Wood Species and Tonal Quality in the Native American Style Flute

Native American Flute Wood Species and Tonal Quality Go Hand in HandI do not put wood type near the top of my list of things that affect tonal quality in Native American style flutes. That does not mean that I am not aware that different types of wood produce different types of tone. I do not personally use soft woods such as cedar and redwood. There are many factors that lead to this decision. I will not go into them here.

Wood density is measured on a scale called the Janka Hardness Scale. Alaska cedar, for example, has a rating of 580. Ipe, a dense tropical hardwood, has a rating of 3680. The hardwoods that I use range from a density of 1010 for black walnut to Indian rosewood with a rating of 3170.

There is no such thing in nature as a pure sign wave tone. Any tone – like a tone in the key of A – is always a mixture of tones. The predominant tone is that of A – vibrating at 440 Hz. But, mixed in with that tone are other tones both above 440 Hz and below it. These tones are called overtones. They add color to the pure sign wave or note.


Wood that is lower in density, such as walnut, has a tendency to selectively absorb sound vibrations of a certain wavelength. The vibrations that have the greatest tendency to be absorbed are the higher vibrations or overtones. Higher density woods tend to reflect these overtones not absorb them. Tones that are not absorbed by the wood itself are projected out into the surrounding atmosphere and strike the ear. Thus, they become part of the musical experience. Overtones that are absorbed into the wood do not get projected out into the atmosphere. They do not reach the ear and consequently do not become part of the musical experience.


Flute Wood Species


A flute that is in the key of A has a brighter tone than a flute in the key of E. Higher overtones, like higher keyed flutes, are usually called bright overtones. Some people prefer higher, brighter tones. Others prefer lower, moodier tones. It is my opinion that a good flute should have the proper balance of higher and lower tones.

Factors affecting the selection of wood species and tonal quality

When I am making a flute in a higher key – such as an A – I want to balance the tonal quality. The flute is naturally going to be bright. If it is too bright then the tone can begin to sound hard and penetrating. If I were following my own personal preference I would prefer to use a lower density wood. I would do this to absorb some of the higher overtones. By neutralizing these extreme tones I would take some of the edge off the hardness. The resulting flute would sound more comfortable to the ear.

Lower keyed flutes on the other hand tend to be dull. If I were making a flute with a lower tone such as an E or lower I want to preserve bright overtones. So I would make the flute out of a harder wood. In my experience the harder the wood the better. I do this because the flute is already laid back in tonal quality. I want to preserve as many bright tones as I can so that they are projected out into the atmosphere. By preserving the bright warm overtones the flute retains as much of a happy, bright quality as possible. These qualities are the ones that tend to be lacking in the lower keyed flutes.

These are not hard and fast rules. Every hand made instrument is different. Some, perhaps many, will violate these principles. Also, as I have tried to explain in previous articles, there are many other factors that are simultaneously having their effect on the tonal character of the flute.

NOTE! This site uses cookies and similar technologies.

If you not change browser settings, you agree to it. Learn more

I understand

Cookie Policy for At flutes

What Are Cookies

As is common practice with almost all professional websites this site uses cookies, which are tiny files that are downloaded to your computer, to improve your experience. This page describes what information they gather, how we use it and why we sometimes need to store these cookies. We will also share how you can prevent these cookies from being stored however this may downgrade or 'break' certain elements of the sites functionality.

For more general information on cookies see the Wikipedia article on HTTP Cookies.

How We Use Cookies

We use cookies for a variety of reasons detailed below. Unfortunately in most cases there are no industry standard options for disabling cookies without completely disabling the functionality and features they add to this site. It is recommended that you leave on all cookies if you are not sure whether you need them or not in case they are used to provide a service that you use.

Disabling Cookies

You can prevent the setting of cookies by adjusting the settings on your browser (see your browser Help for how to do this). Be aware that disabling cookies will affect the functionality of this and many other websites that you visit. Disabling cookies will usually result in also disabling certain functionality and features of the this site. Therefore it is recommended that you do not disable cookies.

The Cookies We Set

This site offers newsletter or email subscription services and cookies may be used to remember if you are already registered and whether to show certain notifications which might only be valid to subscribed/unsubscribed users.

This site offers e-commerce or payment facilities and some cookies are essential to ensure that your order is remembered between pages so that we can process it properly.

From time to time we offer user surveys and questionnaires to provide you with interesting insights, helpful tools, or to understand our user base more accurately. These surveys may use cookies to remember who has already taken part in a survey or to provide you with accurate results after you change pages.

Third Party Cookies

In some special cases we also use cookies provided by trusted third parties. The following section details which third party cookies you might encounter through this site.

This site uses Google Analytics which is one of the most widespread and trusted analytics solution on the web for helping us to understand how you use the site and ways that we can improve your experience. These cookies may track things such as how long you spend on the site and the pages that you visit so we can continue to produce engaging content.

For more information on Google Analytics cookies, see the official Google Analytics page.

Third party analytics are used to track and measure usage of this site so that we can continue to produce engaging content. These cookies may track things such as how long you spend on the site or pages you visit which helps us to understand how we can improve the site for you.

We also use social media buttons and/or plugins on this site that allow you to connect with your social network in various ways. For these to work the following social media sites including; Facebook, Twitter, Linked in, Google plus, will set cookies through our site which may be used to enhance your profile on their site or contribute to the data they hold for various purposes outlined in their respective privacy policies.

More Information

Hopefully that has clarified things for you and as was previously mentioned if there is something that you aren't sure whether you need or not it's usually safer to leave cookies enabled in case it does interact with one of the features you use on our site.

However if you are still looking for more information then you can contact us through one of our preferred contact methods. This Cookies Policy was created with the help of the CookiePolicyGenerator.com

Email: [email protected]