Flute Features: Specs and Metals Ultimate Guide

You’re shopping for a flute but are overwhelmed by all of the options. Knowing about some common flute features can help.

Flute Features: Specs and Materials | Hannah B Flute

That way, you can make sure you buy a flute with the specs and materials that suit you best. Keep reading to learn more.

Flute Features

Whether you’re buying your first flute or need an upgrade, you should consider some of the most common flute features or specs. The right specs can make a huge difference, especially when buying your second or third instrument.

Here are some features you need to know.

Closed Hole or Open Hole Keys

flute features: closed holes
flute features: open holes

One of the most notable flute features is whether the model has closed holes or open holes. Closed hole keys (or plateau keys) are more common on student model flutes.

However, they’re also popular on advanced flutes in Europe and South America as well as some older flutes in the US. Most newer intermediate and professional flutes have open hole keys.

In this case, you have to cover the holes completely to get the right notes to sound on your flute. But open holes also allow you to play quarter tones and other extended techniques.

French or Y Arms

flute features: Y arms
flute features: French arms

Flutes also have either French key arms (also called pointed arms) or Y arms. A lot of beginner flutes use Y arms because they’re cheaper to produce.

In the past, French arms were a sign of a professional, handmade instrument. But recently, they’ve become more popular on intermediate flutes. Neither is better than the other.

It often comes down to personal preference, especially as you upgrade. You may prefer how one style looks compared to the other.

Offset or Inline G

flute features: offset G

Another one of the most important flute features has to do with the position of the key you press with your left ring finger. Most flutes made today use an offset G key, which offsets the key from the rest of the keys on the flute.

That makes it easier to reach with your left hand. Almost any student level flute you’ll find has this feature because a lot of younger players can’t reach the key if it’s an inline G.

However, you can special order many professional flutes with an inline G. The key will be in the same line as the rest of the main keys. Some players find this position more comfortable.

Bb Lever

Just down the flute from the G key is the Bb lever key. You use your right index finger to trigger the lever. That closes the tone hole necessary to turn a B natural into a Bb.

The Bb lever is useful for playing a chromatic scale. It also comes in handy when playing in the key of B major if you need to play B and A# one after the other.

It’s one of the three Bb fingerings that every flute player should know. You’ll add the lever to the standard B fingering.

C or B Footjoint

flute features: C footjoint
flute features: B footjoint

You’ll also find that most flutes come with either a C footjoint or B footjoint. The C foot is most common on student flutes, and it’s also popular on advanced instruments in certain countries.

However, the B foot is more common on intermediate and professional flutes, at least in the US. The B foot adds one extra note to the bottom of the flute’s range, so you can play slightly lower.

But that extra note also comes at an extra cost. It adds extra weight to the instrument as well, so some players find it too heavy to be worth it, especially because not everyone uses the low B.

Gizmo Key

flute feature: gizmo key

Many flutes with a B footjoint come with a gizmo key on the joint. It sits just above the B and C rollers, so you do have to reach a bit. But the key closes the B tone hole independently of the C and C# tone holes.

That comes in handy when playing really high notes, like high C. It effectively shortens the flute and makes it like a C footjoint. Playing higher notes is much easier on a C foot than a B foot.

As far as I know, this feature is standard on B footjoints. But there may be some older models on the used market that don’t have one.

C# Trill Key

flute features: C# trill key lever
flute features: C# trill key tone hole

One of the newer flute features that is on its way to becoming standard is the C# trill key. As the name suggests, it allows you to trill to a C# from a C natural or a B natural more easily.

Instead of trilling with your left hand, you trill the lever with your right index finger. That’s a lot simpler, and you can trill faster and more smoothly. You can also use it to sustain a C# and stay in tune.

The C# trill key is also useful when trilling from a high G to a high A. You don’t need to use any alternate fingerings or weird fingering combinations.

Split E Mechanism

flute features: split E mechanism

The split E mechanism makes it easier to play the third octave E without the note cracking. It closes the lower G tone hole when fingering a high E, which makes it acoustically similar to a high D, Eb, and F.

This feature is pretty standard on intermediate flutes and even some student models. I’ve also found it’s super common on piccolos, which is great because you play high on the piccolo a lot.

I don’t have a split E on my current flute. However, I’ve learned how to play the note without one, so it’s up to you whether you want the spec.

D# Roller

flute features: D# roller

The D# roller is a nice flute feature, especially if you’re looking to buy an alto flute. This roller sits on the Eb key, and it helps you slide between that key and the other footjoint keys.

While it’s less common, you can also get a roller on the low C# key.

Without rollers, sliding can be much more difficult. So if you play in the low register a lot, you may struggle to play smoothly. Or you might resign yourself to wiping the side of your nose to grease up your pinky.

Personally, I haven’t felt the need for a D# roller on my C flutes. But I like having it on my new alto flute. It came in handy on one of the flute choir pieces on our concert last month.

High G# Mechanism

Some professional piccolos feature a high G# mechanism. This causes the thumb tone holes to close part of the way when pressing the G# key. So if you need to play a high G#, it will come out more easily.

I have one on my Hammig piccolo, and it’s super nice. Without the mechanism, you may need to use alternate fingerings, especially if you need to play the high note quietly.

Unfortunately, you’ll most likely have to wait until you get a professional piccolo to get this feature. The only intermediate model I know of that has it is the GUO piccolo.

Vented C Key

Another one of the flute features that’s exclusive to piccolos is the vented C key. It has a small hole in the C key on the instrument. That can help with tuning the C# when the key is open.

Like the G# mechanism, you’ll only find this feature on professional piccolos. But if you play the piccolo a lot, having this spec could come in handy.

Brossa F#

The Brossa F# key is another feature you’ll only find on the most expensive piccolo models. It’s a small lever that sits near the D key, and you operate it with the same finger.

You can use the lever to play an F# instead of using the regular fingering. That can help with intonation and other problems. But not a lot of models have this spec, and those that do cost a pretty penny.

Conical or Cylindrical Bore

Another spec that you’ll want to consider when piccolo shopping is the shape of the bore. Most flutes have a cylindrical bore, meaning the tube is shaped like a cylinder with the same diameter at both ends.

However, most plastic and wood piccolos feature a conical bore. That means the end of the piccolo is slightly smaller than the end that connects to the headjoint.

Some piccolos have a cylindrical bore, mostly metal models. But the Nagahara mini is an excellent example of a wood piccolo with a cylindrical bore.

Ergonomic Hand Position

flute features: ergonomic hand position

If you’re looking to purchase an alto flute, I highly recommend getting one with an ergonomic hand position. This shifts the trigger points of the left hand keys up the flute so that they’re easier to reach.

Since I play on a straight headjoint, I find this feature super helpful. But it can also be nice if you primarily play on a curved headjoint. You won’t have to reach as far across your chest.

Now, most models have this feature but not all. Be sure to look for an alto flute with an ergonomic layout. And give it a try to make sure it’s the comfortable choice for you.

Headjoint Cuts

When you get to the professional level of flutes, you’ll find that many models allow you to choose the headjoint cut. This refers to the shape of the embouchure hole, and it can affect how your flute sounds and responds.

Some headjoints have a rounder embouchure hole, while others are more square. And for better or worse, every brand has a slightly different selection of cuts to choose from.

Piccolos can also have different headjoint cuts, but they’re more standard. You can choose from a traditional and a wave cut.

Open G#

Most flutes on the market use a closed G# key. That means you have to open a tone hole to produce a G# on your flute. Odds are, if you have a flute, this is how your instrument works.

However, there are some (mostly older) flutes out there with an open G#. I haven’t gotten to play one, and I’m okay with that. These flutes require different fingerings to play, so they can be hard to get used to.

Reverse Bb Thumb

Another flute spec that can trip you up is a reverse Bb thumb. On most flutes (probably including yours), the Bb thumb key sits above the B natural thumb key.

But on some flutes, the positions are reversed. That means you need to think about where to place your thumb so that you don’t play the wrong note accidentally.

Flute Materials

Along with flute features, you should consider all of the different materials flutes can be made of. Most are metal, but there are some plastic and woods, particularly for piccolos.

Consider the following materials when shopping for an instrument.


Almost everyone starts on a silver-plated student flute. The base metal is usually nickel, which is cheaper than a full silver flute. You can get started on a plated flute for a much more affordable price.

Sterling Silver

Sterling silver is probably the most common material for flutes. It’s 92.5% pure silver, and the rest is made up of other metals. You can get a nice, brilliant sound, and some flutes come with a sterling headjoint and a plated body.

Coin Silver

You can find the occasional coin silver flute, which is 90% silver. Since it has slightly less silver than sterling silver, it sounds a bit brighter. Some people call this alloy solid silver.

Altus Silver

This silver alloy is 94.6% pure silver, with other metals making up the remaining 5.4%. As the name suggests, this alloy is only available on Altus flutes.

.950 Silver

Another silver alloy you can get is 95% silver. Sankyo uses this alloy to produce two of their flutes, the CF-701 and CF-801.

Britannia Silver

Britannia Silver sounds a bit darker than sterling due to being 95.8% silver. You can find a lot of flutes with this metal, either entirely or in the headjoint or other parts of the instrument.

Pristine Silver

At 97% pure silver, this alloy can be nice and dark. But you can still get the projection you’d expect from a silver flute.

Pure Silver

The name is a bit misleading as this alloy is 99.7% silver. But it comes very close, and it can be a good choice for some professional flutes.

.998 Silver

This alloy contains slightly more silver content than pure silver at 99.8%. It’s as close as you’ll get to 100% silver.

5% Gold

Haynes uses 5% gold with 95% silver to form this alloy. It’s a popular choice among their professional flutes.

5-95 Platinum Enhanced Silver

Some brands use 5% platinum with 95% silver to add more depth and warmth to the sound. However, it weighs and costs less than a gold or platinum flute.


Powell offers a few Aurumite models, mostly at the professional level. They layer gold over silver or vice versa, so you get the benefits of both materials. You can choose a flute with either metal on the outside.

Ruby Aurumite

A specific type of Aurumite, this one always comes with gold on the outside of the flute, specifically 14k rose gold. It looks and sounds great.

9k G&S

You can also find a 9k G&S flute, which features a layer of 9k gold over silver. Silver makes up 80% of the material.

Fusion I

Haynes combines their 5% platinum 95% silver material over a layer of 14k gold. This offers a nice, warm and mellow sound for a professional flute.

Fusion O

Another option is to get a flute from Haynes with gold on the outside. The two metals are the same as the Fusion I, but their positions are swapped.

Gold-Brass Alloy

If you’re serious about the alto or bass flute, you should consider the models from Yamaha. They use a gold-brass alloy that looks as good as it sounds, but these instruments are expensive.

Copper Alloy

A newer material for flutes, Trevor James came out with its copper alloy around 2018. They first used mix of 85% copper and 15% other metals on their alto flute, but they recently launched the copper alloy C flute.

Black Nickel

A few C flutes and alto flutes use black nickel plating for the outside. This material offers a darker sound compared to silver. A lot of jazz players prefer this material.

Gold Plating

While not nearly as common as silver plating, gold plating is an option on some professional flutes. You can choose between yellow gold, rose gold, and even champagne gold, depending on the brand.

Platinum Plating

Another rare option is to get a flute with platinum plating. The only brand I know of that offers this is the Altus with their Atsui plating.


Many flute players dream of one day owning a gold flute. You can choose from a variety of karats, from 9k all the way up to 24k, which is pure gold. The higher the karats, the warmer the sound you can get.

Along with yellow gold, there’s rose gold and white gold. Rose gold contains more copper, while white gold has nickel and zinc.

There’s even green gold, which is the material used in the famous Dryad’s Touch. John Lunn made this flute with a ton of beautiful embellishments, and it’s now owned by Lizzo.


Platinum offers an even warmer sound than gold. But it also comes with a higher price tag, and it weighs a bit more than flutes of other materials.


A more rare metal alloy among flutes is tungsten. It uses tungsten along with 14k gold, 24k gold, and sterling silver to offer a warm yet unique sound.


Geoghegan flute headjoints sometimes use tantalum. It sounds sweet but can also sound full and resonant when necessary.


Niobium is very similar to tantalum in terms of the sound. However, it feels a bit less heavy to hold.

ABS Resin

Some flutes (mostly piccolos), use plastic or an ABS resin for the body and/or headjoint. This material sounds warmer than metal, but it’s also affordable.


Grenaditte is a composite material combining plastic and grenadilla wood, and you can find it in Pearl and GUO piccolos. It sounds warmer than other plastic models.


If a flute features wood, it’s most likely grenadilla. The wood sounds nice and offers a good response.

Cocus Wood

Another relatively common wood for piccolos is cocus wood. It’s more expensive than grenadilla, so you’ll usually find it on pro models.


Some piccolos are also made of rosewood. This is a good material, and you can find it on models like the Trevor James piccolos.

Other Woods

When looking at piccolo headjoints, you can find other woods, such as mopane, pink ivory, and olive wood. Each wood offers a unique sound, so check out makers like Mancke and Hernandez to learn more.

What’s the Difference Between a Student Flute and a Professional Flute?

A student flute uses silver plating and often has closed holes and a C footjoint. All of these flute features make the instrument more affordable and easier for a beginner to play.

On the other hand, professional flutes have many more specs and can come in a variety of materials, from metal to wood. These flute are also handmade and cost much more.

How Do You Tell If a Flute Is Silver or Silver-Plated?

The easiest way to tell if a flute is silver or silver-plated is to look for a series of three digits on the instrument. If you see 925 or something similar, that means the flute is sterling silver.

However, a lack of those numbers is a good sign it’s silver-plated. You can also contact the maker and provide your serial number. They should be able to tell you the material.

Is a Gold Flute Better Than Silver?

A gold flute can be better than a silver flute FOR SOME PLAYERS. The best material depends on you, your playing level, and your preference.

I like the darker sound of gold plating on my sterling silver flute. But others prefer no gold whatsoever, and both are totally fine.

Final Thoughts

There are dozens of flute features, and I’m sure I missed some. Be sure to consider the materials and specs when buying an instrument.

And if you’re ready to start learning the flute, learn about assembly and the first notes. That way, you can start off on the right foot!

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