Quest for My Perfect Flute

I used to put this condition in my shopping list:

Professional-level Concert Flute: Only after 2020-01-01 and conquering 9 études of Berbiguier: Eighteen Exercises or Études for Flute revised and edited by Georges Barrère

I have since taken it out and added a link to this page, mostly because it looked ugly to be there. More importantly, I think it is exciting to track the conditions separately to give an estimate on how far I am towards achieving my aim.

The years before 2020-01-01 are to be spent in training; they are also to discover just what my perfect flute is. This page will also contain information on my subjective take on the various flutes that I have played with.

Final Word

As at 2019, I have decided to get a Muramatsu 9k Gold (Heavy Wall) + Silver keywork flute with offset keys, closed G♯, and C♯ trill, partly because I have found enough information to decide, and partly because I was offered a great deal for it as well. I've decided to keep the list of my personal observations here, but hidden. As always, expand the ellipsis following this to read more...

Berbiguier's Études

Eighteen there are, nine I need to conquer to win my right to my quest. I list what I have so far here.

  1. More smooth---pending dynamics control.
  2. More smooth---pending dynamics control.
  3. Downsled arpeggios need work, as does the five-tuplets.
  4. Six-tuplets are unsmooth.
  5. Three-tuplets are bad---descending major second intervals need work.
  6. Leaps aren't smooth enough, similar issues with the three-tuplets.
  7. Need to get used to the ``special'' seven-tuplets treatment of the ornamentation.
  8. Relatively straightforward, needs to be made smoother.
  9. Not attempted yet.
  10. Not attempted yet.
  11. Not attempted yet.
  12. Not attempted yet.
  13. Not attempted yet.
  14. Not attempted yet.
  15. Not attempted yet.
  16. Not attempted yet.
  17. Not attempted yet.
  18. Not attempted yet.

The only criteria here is my deciding that I can play the étude smoothly and accurately enough. Trust me, I am a harsh judge, particularly of myself.

Perceptual Requirements

I will list down the type of sound I'm expecting from my perfect flute. In a later section, I list down some of the mechanical requirements, but I think it is also important for me to keep track of the sonic requirements I would like as well.

Concert Flutes Tested

Yet another reverse-chronologically ordered list of flutes that I have played on with highly subjective statements. The year will be that in which the flute was first known to be ``brand-new'', failing which it will be the oldest year in which the current owner possessed the flute.

Flutes are assumed to be B-foot, open holes, and with E-mechanism unless otherwise stated.

Disclaimer: What is written here is my own deliberately biased opinion. Your mileage may vary. The notes here are with respect to my particular play style and capabilities are not reflective of the companies who have made these flutes.

  1. Random Powell flutes (2018)
    • Their embouchure cut really doesn't like me, except for the piccolo.
    • Tone sounds ``traditional'' with little to no timbral changes present.
    • At this point, conclusively deciding that Powell is out of the race.
  2. Random Altus flutes (2018)
    • No indication of the type of cut (compared to Z-cut for base-line).
    • Nothing particularly spectacular either for timbral changes.
  3. Random Brannen flutes (2018)
    • After trying a few of them at different times of the day, the same conclusion arose: the embouchure cut just doesn't make it for me.
    • It might be better from a ``purity'' of sound stand point, but cannot really coax anything superlative in tone colour from it.
    • At this point, conclusively deciding that Brannen is out of the race.
  4. Muramatsu Platinum + 14k Gold keywork (Pt plated)
    • Inline G; for once it seemed to cause the A-key to dig into left ring finger.
    • Feels massive in comparison to anything played so far.
    • Very little vibrations felt through body.
    • High notes seem a little hard to hit softly---will need more testing next time.
    • High notes can be hit softly. Just needed to be sufficiently precise in jet stream, i.e. after warming up.
    • Is super out of budget in the near to middle future.
  5. Muramatsu 14k Gold
    • Inline G.
    • Nothing new to add to evaluation from earlier.
    • Is a different flute from previously tested 14k gold.
  6. Muramatsu 14k Gold + Silver keywork
    • Is good.
    • Cannot really tell if this is faster than the regular one with 14k gold keywork.
  7. Brannen-Cooper (2018)
    • Solid silver with soldered tone holes.
    • Flute didn't seem to ``speak'' well---generally unshiny.
    • Keywork felt lethargic---feels like I'm smacking the key on the way down and up.
  8. Muramatsu 9k Gold
    • Insufficient warm-up: unable to resonate the high harmonics easily.
    • Solid (aka ``deep'') lows achievable.
    • Generally even tone slightly more open than my base-line.
  9. Muramatsu 14k Gold
    • Drawn tone holes and inline G. Inline G did not interfere with general speed over the instrument.
    • Tone has an open feel.
    • Headjoint is apparently of a Cooper cut, which is more traditional.
    • Shimmer is present from G5 but needs a little work.
    • Very probably out of budget.
  10. Muramatsu 18k Gold
    • Soldered tone holes and inline G with Tsubasa wings at the embouchure hole.
    • Tone has an open feel.
    • Shimmer is present from G5 but needs a little work.
    • Very probably out of budget.
  11. Muramatsu 18k Gold + 9k Gold keywork
    • Inline G, drawn tone holes, engraved lip plate and keys.
    • Engraving seems to help a little with slippage from sweat, but not by much.
    • Key work is sufficiently nimble; not as slow as the PTP keywork.
    • The sound is bloody open---easy to command to ascend to fortissimo and drop to pianissimo, with shimmer again from G5 onwards.
    • Very probably out of budget.
  12. Muramatsu All 9k Gold
    • Inline G, soldered tone holes, engraved lip plate and keys, and Tsubasa wings at the embouchure hole.
    • Keywork action is definitely less annoying compared to base-line.
    • Sound is open, but not as open as the higher karat gold flutes.
  13. Powell Conservatory
    • Silver headjoint, body, and keys.
    • Key work on par with base-line.
    • B thumb key has a weird angle compared to base-line and other flutes.
    • Reaching for the C♯/B roller keys have a tendency to depress the D♯ key as well.
    • Low notes don't go deep enough---compared to base-line, the base-line is just slightly better than this one.
    • 2018: A revisit of this flute yields a slightly better overall outcome. Base-line still speaks better, and the keywork on base-line still edges this one by a bit.
  14. Powell Signature
    • Silver headjoint, body, and keys.
    • Key work on par with base-line.
    • B thumb key has a weird angle compared to base-line and other flutes.
    • Reaching for the C♯/B roller keys have a tendency to depress the D♯ key as well.
    • Low notes don't go deep enough---compared to base-line, the base-line is just slightly better than this one.
  15. Miyazawa GS-2
    • Gold-silver alloy (90% Ag to 10% Au).
    • MZ-10 cut.
    • Feels a lot like base-line, but there's a strong potential for growth---I feel as though I have not really pushed the flute to its full capabilities.
  16. Miyazawa BR-602
    • 958 Ag, MX-2 headjoint, Ni-Ag keywork, Brögger system.
    • Key work feels on par with base-line.
    • Lows go deep; highs can go piercing.
  17. Miyazawa MZ-11 Headjoint on Miyazawa BR-602
    • 925 Ag 0.40mm tube, 990 Ag riser.
    • Super open sound that is quite responsive.
    • Pianissimo high pitch is stable and relatively easy (up to B6).
    • Interesting ovoid rectangle cut.
    • High D (D7) can be pushed out (not sustained due to lack of testing) quite accurately, though not at a dynamics lower than mezzo-piano.
  18. Braun ``Small flute'' (2017)
    • Piccolo-like wooden instrument that goes down to C5 instead of D5 (traditional piccolo).
    • Mechanism is smooth, tone is very solid.
    • High notes are near-effortless and can be made as piercing as possible.
    • Low notes are very strong and clear, almost like that of the 梆笛.
  19. Muramatsu PTP (2017)
    • Platinum-plated silver for everything.
    • Rectangular cut embouchure hole with gradually rolled side edges.
    • Tsubasa wings---brazed guides next to the blowing edge. May also explain why the sides were gently convex instead of being of a hard cut like my Altus's head.
    • Blowing edge is not as sharp as my Altus head---slightly more gentle in the convexity.
    • I cannot break the high pitches (they scream as much as I can push it), and the pianissimo is very solid.
    • Very nimble [sonic] movement---octave leaps were effortless, sudden dynamics changes were reactive, double tonguing was also clean.
    • Mechanism is not as nimble as the Muramatsu GX in 2016, possibly due to the added mass from platinum plating.
    • While strong when pushed, there seems to be a limit still for the flute to convert all of my force into something stronger---might be due to my improvement in playing over the past year..
  20. Miyazawa 602 (2017)
    • 958 Ag, MZ-10 headjoint.
    • Embouchure cut is a bit more elliptical.
    • Default contact point, hard to push.
    • After shifting lips a twinge to the right of embouchure hole, can push the ``shing'' of notes, but still feels restrictive.
    • Hard to crack the pitches; good at pianissimo, forte feels a bit lacklustre.
  21. Miyazawa 400 series (2007)
    • MZ-3 headjoint (no longer in production).
    • Asymmetric cut---left elliptical, right rectngular.
    • ``Sings'' easy.
    • Suspect it matches my skewed embouchure well that way.
  22. Sankyo GF301 C-foot (2016)
    • Hollow sound, hard to make the note ``sing''.
    • Felt muted.
  23. Powell Aurumite (2016)
    • Sounds hollow despite best efforts to push.
    • Very 废气.
    • Again, suspect that the headjoint cut may be an issue.
    • 2017: It's also possible that my playing was less consistent then.
  24. Muramatsu PTP, Muramatsu 9k Gold, Muramatsu 14k/9k Gold (2016)
    • Cannot discriminate yet---inconsistent playing by me.
    • Before warm-up---``closed'' sound, unable to project the highest tones.
    • After warm-up---sound ``shimmers'', projection is maximal from p to ff for the highest pitch.
    • Cannot discern between the PTP, and the gold flutes.
    • Suspicion that the more rectangular cut is why it takes a longish while to get to the projection.
    • 2017: Suspect that the embouchure and embouchure hole alignment is bad---need to take into account my left-skew.
  25. Miyazawa MX Headjoints (2016)
    • New MX-1 and MX-2 headjoints.
    • MX-2 sounded more ``open'' than MX-1 under S.S. Miao's playing.
    • Contemporary music sounded fuller with MX-2 on a 70-year-old Haynes body by F. Lim.
    • Cut of the MX-1/MX-2 tends to be more elliptical than rectangular.
    • 2017: Notes here are not first-hand---need to test it out on my own at some point.
  26. Miyazawa Alto ST (2016)
    • Initial tone felt weak and meek.
    • After warming up, the sound is relatively thick and good.
    • Low notes are warm and project better than Mio.
    • A worthier upgrade from original want of Jupiter Alto flute.
  27. Muramatsu GX (2016)
    • 925 Ag tubing/headjoint, Ni-Ag keywork.
    • Soft but precise finger work.
    • Sound comes easy, is bright.
    • Tone is consistent, lower registers come powerfully easy.
    • Highs are sweet.
  28. GUO Tocco (2015)
    • Non-grenaditte plastic.
    • Like playing a 30-dollar dizi.
    • Intonation is passable, timbre feels hollow/floaty.
    • Possible that low harmonics are not pronounced.
    • 2017: More likely that the higher harmonics are weak due to heavier damping by the less dense walls (the flute vibrates under strong blowing).
    • 2018: Chatting with Mr Guo, I learnt that this flute was not meant to be overpowered---jet stream should be focused (like in piccolo), but alter the length to select the right mode to excite. Using this, tone was very pure in nature.
  29. Altus-Azumi AZ3000RBEO (2009)
    • 958 Ag tubing, Altus 907H headjoint (958 Ag, Z-cut).
    • My base-line flute of comparison.
    • Keywork feels heavier compared to GX.
    • 2017: Flute's timbre is expanding as my skill improved tremendously over the past year. This makes comparison among the great flutes harder and harder.
    • 2018: Near-effortless harmonics leaps, D7 consistency, good dynamics control. I am making it harder to justify a new flute purchase.

Reminder: Everything written in this section is completely subjective and highly biased.

Flute brands still to try: Nagahara, Kotato, Kingma, and Sankyo.

Concert Flute Features

Here is the current list of features I think my perfect flute should have:

Material-wise, I think that a solid silver base is a good base-line material; 924 or 958 silver is completely usable. Density and mass of the tubing are eigen-factors once we control for craftsmanship. Tests on flutes of increasing density and mass have shown that it gets increasingly harder for me to overpower the flute with my jet-stream---the key limiting factor is cost. While the metals involved (silver, gold, and platinum) in the tubing are of sufficient smoothness and rigidity to hold the air column, I found that the less mass involved, the more the body ``buzzes'' under my fingers, and that creates the sensation that there are much greater losses from the damping than expected.

Plating of the [interior of] tubes are marketed as providing additional harmonics from differential damping across the materials, but I have not really observed such a pronounced effect. If anything, I think that plating of the tube aids in sound clarity by smoothing out any kinks in the drawing process thus reducing unnecessary losses through vortices at the boundary layer. Plating on keys though, seem to slow the mechanisms down due to the larger mass that is moved by possibly the same spring and is thus a negative.

Low tones on a high quality flute with the right type of headjoint cut are almost always assured to be strong, rooted, and rich when played in full. Recent testing on a platinum flute has proven anecdotally that it is much easier to bring out a rich harmonic spectrum on the low tones without forcing a jump to the next mode, i.e. once a mode has been selected through the correct angle and jet stream length, further blowing force translates to amplitude increase and harmonic richness without losing the selected mode.

Testing of the different headjoints have confirmed the following observations:

  1. A higher density riser relative to the tube yields a superior headjoint.
  2. Miyazawa headjoints have cuts (e.g. MZ-11 and the MX-2) that suit my embouchure style well; ``warm-up'' needed wasn't that long.
  3. Muramatsu headjoints sit well with me now, but seem less dynamic in timbre, not to mention the need for a longer ``warm-up'' to adjust to the headjoint.
  4. Powell headjoints do not work well with my embouchure style and are thus going to be excluded for consideration from this point on.
  5. Brannen/Lafin headjoints do not work well with my embouchure style and are thus going to be excluded for consideration from this point on.
  6. GUO headjoints favour a more nuanced and baroque-esque flute sound of purity---good for small ensembles and is a worthy add on to the primary power house headjoint.

I value responsiveness and intonation, and the denser materials, while providing excellent intonation and pitch responsivness, end up being massive enough to slow the keywork down. This suggests that between an all-gold flute and a gold flute with silver keywork, I'm more likely to go for the gold flute with silver keywork version.

Eva Kingma's quartertone system is intriguing but I do not see it as a necessity for my concert flute.

Membranous systems like Kingma's Matusi Membrane Headjoint or Kotato's Bee-mode are nice to have but are considered add-ons to my perfect flute.