While purchasing a used flute is more economical and provides a better short-term value, particularly for brand new students, many used flutes sold on sites like eBay and Craigslist are in questionable condition. There are several common problems that show up in flute after flute, and most of these problems will need to be addressed by a qualified instrument repair technician. Even worse, many of these problems can’t be spotted with the naked eye, making purchasing a used instrument online even more difficult than it already is. If you read through this article and are still interested in purchasing a used flute, be sure to purchase it from a reputable online retailer, like Music & Arts.
Germs, Spit, Residue, and Tarnish
When played, the flute comes into contact with a player’s hands, fingers, and mouth. On top of that, when a player blows into the flute to produce sound, significant amounts of saliva are deposited into the mouthpiece and other parts of the flute. While purchasing a brand new mouthpiece is an obvious choice when purchasing a used flute, the nooks and crannies under the mechanism can collect dirt, dust, tarnish, and residue. These areas are virtually impossible to clean without a complete disassembly of the flute so, unless the flute is constantly being disassembled, the residue builds up over time. The majority of the time, used flutes aren’t completely cleaned before they’re listed on sites like eBay. Unless you’re purchasing a refurbished or gently used flute from a site like Music & Arts, be sure to have your instrument professionally cleaned by your local repair technician before use.
Torn, Dirty, or Swollen Flute Pads
When it comes to inspecting different parts of a flute, the most important condition element is the condition of the pads. Since flute pads seal the key to its tone hole when the key is pressed, if the pads aren’t in perfect condition they won’t seal and the flute will not play. This problem is referred to as a leak. On flutes, used flutes in particular, leaks in the pads can be caused by a variety of factors. The pad can become swollen, torn, dirty, or eaten by bugs. Although the last item on the list sounds scary, flute pads being eaten by bugs is a very common problem and also the most problematic. Not only does it leave gouges in the surface of the pad, but it can completely destroy the ability of the pad to seal the key over the tone hole. If you’re concerned about keeping your flute in prime playing condition, keep it clean and be sure to take it to a trusted repair shop for regular maintenance.
The keys of a flute, or it’s mechanism, is a complicated group of levers, bars, and keys that all work together to produce sound. The movement of the mechanism must be tightly controlled and precise- if it’s not, the flute won’t be producing sound properly. When certain keys are pressed, other keys are pressed down as well. The motion of these keys must be regulated to one one hundredth of a millimeter. Adjustment screws on the keys help repair technicians regulate the mechanism and, since the regulation is so precise, adjustments usually must be performed by a professional. After a certain amount of time, the mechanism goes out of regulation and must be re-adjusted by a technician. Although these periods vary in length from flute to flute, adjustments usually need to be performed every six months or so. Unfortunately, most used flutes aren’t maintained in this way and, as a result, don’t play as well as their well-maintained counterparts.
The cork, or the piece of your flute with the silver discs on either end, is hidden inside the tip of the headjoint and influences the tuning and sound of your flute. A healthy flute headjoint cork is very difficult to move by yourself, so if the cork in your flute’s headjoint moves easily when you try to move it, then it’s definitely time to take it to a repair shop for a quick repair. Another way to check the alignment of the cork is with the cleaning rod that came with your flute. Simply insert the cleaning rod into the headjoint until it rests snugly on the cork. Once it’s resting on the cork, you should see the line of the rod in the exact center of the hole. If you don’t see it, the cork isn’t aligned properly and will need to be fixed. In most cases, the cork is too far off center, causing the flute to sound horribly out of tune. On average, corks are replaced and/or tightened by a reputable repair technician every 3-7 years.
Purchase From a Reputable Site
Since purchasing the wrong flute could end up costing you time and money, you shouldn’t purchase a used flute from a site like eBay or Craigslist. Hundreds of dollars is a lot to spend on a product that could be flawed, broken, or missing important parts. If your child isn’t already taking lessons, it’s a good idea to rent a flute for at least six months before making a purchase. This way, your child can take some time to decide if the flute is the right instrument for them. If you do decide to purchase a flute online, choose a reputable seller, such as Music & Arts. With one of the largest offerings of marching band and orchestral instruments, products, and accessories in the world, Music & Arts is a one-stop shop for students, parents, and educators across the country.
For more information about how to care for your flute, check out the Proper Care & Maintenance of the Flute.