How to Buy a Flute

What to Look for when choosing a Native American Flute

What type of wood is it constructed from?

Traditional Plains style flutes were made from Cedar or Pine.  These woods were chosen for their availability and their straight grain which was easy to split evenly.In the Southeast flutes were constructed from River Cane.

Today many flute makers are using a variety of woods including tropical hardwoods.  Be cautious when selecting a flute from one of these woods as many have a varying degree of toxicity that may cause an allergic reaction.  Cocobolo, Rosewoods, and Zebrawood are the most commonly found tropical woods that have a higher degree of toxicity.  Koa, Mahogany, and Mango are safe woods for most people.  Yew wood and Oleander should be avoided completely as they have such a high degree of toxicity as to be considered poisonous.

The type of wood also affects the tone of the flute.  Cedar and Pine are softer woods and have a mellower tone because more sound is absorbed by the wood.  Hardwoods have a crisper tone because they resonate less.

Is the flute hand-crafted or machine produced?

When you run your hand down a handcrafted flute you will feel slight variations in the wood.  A lathe turned flute will be perfectly smooth.

Is the flute in tune and easy to play?

Cover all the finger holes and blow gently into the flute.  You shouldn’t have to blow any harder that you would through a straw to make bubbles in a glass of milk if the flute is properly constructed.  It should produce a clear tone.  It shouldn’t sound airy or squeal.

Is the flute maker Native American?

Unfortunately there are many flute makers who are selling flutes as “Native American” who are non-Natives.  If you have doubts about the maker, ask to see their tribal identification or, if buying it from a store, ask for a “certificate of authenticity” which should show the name of the artist, their tribal identification.  It is a violation of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 for anyone to sell items as “Native American” unless they are a tribal member or have tribal certification.

Does the flute fit you?

You should be comfortable holding the flute.  You shouldn’t have to stretch your arms out to reach the finger holes.  The pads of your fingers should fit over the finger holes with spreading your fingers into an uncomfortable distance.