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PostPosted: Sun Jan 24, 2021 6:36 am 
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Follow-up on my previous question, and for context I'm working up an article for r/seashanties on Reddit about traditional instruments for sailor music. (Yes, I know true shanties are acapella, but there's a larger interest in nautical music with the current rage for sea shanties, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to introduce novices to trad instruments they might consider taking up). I emphasize I don't have a financial interest in the article, I'm just writing it for fun because I like getting folks into playing trad.

In the article for the winds section, I'll mention tinwhistle, but also want to mention for those wanting a little challenge (or have background in classical flute), an affordable but decent open-holed flute or fife would be an instrument popular in the working class of the ~1800s, and sailors broadly played the same instruments as farmers/miners/laborers on land, just with a bias to seafaring convenience.

Not necessarily asking folks for exhaustive laydowns, since I/others can search the sub for details and reviews of mentioned models, but if anyone wants to drop names of makes/models/dealers that a novice should consider for open-hole transverse flutes, I can briefly note those in the article on Reddit, and link to this thread for further details.

Would this subforum generally advise that, given there's not much standardization in the shanty scene, that a high or low D flute is probably the way to go, since they can learn at least basic shops from Irish tutorials and then branch into sailor tunes? And any comment about the issue, on high flutes, as to which models are really truly "fifes" and made to play above their first octave, while others are more "band flutes" and fine to play at lowest octave? I just want to avoid someone getting a true fife in D and then being frustrated trying to play along with a YouTube tinwhistle tutorial and finding the lowest octave on their flute unsatisfactory.

Thanks for any suggestions as to affordable beginner flutes that are approachable for novices, low or high, and any comment on choosing between a "I want to play fife and drum stuff, so shrill octaves" vice "I want basically a transverse tinwhistle that's good at low octaves." And for low flutes, just a few names/sources of whatever "I want to play Irish flute" beginners get recommended would be cool.

Thanks for your support, and maybe in the course of this sudden fad for sea shanties, we can inspire a few people to take up traditional flute!


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 24, 2021 7:44 am 
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Flutes were very common among irish immigrants in the late 19th/early 20th centuries. In Chicago there were lots of flute playing cops and firemen. The Sears Catalog sold a lot of flutes, keyed and keyless.

There are a lot of good choices for durable, low cost flutes in Delrin or in aluminum. I have experience with a few and can share that: keep in in mind I've only been at it a few years. I have a "high end" flute from Geoffrey Ellis that I play all the time: it's better than any of these others, which I'm ranking in order of preference.

1. Walt Sweet "shannon" flute in delrin. This flute is modestly sized, well made and extremely durable. It has a tuning slide and medium sized holes making it moderate in volume and air requirement. It plays well in tune and has a forgiving squared oval embouchure cut. The finger holes have clearly been hand tuned and "slanted" somewhat to bring the spacing a little closer. It has no rings or ornamentation.
2. Copely and Boegli delrin keyless flute. This flute is also well made, and plays well in tune. It has a slightly rounder embouchure cut and I find it to be a little more finicky, but when I find the sweet spot it has a great tone. It has slightly bigger holes than the shannon and is a bit more "open"
and loud. Anybody might prefer it to the Shannon depending on the shape of their own embouchure.
3. M&E Keyless flute in Delrin or something like Delrin. This flute is more roughly made. It's much quieter and heavier to hold. It's very easy to blow but it's less responsive than the others: it has less range and a more veiled sound and is much less rewarding to play.

Galeon makes a well regarded inexpensive Delrin flute, also Somers and Forbes

Yes D would seem to me to be the key to start with. A whistle can get unpleasantly shrill in D but a flute is much easier on the ears.


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 24, 2021 9:19 am 
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Perfectly good cheaper options would be Tony Dixon flutes/piccolos, I have several.

Low 'D' one piece ABS approx £35~40
High 'D' one piece ABS approx £15~20


Bit more expensive.

High 'D' aluminium Duo, (flute & whistle heads), approx £45
Low 'D' 3 piece delrin flute approx £150~180

[I also have 2 of his high 'D' brass piccolos, (no longer made), really nice.]


Davy Angus makes 3 piece aluminium flutes at reasonable prices too, about £70~100
M&E make a delrin type from approx £200
Damian Thompson also makes delrin low 'D' flutes from about £180

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 24, 2021 10:35 am 
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I don't know the market well enough to suggest makers, but I do have one comment about flutes and sea shanties. A problem instrumentalists will likely run into, is that songs are generally in the preferred key of the singers. The key of C is popular but it can shift around depending on singer preference and vocal range. An acapella singing group is probably even more likely to end up in an unusual key, because they don't have to conform to preferred keys for accompaniment instruments.

So someone buying a keyless flute in D is likely to have trouble when the shanty group decides to sing in one of these "non-Irish" keys. Even a player of an 8-keyed flute might have trouble unless they have lots of experience playing chromatically.

I'm not suggesting you omit flute entirely from your article, but I think this issue is worth mentioning. If the singing group is already used to playing along with another diatonic instrument like concertina, they may already be forced to play in a flute-friendly key. But that may not always be the case.

Meanwhile, whistles offer a much better solution because they're so inexpensive. A player could start with a C whistle, and then build out a collection of cheap whistles to cover a variety of keys.


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 25, 2021 12:26 pm 
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You will have a bit of an adventure adjusting to the keys your singer favors. Two of my favorite singers around these part seems to gravitate to Eb, F, and C. These can be a challenge on a flute with no keys.


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 25, 2021 8:11 pm 
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This is all really helpful so far, thanks!

I did want to ask about one maker: does this sub generally have a positive impression of Erik The Flutemaker, for basic instruments for beginners? I vaguely recall him back when he was selling pretty casually, but now he has a wide product line and fancy website, so that's kinda cool.

https://eriktheflutemaker.com/collectio ... es-primary

His bamboo flutes start around $90, would those be a valid option for Anglosphere trad music, or are the other options mentioned here better?


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 25, 2021 10:06 pm 
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Whistles are the gateway drug. They are inexpensive and easy to start playing tunes. The fingering is the same as the typical flute, so you have a head start if you want to go in that direction.

Most importantly, you don't have to suffer the long learning-curve trying to get your lips to form a sound.


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 25, 2021 10:10 pm 
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tstermitz wrote:
Whistles are the gateway drug. They are inexpensive and easy to start playing tunes. The fingering is the same as the typical flute, so you have a head start if you want to go in that direction.


Oh yeah, I've played whistles since I was a teenager listening to Nirvana, so well-familiar. I have the aforementioned Sweetheart little plastic band flute in D, had it for years and just never really got embouchure down. At some point I just need to do some online lessons or something to figure that out, because I know all the relevant fingering from tinwhistle, so it's really just the lack of mouth technique keeping me from fifing up a storm.


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 25, 2021 11:06 pm 
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Follow-up question: of the High D flutes mentioned above, are most of those "fifes" that are really meant to be played in the second and third register, quite shrill? Or are some of them in the "band flute" category where they play a first octave clear and true?

Like in my other question folks recommended looking at the Peeler fifes, which are very cool looking indeed, but seem to be full military/marching type fifes, and some cursory searching on this sub says that their first octave takes some knack to it.

Are any of the <US$150 High D flutes currently offered decent in the first register?


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 26, 2021 3:46 am 
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Flutes/piccolo are made to play best in the first two octaves; fifes are, usually, made to sound best in the second & third octaves, (& played outside, where the sound needs to carry).

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PostPosted: Tue Jan 26, 2021 6:27 am 
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fatmac wrote:
Flutes/piccolo are made to play best in the first two octaves; fifes are, usually, made to sound best in the second & third octaves, (& played outside, where the sound needs to carry).


Really good summary, guess I'm on-track.

Are any of the <$150 options for High D in that flute/piccolo category vice fife category?


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 27, 2021 8:43 am 
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I've drooled over Hammy Hamilton Irish piccolos in the past, but I just now noticed he makes a metal-bodied "practice flute" for £85. Anyone familiar with those?

http://www.hamiltonflutes.com/Practice_Flutes.html


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 27, 2021 9:31 am 
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TapTheForwardAssist wrote:
I've drooled over Hammy Hamilton Irish piccolos in the past, but I just now noticed he makes a metal-bodied "practice flute" for £85. Anyone familiar with those?

http://www.hamiltonflutes.com/Practice_Flutes.html

Sure, I have one. Great sound, embouchure cut is as good as his regular flutes. Since the body is cylindrical, though, it may be a less comfortable reach for some than a tapered (conical bore) body.

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 28, 2021 12:55 pm 
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For anyone dropping by this thread due to my little article on Reddit about choosing instruments for sea songs, here's an earlier thread that has some good suggestions on affordable fifes and high flutes.

viewtopic.php?f=2&t=111772


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PostPosted: Fri Jan 29, 2021 6:07 am 
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I have three of the 'cheap' Dixon flutes now and can vouch for all of them. I have the single piece High D piccolo, which was the cost of a lunch and coffee, hard to go wrong. I also have the aluminum G with both whistle and flute heads and the low D two piece, both of these sound really nice and mellow and I find them easy to play and well in tune.


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