Please read through our list of Frequently Asked Questions. If you don’t find your question addressed below, or if you need more help, feel free to give High Spirits a call at (800) 394-1523, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click on a topic for more information!
HOW TO BUY A FLUTE
WHICH FLUTE SHOULD I BUY?
If you have never played an instrument before, I highly recommend the Sparrow Hawk in the key of “A” or the White Tail Hawk in the key of “B”. They have a wonderful voice and are easy to play.
The longer a flute is, the more breath control is required to get a sweet sound. Most of us are tempted by the lower tones. It is important to remember that starting with a flute that is easy to play speeds up the process of learning and, if you get hooked, you will want other flutes anyway. Everything you learn on an easy flute will transfer to future flutes you play.
If you play a woodwind now, or have in the past, you will be able to play any of our flutes. All of our instruments do come with an instructional CD or DVD making it easy to learn the flute.
WHY ARE HIGH SPIRITS FLUTES SO INEXPENSIVE?
I have been asked this question many times. My response has always been, “Why are other flutes so expensive?”. I price our flutes by how much time it takes to make the instrument, multiply that by a decent hourly wage and that is the price I sell the instrument for.
I am sad to say that the practice of pricing flutes on the “whatever the market will bear” theory does exist and, in many cases, it does make our flutes seem inexpensive. To keep our prices reasonable we keep our flute design simple and consistent. We spend much of our time focusing our attention on creating a flute voice that has a full tone and is accurately tuned.
SHOULD I CHOOSE G OR F#?
The key of “G” is a bit more versatile because it is more compatible when playing with other instruments. It is also a bit shorter (23.5″) so if you plan to take it on hikes or walks it may be a bit more practical.
The key of “F#” (25″) is very haunting & it is the key the Native American community has adopted as their key of preference. It is not as suitable for playing with other instruments.
WHAT IS A SIGNATURE FLUTE?
ODELL BORG SPEAKS ON THE SIGNATURE SERIES
The Signature flutes are crafted completely differently than our Traditional Series. Not only are the designs unique, the internal mechanism is designed to create a very clear voice and give the flute more amplitude. These flutes are very responsive and require very little air pressure. We take special care to seal the internal chamber to minimize moisture build up.
We are limiting each design to 100 flutes per key. The design changes will be variations in the fetishes as well as the flute body. All of the wood inlay work is the full thickness of the flute wall ( not a veneer ). As in our Traditional Series, the stones inlaid into all of the flutes are genuine and the finish is several coats of non-toxic tung oil that is hand buffed between each application. The result is an instrument that we are very proud of.
At the present time we create the Signature Series in the keys of “A”, “G” and “F#”. The design styles are available in each key. If we do not have the design in stock for a particular wood species, it takes about 3 weeks to create the flute.
The wood species we are working with are, aromatic cedar, Spanish cedar, walnut and birch. We also make the Signature Series in what we call specialty woods, which are exceptional pieces of lumber such as Madrone Burl, Quilted Maple Burl or very unique pieces of walnut, aromatic cedar or birch.
WHICH TWO FLUTES SOUND BEST TOGETHER?
What works best to play with the “G” flute would be another “G” like the Pocket Flute or Contra Bass “G”. The other option is to play a “D” or “C” flute along with the “G”, but you have to play both flutes (“G” and “D” or “C”) note-for-note or it will sound dissonant.
It is always fun to have our kids show an interest in making music! Our experience is that most children can play these flutes easily. The only limitation is that their fingers and hands are a bit small to be able to reach and cover the holes on the larger flutes.
The smallest flutes we offer are Pocket Flutes. The key of “A” is a 5-hole, 9″ flute, and the key of “G” is a 6-hole, 11″ flute. They are both made from aromatic cedar and have high, sweet voices.
Somewhat larger (15″) is the 6-hole Kestrel in the key of “D”. It is a good size for ages 7 and up and is pitched lower than the Pocket Flutes.
If the child is tall for their age and has larger hands, we recommend the 6-hole Merlin (17.25″) in the key of “C”. It is the next size up from the Kestrel and has a deeper voice. Both of these flutes are made from birch, a hardwood.
By the time children reach the age of 9, their hands are large enough that we can recommend one of the following:
2) a 5-hole Little Hawk(18″) in the key of “A” made from Spanish cedar, a slightly harder softwood;
3) or a full-sized (19″), 6-hole Sparrow Hawk in the key of “A” made from aromatic cedar, Spanish cedar or walnut, a hardwood.
The Little Hawk and the Sparrow Hawk “A” flutes have the deepest voices of the all the flutes mentioned above.
We sell more cedar flutes because of the beauty of the wood, but when considering buying for children, birch, walnut and Spanish cedar are good choices because they are harder woods and therefore more durable.
HOW TO PLAY A FLUTE
WHY DOES MY FLUTE SOUND BREATHY?
First make sure the fetish (bird carving) is centered on the rectangular hole in front of it. The hole should not be covered by any part of the bird. The bird should be just at the edge of the hole or back a bit (1/32″). Be certain that the bird is tied down snugly. Then hold the flute up to a light and see if you see any light between the bird bottom and the flute.
The longer the bore is on a flute, the more challenging it is to play. The reason is that the air has to travel farther and it starts to diminish its power. So the natural reaction is to blow harder which in turn creates an over blow on the sound hole causing it get breathy. In fact, the longer bore flutes do need to be played more subtly.
We make our flutes a little bit differently from other flute makers allowing more air to be blown into the instrument without the bottom note breaking to the high octave. The down side of that is that it can sound breathy when blown too hard.
This is typically resolved through experimentation, by varying the breath and backing off a bit.
HOW DO I REDUCE MOISTURE BUILDUP IN THE AIR CHANNEL?
Moisture buildup in your flute occurs when your breath condenses inside the flute and clogs the air passage. This is very common, especially if the ambient air temperature is cool or cold, or if you are out of practice. After playing a while the muscles in your mouth adapt, and the amount of moisture going into the flute decreases.
When the flute starts to sound “off,” place a finger part way over the sound hole (the rectangular hole in front of the fetish) and blow hard into the mouth piece. Then hold the flute by the bottom end (opposite of the mouthpiece) and shake out any moisture that may have collected inside. This clears out the moisture and you will be able to play for awhile longer.
It also helps to create an embouchure when you are playing the flute. This is described in the instruction booklet on page 7 under “Techniques.” The natural tendency is to place the mouth end of the flute into our mouth and blow. Unfortunately that creates excess moisture in the instrument and it limits the techniques one can use to play. Instead, close the lips, then place the flute against them. Allow the upper lip to close a portion of the air hole (half or more) and place the lower lip just slightly underneath the flute. In this way a smaller air hole is created and the air passage from the mouth is reduced as well. This greatly reduces moisture build up and allows for better tonguing and effects control.
Even with better mouth and breath control, moisture is an ongoing challenge and we are continually working on it. We have come up with a technique that helps moisture proof the airflow zone.
At Home Depot we have found a “Brush On” Super Glue in their paint department/glue section. Untie the fetish and remove it from the flute, then brush on the Super Glue to the bottom of the fetish in the air channel – NOT ALONG THE EDGES OF THE BOTTOM (you are not gluing the fetish to the flute). Then brush glue on the flute in the area between the rectangular sound hole and the air hole directly behind it. MAKE SURE TO LET THE GLUE DRY COMPLETELY (about 15 minutes) then remount the fetish.
Super Glue is a liquid plastic and creates a moisture proof barrier. This will help with the moisture but will not completely eliminate it.
HOW DO I FORM THE CORRECT EMBOUCHURE?
Embouchure is described on page 7 under “Techniques” in the free Instruction Booklet that came with your flute. The idea is to not wrap your mouth around the mouth piece but to put the mouth piece against your closed lips and then let your upper lip close part of the air hole while the lower lip is wrapped under the mouth piece.
In other words you are restricting the air flow by partially closing the air hole and creating a bit of back pressure with your mouth. Playing your High Spirits Native American style flute is about air pressure not air volume. This also helps to control the notes when you tongue and use other breath techniques. It helps to meter the breath so one can play longer between breaths. The other advantage is that you put less moisture into the flute.
WHY DOES MY BOTTOM NOTE (LOWEST HOLE) KEEP BREAKING?
The lowest note is the most sensitive note to play and tonguing it hard or blowing too much air, will break that note. Please check the fetish to make sure it is lined up correctly and centered on the sound hole (rectangular hole in front of the fetish). The fetish should be about 1/32″ in back of the sound hole.
CAN YOU GIVE ME SOME TIPS ON HOW TO PLAY A CONTRA BASS FLUTE?
The Contra Flutes are a unique instrument in that they are designed to produce very low, full notes. To make that happen the bore sizes have to be a large diameter. The size & spacing of the fingering holes are dictated by the bore size & length.
The combination of these factors make playing the deep bass flutes a very different experience. These flutes respond much differently than the higher pitch flutes & because of the large bore, the higher notes will not have the clarity one is used to in the mid to high range instruments.
It is important to understand that it takes a bit of time & different techniques to adapt to the basses. When playing deeper-toned flutes, the skills & techniques used on the mid-range flutes need to be varied & adjusted.
1. When playing the Contra Basses, hold the flute closer to the body. In this position the wrists do not have to be bent as much to reach the fingering holes.
2. Play very flat fingered, using the meaty part of the finger to cover the holes.
3. Create as tight of an embouchure as possible. This will provide clearer notes & conserve the amount of breath needed to play. It is about air pressure, not air volume.
4. Play slowly, the basses are methodical instruments. Designed for slow, mood-provoking music, they are backup instruments for higher-toned instruments & meditative melodies.
5. The sound hole on the Contra Flute has a slight chamfer (angle) cut on the edge facing the fetish. It is IMPORTANT that the fetish be positioned right at the back end of that angle cut–not covering any part of the angle cut, but also not too far back from the angle cut.
CAN I USE A MICROPHONE OR AMPLIFIER WITH MY FLUTE?
There are many options when looking for amplifiers. Most of these decisions are based on cost. When looking for the best sound and quality out put, look at acoustic amplifiers. Because they are somewhat pricy ($400 to $800) test them in the store with your own mic or get a return guaranty from the store so you can test it at home. If one needs an amp that is very portable and can run on a battery we recommend looking at the “Taxi” or “Limo” amp. The “Limo” MO is larger with better speakers and a built in reverb effect. They are very popular and should be easy to find. “Musicans Friend” carries them, they have a website.
A budget option for home use is a karaoke machine. They tend to have a reverb or echo feature built in and most of the time come with a play back tape (or CD) and a recording tape player. It is fun to record yourself.
Again, try them out in the store and see which one sounds best to you. Radio Shack has these units from $90 to $150. Check for sales. Radio Shack also offers a lapel mic. It sells for about $35. This mic does not have outstanding clarity but it is fine for home use.
There are many special effects units on the market. Nano Verb, Alises, are some well known brands that are reliable. You will find that there are lots of brand options and most are very competitive. These type of units have many more features and special effects that you will need. Try them out and see if you like the reverb and delay features, because as a flute player those are the effects you will use more so then any other. These units run any where from $100 to $200. Do not let price make your decisions, just because it is more expensive does not mean it will be a better unit for you. It just may have lots of features that a flute player may not need.
There also is a foot pedal reverb and delay unit available made by Boss. Its advantage is that it can run on batteries. It is about $150 and unless you need the battery feature the units mentioned above are a better bet because you get more for your money.
HOW DO I PLAY THE MAJOR SCALES ON HIGH SPIRITS FLUTES?
The Native American flute is an instrument that is primarily made in the minor keys. But, we do build in the relative major keys into all of our flutes.
If you go to the back section of our instruction book & find the section that deals with “Scale Charts”, play the scale that is the diatonic scale.
If you never close the last hole on any of our flutes you are playing in the relative major scale. The case of the “A” flute you have you would be playing in “C” major.
Creating vibrato when playing the flute is an organic process that is challenging to teach and explain. We find that it is a combination of intention and focus. By “intention” we mean that we set our mind to making it happen and “focus” on the technique as described in the video.
WHAT IS PRACTICE?
The thought of practice usually turns people off to playing music. But what if we stop calling it “practice” and call it “playing and having fun”, now that sounds doable! In this video Odell Borg speaks on how to enjoy the process of improving your playing style and technique.
OPTIMIZING YOUR FLUTE’S VOICE
In this video Odell speaks on how to optimize the sound of your flute. Fetish position, moisture buildup, finger placement, breath control, and obstructions are all covered in this short, informative video.
TROUBLESHOOTING FOR BEGINNERS
HOW DO I CARE FOR MY FLUTE?
The flutes need very little care. There is some information in the instruction booklet. Best to keep them in a bag or cloth away from direct sunlight. If you wish to oil them use an oil that you do not mind putting your mouth on. A salad bowl oil or processed vegetable oils (they do not get rancid) will work. Here are a couple of websites that offer salad bowl finishes.
You may also use combination bees wax/lemon oil mixes such as Williamsville Wax or Lemon Lavender Beeswax Polish. You can find them online. Apply & let soak in for an hour & the wipe off excess.
A more ambitious project would be to use a non toxic Tung oil (most Tung oils are non-toxic) and follow the instructions on the product label. That is what our flutes are finished with. As far as removing moisture, a cloth swab on a dowel or wire will work well.
CAN A FLUTE BE SHARED? (PROPER FLUTE HYGIENE)
Sometimes a single flute will be shared with multiple friends or students. We recommend you use a disposable hygienic flute straw, and change it for each user. We use 3/8″ outside diameter clear vinyl tubing which you can buy at any hardware store ( Home depot, Ace Hardware, etc.). While doctors we have spoken to say that after a flute has dried any germs will have died in the process, we feel using the flute straws is the best way to go.
MY FLUTE HAS A CHECK LINE (CRACK). WHAT SHOULD I DO?
Every once in awhile a check line will develop around the mouth of a flute. Moisture from your breath condenses in the mouth piece expanding the wood from the inside, putting pressure on the outside grain. Sometimes the wood gives & creates a check line.
From our experience the check line closes back after it dries up on the inside. When playing again it will open up again but will not open up more then it did the first time. It does not continue to open any larger.
If this happens to your flute, you have a couple of choices. If you like the voice of the flute you can keep it & we will guarantee the flute so that if it ever were to stop playing, we would replace it. Another option is to send it back and we will repair it by placing a collar over the mouthend so it cannot open up. Lastly, you can send the flute back and we will send you a replacement. If you choose to send it back, please call us to make arrangements (800) 394-1523.
HOW DO I RETIE THE FETISH ONTO MY FLUTE?
When tying the fetish down, place it so that it is a hair behind the rectangular sound hole and centered left to right on the sound hole. The rubber band will hold it down while you wrap the leather. Tie it securely. No matter how tightly you tie the fetish you will still be able to make adjustments afterward. The fetish should never cover any part of the sound hole.
ABOUT OUR FLUTES
5 HOLE FLUTES VS. 6 HOLE FLUTES
A 6-hole flute gives you a bit more range in that you can play more scales, including the relative major diatonic scale. If this does not make sense to you now, it will in the future as you play these scales.
Most of our flutes now are 6-hole flutes. We ship them with a leather tie over the 3rd hole from the top so it looks like a 5-hole flute but, when you are ready, the leather tie can be removed and you have a 6-hole flute.
HOW FAR APART ARE THE FLUTE HOLES?
The distance between the fingering holes is fairly similar for the A, G & F#. It varies from about 1 1/16″ to 1 3/16″. What makes the difference between the 3 flutes is where the first hole starts from the mouthpiece end. The longer the distance, the more one has to bend the wrist to close the holes.
On the “A” flute the distance from the mouthpiece to the first hole is 10 1/4″ and the distance from the mouthpiece to the last hole is 16″.
On the “G” flute the distance from the mouthpiece to the first hole is 11 1/2″ and the distance from the mouthpiece to the last hole is 17 1/2″.
On the “F#” flute the distance from the mouthpiece to the first hole is 12 1/8″ and the distance from the mouthpiece to the last hole is 17 3/4″.
On the Condor “D” flute the distance from the mouthpiece to the first hole is 12″ and the distance from the mouthpiece to the last hole is 18 1/2″.
On the Contra “G” flute the distance from the mouthpiece to the first hole is 13″ and the distance from the mouthpiece to the last hole is 20 3/4″.
On the Contra “F#” flute the distance from the mouthpiece to the first hole is 14 1/4″ and the distance from the mouthpiece to the last hole is 22 1/4″.
Aromatic cedar is also known as eastern red cedar and closet cedar. We prefer this wood because it is a fine balance between clarity & warmth. Because we use only plantation-grown woods, aromatic cedar has more knots & flaws which makes using this wood more labor intensive and therefore a bit more costly.
Spanish cedar is actually more in the mahogany family but because of its strong cedar-like fragrance it was given the cedar name. Its tonal quality is very close to aromatic cedar but because of its straight grain qualities it is much easier to work and we are able to offer the flutes at a better price.
Western cedar is very different in that it is extremely soft and fragile. Has a light tan color and has a very muted voice. We have made flutes from this wood but were disappointed in the lack of durability.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SOFTWOODS & HARDWOODS?
The softwoods such as Aromatic cedar and Spanish cedar have a warmer voice and the hardwoods such as walnut have a clearer voice, especially on the high notes. We sell cedar 2 to 1, partly because cedar is more traditional and people like the beauty of wood. Musicians like the hardwoods because they like the clarity. When they are played on a microphone or recorded, they will add a special effect to warm up the voice.
Aromatic cedar is the most popular, partly because it is more traditional and the colors in the wood are beautiful. It costs more because it take us longer to make. Aromatic cedar has more knots and check lines which we have to laminate and seal. Spanish cedar and walnut are more straight-grained and therefore take take less time to craft, making them cost less.
WHY DO AROMATIC CEDAR FLUTES COST MORE?
We are committed to using plantation-grown and sustainable woods. Because of that we get lumber that is much younger, which results in more knots and various imperfections. We have about 40% waste with aromatic cedar. This, in turn, results in additional required time in preparing the wood to make it useable. Hence the price difference. Walnut is a bit more costly for us but it is straight-gained and has few imperfections, so it is easier to work with and less time consuming.
ARE HIGH SPIRITS FLUTES REALLY HAND-MADE?
We make the flutes in Patagonia, Arizona. I have been making flutes since 1990. The term hand made is always a bit confusing. Like most instrument makers we use power tools to cut & shape the flutes, but from our perspective they are definitely hand made in that we take each flute through its creation process from selecting the wood, milling, boring, crafting the sound mechanism, oiling and polish, and finally, accurately tuning each flute individually.
When I first started making flutes they were created by splitting the wood, hollowing out the halves & then laminating them back together. Unfortunately this method has the potential of the flutes splitting from the moisture built up in playing the instrument. In 1995 I solved that challenge when I found the ability to create the flutes out of a single piece of wood. I continue to experiment and improve the subtlety in creating the voice of the flute.
DOES HIGH SPIRITS SELL UNFINISHED FLUTES?
From past experience we have made it a policy not to sell unfinished flutes. Without a sealant our flutes would not have the voice & tonal quality that High Spirits is known for. We understand that there are circumstances were one may want an unfinished flute and in such cases we suggest trying other flute makers or possibly finding a flute kit. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.
HOW ARE HIGH SPIRITS FLUTES FINISHED?
Our flutes are buffed, hand burnished and then coated with several coats of non-toxic tung oil which is a hardening oil extracted from the nut of the tung tree. The extra buffing and multiple coats of tung oil give our flutes a highly polished finish. We do not use any polyurethanes on our flutes!
WHAT IS EBONIZED WOOD?
Ebonizing is a wood dying process (not staining) that was used in the early 1920s. Ebony furniture was very popular but ebony wood was very expensive, even then. So wood workers developed a way to dye the wood black which allowed them to make the black wood products more reasonably.
CAN I HAVE A DIFFERENT/CUSTOM FETISH?
We are able to adapt the fetishes that we already make to most of our flutes. The limitation would be that we do not have that flexibility with the smaller diameter flutes. If the fetish you desire would fit the flute you are interested in we would do so at no extra charge.
At this time we are not in the position to make custom fetishes. We are able to keep the cost of our flutes down by creating jigs & patterns for the fetishes we make at this time. Individual fetishes take much more time & we are not able to accommodate such requests.
CAN I HAVE DIFFERENT/CUSTOM WOOD?
We very much appreciate the desire to have a flute from wood that has meaning for you. However, we have made it a policy to only use specific instrument quality woods that we purchase because it has to be kiln-dried, have no check lines, no metal particles in the wood (our machines really hate that) and minimal amount of knots. Past experience and frustrations with woods that we do not select has caused us to set this policy.
HOW CAN I MAKE MY OWN FLUTE?
There are several books & web sites that give good information on making & tuning flutes. Some of the more well know instruction books are written by Lew Paxton Price. The web site that we have on file is lewpaxtonprice.us. He has researched much of the math involved in making & tuning flutes.
WHAT’S THE HISTORY OF THE NATIVE AMERICAN FLUTE?
The Native American flute is an instrument that many tribes throughout North America used for personal expression, healing and, in rare cases, in ceremony. The flutes varied greatly on materials and tuning structure. In the South they were made from river cane and bamboo; in the West and East the flutes were made from softwood trees. The flutes varied from 4-hole, 5-hole and 6-hole fingering patterns. Cedar was used by many of the Southwest Nations and continues to be the preferred choice. Hardwoods came into existence as tools became more available to deal with the harder density of these woods.
Unfortunately there is not a lot of documented history of the Native American flute. Except for a few photos dating back to the 1800’s, records of the origin are hard to find.
ARE HIGH SPIRITS FLUTES AUTHENTICALLY NATIVE AMERICAN MADE?
High Spirits flute are “Native American style.” According to Federal laws, anything that is claimed to be Native American made has to be created by a person who is on the Bureau of Indian Affairs Roll as a registered Native American. They are assigned a roll (registration) number. Until recently it was considered to be a negative status because of discrimination that Native Americans experienced.
My father was Ojibwa and my mother was German. My father always felt that we already have too many government numbers assigned to our persons and so he declined to register.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PLAINS FLUTES & WOODLAND FLUTES?
There are two styles of flutes, the Plains Flute & the Woodlands flute. The difference is very subtle and it has to do with the way the air flows through the bird. In the Plains flute the air channel is cut into the bird & in the Woodland flutes the air way is cut into the body of the flute under the bird. There is very little actual documented history when it comes to different designs associated with specific tribes. The wording of these two styles describes the areas were they were made – Plains, in the grass lands – Woodlands, in wooded regions such as mountains, etc.
We do know that the flutes made from river cane were primarily created by Natives in the South. We make our flutes the Plains style.