When buying a musical instrument, there is no better bang for your buck than to buy a quality used instrument in good condition. We all play music in my household and the last time I counted we had 15 different instruments, and 12 of them were purchased used. Most well maintained instruments continue to be very playable over time and some even sound better with age.
What Brand of Flute Should I Look for?
In my last blog post, I discussed the best brands to buy for a beginner. Check it out here. My number one recommendation for a reliable and affordable beginner flute here in Canada is a Yamaha 200 series. You’ll find lots of them on the used market.
Where to Look for a Used Flute
Good deals can be found on Facebook Marketplace and Kijiji www.kijiji.ca .
The advantage of these sites is that they refer you to instruments being sold in your area, so you can go and see and try the flute before purchasing.
Purchasing from Ebay or other international online marketplaces is a possibility but riskier. The instruments are always shipped, so you can’t see or try the flute in person before purchasing. Do be careful as there are some counterfeit Yamaha 211’s being sold on EBay - if the listing says the flute is new and the price is too good to be true, it may very well be a fake. (Note: There is no duty charged on used musical instruments coming into Canada from the United States. Be sure to ask for ground mail USPS as opposed to UPS otherwise you will pay a customs brokerage fee.)
Instrument Repair Shops
Instrument repair shops sell used, refurbished flutes, often with a 3 month warranty. You will pay more from a repair shop than from an individual, but you’ll know that the flute is in top condition since it has been inspected, repaired and properly sanitized. The biggest advantage is no surprise repair bills!
In Montreal, you can buy used flutes from Twigg’s music store (downtown, near Berri-UQUAM www.twigg-musique.com) and Pascal Veraquin’s store (1656 avenue Laurier east / corner Papineau Telephone: 514-528-9974 www.veraquin.com ).
Long & McQuade is not a repair shop specializing in woodwinds but they do have used flutes on their website in the Gear Hunter section. They are shipped directly to you. Apparently these instruments have been checked by a technician and they have a 3 month warranty.
What to Watch Out For When Buying a Used Flute from an Individual Seller..
Here are some questions to ask the seller, even before going to see the instrument:
When was the last time the flute was played? A flute that has been sitting in a closet for ten years will definitely need to have the cork in the headjoint replaced (not expensive).
When is the last time that the flute had a tune-up and where was it done? (In Montreal, reputable flute repair shops include Twigg’s music store and Pascal Veraquin’s). Obviously the more recent the tune-up was done, the better!
Who played the instrument? In general an instrument played by an adult or an older teen will be in better shape...
Once you have made an appointment to see the flute:
Check that the flute doesn’t have major dents (very small ones should not affect the sound).
Check that each key closes properly and creates an air-tight seal over the hole that it covers.
Check that the pads underneath the keys are not ripped (Pads are the most common thing that will need to be replaced when buying a used flute).
Make sure that the owner has not used silver polish or other products on the body of the instrument (only a professional should clean a flute with any products as the chemicals can easily degrade the pads). You may see telltale signs like white residue around the keys if the owner has used silver polish.
Check that the case closes securely as a new case can set you back at least $50 CAD.
If the flute is being purchased for someone who has played the flute for a little while, sanitize the headjoint as discussed below and have them play the instrument to see if there are problems.
Even if the flute you are looking at has some of the above issues, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t purchase the flute, but it will let you know what to expect in terms of repairs that may need to be done. Like cars, all flutes need to be maintained from time to time – pads will need to be replaced, adjustments made to springs/rods and every few years, the cork in the headjoint should be replaced. So budget for some maintenance after purchasing a used instrument, possibly up to $100 CAD, depending on the condition of the instrument.
Have a Teacher or Technician Check the Instrument
If you go to see a flute and all looks well, the seller may let you bring it to your teacher so she can verify it. In the past, I’ve had students write post dated checks or offer the seller a refundable deposit on the flute and they have brought it to me to double check. Sometimes a motivated seller is even willing to bring the flute to the teacher. Even the most reputable brands of flutes can have ‘lemons’ so having the instrument played by an experienced teacher is important. If possible, it is also a good idea to bring the flute to a repair shop to verify if there are repairs that need to be done.
Is Playing a Used Flute Sanitary?
A used flute can be sanitized by using a cotton swab saturated with denatured, isopropyl alcohol to clean around the embouchure hole, using a cotton pad with the same alcohol to wipe the lip plate and, finally, slightly dampening a lint free cleaning cloth with the same alcohol, threading it into the cleaning rod (there should be one in the flute case) and using this to clean the inside of the headjoint (not the body). Be sure to avoid having any liquid, including rubbing alcohol, come into contact with the pads under the keys. And never pour water into a headjoint or submerge it under water as it has a cork inside which would be damaged.
More Info About Yamaha Flute Models
It can be intimidating to look for an instrument for a beginner flute player if you don’t know much about flutes, so here is some more information about the Yamaha beginner flutes:
The first number in the three digit model number tells you the following:
2XX series - beginner flutes
3XX series - intermediate flutes (all with solid silver headjoints)
4XX series - intermediate flutes (the entire flute is solid silver).
The second number tells you about the key type and key system.
Key System: An offset G is useful for smaller hands, as it helps the ring finger and pinky to reach the keys. Flutes with the middle digit 2 ,6 and 7 in their model number have an offset G.
Key Type: Yamahas with a 6,7 or 8 as the second digit in their model number have open holes (ring keys). Open holes are unnecessary on a beginner flute but are standard on an intermediate or advanced flute. If you are buying a flute for a beginner with open holes, you will need to buy a $10 package of plastic covers to plug the holes. Use the Yamaha brand plugs for a perfect fit.
*I recommend a flute with ‘2’ as its second digit for a young beginner.
The third number gives you an indication of the age of the flute.
There are basically four generations of Yamaha Student Flutes:
1980 – 1989 YFL225S (the A plays at 440Hz when the headjoint is fully pushed in)
1990 - 1999 YFL225SII (A=440 and this generation has better adjustment screws)
2000 – 2015 YFL221 (new to this generation: A=442 with he headjoint fully pushed in)
2016 – present YFL222 (new to this generation: redesign of key cups)
Even older than those ending in ‘5’ are the ones with a two digit model number, which were made before Yamaha made quality instruments (these flutes do not use the Cooper Bennett scale), so they are not recommended.
Avoid flutes with a model number ending in ‘N’ as these are nickel plated instead of silver plated. If the model number has an ‘A’ in it, bring it to a flute technician before purchasing to check for issues.
Best of luck finding a flute! If you are a student of mine, I am happy to take a look at any listings you find and the instrument itself before you commit to buying.