Buying a Used Flute

Buying a Used Flute can be an affordable way to find a great instrument whether you’re shopping for a child just beginning a musical career or for a student or adult amateur ready to move up to a higher quality instrument. The supply of used instruments generally outnumbers the demand, so there are bargains to be had, but these instruments aren’t always easy to find. Many music students give it up after a year or two. Others move on to a better instrument. Their cast off flutes find their way to the back of a closet or a shelf in the basement. Finding these neglected treasures takes a little effort and there are additional considerations when shopping used. But there are wonderful instruments waiting to be found, instruments that you may not have been able to afford had you bought new.

Getting Started

First Time Flute Buyers

First time flute players and their parents often experience sticker shock when they find out how much they’re being asked to shell out for an instrument. $500 or more is a huge investment, especially knowing that kids don’t always stick with what they start. Buying used is a great way to mitigate some of that cost. The problem is that you have to shop without the benefit of a knowledgeable sales person and the guarantee that comes with a new instrument. That’s not easy when neither the student nor the parent knows anything about flutes. So what do you do?

Start by familiarizing yourself with the common student flute brands. Often the beginning band director will send you a list of acceptable brands. There are quite a few makers of quality flutes that would work well but a few brands dominate the market. Beginning band rooms are filled with Armstrongs, Gemeinhardts, Jupiters, Pearls, Yamahas and a few others based on local preferences and availability. Any used flute from these makers is a good prospect. If you run across a used flute from a different maker be sure to ask a knowledgeable flute teacher for advice.

Stepping Up to an Intermediate Flute

If you already own a flute and are looking to upgrade, then the place to start is with your current flute. If it hasn’t been serviced in the past year, then it’s time to take it in to your favorite technician for a Clean/Oil/Adjust (COA). Your technician will fix the leaks, check the pads and springs and replace as necessary. Once you get the flute back it will be ready to sell or to use as a back-up. But you might be surprised with the results. Small leaks and squeaks develop so gradually that you may not realize how degraded our instrument has become. After servicing, you may find that your flute once again fulfills your needs and the time has not yet come to spend a thousand plus dollars on a replacement. But even if you’re set on a new flute, the money invested in a COA will come back to you in the sale price. And there are many parents out there that will appreciate being able to buy a used flute that does not require an investment in repairs. Keep your receipt to present to the buyer as evidence of the maintenance.

This is a good time to define what an intermediate flute is. Many young players believe that if a flute has open holes and a low B key then it’s an intermediate flute. While it’s true that almost all intermediate flutes have these features, it’s also true that many student models have them as well. In fact adding open holes and a B key does not improve the flute in any appreciable way, these are merely cosmetic features. A flute is considered intermediate if it has a solid silver headjoint. It’s this superior headjoint that makes the flute respond better, improves the tone and enables an advancing musician to achievemore in their playing. It also adds considerably to the price.

Shopping for a Used Flute

Whether you’re shopping for a beginner or intermediate level flute you’ll want to start by familiarizing yourself with the available brands. Most of the makers of student models also sell an intermediate model with a solid silver headjoint although a few of those makers don’t do as well in the intermediate arena.  Some brands like Armstrong and Gemeinhardt dominate the student model niche but don’t compete as well as you move up. At the same time you have some of the high end flute makers that are reaching down into the intermediate market. Familiarize yourself with the brands that other flute players own. Find out what brands your local music store carries. Talk to a band director or flute teacher to find out what their student’s play.  

The next step is to find a used flute for sale. You can certainly go the traditional route of checking the classified ads and inquiring at music stores. Some flutes are still sold this way. But your best bet is to start networking. Tell everyone you know that you or your child is in the market for a new flute. Talk to the sales people at your local music stores. Sometimes they will offer used flutes on consignment or they will know of someone interested in selling. They may also be able to provide you with a list of flute teachers in the area. Flute teachers are a great resource. They know lots of flute players, many of whom have moved up to a higher level flute and may have a quality student or intermediate model that they’re willing to let go of but haven’t bothered to put up for sale. Parents are another great resource. A large percentage of the students that take up the flute give it up at some point. Either they try it and don’t like it or other activities take priority in their busy lives. Networking is a tremendously effective way to match buyers to sellers.

Note: I do not recommend shopping for a flute on eBay or other online sites. There are good deals to be had, but the logistics of shipping potential flutes around the country are prohibitive and it’s difficult to return an instrument that doesn’t meet your expectations (or the expectation of your technician or flute teacher). It may take a little more effort to shop locally, but it’s easier and less costly to refuse a flute.

Once you find a candidate flute, do your due diligence. Ask about the history. How old is the flute? How many owners has it had? Has it ever had any major damage? How recently has it been serviced? How long has it been sitting on a shelf? Most issues with a flute can be repaired. It becomes an issue of whether the flute is of sufficient quality to be worth the investment in repairs. If you’re shopping for an intermediate instrument, run the flute through its paces. Try it out on one of your favorite tunes. Check out the response in the extreme ranges. Does it respond well when you play pianissimo? Don’t rule it out if the flute doesn’t respond as well as you would like it to. Used flutes often need adjustments and repairs to meet their full potential.

Got Holes?

Open holes and a B foot add little or nothing to the quality and performance of a flute. Nonetheless, to many young musicians open holes are the hallmark of an advanced flute. When all your friends are getting shiny new flutes with open holes, you don’t want to be the last one stuck playing the beginner model with plateau keys. The truth is, I purchased my second flute in high school primarily for that reason. I ordered the least expensive flute I could find with open holes and a B foot. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I ended up with a glorified student model flute which didn’t serve my growing needs. If you or your child is serious about advancing your flute skills then save up until you can afford a true intermediate flute with a solid silver headjoint.

Still want to buy at the low end? If those five little holes are the only thing that matters and your aspirations do not include serious study, then go for an open hole beginner model. Yamaha makes a very nice version of their basic model which includes holes and a low B key. Just be sure you understand that you’re spending hundreds of dollars on a lateral move. In the end it’s your money to spend as you choose so do what makes you happy.

Expert Opinions

Whether you’re an experienced player or an absolute beginner, the next step is to arrange to have the flute evaluated by a repair technician. The technician will be able to determine the extent and cost of servicing necessary to bring the flute to prime playing condition. Just about any flute can be made to play like new (barring major dents or structural damage to the body or headjoint). It becomes a question of whether a used flute is worth the investment. A good repair technician should be able to give you an opinion in that regard. While you’re at it, you may want to consult a flute teacher as well. Many teachers will give you guidance for free or for a small fee. They’re happy to help a potential new student.

Negotiate with the seller if the flute needs repair. Parents may not realize that there are issues with their child’s flute. Don’t be afraid to refuse an instrument if it doesn’t pass muster with the technician or flute teacher or if it just doesn’t feel right to you. There are many other candidates out there if you’re willing to make the effort to find them. The right instrument in good repair is vital to the success and satisfaction of any flute player.

Good luck and happy flute shopping.


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