How to Choose the Best Alto Flute for You

Do you love playing the alto flute? If you don’t want to rely on borrowing one from a school or flute choir, consider buying the best alto flute for you.

How to Choose the Best Alto Flute | Piccolo Perfection

You have a lot of things to think about, though. So read on to learn how you can buy the right alto flute model that meets your needs.

But first, this post contains affiliate links. Read the full disclosure policy to learn more.

Consider Headjoint Styles

One of the most important things to decide is if you want a straight or curved headjoint. I personally play on an alto flute with a straight headjoint. The balance is relatively easy, and it’s easier to keep in tune when playing higher notes.

However, it does require a bit more of a reach. If you have shorter arms, you may find a curved headjoint makes the alto flute easier for you to play. The instrument will be closer to you, so you can have more flexibility.

Both options have pros and cons, and neither is better than the other for everyone.

Try Both Headjoint Styles

Even if you already think you know which headjoint will work, try both styles. You may think you’d prefer a straight headjoint, but a trial could reveal that a curved headjoint fits you better. It can also vary between alto flutes.

Maybe a straight headjoint from one brand works well for you. But if you go with an alto flute from a different company, you’d need to use a curved headjoint.

Both options are useful, so compare them just as much as you compare the alto flute bodies. When you’re done, figure out which one to go with. I’d only recommend buying an alto with both headjoints if you plan to share it with other people who may prefer the other style.

Think About Your Budget

Another crucial factor is how much an alto flute will cost you. You can find a couple of models for around $2,000. However, other alto flutes cost much more, and some cost more than $10,000.

If you aren’t sure if you’ll play the alto flute very much, you may want to get a cheaper model. It won’t be as big of a deal if you only play it in a flute choir or the occasional gig. However, if you know you want to focus on alto flute, you may want to spend more.

Setting a budget can help you find the best alto flute to meet your needs. Then, you can keep from trying altos that you won’t be able to afford.

Decide If You Want to Finance

Once you settle on a budget, you may want to consider financing your purchase. This is a good option if you don’t have quite enough money in cash. You can get the best alto flute now, and you can pay it off over time.

I financed my alto flute with a 12-month program. The program let me pay off the flute without having to pay anything in interest. That was nice since I didn’t have to drain my savings all at once.

Even if you have to pay a bit in interest, financing may be worth it. Think about how much you need to spend for the best alto flute for you. Then, you’ll be able to decide if you should pay in full or look into financing options.

Figure Out Where You’ll Play

If you aren’t sure how much to budget, think about where you’ll most likely play your alto flute. A lot of people, including myself, primarily play the alto flute in a flute choir. But you might be able to play it in an orchestra or pit orchestra.

Some flute players will specialize in the alto flute and perform solo music on the instrument. If you know how and where you’ll play it, you can determine if it’s worth paying more. That way, you can keep from buying a cheap alto that you’ll have to replace soon.

Another thing to think about is if you’ll want to upgrade eventually. If not, you may want to spend a bit more so that you can get the best alto flute that will last for years.

Stick to Reputable Brands

As you shop for the best alto flute, make sure you only look at reputable brands. Luckily, there aren’t a ton of cheap alto flutes out there like there are cheap flutes and piccolos. But they do exist on sites like eBay.

Some brands I’d recommend for beginners include Pearl, DiZhao, Trevor James, and Gemeinhardt. These brands all have relatively affordable alto flutes. That way, you can get something that will work well without having to spend a ton of money.

If you have a bit more money to spend, look at alto flutes from Sankyo, Altus, Miyazawa, and Yamaha. All of those brands offer some of the best alto flutes on the market. But they easily get very expensive.

Set Up a Trial

Before you buy even the best alto flute, you need to try it. I bought my alto from a national music store chain, and I was able to do an in-store trial. You can do that or schedule a trial to arrive at your door so that you can try alto flutes at home.

If you’re attending a flute event, you can also try alto flutes there. Go around to the vendors to see what alto flutes are available to try. Then, you can compare different models directly against each other to see which suits you the best.

It’s possible to buy an alto flute without trying it. However, I’d avoid doing so, especially if you’re looking to spend more than a few thousand dollars. You may be able to return the instrument, but it’s still a huge risk.

Choose Test Music

When trying any new instrument, you need to make sure it works well. As you shop for the best alto flute, make sure you have some test music to use. That will help you compare the different alto flutes that you try.

You can use music for your C flute if you don’t have any alto flute music. However, make sure the music you use covers the full range from low to high. Good test music will also cover a range of tempos, styles, and dynamics.

I’ll use basic exercises like scales to test out new instruments. You can also use things like the Taffanel and Gaubert exercises. Either way, make sure you choose music that you can play well so that you can focus on the sound and response rather than the notes themselves.

Test Multiple Altos

If at all possible, try at least two or three alto flutes. Ideally, you’d be able to do this in the same session so that you can try the altos back to back. However, I had to try altos separately, and I was still able to compare them.

You don’t need to try dozens of instruments. Stick to your budget, and test straight and curved headjoints to see what works best for you.

It may take a while to find the best alto flute for you. As annoying as that can be, trying instruments is the best way to figure out which model works well. Then, you’ll be able to minimize the risk of regretting your purchase.

Use a Tuner

Another essential step in how to choose the best alto flute is to use a tuner. The alto can be hard to tune, especially in the top octave. Having a tuner as you test each model can help you figure out if one is easier to tune than another.

If you find that one model is way out of tune, you can cut that from your list of potential altos to buy. Even if it feels good and sounds good, you have to have good intonation. Otherwise, you won’t be able to play the alto flute in a flute choir or any other ensemble.

You can use a tuner app on your phone. That way, you won’t have to bring another device to your trial session if you go to a flute event or a music store.

Pay Attention to Your Fingers

As you try each alto flute, pay attention to how your fingers feel. Consider if you have to reach far to completely close any of the keys. If you have a problem with the footjoint keys, you might be able to adjust the footjoint.

However, if you’re having trouble reaching the left hand, that can be a problem. You may want to look for an alto flute with a different key layout. Or you might need to switch to a curved headjoint if you’re currently trying an alto with a straight headjoint.

The key spacing on an alto flute isn’t as standardized as that on a C flute. Once you decide you like how an alto flute sounds, focus on how it feels to play. Then, you can determine if it will be comfortable over the long term.

Compare New and Used Models

If you’re on a small budget, you may want to look at used alto flutes. This is also a good option if you want to upgrade but don’t want to spend a ton of extra cash. Like C flutes, alto flutes that are used can cost less than they would new.

You can get more for your money, so you’ll have more model options if you’re open to buying a used alto flute. Of course, your model of choice may not be on the used market right now. So if you need an instrument soon, you may have to buy a new one.

Still, used altos are worth considering. Just make sure that you can try the model if not the specific instrument first. That way, you can figure out if it will be comfortable, especially since many individuals don’t want to accept returns.

Record Yourself

If you have to try alto flutes at different times, take recordings of each model. Then, you can listen back to all of them after trying a few options. It’s not as great as playing them back to back, but it’s better than nothing.

You can use your phone to record the audio. Then, you can listen back, and you can have someone else play the recordings so that you don’t know which is which.

Recording yourself also lets you hear things you may miss when playing. It can be hard to focus on small things, like key noises, when you’re focused on blowing air and playing the correct notes.

Keep Shopping

You may not find the best alto flute for you during your first round of trials. That’s normal, and it’s okay to keep looking. Don’t settle for the first alto flute you try, especially if you intend to play it for years or decades.

Give yourself time to find more alto flutes within your budget. If you don’t like any that you can afford, you have a couple of options.

First, you could save up and pay for a more expensive model. Alternatively, you can try different serial numbers of the same models. Sometimes, small differences in the production can make or break an alto flute.

Where to Buy an Alto Flute

Now that you know how to choose the best alto flute, you should know where. That way, you can get a good model to suit your needs.

You have multiple options when shopping for an instrument. Consider some of the following places you can check out to find your next alto.

Music Stores

They may not have a large selection, but some national music store chains have a few alto flutes. I bought my alto flute from Music & Arts. The store was able to order in an alto flute for me to try, and I got to visit the store to test it out.

You can look at national chains as well as local stores. Think about the music stores near you, and contact them to see if they have alto flutes.

If you don’t have any music stores near you, consider how far you can drive. That way, you’ll still be able to try an alto flute in person.

Flute Shops

Another place to shop for an alto flute is at a flute specialty shop. Stores like Flute World, Flute Center of New York, and Carolyn Nussbaum carry plenty of alto flutes. You’ll have a bigger selection than a general music store.

This can be a good option if you’re looking for a more advanced model. In my experience, the general music stores only carry basic models.

You can order a trial to get shipped to your home. That’s nice if you don’t live near a flute shop. Many flute stores will ship you three to five instruments to test and compare at a time, so you don’t have to ship instruments back and forth.

Online Retailers

Another option is to look at online retailers. There are music-specific ones, such as Woodwind & Brasswind. I’ve never bought an alto flute through them, but I did use it to buy saxophone reeds and a mouthpiece.

Amazon also sells a few alto flutes. I’ve bought a piccolo on Amazon, and I did a ton of research before doing so. For one, Amazon was a registered deal of Pearl flutes at the time.

More recently, music stores, like Flute Center of New York, have started selling on the platform. If you want to buy an alto flute on Amazon, look at the seller. Then, you can make sure you’ll get a genuine alto flute.

Your Teacher

If you take flute lessons, ask your teacher if they have an alto flute they’d be willing to sell. You can also tell them you’re interested in buying an alto. Even if they don’t have one to sell, they can still help.

For one, your teacher might know someone who’s selling an alto flute. They can connect you and help you find a way to test out the instrument first. Buying from a friend of your teacher is great because there’s an element of trust.

When you buy from a complete stranger, especially online, it’s hard to tell if the alto flute will work well. But if you know someone who knows the seller, there’s a better chance you’ll get a good instrument.

Other Flute Players

You can also ask other flute players that you know if they have an alto to sell. If you’re in college, ask the people in your flute studio. Then, you can get a used alto and save money on the instrument.

If you play in a flute choir, ask the members of the group about buying an alto. Like with your teacher, fellow students and players may know someone looking to sell their alto flute.

Of course, you can ask flute players in flute groups if they’re selling an alto. However, I’d avoid doing this if you can. Buying an instrument that you can’t try first is a huge risk, so if you do ask someone online, ask if they’d be open to a return period.

Online Marketplaces

Speaking of buying alto flutes online, you can check out different marketplaces. Facebook, eBay, and Craigslist occasionally have alto flutes for sale.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to be careful when buying a flute online. But you can look for sellers who are close to you. Then, you can meet up in person to try the alto flute before you commit to buying it.

If you’re buying from someone far away, ask if they’re open to a trial. You can pay them a deposit and get the money back if you return it in a week or so. That way, you’ll be able to make sure the alto flute works well for you.

How Much Should You Pay for Your First Alto Flute?

If you’re looking to buy your first alto flute, I’d suggest paying around $3,000 or less. That way, you can make sure you’ll play it before paying more.

Now, if you’ve played an alto before, you may know that you’ll use your own a lot. In that case, you can spend a little more.

Should You Upgrade to Another Alto Flute?

As with any instrument, you may want to upgrade to a better instrument if your current one is holding you back. Maybe you can’t get the best sound out of it.

Or perhaps it’s as simple as needing a different headjoint style. If you started with a straight headjoint, you might want a curved headjoint if you don’t like the straight version.

What Are the Best Alto Flute Brands?

Some of the best affordable alto flute brands include Pearl, Trevor James, and DiZhao. If you want something more expensive, check out Altus, Sankyo, and Miyazawa.

Kingma is another great brand, and you can even get an open-holed alto flute. That way, you can play almost anything on the alto.

Should You Get an Alto Flute From the Same Brand as Your C Flute?

You can get an alto flute from the same brand as your C flute, assuming there is one. But you should try altos from other companies.

That way, you will be able to find the best model for you. In some cases, that may mean getting the same brand, but it could be different.

Is a New Alto Flute Better Than a Used One?

A new alto flute can be better than a used one. However, used altos in good condition can play just as well as newer instruments.

In many cases, a well-kept instrument can cost less, so you can get more for your money. Be sure to try both to find an instrument that suits you.

What’s the Best Alto Flute for You?

When looking for the best alto flute, you have a lot to consider. Make sure to look at different brands and models.

You should also have a budget to keep from overspending. Then, you’ll be able to get a model that you love.

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