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Guo Grenaditte C Flute

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The Guo grenaditte flute resembles a traditional silver flute – somewhat – and it plays enough like one that most flautists will be able to make it rock with a learning curve not to exceed thirty seconds. This said, it’s a remarkable instrument and way more fun than may be legal where you live.

Traditional concert flutes are typically made of silver… unless you bought a really cheap ‘n nasty steel flute with silver plating. All other things being equal, flutes sound better as whatever they’re made out of gets denser, hence the preference for metals such as silver, gold or platinum in their construction.

There are several drawbacks to the metallurgy inherent in traditional flutes. They tend to be a bit weighty to hold for protracted periods… oh, and they’re mind-numbingly expensive, which can be an issue.

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Somewhat less mainstream than silver flutes, wooden flutes made of dense hardwoods have a long if somewhat esoteric tradition. While most of the ones you’re likely to encounter will be simple instruments lacking the full range of keys of a concert flute, full concert wooden flutes do exist. Sadly, these are also mind-numbingly expensive, as a rule.

Wooden concert flutes represent a very different voice for flautists. Dark, textured and lacking in the piercing quality of their more common progeny, traditional wooden concert flutes are something of a road less traveled. For the most part, the five-figure price tag that precedes the journey will have a lot to do with this.

The Guo flute is none or all of the above, depending upon your perspective. It uses pretty much the same Boehm key mechanism as a traditional concert flute. It’s fabricated out of a unique resin material, however. It plays and sounds very much like a wooden flute – with none of the drawbacks thereof. Specifically, it’s almost weightless, it doesn’t change its pitch and intonation as it warms up, it isn’t at risk of drying out and cracking if it discovers itself confronted with extremes of temperature or humidity… and it won’t bankrupt you and your immediate decedents.

Quick, expressive and remarkably nuanced, this is a flute from an alternate universe where stuff just works better than it does in this one.

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Legend has it that Geoffrey Guo, the Taiwanese inventor of the eponymous Guo flute, initially set about to create a very lightweight instrument for a friend who suffered with focal dystonia, and couldn’t hold a silver flute for long periods. He eventually employed a synthetic material which he named grenaditte, presumably to suggest that it was a suitable replacement for the grenadilla wood from which high-end wooden instruments are crafted.

The Guo grenaditte flute is black rather than silver, and the surface has a faint texture. While it appears that the texture is supposed to suggest the appearance of wood, it serves to make the instrument easier to hold.

The key mechanism of this flute largely duplicates the key placement of a traditional concert flute. There are a few trivial variations – I found the low B a bit unfamiliar, and it took a few minutes to get used to it. The key mechanism has all usual features of a concert flute, including an in-line G and a gizmo key on the foot joint. It has open holes, but in what I consider a rare flash of insight among flute makers, this one comes with a set of silicon plugs, for those of us who weren’t born with octopus suckers on our fingertips.

The whole works weighs in at twelve ounces – or 340 grams – which may be less than the weight of the cleaning rods for some of my silver flutes.

I suspect that most flute players will hold a Guo flute for the first time and remark something to the effect that it’s plastic, and will unquestionably sound like a recycled Coke bottle. Especially if you’re disposed to moving around a lot when you play, this takes more getting used to than its slight key placement variations. Suddenly discovering that the big metal pipe that’s typically stuck to your face has gone missing is disconcerting for a time.

It sounds in no way like a recycle Coke bottle. While the Guo flute doesn’t project quite as well as a silver flute, its subtlety and dark texture more than make up for its slightly diminished volume. It seems to manage a more fluid transition between octaves. Its bottom end is surprisingly powerful for something so light.

The tone holes of the Guo grenaditte flute depart notably from the traditional design of concert flutes. Rather than a small chimney for each hole, the holes for this flute are machined into the body of the instrument. It appears that the key pads are synthetic, rather than natural skin. While I haven’t owned a Guo flute nearly long enough to determine the difference empirically, the synthetic pads feel substantially more durable, and suggest a longer life than traditional pads.

One of my favorite references for maintaining flutes is a book I happened upon as a PDF file, entitled An Illustrated Basic Flute Repair Manual for Professionals, by Horng-Jium Lin, written in 2008. It touches on the Guo flute, suggesting that it’s every bit as readily adjusted and as robust as a traditional flute mechanism. Horng-Jium Lin also notes that one of the components of the grenaditte material is fiberglass, which likely accounts for its density. He seems to think highly of the non-traditional design of the key pads.

The Guo grenaditte flute comes – perhaps not surprisingly – in a strikingly non-traditional aluminum case. It appears capable of surviving an altercation with an enraged rhinoceros. The case is surrounded by a nylon cover, and includes a clearing cloth and rod. It doesn’t come with an exterior cleaning cloth – you’ll probably want one to keep the head joint clean.

The head joint of the Guo flute can be a slight issue, in that its fit is a bit tight. I’ve had two of these flutes – on the first one, the head joint was so tight as to be unmovable after the instrument had been played for a while, and warmed up. I suspect it was the victim of minute manufacturing tolerances ganging up on it. Its replacement, while still a bit stiff to adjust, seems to have gotten around this.

In resolving the issue of the immoveable head joint, I was pleased to find that Guo’s e-mail support was prompt, helpful and lucid.

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I’m not sure I’d want to entirely forsake my silver flutes in favor of a Guo grenaditte flute, but as an alternate voice, it’s a superb instrument. It stretches the sound of a traditional flute into new spaces.

For practical purposes, it’s a wooden concert flute without the vagaries or the price of wood. As of this writing, it costs about three thousand dollars.

It’s arguably worth mentioning that Guo makes a lot of different flutes, out of a variety of materials. Its lower-end instruments – referred to as “New Voice” flutes – are fun and colorful, but they don’t do justice to the potential of Guo’s professional instruments made entirely of grenaditte.

Comments (2)

Josh zambrowskyMarch 18th, 2018 at 12:39 pm

An excellent,descriptive review of a flute which I will try as soon as i can get hold of one, at which time I’d like to offer further comment.

I have read all your wind instrument reviews and they are TERRIFIC! Who is the writer? Whoever does this so well, should not be anonymous.

Chris NorgateApril 30th, 2018 at 4:50 am

A pretty decent blog about the guo flute. To be honest, I spend more time reading about flutes than actually playing them, so happening across this is a pleasure.

I’m probably the worst flutist you can imagine, I can make people cry while I butcher many mis-blown notes. But considering i taught myself music reading (or some of those small black dots, anyway) and play mostly to alleviate the stress and ‘difficulties’ experienced through work, it’s not surprising really.

Excellent review and if you’re not in Guo’s payroll for it then you should be. It’s a brilliant advert for the flute. It makes me wish I could afford one on my freighters salary, now you all know why I read about them more lol

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