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Flutes are made from a variety of materials. Student flutes are normally made from silver-plated nickel, while better quality flutes (sometimes the body and the head and sometimes only the head) are made from silver, or even gold!

I was wondering how the material influences the quality of the instrument. I always thought that maybe silver is easier to handle when manufacturing the flute, and makes the perfect form. Especially for the lip plate I can understand how this can be the case, but for the body and keys I see less of a reason why they should be done in silver.

I don't think that the material of the flute influences its acoustics because it's not the flute that vibrates (like the wood of a cello) but the air in it. But maybe I'm mistaken.

Or is it just because of the higher value of silver that only better flutes are made of it?

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The consensus seems to be- and this is borne out by my own experience as well- that there is some difference between the sound of flutes made of different materials, but that this is minor, especially between materials of similar specific gravity. Thus, there's a pretty big difference between wood and silver, not so much between nickel and silver, and a fair amount between gold and silver. But none of these differences are dramatic.

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/265017541_Gold_vs_Silver_Does_material_influence_the_sound_of_flutes

  • Interesting, and thanks for the article. What it seems to point out is that there is a small but measurable and noticeble difference. Any idea why silver is supposed to be better and why there's so much focus on the material of the head? – Tim H Jan 8 at 8:02
  • @TimH - the focus on the material of the head is because if there is an difference, it will be more because of the head than the rest of the flute, because the air pressure is higher there and thus has more energy to displace the wall. Why silver is the choice of many is beyond my knowledge. Perhaps because it's heavier than nickel but stiffer than gold? – Scott Wallace Jan 8 at 11:01
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    Might add that the care in manufacture, along with wall thickness, is a major player in sound quality as well as ease of playing. – Carl Witthoft Jan 8 at 15:19
  • @CarlWitthoft - yep, that must of course be taken into account, as well as many other design parameters: the exact shape of the embouchure, the depth of the tone holes, how well the tone holes are vented by the keys, etc. – Scott Wallace Jan 9 at 9:24
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Absolutely the materials that the instrument is made of makes a difference. The Carrot Clarinet is known for a beautiful sound because of its fibrous properties. I have added a link showing different materials used in instruments.

enter image description here

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    +1 just because this is so funny. – Carl Witthoft Jan 8 at 15:18

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