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Do you want to play the lower harmonies in a flute choir or join a large orchestra? If you know how to find the best alto flute, you can use that instrument to set yourself apart from other flute players.
I love playing the alto flute in a flute choir, but that wouldn’t be possible without the right model. For better or worse, there are many options, and you need to know what to look for.
Bottom Line Up Front: Consider your budget and headjoint styles and alto flute materials to find the best model. Try a few options that you can afford to decide which you should buy. It’s impossible to recommend only one model as the best because everyone will have different needs and wants from their piccolo.
How to Find the Best Alto Flute
Finding an alto flute is similar if you’ve ever shopped for and found the best flute for you. However, the steps for finding the best alto flute have some differences.
Even though the instruments are part of the same family, they’re still unique instruments. Whether you want to get an alto flute for fun or upgrade to a professional model, you need to know how to select the right model.
Consider the following steps to help find an alto flute that makes you want to play it all the time.
Start with Reputable Brands
First, you should look at reputable brands when searching for alto flutes. Compared to C flutes and piccolos, there aren’t a ton of knockoff alto flutes, but they do exist
Sticking to brands such as Pearl and Trevor James can help you increase the chances of getting a good instrument. It will be easier to play when you have a good alto flute, which makes things more enjoyable.
A lot of well-known flute brands make instruments of all sizes. But you may find some makers, such as Eva Kingma, who primarily make low flutes, so give all of the companies you find a chance.
Consider Your Flute Brand
If you play a C flute from a brand that makes alto flutes, you can start there. However, you may also want to check out altos from other companies to broaden your search.
When I bought my alto flute, I didn’t have a C flute from the same company. I did have a piccolo from that brand, and I knew I liked it so thought I would enjoy the alto flute.
Some C flute brands, such as Lyric and Burkart, don’t make alto flutes. Others may make alto flutes, but they’re expensive, such as Yamaha or Altus, so consider a variety of brands.
Try Both Headjoint Styles
If you only take one piece of advice, let it be to try both curved and straight alto flute headjoints. Straight headjoints make the alto look like a big flute, and they have a lot of the same balance points.
However, straight headjoints also extend the length of the instrument, so some keys are harder to reach. A curved headjoint solves that problem, which is nice for younger players or people with joint problems.
When you play a curved headjoint, though, you’ll have to worry about different balance points. The headjoint can also make it harder to stay in tune when playing the third octave.
Personally, I find the straight headjoint less awkward, but I sometimes have to take practice breaks. My arms get tired, and it can be hard to reach some of the keys to get a good seal for lower notes.
Stick to Silver Plating
When it comes to C flutes, upgrading to a solid silver instrument is a huge deal. You can get a warmer tone with solid silver compared to silver plating.
The same is true for alto flutes, and you can find plenty of solid silver models. However, solid silver can also add a lot of weight to an alto flute, more so than for a C flute.
Extra weight can make it even more difficult to play the alto flute for long periods. If you want to minimize the weight, stick to silver plating since it’s a lighter material.
Test Other Materials
You might want to test alto flutes that use a variety of materials. Aside from silver, the most common material is probably black nickel, and it offers a unique sound.
One alto flute uses brass, making it sound a bit similar to a saxophone. Another alto uses a copper alloy, its sound and response.
Don’t buy an alto flute with a fancy material because of its uniqueness. Instead, test it out like any other model, and buy it if it’s genuinely the best fit for you.
Know Your Budget
After you do a bit of research, consider your budget before you buy an alto flute. When I bought my alto flute, I didn’t want to spend more than $2,000.
That budget significantly limited my options, but having an extra $500 to $1,000 over that is much better. You can budget as much as $17,000 to get a super fancy model.
Most players should get away with a budget of around $3,000 to $4,000. If you’re like I was and need to spend even less, you can do that but remember that you won’t have as many altos to choose from.
Review the Specs
Before you select an alto flute, consider what specs you want. Most altos come with a C footjoint and no split E mechanism, but you can find some with the mechanism and a low B footjoint.
I haven’t missed either of those features when playing my alto flute. While a low B would be nice, that would add a bit of weight to the instrument.
Another spec to consider is an ergonomic left-hand key layout. Instead of pressing the keys directly, you would press buttons higher up on the body to trigger keys to close, which shortens the stretch for your left hand.
I have that on my alto, making it so much more comfortable to play. The one time when you might not need that is if you’ll only use a curved headjoint since it will be closed already.
Feel the Keys
Whether you want ergonomic keys or not, you should feel the keys of a specific alto. Unfortunately, the design and spacing aren’t as standardized for the C flute.
Some manufacturers may space keys further apart, which can be uncomfortable if you have small hands. Consider if the G key is offset or if you’ll have to reach a bit farther to close it.
If you like to use the Bb lever, you might also want to know how far it is from the F key. Then, you’ll know if the alto will make it easy to play how you like or if you’ll have to stretch your fingers unnecessarily.
Check the Intonation
When trying any alto flute, you need to check its intonation. If you don’t have perfect pitch, you can use a tuner, but be sure to accommodate for the transposition.
For example, when you play a low D on the alto flute, you should see a tuner recognize it as an A. Playing an A on the alto flute will cause you to see an E on a tuner.
No matter what notes you check, make sure the tuning isn’t off. If it’s super sharp or flat, you’d have to work to compensate for that when playing with others, which can add tension and stress.
Compare Multiple Models
Before I bought my alto flute, I tried at least three or four instruments in total. I could noodle around on a couple of alto flutes that my fellow flute choir members owned.
Another was one that my flute tech was selling, and the fourth was available at a music store in my area. After trying those, I settled on the one from the music store.
Had I not tried the other models, I might not have known the alto I bought was the best for me. You don’t need to try many options, but give yourself time to try a few to see what works for you.
I’ve mentioned this a bit, but it deserves its own point. When buying an alto flute, your comfort should come before anything else, except for maybe the price.
It can be tempting to buy the same alto that many of your friends have. Or you might want to buy a straight headjoint because you think that’s what you’re supposed to get.
However, if those alto flutes are hard to play for more than a minute or two, it’s not worth it. If your instrument causes pain, you won’t want to play it, so it will soon become a waste of money.
Best Alto Flutes
When shopping for the best alto flute, you may be overwhelmed by all of the options. It took me a while to determine which models might meet my needs the best.
Don’t let analysis paralysis keep you from buying an instrument you want to play. Instead, consider some of the best models on the market to help you get started.
Here are some alto flutes I’ve tried or have heard others play well.
I have to start with the Pearl 201, which is my personal alto flute. It’s one of the most affordable options out there, so it’s great if you aren’t sure how much you’ll use the instrument.
This model features a solid silver lip plate and riser, but the rest of the model uses silver plating. Playing this alto is super easy in the first and second octaves, but the top octave can sound thin.
You get to choose from a straight headjoint, curved headjoint, or both. The ergonomic key layout makes it easy to play with either headjoint, and you can get a nice sound.
- Both headjoint styles are available
- Great for beginners
- Easy to play
- Responsive sound
- Hard to keep in tune
- Not for serious players
You can get this model with either or both headjoint styles. Both headjoints are easy to get a sound on, which is nice if you don’t get to practice the alto flute that much.
The silver-plated body keeps the instrument from being too expensive. Meanwhile, the split E mechanism helps you get a good sound on the high E.
- Great for students
- Easy to play
- Nice response
- Good tone
- Comes with both headjoints
- Expensive for what it is
- Not for serious players
Gemeinhardt Ali Ryerson Black Nickel Alto
I heard some of my fellow flute students play the Gemeinhardt Ali Ryerson Black Nickel Alto during grad school. This model uses nickel instead of silver, so it looks and sounds different.
It has a silver lip plate and riser so that you can get a bit of the traditional flute sound. There are also rollers on the thumb and D# keys to make playing a bit more fluid.
You can choose one headjoint style or get both, which is nice if multiple players will share. This flute sounds great in a flute choir and fits in well with the other flutes.
- Unique appearance
- Sounds great
- Easy to play
- Comes with different headjoint styles
- Useful key rollers
- Not for beginners
Trevor James Silver-Plated Alto Flute
I tried the Trevor James Silver-Plated Alto Flute before buying my current model. This alto flute sounds great and is really easy to play, so it’s nice for new players.
You can get it with one or both headjoint styles, and each headjoint is comfortable to play on. The instrument plays in tune pretty well, and it features ergonomic keys.
There’s also a D# roller to help you navigate the footjoint keys quickly and easily. Like other altos, this one has a solid silver lip plate and riser to add a bit of the silver sound to the instrument.
- Easy to play
- Sounds great
- Quick response
- D# roller
- Ergonomic design
- A bit expensive
Trevor James Copper Alloy Alto Flute
The Trevor James Copper Alloy Alto Flute is another amazing model. I haven’t tried it myself, but I’ve heard a few people play it and sound great on it.
It has a silver lip plate and riser, but the rest of the body uses a mix of copper and some other metals. If you like rose gold flutes, you may like how this instrument responds since copper makes rose gold what it is.
Like many other models, you can choose between a curved and straight headjoint. You can also get both if you want to have options or share the alto with other players.
- Amazing tone
- Warm sound
- Good response
- Comes with both headjoints
- Great for gold flute players
- Somewhat expensive
- Not for everyone
If you have a bit more money on hand, you may want to try the Yamaha YFL-A421. My college had this model on hand to use in flute choir and other settings, and it was easy to play.
The model sounds great, and it uses brass to provide a unique look and tone. Whether you prefer a straight headjoint or curved headjoint, you can use either with the alto flute body.
Yamaha’s alto flute is great for professionals and other serious players. Definitely make time to try it out before buying this model because it’s one of the more expensive options.
- Great for professionals
- Unique sound
- Works with both headjoint styles
- Easy to play
- Sounds good in an ensemble
- Very expensive
- Not for beginners
FAQs About How to Find the Best Alto Flute
Answer: The alto flute sounds in G, a fourth lower than the C flute, but both use the same written range. While you can find some, alto flutes with low B keys are much less common than C flutes with low B keys.
An alto flute has a longer tube with a bigger diameter. Some alto flutes use curved headjoints, so they look like a J instead of the straight line on most C flutes.
Answer: I haven’t heard of anyone not playing the flute before learning the alto flute. Starting on the alto flute first may be possible, but it’s not the best idea.
You’ll be able to find affordable flutes to learn the basics, and you can even rent a flute. Very few places let you rent an alto flute, and the rental fee would be more expensive.
Answer: Neither alto flute headjoint style is better for everyone, but one may be better for you. In my experience, people with longer arms and fingers do better on straight headjoints.
Some players believe that your height makes a difference, but I’m only 5’3″ and love using a straight headjoint. I also know taller players who prefer a curved headjoint.
Answer: You can play the alto flute alone as there are some solos for the instrument. Probably the most common place to play it is in a flute choir or flute orchestra, where the alto flute plays a similar role to the viola.
There are a few orchestral parts for the alto, such as in The Planets by Holst or The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky, but those are few and far between.
Answer: Alto flutes can be expensive, but most are somewhat reasonable in price. You can find models for less than $2,000 or as much as $2,000.
If you want to save a bit of money, look for a used alto flute. You can also buy an alto with one headjoint style or the other to lower the price by a few hundred dollars.
Final Note on How to Find the Best Alto Flute
Knowing how to find the best alto flute is crucial if you want to join a flute choir or be a soloist. I’ve had my alto flute for almost four years, and it took a few months of trying models to find the one for me.
If you’re looking for an affordable alto, check out the Pearl 201, which has served me well. When you have some more money, you might try the Trevor James alto flutes.
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