Piper II flute
Description : A Chinese-built flute with a small price and a big attitude
Guide price : £249
Weight: .411 Kg
Date of manufacture: 2011
Date reviewed : July 2011
it comes to cheap saxophones I think it's fair to say that the Chinese
have pretty much got it sorted. It used to be the case that it was hard
to find a good one - most of what was on offer varied from reasonable
to appalling - but in recent years it's become much less of a gamble and
you'd have to be quite unlucky to pick up a real stinker. Better yet,
some examples are really rather good for the money.
But saxes are just one branch of the woodwind family, and the Chinese
have been just as busy in other areas...such as flutes.
Flutes have been something of a tougher nut to crack for the Chinese.
Perhaps the reason they've done so well with saxes is that the instrument
is inherently forgiving. Even a leaky sax will blow adequately enough
to be able to gig with it (you should see the state of some of the pros'
saxes that come in for 'just a piece of cork') but a flute is a far more
demanding piece of kit.
A spot of sloppy action on a sax might mean that all you need to overcome
it is a slightly higher finger pressure - the same sloppiness on a flute's
action will often stop the instrument dead in its tracks. The tolerances
are finer, everything is smaller and there is less room for errors. When
it comes to Ultra-Cheap instruments, precision isn't a word that's usually
bandied about - but if you're making a flute it's pretty much the first
thing you have to start with.
I've seen some respectable examples of Ultra-Cheap flutes coming in at
around the £120 mark, and while they've not been perfect they've
at least been good enough to see a beginner through to grade 3 or 4 -
which isn't bad given the price. If you're prepared to invest a little
more and have such instruments set up from the off it can pay significant
dividends in terms of player satisfaction and results.
So I was rather interested to come across a company called Beaumont
Woodwind exhibiting at the 2011 Frankfurt Musik Messe whose business
was that of selling a range of Chinese-built flutes and clarinets that
were set up from new (a practice that has proved to be very successful
Naturally, this means their instruments cost a little more than the competition,
but the payoff is the knowledge that they'll work right out of the box
- and are likely to continue to do so for quite some time after. And it
was the setup that drew my attention to their instruments - my being more
than a little surprised by the feel of the action when I casually picked
up a flute off the stand.
I was that impressed that I asked for a basic model to review - and just
to make it more of a real-world test I asked for one of the instruments
on display...which meant that by the time I got my hands on it it will
have had four solid days of being pushed, pulled and played - which probably
equates to about six months of student use!
This flute, the Beaumont Piper II, comes in at £249 and has all
the usual features you'd expect, such as a silverplated nickel-silver
body and head, ribbed construction, rolled tone holes, low C foot joint
and a split E mech.
The body and fittings are nice and neat, with none of the jagged edges
that seem to crop up on the very cheapest flutes, and the plating looks
to be very even.
A close examination of the tone holes reveals nothing untoward - they're
all neatly finished and, most importantly, level. Both the head and foot
joint tenons slide easily into their corresponding sockets, with just
the right amount of stiffness to ensure a snug but easily adjustable joint.
Not a bad start then, but to be honest I've seen similarly well-built
flute bodies on slightly cheaper brands - it's in the keywork where the
money starts to run out.
And in the case of the Piper it appears that the money has been well spent.
It really is impressive. The key design is neat and unfussy, and although
you might suggest that it has something of an 'industrial' look about
it, it's nonetheless neatly made and finished. I'd far rather have that
than a more artistic design that had been poorly made and implemented.
Best of all, it's almost entirely devoid of free play. For sure, if I'm
really, really picky I can point to a microscopic touch of end-to-end
play on the F key, but certainly not enough to be concerned about and
definitely not enough to affect the playability of the instrument. That's
pretty good going - I'm applying a standard I'd use on a £500+ flute
to one that costs a couple of hundred quid. It's astonishing, in fact.
Even better, I found no free play at the pillar where the lower stack
meets the upper stack. It's very common to find a spot of free play here,
and it can have a dramatic effect on the accuracy of the lower stack action
as well as making the forked Bb very hit and miss.
How long that lasts depends on several factors, but the common supposition
that Chinese keywork is as soft as butter is an inaccurate as it is old
- a few attempts at bending the keys shows them to be rather stiffer than
those found on substantially more expensive flutes. This is particularly
good news for students, who are inclined to be a little less than careful
with their instruments (swordfighting with flutes is often a popular diversion
for bored beginners).
Another factor is the type of point screws used, and whether there is
any scope for adjustment with them. In this case the point screws are
of the pseudo variety - which means
that when the action wear they won't be able to take up the free play.
Not to worry though, as on the flute there's really only one critical
point screw (on the right hand stack lower pillar - adjacent to the D
key), so when it comes to upgrading or replacing it you're looking at
less than a fiver. For a tenner you might even be able to replace the
two point screws on the trill keys...and for £20 you could swap
out the upper C key rod, which has a parallel point on it.
It might seem a bit over the top, worrying about key wear on a student
flute - you'd expect most players to be done with such an instrument well
before it starts to wear - but that's perhaps an indication of the build
quality of the Piper...I can see it providing many more years of use for
the casual player or infrequent doubler.
was pleased to see plenty of adjusters on the keys - this makes things
a great deal easier for we techs (and the more adventurous players) to
tweak the action. You might not spot them on first sight as they're neatly
tucked away underneath the keys. The shot on the left shows the G/Split
E key and you can just see the adjuster tab behind the rear of the G touchpiece.
In terms of key layout the Piper is pretty standard, featuring an offset
G and a split E. Flute makers are
somewhat limited in terms of key placement - most of the key cups have
to sit directly above the tone hole, so that's where the fingers have
to go, but there's some scope for ergonomic tweakery when it comes to
the thumb, G# and foot joint keys. These were all well-placed on the Piper,
with the thumb key being noticeably comfortable.
The double rings on the key cups are worth a mention - these are intended
as an aid to finger-placement, helping the student to align their fingertips
correctly...which will prove useful should they upgrade to an open-hole
flute. These rings provided another benefit, as we'll see shortly.
The corkwork was good too, with all the felt and corks neatly trimmed.
This is an area in which a lot of Chinese-built instruments suffer. Scruffy
corkwork won't necessarily mean the instrument won't play, it just looks
unsightly and points to a lack of care during assembly and setup.
good body and accurate keywork is all well and good, but a flute needs
a decent set of pads that have been properly seated...and this is exactly
what we have here.
Many retailers have cottoned on to the fact that Chinese pads aren't that
good yet (though they're getting better, it must be said) and many of
them are asking the manufacturers to use selected pads - such as the Pisoni
ones used on the Piper.
It really makes a difference. Whereas cheap flute pads are often crinkly
and uneven (which means leaks) the Pisonis are taut and even. When such
pads are properly set they'll hold their seat for a good few years to
come - which means fewer trips to the repair shop and a more reliable
instrument. Another notable feature is the weight, it's a little lighter
than a Yamaha - and although it's not by much it makes quite a difference
to the child who's attempting to hold the instrument at arms length for
extended periods of time.
The whole outfit comes in a semi-soft zippered case, with both a carrying
handle and a shoulder strap - and a cleaning cloth as well as a wooden
cleaning rod (a nice touch). It's light, tough and practical and will
easily withstand the rigours of the school music room (which can be a
punishing environment, as any music teacher will tell you).
I mentioned earlier about the setup - and merely having a decent action
and quality pads isn't enough...they have to be set properly.
In my experience the Chinese can just about do a reasonable job of setting
pads these days, but it comes nowhere near the sort of standards you'll
get from a decent independent repairer.
This is where the Beaumont really wins out, as each instrument is set
up by hand by the retailer.
When I asked to review these flutes there was some concern over how fair
I would be...they'd had four punishing days at a trade fair, would I be
prepared to make allowances for that? I told them yes. I lied (ho ho ho).
I pulled the Piper straight out of the box and did a leak test on it.
Absolutely spot on. There wasn't even a hint of double-action on the keywork,
which shows how well set the corks and felts were.
Better than that though was the feel of the action (powered by stainless
springs, incidentally). You can only tweak a cheap flute so much before
the lack of quality in the action shows up, and you have to leave the
springs a tad heavier to compensate. Not so on the Piper, it had the sort
of action I'd aim for if I were setting up a flute - nice and light, but
responsive and positive. Likewise the key height - not too high, not too
low - just right.
During the course of play-testing, using various flute playing clients
as they dropped by the workshop, I noticed that they all remarked on the
feel of the action as soon as they picked the flute up. A great deal of
this is down to the way the instrument has been set up, but some of it's
due to the 'double ring' detail on the key cups - a nice secondary benefit
of the design. It adds a touch of grip without being obtrusive, and makes
for a very positive feel.
the Piper II is impressive. It speaks with remarkable ease, combining
a fullness of tone with a level of clarity and precision that's completely
unexpected at this price. It made very short work of a number of cheaper
(but nonetheless respectable) flutes, and although double the price of
these competitors it gave more than double the performance.
The lower end is remarkably powerful - a lot of flutes run out of steam
in this range, with the notes becoming quieter and indistinct, but the
Piper maintained a nice crispness right down to low C. That's easy enough
to do if you make a flute bright, but that often mean the upper register
will make your ears bleed. Fortunately the Piper's brightness remained
tempered and even across the range.
The upper register just sings - it's clean, detailed and smooth where
a lots of cheaper flutes tend towards gritty and harsh - and it wasn't
until top B that the money ran out and the flute began to kick back and
ask the player for more breath support.
Perhaps the best aspect of the Piper is its tonal variability. You really
have to go some way to push the notes over the edge. You can take it from
piano to fortissimo in an instant and the tone remains rock solid. This
feature prompted one tester to exclaim "By 'eck! This is good!"-
high praise indeed when you consider that her own flute cost around half
the price of a small car.
Up against the ubiquitous Yamaha 211 the Piper held its own with dignity.
The Yamaha costs around twice the price and remains the industry-standard
top-end beginners flute. It's a tough act to follow - a very tough act
indeed, and perhaps a brutally unfair comparison - and while the Yamaha
showed its credentials, it wasn't by any means a walkover. It's a better
flute, sure, but it's a lot more money...and it's by no means twice the
flute that the Piper is.
As if I hadn't made things tough enough for the Piper, I decided to check
its consistency. Other woodwinds, such as saxes and clarinets, can be
fitted with different mouthpieces...which can have a dramatic effect on
the instrument's performance. A flute comes with a headjoint that can't
easily be changed on a whim...what you get in the box is what you're stuck
with, so I asked Beaumont to send me a couple of extra heads. A slight
variance is always to be expected - even Yamaha flutes, noted for their
consistency, will show small variations in the way one flute plays from
another seemingly identical example. But these variances should be within
an acceptable range.
So I was pleased to find that the Piper's response on each of the heads
remained consistent - which means if you order one online you're not likely
to end up with a flute that doesn't play as well as it ought to.
When I first picked up the Piper at the trade show I knew it would get
a good review based solely on how it performed. If you bought one of these
for your child you'd be able to rest easy, knowing that you'd given them
an instrument that won't get in the way of their progress (an all-too-common
reason for students giving up). But better than this the Piper's build
quality matches the performance - so if the player goes the distance,
so will the Piper.
If you shopped around you'd probably find a number of Ultra-Cheap flutes
at rather less than the Piper's asking price, but my standard advice when
buying such instruments is to budget another £40 or so for a setup.
The setup comes as part of the price with the Piper...and not only do
you get a very nice, reliable flute - you also get after-sales support
from a technician. As such I feel this flute sets the benchmark for £250
- and I really don't think you'll beat that in a hurry...unless you're
prepared to spend close on £500.
And if you are you might like to check out the Beaumont