The Flute Show - flute expert

Which is better: A Gold or a Silver flute?

Learn the differences between a gold and a silver flute

In this video, Florence and Robert Estrin talk about the differences between a gold and a silver flute, and the implications in flute playing.

Released on January 6, 2016

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Robert: Hi, and welcome to the Flute Show with Florence Estrin. I am Robert Estrin here on Today's question is, which is better, gold or silver on a flute? Gold versus silver. Gold is so pretty, and so is silver, but are there real differences in the way these instruments play or sound? We're going to talk about that today. Florence, welcome.

Florence: Hi.

Robert: Tell me a bit about your perceptions of...I notice your flute, now this is going to be tough for you, because half your flute is silver, half is gold. Tell us about that.

Florence: The headjoint is 14-karat gold, but the rest of the flute is silver, and it's interesting because, if you look at studies that scientists have done, what makes the sound of a flute is how the air gets put into vibration. So they say it has absolutely nothing to do with what the flute is made out of. And they went so far as in, in 1998, they went to a flute convention with, get this, a concrete flute along with other flutes of various...they had lots of flutes around. It was a flute convention. And they had several professional flutists, including James Galway and lots of other luminaries, playing the instruments, and they blindfolded them, and nobody could even pick out the concrete flute.

Robert: Wouldn't it be, like, heavy?

Florence: I can't even imagine what a concrete flute is, but anyway, I read this article, and I was like really? And then they interviewed Paula Robinson, who is part of this whole thing, and she said, "Well, everybody knows that silver has a perkier sound. Gold has a darker sound." And that's what we've all be taught all this years, it's like, "Oh, you want a darker sound, you get your gold, and platinum you get a bigger sound." And so, what's interesting is that there has been other studies where, again, they've taken professional flutists playing, and after they play a range of flutes made of all different metals that are recorded and they listen back and they cannot tell which flute they're playing.

Robert: Well, I think there is a couple of things to consider. In terms of the density of the metal, the question is whether the sound is robust enough for the entire body of the flute to resonate. That's one issue. But when I think about something like cement compared to gold or silver or any metal, it's not as smooth inside. I can't imagine that would not affect the flow of the air and the bouncing around of the sound waves, having a smoother or a rougher surface.

Florence: I would think that maybe they had some way to really smooth out that concrete. I don't know.

Robert: The last point, though, that I really think is really significant. I've certainly noticed this with guitars. If you play a guitar that has gorgeous inlays and exotic woods, they're usually are the nicest playing instruments compared to the plain instruments. Now, why would that be? Well, if somebody is going to go to the trouble of handcrafting the very best they can, why not start with a beautiful piece of wood? Same thing with the flute. If you're working with gold or exotic metals like platinum that are so expensive, you darn well better take your time with that to make it the best possible instrument. You think there's some that?

Florence: Yeah. I think that's absolutely what's the case is. You might say to me, "Well, why did we get you a gold headjoint then?" I was not seeking out a gold headjoint when I found this headjoint. I was playing all sorts of headjoints. I even played some platinum headjoints. The only reason I didn't go with platinum, other than the price tag, was it was very heavy. Believe it or not, it made a huge difference in the balance of the flute, and it bothered me, and it was also quite expensive.

Robert: Well, I guess a cement headjoint is not in your future?

Florence: Probably not. But the thing is, when you talk about a flute, and a headjoint in particular, the headjoint is really where you're creating the sound. And when we're talking about high-level flutes, we're talking about handmade, hand-carved. It's very, very difficult to have two headjoints that are identical. As a matter of fact your, uncle, Harvey Estrin, who was a great flute teacher for me and just a fantastic musician, he had this wonderful Powell flute, and he loved the headjoint. Absolutely loved the headjoint. And what he did was, he had a Haynes, and he was at the Haynes company and he said, "Can you make a headjoint that's more like the dimensions of this Powell?" And they said, "Oh, yeah. Just give us your Haynes headjoint, and we'll redo it just exactly..." They measured everything perfectly and he said, "No, no, no. You're not touching the one I have, because I don't hate it. I just one like this Powell." So they made him a brand new one, started from scratch, with exactly the measurements. He tried it...didn't like it. It just didn't come out the same. There is a lot of science to making flutes, but when you're talking about a handmade instrument, it just really gets very difficult.

Robert: No two are alike.

Florence: But I think you're absolutely right as far as it's the craftsmanship that makes the instrument and the headjoint over what things are made out of.

Robert: It all comes down to the knock behind the wheel, I guess, the person crafting the instruments, and the metals maybe have some difference. Next time I'd love to dive into other materials. Of course, flute started out as wooden instruments, and we can discuss the relative merits of wood versus metal. So, we've got all kind of great Flute Shows coming up. Thanks so much, Florence. It's really fun and seeing all of you. Thanks so much for joining us at Florence Estrin, and I'm Robert Estrin. See you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Isab Comment on March 15, 2021 @1:48 pm PST
Your flute sounds like a Powell to me. is it?
Debbie Rivers on June 8, 2016 @6:08 am PST
Dear Florence,
What is your opinion of the Lefreque?
Florence on June 8, 2016 @12:37 pm PST
I had not heard of the Lefreque until your question. I did some research and it is indeed interesting. The whole idea is to make up for the problem of the connecting parts of the flute. Many noted flutists endorse it. I hope to try it at the next flute convention.
airassai * VSM MEMBER * on January 6, 2016 @10:10 am PST
I play a carbon fiber violin (Louis and Clark) and love it. I think the sound is even better than my expensive wooden instrument. Do they make flutes out of carbon fiber? How do they sound in comparison with metal flutes? My sister left me a rose gold flute that I am just learning and it is heavier than I like and I would love to play a lighter flute for practice. Thanks so much for your videos, they have helped me in my delving into the flute world.

Martha Clark
Carlsbad, NM
Florence - host, on January 9, 2016 @10:40 am PST
I searched the internet and indeed there are carbon fiber flutes! The ones I found were designed for students and also there are some Celtic ones. I have not had a chance to try them. However I have played some plastic flutes. The low register seems to be lacking in the plastic ones but since it was manufactured by a company I didn't know I can not tell you whether the weak low register was a result of the plastic or the design.
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