Updated: 8th Sept 2021
Buying a traditional Irish flute can be a daunting task, especially if you’re new to the world of Irish flute playing or traditional Irish music. Whether you’re looking for your very first wooden flute, or a more advanced model, it can be hard to work out which one is best for you.
We get all types of flute players here at McNeela Instruments from experienced musicians to those just starting out; classical flute players looking to switch to Irish music and tin whistle players looking to transition to the Irish flute. They all have the same question however. How do I find the best Irish flute?
That’s why I’ve I’ve written this handy Irish flute buying guide, to help you navigate this difficult decision and choose the right Irish flute for you, no matter what stage you’re at.
I’m very proud of the great variety of traditional Irish flutes we offer in our Irish Flute Store and I promise to leave no stone unturned in your quest to find the right fit.
The Basics: The Irish Flute
Irish flutes or Celtic flutes are based on the simple system predecessor to the Boehm style classical flute.
These simple system flutes are typically made from wood, with the most popular tonewoods being African Blackwood, Cocuswood, Mopane, Rosewood or Boxwood. Modern Irish flutes can also be made from wood-like plastic composites, such as Polymer or Delrin.
Irish flutes are typically based on Pratten’s perfected model dating back to the early to mid 18th century. Standard traditional Irish flutes can either be keyless, or feature anywhere from 3 to 8 keys, to assist with playing chromatic notes and accidentals.
Today Irish flutes are also made in a variety of keys. The most common key for a traditional Irish flute however is the key of D, as the majority of traditional Irish music is played within this key.
The Anatomy of the Irish Flute: A Brief Guide
The Irish flute or Celtic flute consists of three main parts: the head joint, the body and the foot joint. Some Irish flutes however, come in just two sections – the head joint and the body.
- The Head Joint
The head joint is located at the top of the flute. It houses the embouchure hole, tuning cork and tuning slide. This is the most important part of the flute as it contributes to the flutes flexibility, tonal performance and response. It must be handled with care!
- The Body
The body of the flute connects the head and foot joint (if there is one). It’s the midsection and largest part of the flute. The tone holes and keys reside here.
- The Foot Joint
The foot joint gives the flute the option to extend to a low C# and C. Keys are required to extend the range of the flute to these notes. On a keyless Irish flute these holes are not used.
Where to Start? Important Factors to Consider When Buying an Irish Flute
The truth is that you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a good quality Irish flute. That being said, opting for the cheapest brand is not necessarily a good idea either. Before you start shopping it’s a good idea to know your price expectations. Setting a price limit will help you assess which flutes are suitable for your current needs.
A low quality Irish flute will produce a low quality sound and the quality of the instrument will also highly impact its playability. This can be extremely frustrating for any flute player, especially a beginner, and could result in the player giving up.
To ensure this doesn’t happen, we advise beginner flute players to carefully evaluate brands and prices. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it usually is. To help you avoid the pitfalls of accidentally buying a low quality flute, I’ve laid out some of my recommendations below for some of the best Irish flutes on the market.
Questions You Should Ask:
It’s important to know what your goal is when shopping for a new Irish flute. Are you looking to take your playing to the next level? Is this a long term investment or are you simple looking for a good starter instrument that will let you dive in right away?
These are some questions you should ask yourself before you begin your search:
- Is this a hobby or would you like to study Irish music or play professionally at some stage?
- How long do you expect to play the traditional Irish flute for? (An important factor in determining your budget.)
- Where will you be playing the flute? Is it a solo instrument for playing at home? Will you be bringing it to a session? Will you be performing and playing gigs? If so, do you need a flute that stands out or one that will blend well in the background? This will affect the tone and volume of the instrument you choose.
Once you’ve answered these questions, you’re ready to dive right in. So keep reading and I’ll impart all the insider knowledge you need to make a purchase you’ll be 100% happy with.
Tips for Buying a Beginner Irish Flute
Not all Irish flutes are suitable for beginner players. Some can be more difficult to play than others, and require more airflow. Irish flutes can also vary in size, with certain models requiring quite a larger stretch of the fingers. The embouchure and keyholes can also vary in size.
When starting out you want an Irish flute that is:
- Lightweight and easy to play
- Has a smaller embouchure
- Doesn’t have overly large tone holes or require too much of a stretch
With all this in mind, I’ve laid out a few suggestions below…
Budget Beginner Flutes
If budget is an issue, or you’re worried about making an expensive long term investment, then a polymer practice flute is a suitable alternative to start out on.
These flutes are really only suitable for testing the waters and learning the basics. Once you know that the Irish flute is the right instrument for you, you’ll want to move on to a wooden model as a beginner plastic flute will never give you that authentic traditional Irish flute sound.
Polymer Practice Flute
Tony Dixon offers an excellent range of flutes and tin whistle for beginner musicians. This Tuneable Polymer Practice Flute in D is a great budget option to dip your toes into the world of Irish flute playing.
Practice flutes are quite useful for smaller children learning how to blow and fill the flute with air. They don’t produce a great amount of volume, but that’s not what you need in these early stages.
They’re great value, and the perfect choice for parents who don’t want to spend too much for fear the new instrument may be cast aside in a few months in favour of another activity.
Beginner Irish Wooden Flutes
To achieve that authentic Irish sound, I highly recommend starting out on a keyless wooden flute. The good news is you don’t have to break the bank to find a suitable beginner wooden flute. There are many high quality, low cost options available these days.
Cygnet Irish Rosewood Flute
The Cygnet Irish Rosewood Flute is currently the most popular beginner wooden flute in my Irish flute store. It’s designed specifically for playing Irish music, with beginner players in mind. It’s suitable for adult beginners as well as children. And has been rated by many music teachers as their preferred Irish flute for students.
The embouchure (the hole you blow into) on the Cygnet flute is slightly smaller than on standard Irish flutes. It’s been designed this way so beginners can fill the flute with air more easily. As a result, the Cygnet is easy to play. It only requires a moderate amount of air to fill the flute, so beginners won’t find themselves too dizzy or out of breath from overblowing.
The Cygnet also produces a very pleasant tone. Remember, if an instrument makes a good sound then the player will be far happier to keep playing it. Rosewood flutes produce a softer sound than other wooden flutes. This mellow tone will be easy on the ears for all who have to listen to it being played. Listen to it in the hands of one of the greatest modern flute players today, Robert Harvey:
This beautiful flute really looks the part. As well as sounding good, Rosewood looks good too! The Cygnet features the standard headjoint with silver tuning slide, body and footjoint – each finished with silver fittings.
You’ll notice there are two holes in the footjoint of this flute. These are for low C# and C, but you’d need keys to be able to reach them – not something you need to worry about at beginner level. I thought it best to draw your attention to them rather than have you wondering if you were supposed to grow two more fingers on your right hand! They als0 play a role in the tuning of the flute which we can talk about another time.
Value For Money
This wooden flute is relatively inexpensive yet provides the benefits of a real Irish wooden flute. Priced at just €304 including worldwide delivery, it’s a real bargain!
McNeela Cocuswood Irish Flute
Like the rosewood cygnet model, the McNeela Cocuswood Irish Flute is designed with ease of playing in mind. This makes it an ideal beginner flute for those starting out.
It’s particularly easy to fill the Cocuswood with air and to achieve both good volume and a good tone from the flute.
Characteristics of Cocuswood:
Cocuswood produces a bright, rich tone. It’s a more dense tonewood than Rosewood, meaning this flute offers more volume than the Cygnet. A beautiful pale blonde in colour, the cocuswood also gives a wonderful finish to the flute, making it very pleasing to the eye. Who doesn’t want to play an instrument that also looks good?
Value for Money
The McNeela Cocuswood Irish flute is probably one of the best value wooden flutes on the market today. I take great pride in making high quality instruments that are accessible to all budgets and levels of playing. The Cocuswood is priced at just €314, including worldwide delivery.
Tips for Buying an Intermediate or Advanced Irish Flute
If you don’t yet have a favourite flute player, I suggest looking to great Irish musicians for inspiration. Any great flute player such as Matt Molloy, John McKenna or Catherine McEvoy is a good starting point. Irish music contains a variety of flute playing styles so I guarantee you’ll find no shortage of flute players to inspire you.
Intermediate and advanced Irish flutes can be expensive so it’s good to have a set budget in mind, this will ensure you don’t get carried away! A professional level flute can cost upwards of €10,000, depending on the maker.
At the intermediate stage in particular, it’s important to think about the foreseeable future when buying a flute. This will ensure you buy a flute that not only suits your current needs, but will also fulfill your future Irish flute playing requirements.
At this stage of the journey, the search for a flute can be time consuming, but it’s a worthy investment. Enjoy the experience. Once you find the right flute you’ll be glad you put the work in to find ‘the one’.
That being said, I’ve put together a few suggestions below to make your task a little easier. Read on for my personal reccomedations…
The Best Irish Flutes for
Intermediate Flute Players
Lon Dubh Flute
Lon Dubh is the Irish for blackbird. Like its namesake, the Lon Dubh Irish Polymer Flute produces a strong clear tone.
Despite being made of polymer, the Lon Dubh flute produces a beautiful woody tone particularly suited to Irish music. It also offers great volume, making it ideal for an Irish music session:
Benefits of Polymer:
The Lon Dubh Irish flute is made with polymer resin. Though, it also looks like African Blackwood flute from a distance! Polymer resin is one of the strongest plastics, making this flute highly durable.
Unlike its wooden flute counterparts this polymer flute is never affected by climate conditions and is virtually indestructible. It’s an instrument that can be passed down from generation to generation. Its resistance to changes in the weather, or humidity, make the Lon Dubh the ideal flute for travel or those living in less temperate climates.
Value for Money
This flute is priced at only €434 including worldwide shipping and is definitely a worthy long term investment.
McNeela African Blackwood Flute
African Blackwood is the tonewood of choice amongst top traditional Irish flute players. Once you hear it, you can understand why.
The McNeela African Blackwood Flute has a full bodied resonance and produces a strong tone. A powerful instrument, it’s the perfect session flute. It offers great volume, allowing you to be heard above the noisier instruments such as concertinas and accordions:
African blackwood is a very dense hardwood. This dense hardwood creates a dark, rich, and woody sound, which is exactly what you want from an Irish flute. It’s also moisture resistant, which is ideal for the longevity of your instrument.
Value for Money
The McNeela African Blackwood Flute is highly comparable to more expensive blackwood flutes. At its current price of €510 including worldwide shipping it beats all other intermediate wooden flutes hands down. It’s also a best-seller in my Irish Flute Store.
Des Seery Delrin Flute
Des Seery made flutes which are known to produce excellent tone and intonation. His son now proudly carries on that tradition. When playing this flute you will produce a rich tone every time. Exactly what every player strives for!
Benefits of Delrin
Constructed from a highly durable polymer composite, the Seery Delrin Flute is suitable for all weather conditions, thus making it the perfect flute to play anywhere in the world:
Even better, this flute has virtually no maintenance costs. The flute has been made using such great materials that there’s no need to worry about oiling the instrument or dealing with cracks in the body. It’s easy to see why this is Seery’s most popular flute model.
Value For Money
At a cost of just €485, it’s very affordably priced indeed.
Arie de Keyser African Blackwood Flute
The name Arie de Keyzer needs little introduction in professional and Irish music circles. Arie has been crafting premium instruments since the 1980’s. His advanced flutes are highly sought after.
The Arie de Keyser African Blackwood flute is a professional standard Irish flute. It’s extremely durable and handcrafted with top quality African blackwood. You can also upgrade it with keys at a later stage, if you desire.
Arie has been making top quality Pratten and Rudall & Rose style flutes for many years. His range is extremely popular within the Irish traditional music community and his instruments are always in demand.
The Best Irish Flute for
Advanced Flute Players
As an experienced flute player looking to buy a new Irish flute, your main decision will be whether you want to invest in a keyless flute or a keyed flute.
While it’s possible to fit keys on a keyless flute retrospectively, if you want to progress to playing a keyed flute then it’s better to buy a keyed Irish flute from the get go.
Keyed Flutes vs Keyless Flutes: What’s The Difference?
Keyed flutes will allow you to play in a range of musical keys other than the usual ones used for traditional Irish repertoire. Keyed flutes are typically available with options of three, four, six or eight keys (fully keyed).
Keyed Irish flutes have seen a huge surge in popularity in recent years due to their ability to fully cater to the needs of modern flute players.
While many traditional Irish tunes are played in the common keys of D major or G major, there is a wealth of repertoire – such as the music of Irish fiddle player and composer Paddy Fahey – which makes use of unusual keys and tonalities. A keyed flute will allow any flute player to play a much wider variety of traditional Irish tunes and greatly expand their skills.
Some flute players worry that a keyed flute will be difficult to fill, or difficult to achieve a strong low D. While there may be a short adjustment period, any well made Irish keyed flute will help you bypass these issues.
As most Irish flute keys are made of silver however, they do increase the cost of the instrument. If you really want to try a keyed flute for yourself but you’re concerned about the cost, McNeela Instruments offers a Delrin keyed flute that won’t break the bank:
There are also plenty of Irish flute players who simply have no interest in learning to play a keyed flute however. To cater for all tastes, I’ve included a range of both keyed and keyless flutes in my advanced Irish flute recommendations below…
Sam Murray Keyless Flute
Sam Murray is celebrated the world over for the quality and craftsmanship of his superior wooden flutes. This renowned flute maker from Belfast has been honing his craft for almost fifty years. He took a break from flute making for a few years but was in such demand that he made a return to the craft. McNeela Instruments is incredibly proud to be the sole distributor of Sam’s sublime wooden flutes today.
Sam makes what we call a session flute. This flute type is known for its deep tones and high volume. Made of African Blackwood it’s easy to fill and its light weight makes it a delight to handle. The tone is powerful, but also beautifully balanced and sweet with that all important strong low D. Perfect for executing crans (a playing technique borrowed from the uillean pipes) and other advanced ornamentation!
Sam’s keyless wooden flute is one of the best Irish flutes on the market today. Price at €1,195 it’s worth every cent.
Sam Murray Keyed Flute
A Sam Murray flute is an incredibly worthy long term investment in both yourself and your flute playing. Sam’s keyed flutes are no exception to the rule. Finished with sterling silver rings and keys, this premium flute’s high end finish perfectly complements its superb sound.
Sam’s exquisite keyed flutes are ideal not only for playing Irish music but for expanding your repertoire and perfecting your technique. They are guaranteed to take your flute playing to the next level.
Hear Sam’s superb six keyed wooden flute in action below in the hands of the great Irish flute player Neansaí Ní Choisdealbha:
Once you’ve found the best Irish flute for you, you’ll want to be certain you’re keeping your new flute in the best condition possible.
Check out my helpful blog post How to Care For Your Irish Wooden Flute which will teach you everything you need to know about Irish flute maintenance and help you keep your new flute looking and sounding like new.
An easy way to care for your flute is to ensure that it’s always disassembled and stored safely in a hard case when not being played. While all our McNeela flutes come with a free hard case, should you wish to upgrade, I highly recommend our Flute & Whistle Combo Hard Case which has adequate space to safely store your whistle collection in addition to your flute.
Alternatively we offer this beautiful Wooden Flute Box. This traditional style hard wood box is the perfect hard case to accompany your handmade wooden flute, storing it safely in style.
A Worthy Investment
No matter what stage of flute playing you find yourself at, purchasing an instrument is a long term commitment to both yourself and your music.
When you buy a musical instrument you’re investing in your future self, and at McNeela Instruments, we think that’s an investment worth making. Our Irish Flute Store stocks a wide range of Irish wooden flutes that can accompany you along any stage of your musical journey.
The perfect Irish flute is waiting. With the right instrument in your hands, you’ll be unstoppable, ready to explore the world of Irish music and all it has to offer. Go n-éirí libh!