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Jupiter diMedici 1321ES Alto Flute

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An alto flute plays a fourth lower than a conventional C flute – it will play naturally in the key of G. It offers a useful lower range for flautists, or a handy way to play in a different range without a lot of transposition and uncomfortable head-scratching. Mostly, they just sound cool.

Alto flutes – at least, reasonably good ones – sound dark and resonant.

Contemporary alto flutes come with either a traditional straight head joint – looking like a conventional C flute with impulse-control issues – or with a curved head joint, such that the flute doubles back on itself. If you’re undecided, you can have both, and for reasons to be discussed in a moment, both is good.

In theory, a curved head joint will allow an alto flute, an instrument considerably larger than a conventional C flute, to be played comfortably even by flautists with short arms. In fact, a curved head joint changes the character of the instrument considerably, and is a worthwhile option even if you aren’t extremity-challenged.

Moderately-priced alto flutes have popped up like illegal vegetables of late, and some of them deserve to be confiscated and burned. The diMedici 1300-series alto is surprisingly good, especially in contrast to some of its shockingly bad contemporaries.

All other things being equal, the tone of a flute improves with the density of the metal from which the instrument is made. Steel – the traditional material of which are wrought economical student flutes – isn’t really up to the task. Steel plated with a few atoms of silver hardly improves on the situation. A solid silver flute gets up and rocks – sadly leaving a trail of weeping credit card statements in its wake for most of us.

The diMedici 1300-series alto flute is a solid silver instrument, and it may be the least expensive solid silver alto available. Depending on how it’s configured, it typically hits the streets at about $2500. Despite its modest cost as serious alto flutes go, it’s very nicely made, and it plays as well as instruments that cost twice as much. Perhaps more to the point, it’s extremely easy to play – it’s quick and responsive across its entire range, and doesn’t require that you undertake special lip exercises and stand on one foot to get low notes from it.

It’s probably worth noting that Jupiter makes student instruments for the most part, and while they do what it says on the box, they’re not the stuff of serious performance. The deMedici imprint is Jupiter’s line of professional toys – they have somewhat more hands-on attention during manufacturing, and they’re usually comparable to more recognizably high-end flutes.

The tone of the diMedici is breathtaking – deep, dark and resonant, it will allow accomplished flautists to do things with the instrument that just aren’t within the purview of a conventional C flute. The quirky interval of a fourth below conventionally-tuned instruments makes improvisation with an alto flute fresh and unexpected.

The diMedici 1300-series alto flute is available with a straight head joint, a curved head joint or – as I bought it – with both. Most of the alto flutes I’ve tried have sounded better with a straight head joint, and I was surprised to find that the diMedici alto, at least as I play it, both played and sounded better with the curved joint. If you go shopping for an alto flute, be sure to try it both ways.

The curved head joint also shifts the center of gravity of the instrument closer to the foot joint, making it feel lighter and easier to hang on to.

Despite it’s substantial size increase over a C flute, an alto flute offers a short, graceful learning curve for any reasonably accomplished flautist. The keys of the diMedici alto fall naturally under one’s fingers, and there are no tricky additional keys to remember… save that the equivalent of the B foot key of a C flute is absent on an alto.

It seems to be a peculiarity of professional flutes that they rarely arrive from their respective factories in a playable condition, and virtually always need to be set up before they’re ready to rock. The diMedici alto flute that I bought was no exception, and the shop from whence it came took care of this before it arrived. For this reason, buying one from an on-line retailer probably isn’t an entirely brilliant idea. You’ll almost certainly have to get it set up after it arrives, which is an added expense and pretty much means that you won’t be able to try it out – and potentially return it if you don’t like it – until you sink a few hundred dollars into it.

Honorable mention for this one goes to Harknett Music at www.harknettmusic.com – ask for Jon. They had the flute expertly set up by Jay Gemmill at the Ontario Flute Centre, who could probably make a foot of rusty waterpipe sound like a concert flute given half an hour’s notice.

Comments (1)

Ed BSeptember 22nd, 2010 at 11:51 am

What a useful review! If alto flutes are rare, good reviews of them are even rarer! Many thanks, I’ll be trying a Jupiter on Saturday and will remember to check out both headjoints.