Flute and Head Joint Materials
Materials Used in Flutes
Nickel Silver - Nickel Silver actually does not contain any Silver. Also known as German Silver and white Brass, this alloy of Copper, Zinc and Nickel is used throughout most student model instruments. It is also the choice for key work on mid-level instruments in order to keep costs down without sacrificing sonic qualities.
Silver - Silver is the most common material used in flute making. Many different alloys of silver are available. When the silver is designated by a number such as 950 or 998, this indicates the silver content. For instance, the 950 Silver used by Nagahara flutes is 95.0% Pure Silver. The 998 Silver used by Burkart flutes is 99.8% Pure Silver. Generally, higher pure silver content adds more resistance, which can lead to a slightly warmer or darker sound. Here are some common Silver alloys being used in flutemaking.
Coin Silver - Typically 90% Silver (sometimes 80%). Since Coin Silver is more prone to tarnish than other silver alloys, it is often plated over.
Sterling Silver - 92.5% Pure Silver. This metal serves as the standard of fine flutemakers worldwide.
Britannia Silver - 95.8% Pure Silver. This silver provides a slightly darker tonal quality than sterling. It is available on several Altus and Miyazawa models. Altus calls it Britannia and Miyazawa calls it 958 Silver, though the material is the same. The name Britannia derives from the fact that this metal served for coinage in England from 1697 to 1719.
.946 Altus Silver™ - This alloy consists of 94.6% silver and 18 precious metals, including small amounts of platinum and gold. Exclusive to Altus, it possesses many of the rich tonal attributes of the old French master flute makers, most notably Louis Lot's famous flutes. (Text provided by Altus flutes.)
Because most fine flutes are built with openholes, the selection of flutes available is many times greater. If one insists on plateau, he/she may have to special order a flute and might be required to pay before knowing if the flute meets expectations. Openhole flutes can be used as plateau flutes by inserting plugs in them.
We ship all flutes with plugs so that a musician new to French openholes can easily play the instrument. One can remove a plug at a time until the technique and feel is developed. I recommend taking out the A first then the F. From there, take out the E. Lastly, remove the 3rd fingers, either the G or D first depending on the individual. Since openhole flutes are the standard, they will retain their resale value.
Aurumite - Consists of a Gold tube fused to a Sterling Silver tube. This is a Powell trademark name and they use a patented technology to produce this metal. Tonally, Aurumite leans towards the dark, lush sound of solid Gold.
Gold - Gold flutes are prized for their warm tone. Denser than Silver, when alloyed with other metals (Copper, etc.) Gold is also harder. Different karat tells of the volume of pure Gold to alloyed metals. Don’t confuse this with carat, a weight measurement for gems. Gold is normally alloyed with Copper, but can be alloyed with Silver and other material as well. The higher pure Gold content, the darker, warmer the sound. Pure Gold is 24K, but this metal would not easily form tubes, etc. Most practical alloys are 14K or less. Price follows purity.
Gold-Silver (GS) Alloy - An innovative composition made of 10 percent gold and 90 percent silver. Highly tarnish resistant, GS alloy combines the brilliance of silver with the textural warmth of gold resulting in a radiant, refined sound. This material is exclusively available on the Miyazawa Boston Classic.
Platinum - A pure element and extremely dense material, platinum embodies a dark, liquid sound with pristine clarity. With a solid fundamental core, platinum has an intense, penetrating quality and is the ultimate in power and depth. (Text provided by Miyazawa flutes.)
Grenadilla - This term is used to describe a number of different strong, dense woods that are used in instrument making. The wood most makers use is African Blackwood, or dalbergia melanoxylon, which grows in central eastern Africa. Piccolos, clarinets and oboes are commonly made from grenadilla. Modern wood flutes and headjoints often use this material as well. Flutemaker Chris Abell best describes the sound: “The pungent, reedy tone produced with a wooden flute is unequaled in any other material. While the brilliance of tone produced in the metal flutes is exquisite, there is a quality of sound, a dark rich fullness in the wooden instruments, which the metal flutes can only approach…”
Materials Used in Head Joints
There is considerable debate concerning the effects of materials on the sound generated by a headjoint. Many other factors come into play as well. As you search for your next headjoint, I encourage you to be open-minded and try any and every headjoint, whether it is silver, wood, stainless steel, or anything else! The important thing is the performance of the headjoint and the sound it produces, regardless of the material.
Silver: Headjoints made with silver tubing are the most popular headjoints that we sell, particularly with a gold riser or lip plate. Most silver used in headjoint making is sterling, or .925. These headjoints can be made with various wall-thicknesses, from thin (.014), to medium (.016), to heavy (.018). Silver tends to have a brilliant sound. Some say bright. Silver headjoints are well-matched to silver or silver-plated flutes.
Most makers offer their silver headjoints with a choice of gold or platinum riser, or with a gold lip plate. Mancke’s metal headjoints are offered with a grenadilla wood lip plate. Changing the riser or lip plate material has a significant effect on the tone by enhancing the sound of the silver with some characteristics of the other material.
Gold: Gold tends to produce a warmer, richer sound than silver. This is often considered a darker sound. The most commonly used gold in headjoint making is 14K Rose Gold. Sheridan also makes a beautiful 14K White Gold. Some makers use higher purities as well. Gold headjoints are well-matched to silver or gold flutes.
Platinum: Platinum headjoints offer the ultimate in power and precision. The sound is penetrating, and is sometimes considered bright or harsh. You’ll notice that there are no platinum headjoints listed in this guide. This is because there are few makers offering platinum headjoints as a part of their regular inventory. Brannen does offer headjoints with a platinum tube and 14k lip and riser that is priced upon request. Miyazawa also offers platinum headjoints, also priced upon request. We do see very few platinum headjoints on the market in the US. Perhaps it is because there are few platinum flutes. Or perhaps because of the high cost of this material. Regardless, if you are interested in a platinum headjoint, let us know and we’ll help you find the perfect one!
Wood: The most common wood used in headjoints making is grenadilla, but other exotic woods are available as well. Wood tends to produce a sound that seems warm and mellow when compared to metal. The wood headjoints featured in this guide (Abell, Mancke, and Young) are designed to fit modern metal flutes. We have sold many wood heads to buyers who intend to use them just for certain musical situations, only to find themselves later totally abandoning the metal head!