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Instrument Terminology


Sterling silver is an alloy containing 90% silver with 10% copper, zinc or other metals. This contains less silver than Sterling (.925) silver, and produces a distinctive sound.


Sterling silver is an alloy containing 92.5% silver with 7.5% copper, zinc or other metals. This is the most common alloy of silver used for making flutes. We use the term .925 to comply with UK Assay Office guidance.


.950 is also known as the French 1st Standard, and is an alloy containing 95% silver with 5% copper, zinc or other metals. This contains a higher silver content than Sterling (.925) silver, which many players find gives a darker sound with enhanced projection. We use the term .950 to comply with UK Assay Office guidance.


.958 means Britannia silver, which is an alloy containing 95.8% silver with 4.2% copper, zinc or other metals. This contains a higher silver content than Sterling (.925) silver, which many players find gives a darker sound with enhanced projection. We use the term .958 to comply with UK Assay Office guidance.


.997 is a very high purity silver, containing 99.7% silver with 0.3% copper, zinc or other metals. This contains a much higher silver content than Sterling (.925) silver, and many players find it gives a dark sound with clean articulation and enhanced projection. We use the term .997 to comply with UK Assay Office guidance.

ABS Resin

Much less expensive than using wood, ABS resin is very popular on student clarinets, oboes and piccolos, being free-blowing with good tone quality.


Aged wood means that the wood is seasoned for a longer time than usual. This makes the wood harder, helping the instrument become more stable with a warmer sound and tonally consistent over the whole instrument range. In addition, it is less likely to crack.


Aurumite is a combination of silver and gold, two sheets which are fused to produce an interlocking layer. This effectively produces a 'sleeve' of gold.

B Footjoint

A B footjoint increases the flute's range by one note to low B - useful for a lot of orchestral music as well as solo pieces. Because of the extra length, adding a B foot to your flute changes the weight and balance, darkening the tone and increasing resistance in the top register.

Black nickel-plated

Black nickel-plating an instrument results in a slightly heavier instrument with a darker sound.


The bore is one of the main factors in an instrument's sound quality and tuning. The size, taper and shape can make the tone "dark" or "warm"; a hand-burnished bore is made more accurately, giving better tuning and a more consistent sound.

Briccialdi thumb key

The Briccialdi thumb key is made in a similar way to the concert flute with just one tone hole (rather than two which is the usual construction for piccolos) and this has the same effect as the G# facilitator allowing this note to be stable and easier to play.

Brossa F#

An extra key, located above the D key, which improves the intonation and response on F#, particularly F#3.

C footjoint

Allows the flute to play down to bottom C. A 'C footjoint' is standard issue.

C# Trill

This extra piece of keywork (usually available only by special order) is a very useful piece of mechanism with a lot of functions:

B to C#
Play a normal B and trill the C# trill key. The thumb-and-finger trill is eliminated and the tuning is better.

C to C#
This is a faster trill and allows for a more comfortable feel.

Top F# to G#
Play top F# and trill the C# trill key.

High G to A-flat
The intonation is better on this trill.

High G to A
Play normal high G, and trill the C# trill and upper trill key together.

High A-flat to B-flat
Finger high A-flat and trill the C# trill together with both other trill keys.

Closed holes

The keys on the flute are covered over, making it easy to play.

Curved Headjoint

A curved headjoint on a student flute means that a player with small arms can reach the keywork more comfortably with less stretch. Curved headjoints encourage good posture for small players.

D# Roller

This roller facilitates movement between the low D#, C# and C keys on the footjoint.

Detachable bell

This refers to the way that the saxophone is made. A detachable bell makes repair work much easier should the instrument receive damage to the bell or body.

Drawn Tone Holes

On machine-made flute tubes, the tone holes are 'drawn' out of the tubing. Players who prefer a less resistant flute with a lighter sound often opt for a drawn tone hole model.

E Ring

A less expensive alternative to an E mechanism. This is a small insert which provides a more secure top E, but unlike an E mechanism, can be reliably fitted to an inline flute.

Front F key

This key is pretty much standard on all saxophones now; it gives the player an alternative fingering for top F (F6).

G-A trill

An additional trill key to facilitate the top G to A trill.

German silver

Also known as nickel silver. Does not actually contain elemental silver.

Gizmo key

Often called the High C Facilitator key, this improves intonation on top C and makes it easier to play. Virtually all B footjoints come with a Gizmo key as standard. Not necessary on a C footjoint.


Gold plating a flute can make a large difference to the tone. The added weight enhances the lower harmonics of the sound, but does not give as much resistance as a solid gold flute.


This is the most popular wood used in making wind instruments. Wood gives an open, round sound with less high harmonics and more lower harmonics. Also known as Blackwood.


Hand-selected wood means exactly that - the wood is hand-picked by the instrument maker as being of particularly high quality. This has the same features as aged wood, only more so.


This is the part of the flute that you blow in to and where the sound is produced. A flute with a good headjoint is vital, but what defines a good one depends on the player!

Heavy wall

This refers to the thickness of the tubing. A heavy wall tube is usually .018" (0.45mm). A heavy wall flute is more resistive, which can make the flute harder to play but give a fuller, richer tone and greater control.

High F# Key

An extra key, pretty much standard on new saxophones, which makes the fingering for top F sharp much easier.

High G# facilitator

This mechanism on a piccolo half-closes the thumb keys when the G# lever is pressed, making high G# easier to play and more focussed.

Inline G

The G key is in line with the other keys on the flute - this is the traditional position for the G key.

Key arms

The part that connects the flute rod to the key itself. On a flute with French-style pointed key arms, the arm extends into the centre of the key, giving extra strength.

Kingma system

A Boehm system flute with extra keys to produce a quarter-tone scale. Invented and patented by Eva Kingma in Holland.

For more details, visit Eva Kingma's website.


Lacquer is the most common finish for saxophones. Lacquer is a 'spongy' surface and helps give a saxophone a mellow sound.


The part of the flute that you put against your lip, and where the sound is produced. Changing the material of the lip-plate has an effect on the sound quality produced.

Offset G

Refers to the G key, which can either be "offset" or "inline". Offset is more comfortable for most people.

Open G#

The open G# system is the original keywork designed by Boehm (although it is not the system which is used most commonly today). On a standard "closed G#" flute, the G# key remains closed until pressed - so when all the left hand keys are pressed, G# is heard.

On an open G# flute, the G# key is open until the G# lever is pressed - this has the effect that when all left-hand keys are pressed, G natural is heard; and when all left-hand keys except the G# lever are pressed, G# is heard. The G# lever must  be pressed for all notes below, and including, G.

Open holes

Open holes (which have holes through the middle of the A, G, F, E and D keys) encourage players to adopt a good hand position, thus avoiding bad habits. Open holes also allow advanced 'extended' techniques such as quarter-tones and note slides. Also known as French or Ring keys.


PCM is an alloy used exclusively by Miyazawa, consisting mainly of silver and copper, but also containing a small amount of palladium. It is very hard and offers a bright sound with immediate articulation and precise control.

Pinless mechanism

Most standard mechanisms use small pins to attach keys to the rods, which can be an entry point to the mechanism for perspiration. A pinless mechanism (like the one used by Pearl, for instance) significantly reduces the amount of perspiration and body acids that can enter the mechanism, almost eliminating corrosion and binding keys.

Pointed key-arms

This means that the key-arms (the parts which connect the mechanism to the keys) run all the way into the centre of the keys which you don't put your fingers on. Pointed key-arms are the traditional design of key, combining elegance with strength, and can generally be taken as a good sign of an instrument's build quality and strength. Also known as 'French' arms.


We use the term 'Pt' throughout this site to describe flutes or parts of the flute which are not hallmarked. Overseas manufacturers might use the term 'Platinum'. Platinum is increasing in popularity, and because of its greater density than gold, adds more lower harmonics to the sound, darkening the tone considerably.


Reform headjoints, in which the wood is profiled around the embouchure hole, give a more immediate response and ease of articulation for many players. Also known as profiled or wave headjoints. Standard embouchures have no profiling.


This is the part of the headjoint which links the lip-plate to the tube. The riser is the first point of contact between the airstream and the flute. Because of this, the material it is made from has a big impact on the quality of sound that the flute produces. The riser is also known as the chimney.

Rockstro F#

An extra key which gives an alternative, more in-tune fingering for top F#.


This is a tricky subject to condense! To put it simply: No flute is 100% accurately in tune with itself - this is a physical impossibility to achieve. All flutes therefore have a compromise on tuning, often with a sharp C# and flat D and E. The word "scale" in this context refers to the positioning of the tone holes in relation to each other. Albert Cooper and William Bennett both devised their own scales, which are both very close to accurate (so flutes with these scales have good intonation); some manufacturers (e.g. Muramatsu, Yamaha) have their own scale which they use.

Seamed Tube

Here, the flute tube is formed from a sheet of metal rolled over and soldered ('seamed') along its length. This produces a sound similar to that of vintage French flutes. This is considerably different to the modern way of 'drawing' tubing, and results in a totally consistent tube thickness offering alternative tonal qualities. Owing to the labour intensive production of seamed tubes, only a handful of flute makers offer this option, most notably Altus on their 1607 and AL models.


Silver plating is preferred to nickel plating, as nickel can feel slippery and causes allergies. Most modern student flutes are silver-plated. On saxophones, silver plating gives a clear, bright sound with enhanced projection.

Soldered Tone Holes

On a handmade tube, each tone hole is crafted separately and soldered into position, increasing the weight of the flute. Players who are looking for a darker sound and more resistance often choose a soldered tone hole model. Because of the considerable time that goes into hand soldering each tone hole, soldered tone hole models cost more.

Split E mechanism

Top E on flute is not always an easy note to get without it splitting. A "split" E mechanism makes this note easier to play, without affecting any other note.

Straubinger Pads

Patented pad design which can offer better stability than traditional fishskin pads.

Thick wall

Thick wall flute and piccolo headjoints, in which the embouchure hole is cut directly into the tube, are the traditional style of wood headjoint and produce a sound with excellent resonance.

Thin wall

Thin wall headjoints have a lip-plate carved into the wood. Many players find that this aids positioning and increases flexibility and response.

Undercut Tone Holes

This means that, where the tone holes meet the tube, they are bevelled to allow the air to flow through the instrument with less resistance and a clearer tone. It can also give more accurate tuning.

Underslung crook

This is where the octave key (the long thin key on top of the saxophone) goes under the crook of the saxophone, rather than above it. This results in a quicker-responding octave mechanism which is less likely to get damaged.


An unlacquered finish is when the instrument is left as bare brass. These instruments are likely to lose their shine very quickly, but many players find that the sound is very free and open

Vented C

A vented C key on a piccolo is an "open hole" in the left hand C key which, when uncovered with the key pressed down, can make middle E more stable and improve the tuning of some other slightly flat notes like top G and middle C.