Picking the right type of wood for your Native American flute is crucial in deciding what flute to buy, but it might seem difficult if you don't know where to start. In this article we'll talk about the key important aspects for deciding on a wood type and we'll look at the top 3 of best woods for the Native American flute.
Key important aspects to consider
The wood type of your Native American flute determines more than just looks and sound character. It's also a deciding factor when it comes to durability and pricing and of your flute. We'll talk about these in more detail here.
1) Sound character
The most important aspect for a musical is the feeling of the sound it makes. While the type of wood has an influence on the sound of your flute, it's not as crucial as you might think.
This is different for example with guitars (string instruments), where the sound is of prime importance to the sound it makes. But for flutes (wind instruments) physics are different, and the wood only attributes for a smaller part to the sound character.
Lets assume the wood type attributes for 10% to the sound character of your flute, then 90% is determined by the key your flute is tuned in, as well as the skill, precision and touch of the flutemaker you are buying from. So be sure to focus on these aspects first, before deciding on the wood type.
That being said, each wood type does add its distinct character to a flute. For example walnut has a raspy touch, while Cherry feels more prisitne. Going over all the woods' individual sound characters would be a very lengthy and personal discussion so we won't discuss each one here. But in general have in mind that soft woods (Cedar, Pine...) have a fuller, warmer sound, while hardwoods (Padauk, Maple...) give a more clean and elegant voice.
Arguably the most important aspect determined by the wood type is the looks of your flute. Every different wood type has a distinct color, texture, and grain pattern that make up the visiual aspect of your instrument.
Again this is very personal so you should best look at different woods and decide for yourself what wood type feels most appealing to you. A good place to start is my page with wood types that has pictures of some of the most common wood types for Native American flute.
For example's sake, here is my personal favourite Olive wood (with walnut details):
Very important but sometimes ignored is the durability of the wood you're choosing. If you want your flute to last for a lifetime, why choose wood that will start to crack and warp after playing it?
While a reputated flutemaker will know about this aspect and only offer woods that are considered durable for wind instruments, unfortunately you'll find flutes in all types of (ono-durable) woods in all sort of price ranges, so be aware of this.
Some woods that you might come across that are not durable options for flutes are:
- Oak; While it has beautiful looks and sound, oak is an unstable wood and has a tendency to warp, twist and crack when exposed to temperature and moist changes.
- Bamboo; Technically bamboo is even a grass and not a wood. Bamboo is popular for flutes because it is already a hollow tube by itself. But since it is thin and fragile, Bamboo will easily develop cracks after playing, so be cautious with it.
There are vast differences in the prices of wood. While a specific wood type might be more expensive, it does not mean by definition that it will sound "better" than others. As discussed before, sound character is personal.
What mainly defines the price of wood is its scarcity. Bear in mind that scarcity can also indicate a certain wood might be from a threatened species of trees, so do your research. Sometimes a specific piece of wood that has a beautiful drawing might also be more costly because of this (scarce) aesthetical aspect.
For reference, here are some common wood types ordered from least to most expensive:
Just remember that the price of wood does not define sound quality, but it is mostly determined by scarcity. Some of the "cheapest" woods might therefore sound as well (or even prettier) to your ear than more expensive woods. But again, all woods have their characterizing sound touch so the best you can do is listen to audio recordings of flutes in different woods and decide for yourself.
Top 3 best woods for the Native American flute
Every wood type has a unique combination of sound character, aesthetics, durability etc. making it more (or less) suited for flutemaking. The top 3 kinds of wood that are most in balance for a Native American flute are:
Walnut is a tree native to central Europe and has a medium hardness giving it a well-balanced warm and clear character. The sound also has a characterizing raspy touch to it. Walnut is a very durbale wood in terms of stability and funghi resistance, and has a beautiful dark look adorated with organic grain patterns. It's not the least expensive option, but neither extremely pricy.
2) (Red) Cedar
According to Native American legend, the first flute was crafted from the branch of a Cedar tree, and still today Cedar is one of the best wood choices for making Native American flutes. The sound is very warm and full. Cedar is known for its exceptional stability and rot resistance making it also a very durable choice. There exist several species of Cedar with Red cedar being most famous for flutemaking, with a reddish to pinkish brown color often decorated with random darker red/brown areas. Its price is very moderate.
The Cherry tree gives wood of considerable hardness with excellent acoustical properties. The voice of a flute in Cherry wood is very clear and pristine. Next to being highly durable, Cherry is renowned for its color and aging process. It starts out light pink and darkens over time to a rich reddish hue with a lustrous patina. The price of cherry wood is in the higher ranges, but still not the priciest.
Every wood type has a unique combination of aspects regarding sound character, aesthetics, durability and price. While the wood type is not the most important factor in deciding the sound of your flute, it does add a distinct touch and in general hardwoods are more clean, softwoods more full-bodied.
While the looks of a wood type is mostly a matter of personal taste, durability is a given. Be aware of woods like oak and bamboo that are unstable and might crack easily on a flute.
The price of flute wood does not define sound quality, but it is mostly determined by scarcity, so "basic" woods do not necessarily sound "worse" than prime woods. Most important for sound quality is the skill of the flute maker and the key your flute is in.
If you're unsure about your choice of wood stick to my top 3 wood types for Native American flute: Walnut, Red Cedar and Cherry that will always be a good decision.
By on June 22, 2023