That’s What You Get for the Money

I recently had an all too familiar conversation with a family who was looking for an upgraded flute for their young flutist. They had borrowed an instrument from a friend to get the student started, and they were interested in buying something that would last through high school, but for only $1500, which is what that generous friend had paid for their daughter’s step up flute…seven years ago. I should know, I was there! I taught the older girl, too, until she went to college.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed how much the price of flutes has gone up over the past few years. As someone who teaches a lot of middle and high schoolers, I certainly have! A closed hole, silver-plated beginner flute from a reputable brand, which used to be something you could reliably find for under $1000, is now much closer to or over that line. To find something with a sterling silver headjoint, plated body and keys with open holes and a B foot, basic step-up specs, you’d spend closer to $2500 and a solid silver flute? Commensurately more expensive. 

I’m not writing this article to lambast flute prices—they are what they are—but to offer tips for something that I’ve found myself doing more and more often lately: managing a family’s expectations of how much flute they can get for the money. Here are some things that I do.

  1. Look at used instruments. I will always point out to my families that my beautiful Brannen, the nicest thing I own, I bought used. It’s a certified pre-owned instrument from one of our most reputable American dealers, and I couldn’t love it more if it had been made for me. It was perfectly clean, perfectly maintained, and I haven’t had a moment of regret over that purchase. 
  2. Consider eBay. I frequently trawl eBay, looking for pre-loved instruments that might need a little care but are still well worth the cost. I’m looking for specific situations—the ads that say something like, “We bought this flute for our daughter when she was in high school in the 2010’s, and she played it for six months and it’s sat in the closet ever since.” Look for ads with lots of clear pictures, especially of the pads, keys and tenons, and be prepared for that good deal to need a COA or more. Recently I bought a Jupiter de Medici, the kind of flute a played in high school 30 years ago, with a solid silver head, body and foot joint, for $900. It ended up needing an overhaul, but at that point, it was as good as new. Literally everything is new now but the silver itself. I ended up selling it for a small profit to one of my own students. She still spent less than half what she would have had to for a new flute with those specs. It’s not always easy to find good instruments on eBay, and it’s definitely a buyer beware situation, but if you are choosy and observant and understand that repair might be necessary, you can sometimes find a good one there.
  3. Consider financing. This is certainly not the answer for everyone, and I don’t advocate it lightly, but there are ways to finance a major purchase without using a credit card or other high interest product. The major flute companies all offer financing now, too. It’s not the end of the world to have to do that.
  4. Consider waiting. If you really must have a new flute and the price is out of your range right now, consider waiting. It’s better to continue with a good, functional beginner instrument than to rush and buy something that will bring regret later on, or to be taken in by the promise of a cheap instrument that is in fact not at the high level you’ll need. There are so many ads, on eBay especially, for unbranded instruments or brand names of lesser quality. Big hints: in the industry, we don’t identify flutes by the number of keys or holes they have. Italian pads are not a thing. Always make sure the brand name is spelled correctly. And, frankly, if it’s blue or pink or bright, unrelenting red, pass it by! You’ll thank me later.
  1. Cathy Roberts

    I second the eBay advice. I was very careful, but I had a recent good experience with it. I wanted to add a Guo to my flute family. I found one listed as “used”, but it looked pretty good in the photos. It was. It was new. Somebody might have demoed on it, but it was perfect. I saved $250 with my bid.

    • Jessica Dunnavant

      It’s amazing what you can find! I bought a Haynes Amadeus last week to be a loaner for my students. It was a very good deal because it didn’t have a case–that’s an easy fix! And it plays beautifully, with no need for immediate adjustment.

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