Wooden't It Be Lover-ly: FIN!

In the last two posts, we learned a bit about ten modern-day makers of wooden Boehm-system flutes, which seems like a pretty sufficient number of options, ja?

Flutists, however, are among the most spoilt-for-choice musicians in the universe, because THERE ARE MORE! (yay!) 

When last we saw each other, we were taking a trip around Europe and having a look at who's making what over there. Now, we'll pop back over here for a bit and learn about a couple of US makers who have been turning it OUT on the wood flute scene for quite some time; then, we'll fly back across the pond and wrap it up! :) 



One of the most instantly recognizable wooden flutes we'll talk about are the works of art created by Chris Abell, in Asheville, NC. The instant you see one, you can tell it is an Abell by the extremely thick metal ferrules at the headjoint/barrel and body/foot connections. The RH3 D key is situated completely within the lower body ferrule, which lends tremendous reinforcement to these areas of the flute which are particularly vulnerable to splitting. (See photo below)

Of all of the flutes I have discussed so far in this series, the Abell is the only one I have personally owned. For a period of slightly over a year, I played on an Abell flute, and I really, REALLY liked it. This is a flute that very much has a personality of its own, and there is a bit of a discovery process with it. I was also playing concurrently on gold at the time, and whether it was just the ignorance of youth or that I just wasn't ready yet as a flutist to tame the Abell, I found myself playing on the gold more, so I sold the Abell. 

A much younger, thinner me with my Abell. :-) 

Now I wish I hadn't. Looking back, I know now what I should have done on that particular instrument to get the most out of it, but at the time I was either too dumb or lazy to do it. Ah, hindsight! The Abell is a flute of extraordinary richness and body in the sound, and physically it's a rather imposing instrument. There is very much a sort of masculinity about the flute that is quite reassuring and comforting when holding it; it really lets you know its there! The low range on this flute is one of the beefiest and most resonant of any I've ever played, and it is capable of infinite sweetness in the upper reaches. 

If you visit the Abell website (and you should), Abell Flutes, you will see that the instrument is offered only in grenadilla wood, but if you contact Chris directly, it is possible to have an instrument built in other woods. I have seen Abell flutes and headjoints in pink ivory, mopani, and cocobolo wood. Another fabulous feature of this instrument is that it can be ordered with a C# trill key!

The Abell flute in pink ivory wood!! 

Let's listen to a couple of my favorite flutists play on their Abells-

First up is Irish flutist Aisling Agnew, who is one of my go-to Youtube flute channels, performing my personal favorite Teleman Fantasie (the A minor): 

How about that sound, eh? :) 

Next up, let's hear international sensation Patrick Gallois playing some Mozart on his very special Abell, borne of a collaboration between Mr. Abell and supergenius flutemaker Leonard Lopatin and his SquareONE design: 

I think this has got to be one of my absolute favorite performances of the 2nd movement of the Mozart K.299 of all time! 

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:

Check out an Abell if you get a chance, I think you'll enjoy it!



Seattle-based flutemaker Alexander Eppler has been in the business of wood flutes for 30 years, making him the longest continuously-working maker of wood Boehm flutes currently operating. (Also noteworth is that Mr. Eppler was the very first Straubinger-certified flute technician, and uses only Straubinger pads in all of his flutes).

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...


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!



From the pastoral countryside of Sonnenbühl, in southern Germany, come the gorgeous flutes of Gerhard Sachs. A relative newcomer to the global flute market (though not entirely unknown; in my Richmond Flute Fair blog recap, I described playing one of his gold headjoints), he does not yet have a website, but flute retailer Just Flutes, in England, currently has in stock 3 of his flutes, 2 in incredibly beautiful cocuswood (one open hole, one closed hole) and one in grenadilla. 

Visit Just Flutes: Wood Flutes for detailed photos and pricing information! The open holed cocus one in particular is ridiculously beautiful! (see below, photo credit: Just Flutes)



Also from Germany, we have beautiful handcrafted wood flutes from Harry Gosse, whose flutes are played by prominent members of many symphony orchestras around the Continent. I have never played one, so I can't say much about them other than they exist, and he has a lovely website :) They are beautiful, though, as are his silver and gold flutes, and I'm including them for the sake of being as thorough as possible in this project! :) 

Read more about them (it's ok if you don't speak German, Google does and it'll translate for you :) ) at his website: http://www.boehmfloete.de/, and go like him on Facebook! Gosse Flutes On Facebook!


I think this, while not 100% comprehensive (I'm bound to have missed someone!), has been a fairly accurate representation of the current Boehm wooden flute market. As we've seen, for those of us who have discovered the special magic of the sound of a wood flute, the options are greater than ever for obtaining a new instrument. 

I would like to finish by quickly touching on a few recent makers of wood flutes who are unfortunately no longer producing instruments, whether through discontinuation or (very unfortunately) having become deceased. 

Most well known of these is probably the Wm. S. Haynes company's late 1990s "Jacques Zoon" model, developed as a collaboration between then-president-and-owner of Haynes, John Fuggetta, and then-principal flutist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Jacques Zoon. Jacques was (and is) a player and lover of the wood flute, and approached Haynes to work with him on making a modern wood instrument. They made but a scant dozen or so (maybe 2 dozen?) of these before discontinuing production. Truly ahead of their time! One of my current favorite young flute stars, Sebastian Jacot, plays this Haynes flute with a handmade Jacques Zoon headjoint. (Jacques was his teacher). 

Hear this miracle of wood and silver here: 

Another sad discontinuation story is that of Robert Bigio, famed former Flutemaker's Guild of London member who makes some of the best damn wood heads I have ever played on, who also made complete flutes for a time, but has retired from flutemaking to focus entirely on headjoints, according to his website, Bigio Flutes.  (Incidentally, he is also considered the world's foremost authority on the flutes of the Rudall Carte company, from which the FMG was born)

Still, I'm sure they will pop up on the secondhand market occasionally...SNAP THEM UP IF YOU SEE THEM!! 

And perhaps the saddest of the stories I have to relate is that of Koichi Sakurai, hands down one of the most brilliant flutemakers and flute-ventors to have existed since Boehm and Lot. A Japanese maker (remember THAT blog entry? :) ), Sakurai absolutely LIVED to experiment with various materials in flutemaking, and in addition to sterling silver, higher-purity silver alloys, 10% gold, platinum, a compound he called Black Silver, ceramics, DuPoint Corian, and a new laminate called "Complite", Sakurai-san also worked in woods. Lots of woods. He used Macassar ebony (Diospyros celebica), black ebony, kingwood, cocuswood, SNAKEWOOD(!), blue ebony, jacaranda, tulipwood, Rio rosewood, Honduran rosewood, African rosewood (bubinga), freaking PERSIMMON WOOD...the man used everything. He figured out a way to treat the wood to stabilize it for making flutes, and seemed to be doing quite a job of it. 

Tragically, Mr. Sakurai passed away March 30th of last year. :( I never met him, but I cannot express how saddened I am by his passing, and thoughts of all the incredible flutes he'll never make, and all of the innovation he won't pass on to the flute world. 

One of the most special flutes I have ever played in my entire life was one of Sakurai's snakewood flutes (with gold keys, of course), and I would give an internal organ to find that flute again and own it. 

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

Rest in peace, Sakurai-san! 

Looking to the future, though, there is some exciting work being done by the Guo flute company, in their Grenaditte and New Voice materials, which are aiming to give the sound of wood with the projection and brilliance of metal, and the light weight of plastic composites. I've played many of these flutes, and they are truly something to be reckoned with! They're also incredibly, incredibly affordable!! 

This is me testing out a New Voice flute in Japan:

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).

The more muted variety of New Voice flute colors...

The Grenaditte flute is available only in black, with either black or white polymer mechanism. This compound is of a slightly different composition than the New Voice, and sounds a bit more on the wooden side of the spectrum. 

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!


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