The Metal Debate

“For many years, there has been discussion and argument on the question of the influence of the wall material of a woodwind instrument on its tone quality. These arguments probably started in early Stone-Age music circles with assertions that a flute made of a human thigh bone had a better tone than one fashioned from the rib of a sabre-tooth tiger.” – Quote from Physicist John Backus (noted American physicist and acoustician) from The Flute Book by Nancy Toff, pg. 18

This debate has been around for years. MANY years, as our opening quote suggests. So, which material for your flute is better? I bet you’re hoping for a definitive answer. But, that’s not what we’re here to do because, honestly, the answer is for you to decide.

“There is continuing disagreement about the tonal qualities imparted by the material of which the flute is made.
It is safe to say that the perceptions of tone is so subjective that definitive answers on this point simply do not exist.” – Jim Phelan, author of The Complete Guide to the Flute and Piccolo

“Among players, not surprisingly, the choices between materials are largely unscientific, a matter of tradition and intangible personal preference.” -The Flute Book pg. 18

While there are many choices of metals (including compound materials), one of the biggest choices you’ll make in purchasing a student or semi-professional flute is whether or not you want a Silver-Plated or a Solid Silver flute.   
 
What’s the difference? Let’s first discuss what the two terms mean:
 
Silver plating is the process of bonding an extremely thin layer of silver to a base metal, most commonly nickel (like our R-150) or brass in the case of instruments.

Solid Silver is not 100% Silver, as the name would suggest, becausebelieve it or not, solid silver would be too soft to create a flute. Typically it’s about 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% other alloys. These alloys help strengthen the metal to allow the instrument durability.
 
Silver plated instruments tend to be more affordable and more durable for the same reason: there’s less silver involved and as we now know, silver is soft. Does the mix of nickel/brass and silver make the flute sound different than a solid silver flute which is known for its brightness and flexibility? A Solid Silver instrument does not have the mix of metals like the silver plated flute and may feel heavier. Some players feel as if the mix of metals or the actual weight of the instrument attributes to the sound of the instrument.
 
However, as with all things aural, the whole argument is subjective because we all have different tastes and perceptions. What really matters in purchasing either a silver plated instrument or a solid silver instrument is:
1.       The effect of the material on the responsiveness on the instrument.
2.       The perceived effect of tone quality.
3.       The fabrication and durability of the instrument. (i.e. Is the instrument made by a reputable and trusted company? Does the instrument tend to last a long time and is it made well?)
 
To find what works for you, it’s important to try many flutes of all materials beforehand that are within your budget. Ask lots of questions and to pick the instrument that is right for YOU. At Resona, we now offer two lines of flutes: the R-150 which has a silver-plated body and the R-300 which has a solid silver body. The flutes have the same mechanism and padding and differ only in the material of the body. Try them side by side this August at the flute convention in Minneapolis, MN to see the difference in the materials for yourself! Still unsure of how to pick an instrument? See our previous blog post here for some advice. 
 
How do you feel about the metal debate? Let us know in the comments or let us know on Facebook or Instagram! ​