Why Are Flutes So Expensive? (In-Depth Answer)

Have you seen the price of many flutes and wondered why they were so expensive? Are you interested in learning to play the flute but need more information on the instrument? Do you already play the flute and are wondering why some flutes cost more than your own? We are here to help you learn more about the flute and answer your questions. 

Flutes can be very expensive because of the types of materials required to make the instrument, and the number of materials needed for the flute to function properly. All parts must be meticulously put together in order for the flutist to play well, and for the flute to remain reliable over time. 

In this article, we will explore what makes a flute expensive in more detail, as well as expensive flutes on the market. This article will also share comparisons of different types of flutes and what effect the wide price range has on the flute. 

What is a flute made out of? 

Flutes are most often made of metal. Some types of flutes are made of wood, but the traditional flutes regularly played in concert and marching bands are most often made of different types of metal. 

Top Tip: it might be confusing why flutes would be categorized as woodwinds if they are not always made of wood. You can learn more about why certain instruments are considered woodwinds by reading our article here

What Metal is Used in Making Flutes

Different types of metals are one of the reasons why flutes can cost very different depending on the model. If an instrument manufacturer uses a higher quality, more durable type of metal, the flute will naturally cost more. 

One of the most common types of metals used to make flutes is silver. Sometimes, gold is used, particularly when adding a gold plated lip plate or on keys. Gold produces a warmer tone. Rarely, other metals are used such as platinum, which is much more expensive. 

Sometimes, cheaper flute models do not specify what type of metal is used to make the instrument, making it difficult to know for sure what it is made out of; these models are usually nickel plated, but that does not mean the flute is entirely made of nickel silver. These types of flutes also have reports of discoloration such as turning black or green. 

Why does the type of metal matter?

Flutes that are made of lower quality metal have a higher likelihood of bending, breaking, or having other maintenance issues. Depending on the type of metal used, the instrument repair can be more difficult, take more time, or may not even be possible at the risk of further damaging the instrument. This is why band directors typically recommend certain brands over others. 

Parts of the Flute

There are many parts to a flute, and each one has to be crafted carefully otherwise the flute will not function properly. The main parts of the flute include the head joint, the body, and the foot joint. 

Other parts you may not think of right away that also play a factor in why flutes are so expensive are keys, pads, springs, cork, and even the screws used. 

  • Keys– The keys are the round pieces you press down to cover the holes of the flute. They need to be the right size, shape, and angle otherwise notes on the flute will not play properly. There are also “trill keys” that help with alternate fingerings. 
  • Rods– The rods are the long poles along the side of the flute that help keep the keys in place. Rods are very narrow and can be easily bent if you are not careful, especially when you are putting together or taking apart the flute.
  • Pads– The pads are the soft, round pieces under the keys that help seal the holes in the flute. The material needs to stay clean and dry so the keys do not stick to the flute.
  • Springs– There are small springs under many of the keys that help them move up and down. They need to be strong enough to support the keys, but flexible enough to move when engaged. 
  • Cork– Some keys have small pieces of cork under them to help the keys move a certain distance without moving too far. The cork needs to be cut in a specific shape and size depending on where it is used on the flute. 
  • Screws– There are tiny screws that hold keys, rods, and other parts in place. They need to be adjusted periodically by a qualified technician to keep the flute in proper adjustment, otherwise the keys will not seal properly. They should never be tightened all the way, as this can damage the instrument and throw the whole flute out of adjustment. 

All of the materials and parts of the flute need to hold up over time for regular use, which can only happen if high quality materials are used. When these materials are used to make the flute, and the flute is set up properly, it has an obvious effect on the cost. 

Flutes that cost less are typically made of cheaper metals that are more likely to break over time. This includes the metal used for the body, keys, rods, springs, and other parts.  

At times, music stores may not even be able to fix cheaper instruments because the metals or other materials are not strong enough; if a technician tries to adjust a screw or make another adjustment, it may not be possible and they may add further damage to the instrument. 

What is the most expensive flute in the world?

The most expensive flute on record was sold at an auction in 1986 for $187,000. David A. Mark writes about the event in “Hidden History of Maynard” (2014). Mark writes how “a Powell flute (#365 ) commanded the highest price ever paid for a flute.” He describes how the flute was made of platinum; it had a “sterling silver mechanism” and was “commissioned for an exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York” (Mark, 2014). 

While this particular event is widely recognized, other flutes do not really reach this cost. Even so, Powell flutes are known for very high prices and are made with the highest quality materials. 

Some other popular brands of flutes when you get into high price points are Yamaha, Sonare, Burkart and Phelan, and Brannen. To hear what some of these flutes sound like, listen to Amelie from The Flute Channel in the following video. Amelie highlights the amazing features of flutes retailing for $10,000 to $20,000.    

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Types of Flutes: Cost Breakdown & Comparison Chart

You may not realize that the term flute actually encompasses a wider range of instruments in the flute family. From smallest to largest, these most commonly include the piccolo, the traditional concert flute in the key of C, the alto flute, and the bass flute. 

A few other more rare or uncommon flutes in this category are the treble flute, contrabass flute, contra-alto flute, subcontrabass flute, and double contrabass flute. Generally speaking, especially within the same instrument maker or series, the larger the flute, the more expensive it will be. 

Below is a chart comparing various types of flutes and how much they cost. You will also notice that larger flutes play in lower ranges and smaller flutes play in higher ranges. 

Type of InstrumentSizeCostRange
PiccoloYamaha YPC-62 Professional Piccolo with Standard Head Joint  11.9 x 4.1 x 2.8 inches$2500Can play almost three octaves from D5-C8; sounds one octave above traditional concert flute; music written an octave lower than sounding to keep notes closer to the staff
Treble Flute- Guo “New Voice” Treble flute in key of G Weight:156 g / 5.5 oz $900Rare flute in the key of G; can play three octaves; the instrument sounds a perfect fifth higher than written
Traditional Concert Flute- Yamaha Professional 577H Series Flute Offset G C# trill key, split E, gizmo key19.53 x 5.2 x 4.06 inches$3200Can play three octaves from C4-C7; sounds as written in the music; most common type of flute that the majority of people would recognize
Alto Flute- Yamaha Professional Alto Flute YFL-A421UII – with Curved HeadjointApproximately 5 pounds$7000In the key of G; can play three octaves but the instrument sounds a perfect fourth lower than written
Bass Flute-  Yamaha YFL-B441II Professional Bass FluteApproximately 7 pounds$8850Can play three octaves from C3-C6; sounds one octave lower than written in the music
Contra-alto Flute- Kotato Contra-Alto Bass Flute in F15 pounds$22,850In the key of F; can play three octaves; plays an octave below the alto flute
Contrabass Flute- Pearl Contra Bass Flute 905 Model15 pounds$10,800Can play three octaves; sounds two octaves lower than written in the music
Subcontrabass Flute/Double Contra-alto flute15 feetNot available Rare flute that can play three octaves; in the key of G; plays two octaves below the alto flute
Double Contrabass Flute- Kotato Double Contrabass Flute in C (special order only)18 feet$48,500Rare flute that can play three octaves but upper register rarely used; sounds three octaves lower than written in the music

How do different types of flutes sound when played together?

Each different type of flute covers a different range, similar to an orchestra. Flute ensembles or flute choirs include different have a wide array of music available for groups to perform, and the result is beautiful. Below is Teheran Flute Choir playing Oblivion by Astor Piazzolla. 

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