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It is fair to say that flute-making was in Kurt Gemeinhardt’s blood. Descended from three previous generations of flute-makers, learning and mastering the craft occupied his youth, his apprenticeship and his life’s work. He left his native Germany for St. Gallen, Switzerland after completing an apprenticeship with his father, Arthur Gemeinhardt, to create custom flutes for some of the world’s best-known musicians.
In 1928, Gemeinhardt emigrated to the America to build instruments in Elkhart, Indiana, which was becoming the main hub of brass and woodwind instrument manufacturing in the United States. Since that time, countless students, hobbyists and professionals have understood Gemeinhardt’s iconic cursive script logo as a mark of quality and reliability.
The Gemeinhardt Company’s first two decades were dedicated to producing top-quality, handmade, all-silver flutes. Demand always exceeded his 20 x 40’ shop’s output capacity, and beginning in 1951, Gemeinhardt moved his operations to a much larger facility in Elkhart. It was at this time Gemeinhardt developed an intermediate line, and eventually a student line of flutes. A second expansion came in 1997, and today Gemeinhardt is the largest dedicated manufacturer of flutes and piccolos in the world.
The quality of a flute depends on many combined factors. First, there is the construction material. In general, the finest flutes are made with solid silver, also called sterling silver. Gold flutes of varying karat purity are available and reasonably common, but the vast majority of flutes have a silver appearance. Silver flutes can also be made of silver-plated brass, nickel silver or solid silver. Solid silver is silver with a 92.5% purity, and it is used for both the flute’s tube and the key mechanism.
The three main parts of the flute tube are the headjoint, the body (or main tube) and the footjoint. The headjoint is where the lip plate (or embouchure plate) is attached. The blow hole (or embouchure hole) is typically oval or a rounded rectangle, and is situated at the center of the lip plate. A tuning cork is located in the headjoint, and is used to bring the instrument into tune with the rest of the ensemble. Flutes are available with one, two, or all three of its chief components constructed from solid silver.
The headjoint fits into the main tube at its barrel (or tenon). The barrel is often where the maker’s logo is placed, and is a critical part of properly transferring the headjoint’s vibrations to the main tube, where the majority of a flute’s key mechanism is located. The keys are depressed to change the flute’s pitches.
The footjoint is the shortest section of a flute. It is located at its far end, and is where most of the sound is emitted. It is available with either two or three keys, referred to as a C foot and B foot respectively. The B foot allows the musician to play a half-step lower than the C foot, and makes for a darker tone than a C foot. It also increases the weight of the instrument, which increases resistance as well. It is generally available on intermediate and professional models. Flutes with a C foot are more commonly student instruments.
The keywork can also be constructed of silver, silver-plated brass or nickel silver. Plateau keys (or closed-hole keys) are common on student flutes. More experienced players prefer open-hole flutes, which allow for greater individual note pitch control and dynamic expression. Different players prefer different key placements and key styles. Some instruments have an offset G, whereas others have an inline G. There is no tonal difference between these two options. Additionally, some instruments have a split E key, which for some, makes for a clearer and more responsive E note. Other specialty keys include the C# trill key and the D# roller.
Gemeinhardt operates factories in the U.S., China and Taiwan, and supplies world markets with student, intermediate and professional-quality flutes. One of the best-known Gemeinhardt instruments is the 2SP, a student model available for under $500 that has been the stepping stone for countless beginning flute players.
The 2SP features a silver-plated head, body and foot, plateau keys and a C foot. It includes a strong plastic case along with a selection of care products, and is an ideal instrument for the student or beginning adult flutist. Student piccolos are less common, as it is considered a secondary instrument, and piccolo duties often fall to one of the more advanced flute players in the group. For under $1,000, Gemeinhardt offers the 4PMH and the 4PSH, both with plastic body tubes and silver-plated keys. The 4PSH has a solid silver headjoint.
At the top end of the Gemeinhardt inventory is the 33SSB, a solid silver open-hole flute with a thin-wall headjoint and a 12K white gold spring mechanism. It is worthy of any professional player. They also offer several professional piccolo models, including the Roy Seaman signature model, the KG Limited and the 4WSSK.
Gemeinhardt also manufactures alto and bass flutes. The most popular alto flute for school systems is the Model 11A. It plays beautifully through all registers, and the Y-arm mechanism is stable and strong. Alto flute is often written for in school-oriented band arrangements; it is a wonderful sound that may serve to motivate a student who wishes not to be just one in a row of flutes. The Gemeinhardt 21BSP bass flute is pitched an octave below the common C flute, and possesses an unearthly character that is warm and charming.