How to Choose the Best Flute Headjoint
The headjoint is responsible for the tonal color, flexibility, and dynamic response of a flute and is often referred to as the most integral part of the flute. Flute headjoints come with many different variations that will affect both quality of sound and price. It comes in range of metals and wood choices: Silver Plated, Sterling Silver, Britania Silver, Wood, Gold, and Platinum. In general, the more expensive the metal the darker the tone the flute produces.
How Flute Headjoint Materials Affect Sound Quality
Flute headjoints are made of from a variety of metals and woods to impart different tonal qualities. Metals commonly used to craft flute headjoints and the result on tonal quality are discussed below.
Common on beginners’ instruments, a silver-plated headjoint often described to have a stiff response to the flutist.
92.5% by weight silver. Most flutists play a sterling silver headjoint.
95.8% by weight silver. Britania headjoints have a darker tone than sterling silver.
Has a higher density than silver, a Gold headjoint usually produces a darker tonal color. 10K, 14K, and 18K are the most common.
More dense than gold, a Platinum headjoint is likely to produce an even darker tone color than gold.
Wood Flute Headjoints
Flute headjoints are also made from an array of different types of wood, giving flutes different tonal color options. Boxwood, African Mahogany, and Grenadilla are some popular choices.
Warm and round sound. Boxwood gives a lighter response and less effort is needed to play.
Offers a wonderfully round and sweet sound, but allows for plenty of projection throughout all registers.
The universal wooden head joint. Grenadilla lends a powerful and sustainable character to the sound.
When to Replace a Fute Headjoint
Sometimes, quality instrument prices include a lesser quality headjoint. Replacing the poor headjoint of an otherwise topnotch instrument, flutists can optimize a flute’s full potential. How do you know when your headjoint needs to be replaced?
Here’s some signs that may indicate you may need a new headjoint:
- Too much to work to blow the harmonics without excessive embouchure change
- Can't uphold a super-legato pace
- Too many accidental squeaks
- Difficulty fading in and fading out
- A change in the ease of soft tonguing
- Loud playing for tone
- Soft playing for tone
- Ease of octave leaps is lacking
- Over blowing harmonic series in low C, low C#, low D
- Staccato for how the flute rings during silences
Another need for a new headjoint is for the player who owns an intermediate, mass-produced flute in good mechanical condition. With minimal investment, a new headjoint could immensely improve a flute’s quality of sound. It is far less expensive to replace the headjoint of this class of instrument than to replace the entire flute with a more costly one. Basically, when you are satisfied with the overall instrument and its mechanisms, but want to change the tonal quality of the instrument, add different headjoint options for tonal color change from your instrument.
How to Choose a Headjoint
Know that every headjoint will sound differently on your flute than it would on any other flute body. Not all headjoints will work well with all bodies! A headjoint may sound wonderfully pitched on one body and completely flat on your flute’s body. It is important to test several headjoints of different brands and material types.
Before heading to a flute shop to test headjoints, select a piece of music that meets a flute’s low, middle, and high range. The music should be challenging enough, so you can judge the headjoints tonal quality, dynamic range, projection, resistance in the air stream and articulation.
It is probably wise to keep the testing to only four headjoints at a time, because the different tones will start running into each other. Perhaps choose your favorite of the day, note the brand and type, and compare your favorite to the others on the next visit.
When a new headjoint is decided upon, know that some headjoints are made smaller than some flute’s barrel (the receiving end). But do not despair! An expert flute manufacturer or repair person can fit most headjoints to your flute’s body.
As always, have an expert flutist or teacher help you test any new purchases.