The star selling point of the Superior is the incredible beauty of tone one achieves in the upper registers of the instrument; the upper clarion is free of "pinch", and the transition into the altissimo is both effortless and flawless. It is, however, relatively inflexible in terms of color, just as one expects from a German clarinet, so it is not perhaps ideally suited for the jazz/swing/contemporary artist, but it is an ideal clarinet for the soloist/recitalist/large orchestral principal. (However, if jazz/swing/contemporary/klezmer is your thing, keep reading! Uebel has something just for you!)

The Superior is a bit more resistant than the typical French-bore clarinets that we're used to, but the evenness of tone color and response throughout all registers of the instrument is well worth it. (It's also advisable to use perhaps a more open mouthpiece and slightly softer reed to counterbalance this, if you so choose. I've heard some pretty fantastic results produced with a closed/hard combo, too, though. Personal preference! :) ) The Superior is available in Bb and A, and there is an Eb version to be released this year, which received global unanimous raves when the prototype was presented at various industry events around the world. Truly a clarinet for the most discerning of players.

Uebel Preference, on the left, Uebel Classic on the right! :) 

Next in the line up, we have the Uebel Preference. This clarinet is THE clarinet for the versatile player who wants a blank canvas to reproduce whatever voice they hear in their head; this clarinet can scream, it can wail, it can be dark and Brahmsian, it can Rhapsody in the blue-est of ways, and it is a fantastic instrument for the klezmer/ethnic player. (In fact, a dear friend has used the Preference in the pit of the current Broadway production of Fiddler On The Roof in the solo clarinet chair to great acclaim on multiple occasions). The Preference is made of unstained grenadilla aged 5-7 years naturally, and has the same precision-fit, heavily silver-plated mechanism as the Superior. The bore of this instrument is much closer to the prestige-level French instruments we all know and love, so if you find yourself thinking of perhaps purchasing a Buffet Festival, you REALLY need to try this instrument. I recently lent the Preference to a friend who is the clarinetist in an operetta currently running this summer here in NYC, and he summed it up thusly: "It's like a better Festival!" (He also at one point mentioned that he was able to play a low E and F perfectly in tune for the first time on this instrument!) It is the ultimate worry-free professional clarinet. You can truly just let go and focus on making music with the Preference! Currently, the Preference is only available in Bb, but an A is in the works.

Uebel Advantage (in key of A)

Even more affordable than the Preference, we have the Advantage.  Firstly, it is made of the same beautifully figured unstained wood as the Preference. It's really a beautiful instrument to look at, and at first blow, will feel VERY familiar to 99% of American clarinetists. This is the instrument that you need to look at if you're considering dropping $3000+ on a new R13, because the Advantage gives you that same well-loved "ping" in the sound, with all of the concomitant shadings of color and tonal flexibility that we've all adored in the R13, but with much improved evenness and resistance through the registers, not to mention superior intonation, and all for considerably less than you would spend otherwise. The altissimo is particularly accessible on the Advantage, and just this past year, the Advantage A clarinet was released, putting a perfectly matched pair of brand-new professional clarinets within reach of just about anybody. This is the instrument for you if you're a conservatory student, or an extremely talented high school player on a budget, or even a professional clarinetist who isn't pulling in a six-figure salary but needs a top-notch pair of clarinets for orchestral playing that won't break the bank!

Last but certainly not least, there's the Uebel Classic. This is the entry level model of the Uebel lineup, but do not mistake it for a student clarinet, for it is no such thing. The Classic can hold its own against just about ANY clarinet you put it up against. I've had several NYC clarinetist friends try it, and just about every single one of them made the "trade you my clarinet for this one!" joke...and that was BEFORE I told them the price! This instrument, WITH the left hand Eb/Ab key option, comes in at just around $1400 (less than $1300 without the extra key!), with the same evenness and great intonation of all the other Uebel clarinets. It has the same flexibility of sound as the Preference, and a bit of the inborn personality of the Advantage. It is also just a stunningly made instrument that is very comfortable to play. If I could compare it to any clarinet on the market, past or present, I think the most apt comparison would be with the now-deceased Leblanc Esprit; it's a pro-quality clarinet at an intermediate-level price point. Hard to argue with that!

There, in a nutshell, are the 4 current Uebel soprano clarinet models; if you're in the NYC or Boston areas, and would love to try one, shoot me an email, and I would be more than happy to make that happen for you! :-) I really, really love these instruments, and I am 100% convinced that you will too, once you try them!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Uebel Superior: Why Yes, Yes It Is!

If you read my blog article summarizing the International Clarinet Association convention in Baton Rouge back in 2014, you may recall that I was extremely impressed by a few instruments, but there was one in particular that snagged my attention...the Uebel Superior. This is a clarinet that provides that beautiful dark, focused German sound that I (and so many other clarinetists I know) love so much, but with the Boehm system keywork that we're all used to. Of all of the instruments I played that weekend, the one that stuck with me the most, almost to the point of obsession, was the Superior.

Well, fast forward a year and a half: I am now fortunate enough to be an Uebel artist representative, and I am playing on a pair of them! I've had them for a little over 5 months now, and I fall in love with them a little bit more every day. For the first time ever (at least since I played exclusively on actual Oehler system clarinets back in 2008 for several months), I am able to produce almost exactly the sound that I hear in my head when I play the clarinet. So many of the problems that we face as Boehm-system clarinetists are simply eliminated by the Superiors (and by the Uebel clarinet line in general, but we're specifically focusing on the Superior in this article). The upper clarion and altissimo registers are just as warm and full-sounding as the lower registers, and the amount of control that the Superiors provide in the upper reaches of the instrument is mindblowing. Every person who has played these instruments has immediately remarked on how easy the transition to the altissimo is, and how full it sounds, even at the softest of dynamics.

A well earned Superior-ity complex :P 

For a purely Boehm system clarinet, it is the closest thing I have ever encountered to the German sound, without being a Reform Boehm instrument (and honestly, the differences in feel between this and most of the RBs I've tried are so minimal that I can't imagine spending the extra money now.) This is due largely to the genius team of German instrument makers and designers who created the Superior.  The man responsible for the resurrection of Uebel, Jürgen Stölzel, put together a team including master instrument maker Jörg Thümmler and famed clarinet designer/builder Jochen Seggelke (of Schwenk & Seggelke) to design the flagship of this new line. I have no idea how they did it, and probably never will, as the exact specifications are a closely guarded secret, but they have somehow managed to imbue the traditionally bright (particularly in the upper registers), unevenly balanced, and problematically-tuned French clarinet with an evenness in resistance that is unmatched, the silkiest of sounds, and remarkable intonation. It isn't *exactly* the same as an actual German clarinet, but by Jeeves, it is very, very close.   

Storytime: I recently lent the Superior Bb to a clarinetist friend (who is currently a graduate student of one of the biggest names in clarinet pedagogy today) for several days. Upon returning it, he remarked that he played it in a rehearsal of Mahler 3, and has never had such an easy time blending with the woodwind section, particularly intonation wise, and that the sound of the upper register drew several appreciative comments from his fellow orchestra members.

I've talked to you about the sound of the instrument, but let's get physical for a few moments. These clarinets are BEAUTIFUL. They are quite traditional in appearance, true, but there is a very refined elegance to the design that is quite lovely to look at. The mechanism is extremely well constructed to very tight tolerances, and is heavily silver-plated, as is customary of German instruments. The Superior is also constructed of the very finest pieces of grenadilla wood that exist. It is aged NATURALLY (not in a kiln) for a minimum of 7 years, and is subjected to a lengthy selection process, including auditory selection by being gently tapped with a rubber mallet (a very traditionally German thing to do in instrument making; only billets that produce a sound within a certain frequency spectrum are chosen for turning; many of the highest-end German clarinet makers do this), they are X-rayed to check for internal flaws, and the pieces of wood are grain-matched for the upper and lower joints (which are actually made from one piece of wood whenever possible). Only 1-3% of Uebel's wood stock ends up being selected to be made into Superiors, which certainly lends accuracy to the name! :)

The upper bore of the bell contains an egg-shaped chamber with a sterling-silver-mounted hole drilled in it for accuracy of intonation on low E and F, and a smoother transition from the throat to the clarion register. The bell is also thick-rimmed and ringless, lending a beautiful, sleek look to the instrument. On the upper joint, above the A key, is a rectangular plaque of solid sterling silver bearing a cursive inscription of the word "Superior", and above that, the Uebel logo, which on the newest production models is filled with not a foil or crayon, but solid silver wire, to ensure that the logo stays crisp forever and will not wear. Lovely little details that show just how much Uebel cares about these instruments! (My Bb has this silver wire fill, my A does not.)

All of the posts are locked, of course, and the instrument comes equipped with fine white leather pads. (I typically have always used cork on my upper joint, but I'm having no problem at all with these, and they're wonderfully quiet!) Both the Bb and the A are supplied with leather-covered Winter French-style cases lined in beautiful maroon velvet with the Uebel logo tooled into the leather on the lid of the case in the corner, and a shearling-lined case cover with backpack straps and a SUPER roomy exterior accessory compartment. The A comes in a double case, the Bb in a single. 

A left-hand Eb/Ab lever is of course also standard on the Superior, and in what I think is a particularly well thought-out move, all Superiors are supplied with the Vandoren Klassic string ligature :) (An especially appropriate and welcome accessory in my case, given that I play on a Vandoren B40D German mouthpiece!)

I could continue talking about how beautiful they sound, and how evenly they play, and how stunning they look and feel, but what might just be the MOST exciting thing about these instruments is the price. The Superior Bb, an absolute top-of-the-line, cream-of-the-crop, elite level instrument, costs over $1200 less than the Buffet R13 Prestige/Festival, $1000+ less than the Selmer Privilege, and around $2400 less than the Tosca. They're really a fabulous value, dollar for dollar, and a wonderful way to enter the world of the German clarinet sound experience without paying five figures for a Reform-Boehm or Oehler system clarinet! 

If I could touch just for a moment on the Superior A clarinet, all of what I've said above holds true for it, but given the typically awkward and finicky nature of most A clarinets, the difference is all the more remarkable on the Superior. Since I brought my set home, several of the best clarinetists I know here in New York have played them, and UNANIMOUSLY they all said it was the best A clarinet they've ever played! Switching between the Bb and the A is truly seamless, and the sound is just out of this world, with a wonderful freedom of sound in places where the A clarinet is usually tight and stuffy. (Mozart would approve!) 

Now, there are some things that the Superior does not do, and it would not be fair of me to not talk about those. If you play quite a lot of jazz or klezmer or world music or even perhaps do a lot of musical theater doubling, the Superior may not be the ideal choice, because the beautiful, creamy sound it produces is somewhat inflexible and is hard to make sound like anything BUT beautiful. The pitch centers are also so accurate and well "slotted", to steal a term from my brass friends, that wide smears and bends are a bit difficult on the Superior. Being "wild" isn't really something that's native to the personality of the Superior. If you are one of these sorts of players and require serious flexibility, then the Uebel Preference is the clarinet that YOU want to try, but we'll save that for another post! :-) 

In summation...forget everything you thought you may have known about the Uebel clarinets from the pre-Cold War era. This is a brand new generation of instruments, and if you are on the hunt for a new clarinet, you absolutely owe it to yourself to try one. If you're in or around the NYC area, feel free to contact me and I'll be happy to set up a private trial for you! :-) 

Until next time, as always, happy clarinetting, folks! :) 

(Note: Inquiries may also be sent directly to the US distributor at or! :-) ) 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Stopping A Crack Habit Before It Starts: A Primer

[This post's primary audience will be people who do the bulk of their work in less than ideal environmental conditions, namely theater pits and on tours. However, anybody who finds themselves having to play outdoor pops series or patriotic concerts might also find this useful!]

This is an article I've been wanting to write for a while, but something happened recently that made it clear that now is the time. One of my very nearest and dearest friends (who also happens to be my roommate) was very recently playing the reed chair in a fantastic high-profile off-Broadway show, and in this show, among the 8 instruments in his book, he played oboe and English horn.

In the frigid air-conditioning of the theater, during a performance (as he began to play a highly exposed solo), his English horn cracked. No, it didn't crack, it EXPLODED. His precious, dark and smooth-voiced English horn, which was the instrument that his beloved mentor and teacher used for her entire career and then came into his employ upon her passing, literally burst at the seams. No fewer than 9 separate cracks happened in the top joint at once, causing what our favorite repair tech called the worst cracking incident he has ever seen in his career. It was so bad that the octave pip and tonehole inserts actually popped out.

Repair Guy did the absolute best he could to repair it, and it does play now, but it is, for all intents and purposes, dead. The beautiful silky voice it had is gone, and it is now a thin, reedy, bright-sounding instrument that bears more resemblance to a shawm than a cor anglais; it can also never be used in a pit again, because the next time it cracks, and it WILL crack again, it will be permanently destroyed. Everything that was once special about this instrument was erased in a fraction of a second, and it is utterly heartbreaking. As every serious musician knows, your instrument is not just a tool, it is part of you; PARTICULARLY when the instrument represents not just itself, but a person who is no longer with us. These kinds of instruments are irreplaceable, and something very much passes forever into the ether when something happens to them.

My friend is now, unfortunately, in the position of having to find a new instrument with which to continue his career, and I am helping him in that search. I am writing this to share with you not only a cautionary tale, but to also perhaps shed some light on some options you may not have known about for instruments that are available to us that will prevent this sort of heartbreak from ever happening.

While violinists who have extremely expensive fine violins will also almost always as a matter of course have a less expensive but serviceable instrument as a backup and for these sorts of gigs -  woodwind players, particularly doublers, rarely have backups to everything in their arsenal. (How many people do you know that have two oboes and English horns, or two bassoons in addition to all the flutes, clarinets, and saxes they must own?) However, just as a violinist wouldn't bring their Strad into a pit, we wind players must also think a bit about what tools we're choosing to use in our day to day work lives. Though it is tempting to have the finest, most beautiful instruments we can get our hands on (I mean, who DOESN'T want a matching set of cocobolo wood Howarth XL oboe/oboe d'amore/EH with gold keys?!), sometimes we need to consider the reality of our playing situations and tailor our instrument choices to our practical needs. The hard truth of the matter is that, for most of us, cracking is an inevitability when we are using wooden instruments in the pit. However, we can completely remove that particular stress from our lives by making choices to play instruments that will not crack, and there are more of those options on the market right now than ever. Gone are the days when non-wood instruments meant we had to make do with terrible-sounding student models.

In this post, I will describe the options available to us for pit-proof piccolos, oboes, English horns, and clarinets, as these are the instruments that most doublers worry about cracking. (Bassoons tend to be just fine, but for those bassoonists who feel left out, here you go: Get a Fox model III with all the extra keywork options your heart desires [I'm a high E/F key, wing Eb trill, Ab/Bb trill key, French whisper key, and gold plating kind of guy, all of which are available on the III], throw on a high-resonance bell in black lacquer finish to match the body, and you're all set! :) )


The non-wood professional-level piccolo options are few, but mighty. Hands down, my recommendation is for the Pearl model 105 in grenaditte. It is extremely well made, has a very even, dark, lovely sound and fantastic intonation, and is extremely affordable at well under $1500. I have played at least a dozen of them, and they are very consistent from one to the next. They're also available with a grenadilla headjoint (though that is where piccolo cracks tend to happen most, so it'd be defeating the purpose), and you can choose between a traditional embouchure and a wave-style, which with its ease of response and free-blowing quality, is particularly handy for those who are not piccolo specialists. I have recommended these to several professional friends, who have all purchased them and are extremely happy with them.

For those who don't mind a less traditional-looking instrument, there are a few very cool-looking options for crackproofing your tooting: Firstly, we have the Guo Grenaditte and New Voice piccs. The Grenaditte is a composite body with black composite keys and silicon pads, and is VERY sleek looking. The body is textured to resemble wood, but the black keys give it a very futuristic appearance. Sound is very wood-like, with even resistance and a great sparkle in the sound, particularly in the top. The New Voice is less expensive, and a bit brighter in voice overall, but still fantastically easy to play and great sounding. They are available in a wide variety of colors, though I'm partial to both the white and the boxwood-colored one. For under 800 bucks, you can hardly go wrong. It beats the standard plastic piccolos in that price range out of the water!

If you have a bit of a bigger budget and want to join the Powell family, the Sonare 750 piccolo is a wonderful option. Made of a beautifully grained laminate wood in two colors (A violetwood/ironwood-looking red called Tuscan Umber and a gray/black they call Indian Onyx), this picc features a stainless steel brushed-finish mechanism with very comfortable square keys. The toneholes themselves are still round, so don't confuse this with the VERY different Lopatin “Square One” instruments. The keys are very comfortable, especially for larger hands, and the sound is pure Powell.

The Roy Seaman/Gemeinhardt “Storm” piccolo is also a good option at a great price, though soundwise, I find it considerably less refined an instrument than the Pearl.

If you've got money to burn and want something REALLY special, consider the Sankyo sterling silver piccolo with soldered tone holes which sounds and plays very much like a little flute, and is really quite a fulfilling playing experience. They're quite expensive, but you are getting a top-notch handmade instrument that will last you forever. (You can also get it heavily plated in 14K rose gold, and who wouldn't want that?!) This ain't your high school metal marching piccolo, that's for sure!


There are a few great options for the clarinetists out there in the crackproof world, and if you're a regular reader of my blog, then you've probably heard of at least a couple of them.

Let's start with the instrument that I played an entire international Broadway tour with, through every extreme of temperature and humidity possible; the Libertas by Tom Ridenour. Made of natural hard rubber and designed by the same mastermind that gave us the Leblanc Opus and Concerto, the Libertas is hands-down, no question, abso*LUTE*ly my top recommendation for an uncrackable pit clarinet. It is extremely in tune, has a beautiful dark sound, plays with great evenness from top to bottom, and is in every respect a professional clarinet. At well under $2,000 with an extremely generous interest-free payment plan option, this clarinet is well within the grasp of ANY musician.

The next model down in the Ridenour lineup, the Lyrique 576bc, is also an excellent instrument with a bit of a different personality than the Libertas (I find it a bit more flexible and perhaps brighter, though not in a bad way. If the Libertas is like the Leblanc Opus, then the 576 feels more like the Leblanc Esprit or Sonata.) At a price point of around $1,000, this is an extremely affordable instrument with huge bang for the buck. The biggest drawback for me with the Ridenour clarinets is that, due to the body composition, the mechanism must be nickel plated (silver and hard rubber are NOT friends), and I tend to react poorly with nickel. However, the R13 is also produced with nickel plating as standard issue, and people seem to be generally alright with that. ;)

Speaking of Buffet, most clarinetists are, of course, familiar with their Greenline instruments, which also present a very viable alternative to wood in climatically unstable situations. They are considerably more expensive (priced exactly the same as their wooden counterparts), though, and have a tendency to shear cleanly in half at the middle tenon, so there is that to consider. They are also quite heavy. However, for the person who has the budget and can handle being extra vigiliant about how they handle the instrument, a Greenline Prestige or Tosca is certainly a lovely thing to have. (Though I find that they tend to be overall much brighter than their grenadilla equivalents, and consequently need a darker-sounding setup.)

There is also the usual compliment of plastic/ABS student-level clarinets, and most of these do the trick quite nicely as a pit horn, especially for the casual player or doubler who is not primarily a clarinetist. The Yamaha 255 is a personal favorite, though if you can find a Vito V40 or Pete Fountain model on eBay or at a local shop in good condition, GET IT. 

British clarinet maker Hanson produces a range of clarinets in a variety of crack-proof materials; Ebonite, which is another term for good ol' hard rubber (like the Ridenours); a material they call "reinforced grenadilla", which is a specially treated wood (I believe it is grenadilla that is impregnated with a resin material to fill all the spaces in the wood), and something they call "BTR", or bi-thermal reinforced grenadilla, which is a mix of grenadilla and ebonite layers that is quite beautiful in addition to being crack-proof. 

The standout in the synthetic-bodied student clarinet market, for me, is the Backun Alpha. I played on one for several months before I got my Libertas, and it really is a great instrument. It is, in fact, probably the best-sounding student clarinet I've played in a very long time. It's remarkably even throughout the range, and has a lovely sound with a bit more personality than one expects from a student model. At around 800 for the base version (with nickel keys), it's also quite a bargain!


Here we come to the reason I'm writing this in the first place; our beloved but tempermental double reeds. Oboists worry about cracks more than just about any other woodwind players, and it's usually for darned good reason. There are, however, quite a few stellar alternatives to laying awake all night wondering if that weird line you saw at that one angle in the light was just particularly noticeable grain structure or the beginnings of the crack that will destroy your life. (At least that's how it feels; the truth is that the majority of cracks are very easily repaired and do not affect the playability of your oboe/EH at ALL. They do, however, affect the resale value and your emotional state. There is also the small chance that the crack WILL hugely impact the way your instrument plays, and if we can avoid this, we probably should.)

We are not going to discuss the plastic student-level oboes, which are generally just as awful as you remember them. Only the truly desperate would resort to a Yamaha 211 or Selmer 1492, but I suppose if the choice was that or no oboe at all...well, I hope you have some REALLY great reeds handy. ;)

For years, the standard bearer in professional-level synthetic oboes has been Fox. I myself played on a Fox 300 oboe (the full-conservatory system professional model in all-plastic construction) and a Fox-Renard 555 English horn (the “intermediate) model, with all keys but a 3rd 8ve and split ring D). They were perfectly lovely instruments that played well, were in tune, and got the job done, always. Do they have any particularly special sound characteristics? Not really. They're great for pit players, though, because you can pick them up, play them, and reasonably expect that you are going to sound like you're playing an oboe or English horn.

There has been some development in recent years, and the late-model 300s that I've played have been really nice instruments. With the right reed, you can really make them do whatever you want, and they are an excellent backup to your main oboe.

The Renard English horn is a FABULOUS instrument that would suit the needs of 98% of the English horn players I have ever met. For those who require something a bit more, the Fox professional English horn is available with either a plastic top joint or an all-plastic body/bell. (Models 510/520 respectively). They are very comfortable ergonomically, and produce quite a large, round sound. I highly recommend these go on all of your short lists of things to try in your search.

Most of the major makers (Loree, Fossati, Marigaux, Rigoutat, Howarth) offer a plastic top joint with their professional models, so this is of course also an option. Howarth does a lovely thing they call the VT models (or “Velvet Throat”), which is a hard-rubber lining in the top joint that includes tonehole inserts, so if the wooden outer body cracks, the bore remains intact and you suffer no change in playing characteristics.

Marigaux makes oboes/d'amores/English horns in a material they call Altuglass, which is a stunning clear synthetic that comes standard with gold keys, and is one of the most delicious sounding things I've heard, ever. There is also an “Altu-Noir”, which looks much more like a traditional black instrument for those of you who aren't the shake-it-up type :)

If you really just can't bear the idea of playing a plastic anything, the Marigaux M2 is a great option for you. It has an innovative structure wherein the upper joint is extremely short and terminates ABOVE the trill keys, which are on the extra-long main body section. Each M2 is supplied with top joints in both wood and resin, and the crack rate between the trill keys (which is the most common place for them to occur) is extremely low with this innovative design. They also sound amazing! (If it's good enough for goddess Diana Doherty...)

If you have deep pockets and some patience, Tom Hiniker makes FABULOUS oboes in acrylic resin that are absolute killers. I have seen them in both clear and black varieties, I'd contact him to see what further options are available.

Previously, I wrote about the Buffet Orfeo oboe, which is probably at the top of the list of instruments I'd pick if I had to buy a synthetic oboe tomorrow. It is simply stunning, with a huge dark creamy sound and impeccable intonation. (I feel considerably less expansive about the standard Greenline Buffet model 3613, but lots of people like it, and it's certainly...a professional instrument). 

One of the most exciting options in the oboe world, and my current personal favorite, is from the Josef company in Japan. They have developed a material they call “LAMI”, which (as you might have inferred) is a laminate material made of a resin-impregnated hardwood that is cut on the spiral axis which results in a long sheet of thin wood/resin material, that is then layered and re-formed into a billet and turned into an instrument. They are STUNNINGLY beautiful, available in five different colors to resemble five different wood species, and they sound absolutely terrific. They are expensive, but so very, very worth it. Jan Eberle is the US agent for Josef, and is very responsive to inquiries.

International reed-making guru K. Ge has also gotten into the oboe-making business, and offers several models in a synthetic material that are of extremely high quality and sound fantastic, at an extremely affordable price. More information on these can be found at the Innoledy website (which is also where you would buy them if you're in the US), and on K. Ge's own site.

Covey oboes are also now available with plastic top joints and inserted tone holes on the wooden models. Well worth a try, though there may be a bit of a wait.  

Yamaha has also entered the lined-top joint market with their Duet+  models, and I'd venture to say that the Yamaha 841 in Kingwood with the lined top joint is one of the finest oboes I've ever had the privilege of plunking a reed into. 

As you can see, there are a plethora of options available in the professional market for crack-proof (or at least resistant) oboes and English horns.  However, many of these are top-level instruments and are quite expensive, so perhaps not entirely practical if you're looking for something as a backup. 

There are wonderful intermediate level instruments that play MORE then well enough to use in professional doubling situations that won't break the bank...

Yamaha's intermediate oboes (the 400 series) have gotten *quite* a lot better in the last several years, and the 441 Duet+ model is a lovely instrument with all the keywork you need to get the job done, and a lovely sweet sound. A synthetic top is of course also available. 

Rigoutat makes a splendid line of instruments called the RIEC (a portmanteau of "Rigoutat" and the French "Ecole", which means "school) that fills the need for a professional-quality instrument at an affordable price. Fossati's equivalent line, the Tiery instruments, are equally well made and sound fantastic. (In fact, I played a Fossati Tiery E30 oboe on a studio cast album several years ago, and it sounds killer!) 

I think I've largely covered what's out there right now, but if I think of additions, I will update accordingly! This should get you started on your search, though, and if you have have any questions, please don't hesitate to shoot me a message and I'll be happy to talk with you! :) 

Best of luck in kicking the crack habit once and for all, friends! ;-) 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

#NFA2015: A Convention Virgin's View

I have no idea why it never happened until last weekend...I mean, I really, really love flutes. A lot. I've been to tons of regional flute fairs, and conventions for nearly every other instrument I play that HAS a convention. (Ask me about the year that I thought I could pull off Schnittke at the American Viola Society Festival...I still have nightmares.) Last summer, I went to both the International Clarinet Association convention AND the International Double Reed Society convention in the same week! 


I have never been to the National Flute Association convention...until now. 

In a hilariously ironic twist of fate, two years ago, the convention was held in New Orleans. Where I, you know, LIVED at the time. I literally could have *walked* from my living room to the hotel in 10 minutes. I didn't go. 


I was performing in Tokyo.  #facepalm (Not that that's exactly a terrible reason...)

So when my dear, lovely friend Betsy Winslow Trimber, proprietrix of the esteemed Flutist's Faire (go ahead, click on it!) in Virginia, asked me over a glass of wine after the last night of the New York Flute Fair a few months ago if I'd be interested in volunteering at her booth this year at NFA, of course I jumped at the chance. Of all the conventions out there, the NFA has always been the one I longed to attend most. 

All that gold! All that platinum! All that wood! Yes, I'll do it! it turned out, however, in addition to the dream-like field of flutes, there was also all that butchered Daphnis! All that mangled Voliere! ALL THE HIGH Cs ON ALL THE PICCOLOS. 

(And I thought the clarinet convention last year was bad, with all those horrific Rhapsody in Blue smears.)

But I digress. Though my primary function at the NFA this year was to man Betsy's table of wonders (she had some KILLER flutes that I'll tell you about in a bit), I did manage to do a bit of wandering and discovery. I didn't try nearly as many flutes as I'd thought I might, but I did make sure to hit a couple of things that were DEFINITELY on my list. 

Let us start with a couple of the products that were new for NFA this year that I found particularly noteworthy (and before we begin, I must disclaim as always that I am in no way being compensated or coerced into writing any of this; these are purely opinions of my own formation): 


Sweet mother of Barbra, this thing has singlehandedly changed the bass flute game forever. Sankyo has created a bass flute that is actually capable of projection in the lower register! This bass has a huge sound, down to the low B (LOW B!), and plays with an almost C-flute-like homogeneity and ease of response the whole way up to the top of the third octave. Gone is that weird woofy, boomy. hollow bassflute sound in the middle octave, the weak, buzzy, anemic bottom octave, and the screamy, edgy, wine-bottle-overtone top octave. It is truly a joy to play, and the redesigned ergos are an absolute dream. The teardrop-shaped key touches are incredibly comfortable, and ideally spaced. The footjoint keys are easily reached, and it balances beautifully in the left hand. It's silver-plated except for the lip and riser, which are sterling, so it isn't nearly as heavy as it looks. At $15,000, you'd have to do some HARD justifying to buy one (unless you have that cash just lying around), since there isn't exactly a ton of rep for the bass flute outside of the flute choir/jazz/contemporary music world, but if those particular spheres are your thing, and you can afford it, BUY THIS DAMN THING. (Then let me borrow it, pretty please?) It really does make every other bass flute out there just feel...depressing. 

Then again, it's a Sankyo, so what did you expect? ;-) #TeamSankyo 

The Bernhard HAMMIG "Mezzo" MK II 

You may recall that when I first started this blog, one of the very first instruments I wrote about was the Hammig "Mezzo" flute, which I tried at Betsy's table at the Richmond Flute Fair back in December of 2012, and I absolutely raved about it. 

Well, Jason Blank and Bernhard Hammig have been hard at work in their secret underground lab (I'm making that part up), and have released a new version of the Mezzo called the MK II, which has a .950 silver body and is priced exactly at the Muramatsu GX/entry pro flute price point (just about $6,000 even). Now, from previous blogs, you all know how I feel about high-purity silver alloys (I love them), so I knew I was going to like this instrument. What I didn't know was just how MUCH I was going to like this instrument, and how different it is from the previous generation. 

There aren't really adequate adjectives to describe the complexity of the sound of this flute. It is so colorful that at times it seems like you'll never find the right place and time to use all of those colors; there are so many ways you can go with the sound. It also packs an enormous amount of power, particularly with the new headjoint cut that Jason and Bernhard have come up with. The prior BH heads were a more traditional, oval-style that required you to have a pretty serious grasp on what you were doing already in order to get the most out of it; the new head is geared to the Bigger, Louder, Edgier American style of playing, but without sacrificing the tonal palette that they created these flutes to provide. I love them both, but I would be lying to your face if I said I didn't wish I could have walked out of the Marriott with the new cut. The BTUs you can crank out of this thing could burn a house down. I remember standing at their booth (which was at the very end/beginning of a long row on the far side of the exhibit hall) and playing Brahms 1 with as much air as I could force out of my rather colossal lungs, and not only did the sound never flatten or break, but I'm pretty sure people at the other end of the hall turned to look and see what the f*k just happened. (Or maybe they were just glad it wasn't Daphnis or Mozart G, I dunno...) 

The point is, wow. With the stock 95% silver setup, you're getting a flutefetti cannon. 

Then I started messing around with gold headjoints. 

I still haven't recovered. 

Jason has recently taken delivery of a 95% silver handmade custom Hammig flute with one of his unreal 22K yellow gold headjoints for use as his own personal instrument. He let me take this headjoint and put it on the MK II, and I'm pretty sure I cried.

 First of all, the 22K headjoint is un. believably. beautiful. I know most of you out there are like "Ugh, yellow gold, GROSS! #Rosegoldplz", but I happen to find yellow gold stunning. (On a fun note, unlike the other 22K gold head out there, the Lafin, this one does NOT come with a rosegold 14K lip/crown, but is actually ALL 22K yellow gold. #baller) 

Secondly, it is the flutey equivalent of what happens when you make Bruce Banner mad. There is not an orchestra on earth you could not bury with this thing, Bruckner be damned. With this headjoint, you are king of the world. 

It's also $13,000, so if you can afford it, you probably really ARE the king of the world.

I then put on the BH 15% gold head (which I have also previously raved about) with a gold riser, and it felt like someone had reached into my brain, pulled out my dream flute sound, and spun it into an instrument. Just like with the 15% gold head I had on the Mezzo M1 that Jason and Betsy sent me a couple years ago, it was the perfect match to my playing style, but the gold riser added a bit of assertiveness that maybe wasn't quite as easy to achieve without it. (I blow big, I can't help it. Have you SEEN my ribcage?) 

The ergos on this one are also fantastic...Jason has redesigned the G# key to be much longer and at a more natural angle for the left hand pinky, and the right hand pinky cluster just sits there right under the finger like a patient puppy. He's also redesigned the keycups to be a bit more traditional-looking, as opposed to the contemporary Powell 3100-like design of the Hammig custom and prior generation Mezzos (which, frankly, I like better. It's gorgeous, and lets you know that you are playing something special that stands out from the pack!) 

There are one or two more developments with this flute in the works (Jason is redesigning the C# trill key, for example. I'm REALLY looking forward to the result of that experiment, because as we all know, I find that key absolutely imperative on a flute, and wouldn't seriously consider purchasing a flute without one.) 

I gotta say, though, Sexy Readers, if you're in the market for a new flute and you want something that just might be your Forever Flute but can't cough it up for gold or a $13,000 soldered-tone-hole silver Brannen et al, you really, REALLY need to try one of these. Either contact Jason directly via Bernhard Hammig North America, or reach out to one of the nicest guys in the biz, Bill Hutzel, who owns The Flute Loft in New Jersey and is a dealer for the complete Hammig line (including the AMAZEBALLS Magic Crown as well as the handmade flutes). The vixenous Betsy Trimber of The Flutist's Faire can also hook you up...she's also a great resource for getting your hands on a Hammig custom headjoint, as she has some in her current stock for immediate trial/purchase. TRY THEM.

Any one of them would be happy to figure out how to get one of these puppies in your hands for a trial! 


So we've talked about the Mezzo, now let's talk about Bernhard's custom flutes, painstakingly and brilliantly crafted by him in his workshop in Lahr, Germany. There were several on offer, including the personal 9k rose gold flute of one of my favorite NYC-area solo flutists who I finally had the incredible pleasure of meeting in person, the stunningly beautiful Carla Lancellotti Auld, who had Bernhard build her a flute last year (and sounds INCREDIBLE on it!), which she generously donated to the table for the duration of the convention so that people could try it. In addition to Carla's flute, there was also...are you ready for this...a 9k WHITE GOLD flute! I have never, ever in all the years I have been flute-obsessed seen a 9k white gold alloy. There were also several silver flutes (.943 and .950), and what may have been my favorite...a wooden one. 

The silver ones (including Jason Blank's personal flute) were all like turbo-version of the .950 Mezzo. Color and power to spare, and much more satisfying to play than your average sterling silver flute. (I kind of hate sterling silver, but I think we've covered that before). 

Carla's 9K flute (with 14K headjoint) gave me goosebumps and a serious case of Flute Envy. It was like what I'd imagine driving a Porsche for the first time would be like...if I knew how to drive. Smooth, but always a sense of the potential power humming right underneath the surface. When that power is finally unleashed (Brahms 1 again; it's my default test for How Obnoxious Can I Get Before This Sounds Bad), it does not disappoint. There is a sort of shimmer on top of the sound that I think you can only really get from a low-karat gold, but it's a dark kind of shimmer, very unlike that of silver. Sort of like purple glitter, I would say. 

Side note: It is virtually impossible to crack an E6 on a Hammig flute.

As much as I loved Carla's pink beauty, when I picked up the 9k white gold, I seriously just about died. The difference in density and hardness between the two alloys was very apparent in the sound. Whereas the rose 9K alloy was sensuous but assertive and sort of silky (like Carla herself, actually!), the white gold was direct, piquant, and sort of...bossy. I loved it. Literally could not put it down, and the only thing that made me stop playing it was how badly I wanted to get my hands on the wood flute. 

The wood flute he had with him was a classic grenadilla flute with a gorgeous bulb-style headjoint (kind of like a huge piccolo), and good lord, was it everything I had hoped for! I took it into the soundproof booth that Jason had brought along and gave it a good spin. This flute is the perfect example of why we must take wood flutes seriously as an option for not just solo and chamber, but orchestral playing. The wood Hammig PROJECTS, but with a burnished sound that could easily make one weep. Highs are extremely easy to control and spin, and you can flap pant legs with the low notes if you wish. I would very, very much love to hear someone play Bolero in an orchestra on this flute! It is also really quite reasonably priced for a handmade wooden instrument, right in line with the Sankyo and Powell flutes. Gold mechanism and gold-plated mechanism are options, as are full engraving, rollers, a C# trill, and COCUSWOOD! :-) (This makes me happy) He only has enough cocus for five more flutes, though, so buy one now (and one for me, please. I'd love you forever.) 

There was also a wooden headjoint made to fit a silver flute, and it was exactly what I'd expected from Bernhard. I have a feeling one might be finding its way into my house sooner rather than TJ needs a sibling! :) 


I've been trying to figure out for quite some time what to say about Lev Levit and David Houston's flutes, because I want to make sure that I accurately convey how special they are. Ever since the morning my friend Jesse Han and I visited their hotel room the day after the New York Flute Fair and tried a wide range of their flutes and headjoints, I've been fixated on these instruments. Like the Hammig flutes, the Levit instruments possess a color spectrum that you just do NOT find on the vast majority of flutes being made today. This is not to say that our friends in Boston are not turning out incredible flutes, because they are, but every once in a while, you come across a flute that has a very different voice, and speaks to a very special sort of individualistic player, and I think that Levit has done just that. 

Lev and David have between them a combined 40+ years of experience in the flutemaking industry, having worked extensively for both Brannen and Powell. The Levit flute is in fact built upon the foundation of the Oston-Brannen flute, which was the original Kingma system flute. Lev first began his flute company with the production of a Kingma system flute, and expanded to offer standard flutes as well, in silver and gold. A tireless experimenter, Lev has developed a new acoustical design for the flute, which he calls the Modified Acoustic. These flutes are more colorful, provide greater projection with less work, and are near-flawlessly in tune compared to a large number of flutes on the market. 

I have played about a dozen of the Levit flutes, in both gold and silver, Traditional and Modified acoustic, standard and Kingma systems, and I would be more than happy to put on a blindfold, pick up any one of them, and play it for the rest of my life. 

It truly is nearly impossible to describe these flutes, so visit their website at Levit Flutes, or contact my amazing friend Joan Sparks at the Flute Pro Shop, the exclusive dealer for Levit Flutes, and get one on trial. Now. Seriously, you have to. I said so. (She has a particularly special Levit in stock right now, #114, for an absurdly delicious price for a 14K gold flute. My birthday is Sept. 29th...thanks in advance! ;-) ) 


So, with the gold-layered alloy craze that is sweeping the flute world (Powell started it with their Aurumite, and now Haynes and Burkart are each offering their own versions of a gold and silver tube fused together), it was only a matter of time before other makers started experimenting with it. English flute superstars Trevor James have just joined in that particular game, and while they are currently working on both 9k and 14K gold fused tubes with both gold-inside and gold-outside versions, the 14K Inside version was on display at NFA this year. 

If you've been following the blog lately, you'll know that I have developed a very close relationship with Trevor James in the past year, and am just a HUMONGOUS fan of their flutes. So, naturally, it was with great excitement that I tried this particular prototype...I don't think I was quite prepared for how well they'd pulled it off, though. This flute is really, really good. It had all the complexity of the Powell 14K Aurumite flute with perhaps just a bit more lightness, and there was a really nice mellowness to the upper register that I enjoyed. I think with a gold lip and/or riser, this flute will be an absolute monstrous beast that will make the world sit up and take very strong notice of TJ as a maker of fully-professional flutes and not just student/intermediate models. 

I am so, so excited to try the 9K and gold-outside versions, I can hardly stand it! Stay tuned for updates on this whole project :) 


I was first exposed to the lefreQue acoustic bridges last year, when I played a production of Into The Woods, and our bassoonist had all these strange-looking contraptions on his instrument. I had briefly read about them online, so I knew what they were, but I had never met anybody who had them, and certainly never seen them in real life. I was intrigued, and he swore by them, so I decided to investigate further...

Well, they work, kids. They work amazingly well. I won't bore you with a long scientific explanation of how they work, but the basic premise is that all of our instruments come apart in pieces, right? Well, when you put these pieces together, they don't magically fuse into one unbroken tube, so they don't vibrate like one. 

The lefreQues are, in essence, acoustic wave bridges that assist in the propagation of vibrations from one section of our instruments to the next. They are offered in a wide selection of materials, all with slightly different properties, and they really do make a difference. 

At NFA last weekend, I tried them on a couple of different flutes, including a gold-bonded Muramatsu that I really loved but also felt had some stifled potential; I put the lefreQues on it between the headjoint and the barrel, and it felt like I had picked up a different flute. The overtones were more present, the dynamic range was larger, and it was all-around just more fun to play. It seemed like I had more control over what was coming out of it, and I would also swear in a court of law that it was more in tune. 

Definitely worth a try, and overall, not a terribly large amount of money for a potentially large improvement to your musical life. (Certainly less than buying a new flute, or even a new headjoint!) 

That's about all for the new/noteworthy stuff that I tried (as I said, I really didn't get much of a chance at all to attack the exhibit hall in an organized way and try everything), but now I'd like to discuss some of the wonderful and interesting instruments I played at various tables, many of which I've written about before, but have formed deeper opinions on. 


I will start with the whole reason I was there at all...the Flutist's Faire. Betsy does a great job of curating interesting instruments to offer, and she had a gem-laden collection at NFA this year. Of her high-end offerings, first and foremost was a flute she had on consignment from a German collector, a very interesting (and heavy!) platinum flute by German maker Gerhard Sachs, who you may recall from my wooden flute blog. This thing was a BEAST. The body was platinum, and everything that attached to it (ribs, rings, toneholes, lip, riser, crown) was 14K rose gold. The mechanism is gold also, but appears to be a mixture of rose and pale yellow or white gold. The LH1 C key was also open holed, even though there is no tonehole under that key. It felt very cool, and sort of made sense, I guess, in that the rest of your fingers sit on open holes, so why not make them all feel the same? It had a huge voice, very dark sound, and was a bit difficult to play for all but the strongest air columns. Definitely not a flute for the casual flutist or small player, but for SOMEONE, this will be an absolute dream flute. Yours for only $60,000! :-) 

Next in line, from that same German collector, was a very special all-14K gold closed-hole Powell, from the era when the barrels were still engraved with the logo and not the body. The headjoint had Powell's new Adler-esque wings, so it was either a new headjoint, or they had been added post-production. This flute, despite its all gold construction, had a very sweet voice with a lot of character, and really liked to float in the upper register. At $33,000, it is actually an extremely good deal for an all gold flute! It features a B foot, offset G, and split E mechanism. 

After that we had my next favorite flute after the platinum, a 14K gold Powell from a similar vintage era as the previous, with a silver mechanism, inline G, C# trill key, and B foot. (Open holes this time). THIS flute was really something; I don't know exactly what it was, but I connected with it almost instantly on a very deep level. The headjoint style was very old-school, in that it was quite oval and on the smallish side, with very little under/overcutting. Very colorful instrument, not an ENORMOUS voice, but would be quite suitable for pit work, soloing, or chamber orchestra. An excellent instrument for the recording artist. It is also only $19,000, which makes it an unbelievably once-in-a-lifetime deal for someone looking for a gold Powell. 

Rounding out the consignment-gold-Powell-family on offer were not one but TWO 9K Aurumite Powell 3100 flutes, both priced at an insanely reasonable $6,500, both with the P style headjoint, and both with absolutely killer huge sounds. These are very popular with doublers/jazz players, and are a wonderful, wonderful flute for the college student or adult amateur who wants the look and sound of gold with that Powell sound, but can't afford the scratch for a new 9K Aurumite Conservatory, which will now run you north of ten thousand dollars. The mechanism of the 3100 is also very, very cool looking! :) 

In the same price category, she had one of the last gold-bonded Muramatsu flutes (once called the "Galaxy" series) that they made before they phased them out. This one is very Japanese spec, with a B-foot, open holes, inline G, and nothing else. It plays like a dream, with a beautiful, sweet, colorful sound from bottom to top. This particular flute benefitted enormously from the addition of a pair of lefreQue plates, so I'd recommend adding them if you decide to purchase this instrument. It is, I believe, $6,400-ish, which is basically free. Plus, they don't make them anymore, so there's that. 

Rounding out the higher-end flutes that I loved the most was a family of Burkart flutes: a 9k-on-silver Pro model, a heavy-wall sterling silver Pro model, a .998 Elite, and a 595 (5% platinum, 95% silver) Elite. These are all incredible flutes, but I want to focus particularly on the 595 and the 998 flutes...they have very different personalities, but both of them are monster flutes that are just begging to find a home with a professional symphony player. 

The 595 was my preference of the two, as the platinum content gives it a roaring voice that is full of color and heft, and when paired with the 595 headjoint with gold riser, you will get anything you ever needed out of a flute in an orchestra. Just be aware that you have to be able to handle it; it takes a lot of air to get the most out of this flute, but it's very worth the work. 

The .998 silver (99.8% pure silver) flute is like playing a singing rainbow. The color spectrum is intense, and every note seems to have a heat-shimmer on top of it. Legatos are effortless, and the "spin" is unreal, particularly when paired with a C4 style head in .998 silver with a 14K gold riser. (I found the M2 style to be a bit overwhelming with this particular flute.) If you REALLY want to treat yourself, a 9K Hammig headjoint turns this into a magic wand. I would particularly recommend this flute to the orchestral 2nd flute player who needs to be conscious of blending and changing tone colors easily to match their principal, but without sacrificing volume when needed. 

All of Betsy's Burkarts have a B-foot, open holes, offset G, and a C# trill key. (What I refer to as the "New American Standard" configuration, and my personal preference). 

Another instrument that she had on her table that I found myself going back to often, which I have also previously written about, was the Trevor James Recital "Aria" model flute, which features a sterling silver body, sterling handmade Flutemakers' Guild of London headjoint, silver-plated mechanism, and soldered tone holes. With C# trill and D# roller, this flute comes in at UNDER $4200, and is an absolute killer for anybody who wants some Real Flute meat but can't afford the 5-figure flutes. It plays unbelievably well, and everyone I asked to try it had the same reaction: disbelief. Trevor James is really, really upping their game in a huge way right now, and this model is definitely part of that trend. They are no longer just a maker of basic student-model flutes; they are rapidly becoming a serious contender in the Big Boy Flute market. 

Betsy also maintains a fantastic stock of Burkart Resona and Elite piccolos. If I were in the market for a piccolo right now, the Resona would almost 100% be my pick. I never fail to be amazed by the performance-to-price ratio of this instrument; for just over 2K, you are getting a wooden US-made piccolo that plays like a $7000 instrument. (The wave headjoint makes it a particularly pleasing experience for the occasional piccolo player who does not specialize on the instrument). 

If it's headjoints you're looking for, well, she is the LADY. From a fabulous platinum-and-gold Haynes to a huge selection of handmade wooden headjoints by Dutch maker Jan Junker (which are killer heads!), and everything in between, including a large selection of gold headjoints from Powell, Burkart, Dana Sheridan, and others, you just must give her a ring! 


Next up for discussion is the inimitable Joan Marsh Sparks' baby, the Flute Pro Shop (click here!). Joan always, always has an amazing assortment of treasures, and this weekend was no exception. The centerpiece of her booth was a one-of-a-kind all-gold Muramatsu flute, #40000, which was built as a show flute for the brand and was never intended to be sold, but instead to be used as a demonstration of the pinnacle of Muramatsu's flutemaking art. All engraved, with an additional 24K gold headjoint, it certainly attracted attention in its Lucite display case! (And, though it has never been on offer before, for $275,000, it can be yours! Own a piece of flute history today...and then lemme borrow that flute.) 

What she brought to the convention this year was a veritable Sophie's Choice of flute babies. Had I walked over there with a no-financial-consideration bank account, I don't know what I would have done. Here's a short list of the things she had that keep me awake at night, in no particular order: 

Levit 14K gold flute #114: This flute is the ne plus ultra of the American flutemakers' art. Priced well below $20,000, this flute is almost literally a steal. Barely used by someone who has defected to another maker (hrmph, marketing!), this flute is BEGGING for an owner who will break it in and love it forever. It is just unparalleled. (AND IT'S GOLD!) 

Miyazawa Platinum-clad body with a sterling head w/platinum riser: This flute is just fascinating! I've not come across many platinum-clad Miyas, but here's one! Fully loaded with options, this flute is a screamer. Big, bold, beautiful voice in all registers, the un-platinum-ed sterling head lightens up the whole thing a bit, but the platinum riser gives it some meatiness and allows you to spin the power out of the platinum-clad body. (Mechanism is also platinum plated!) 

Platinum Brannen with silver mechanism: This is exactly what you'd expect from a platinum Brannen flute. I very much enjoyed playing it, and would think this would be much beloved by a big dude who loves to blow hard. (Or a lady with iron lungs; let's not be sexist here!) 

9K Muramatsu with 14K Mancke head w/wood lip and 14K riser: This flute. Wow. Previously used by stellar flutist Sergio Pallotelli, who has since switched to wood, this flute is just a total killer. It's resonant, it's colorful, you could knock down walls with it, and it's just super, super fun to play. The wood-lipped Mancke head is extremely comfortable on the face, and the gold riser inside the wood lends crispness and immediacy to the articulation, which can sometimes be a challenge of wood. It's just over $21K, which is a completely okay price for a flute of this caliber. This and the Levit would be the ones I'd recommend the most out of Joan's offerings from the weekend! 

5K Sankyo headjoint: One of the rarest flute-world items I've come across, this is an UNPLATED 5K gold Sankyo headjoint. For those of you who remember when Sankyo was using the 5K gold alloy, almost all of the flutes/heads produced in it were then plated in 18K rose gold; this headjoint did not receive that treatment, and possesses a glowing, champagne-like luster that would look absolutely breathtaking on a silver body. 

Muramatsu 14K gold with 5k gold mechanism: God, where do I even start with this thing? I don't really know what else to say about it except I would kill a leprechaun with his own pot of gold to own this flute. I didn't even know Muramatsu USED 5K gold...this flute is crazy good. Huge sound, tons of color, the mechanism is flawless, and the paler shade of the 5K mech on the 14K rose body is mind-blowingly pretty. The lip is gorgeously engraved, and it's $32,000, which is seriously not horrible for an all-gold instrument with engraving, a C# trill key, and D# roller. 

Joan, you killed it this year! :) 


I know I've already talked about the bass flute, but Sankyo had a few other tricks up their sleeve that made me scream a little bit inside. In addition to their regular offerings in the silver line (up to and including the 99.7% pure silver 901), they brought two different models of 10K gold (drawn and soldered), two 14K/silver flutes, and one all-14K gold flute. They were, as expected, incredible, and just reaffirmed why I've been a Sankyo player for literally my entire career. I still feel the most at home when I'm blowing into a Sankyo RT headjoint, no matter what it's made of. 

However, they also had some very, very, very special treats for me this year. 

Wood. Lots of it. Two grenadilla flutes, one with a 14K gold mechanism, and not one, but TWO cocuswood flutes, one with a silver mechanism, the other...well the other is possibly the most special flute I have ever played in my life. 

This flute was made by Kikuo Hisakura, the late president and co-founder of Sankyo Flutes, an absolute visionary and flutemaking genius who lived for the flute and the art of making them. He sadly left us in 2009, but he left behind this flute, which he made for himself. It is the most beautifully figured and highly colored cocuswood I have ever seen, and it has both B and C footjoints and two different headjoint styles, one with a lipplate and one traditional style...and a 14K rose gold mechanism. I have honestly, in all my years of obsessively seeking out unique flutes, never seen anything this beautiful. 

(Photo courtesy of Yuka Honda/Sankyo Flutes)

It wasn't even on display. It was hidden beneath the table, and when Yuka Honda (Sankyo's Director of Marketing) pulled it out and opened the case, I was actually afraid for a split second that I was going to cry. I still cannot believe that I was afforded the honor of playing this flute. I don't know what to say about it, but I think a picture says a thousand words, so here is a photo that Liz Vergili, the US Sales Manager of Sankyo, took of me both while I was playing it and then after. 

I don't think I've been this happy, perhaps ever: 

I mean, LOOK AT THAT HEADJOINT! I literally cannot even. Thank you, Liz and Yuka...I will never, ever forget this. 

There are so, so many more instruments and accessories I wanted to try, but fear not, I will get to them one way or another! The biggest takeaway for me from this convention, which I honestly did not anticipate, was the people. I met a staggering number of people that I have heretofore only known in cyberspace, either on Facebook, Instagram, or via my blog. So, to all of you, I say thank you...thank you for being my friend online, and thank you all for being EVEN MORE wonderful in real life. I adore you all! (If I forget anybody, I am so, so sorry, I don't mean to!) 

And of course, as ever, it was a delight to run into friends I just don't see's to spending more time together soon! (*cough* Guilherme Andreas, Eric Maul, Rachel Hacker, Paula Robison, Joan Sparks, Kristen Michelle, Betsy Trimber, Felipe Tristan, Lev Levit, David Houston, Luke Penella!)

Big, huge, giant flutey hugs to Ethan Lin, Liz Vergili, Yuka Honda, Cathy Miller (OH MY GOD CATHY MILLER), Zachariah Galatis, Bill Hutzel, Jason Blank, Bernhard Hammig, Ted Anton, Johnathan Bernhardt, Adam Workman, Tracy Harris, Carla Lancellotti Auld, Delandria Mills, Kate Ridlon Fish, Andrea "Fluterscooter" Fisher, Nora Epping, Rebecca Ashe, Jonathan Landell, Hans Kuijt, Ervin and Susan Monroe, and anyone else I may be forgetting right now! 

See you all next year in San Diego!