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In March, I wrote a review of the Avanti flutes by Conn-Selmer (designed by Bickford Brannen). The Avanti flutes are an absolutely wonderful flute and a superior overall product to pretty much everything anywhere near their price.
However, the price is out of reach for many younger players as well as for many parents in this modern economy. Coming in 2010, Conn-Selmer has an answer for this issue. The new "James Galway Spirit" line of student and step-up flutes.
The Galway Spirit
In the new brochure for these flutes, Conn-Selmer makes the following statement:
The Galway Spirit, the most beautiful and best playing student and step-up flute in the world!
That's quite a claim! However, after being allowed to test these flutes prior to their release in the first quarter of 2010... I have to agree with Conn-Selmer. These flutes are absolutely amazing and yes, they are quite striking cosmetically.
Now I will be the first person to say that I could care less about the cosmetics of an instrument. I have always focused on the quality of the product from a playing, construction and an overall value statement. Many of my customers come to me solely for advice because of this.
So when I saw the first photographs of the Spirit flutes, I was not overly impressed. They are a beautiful instrument featuring "reverse bead decorative rings" and an emerald colored Cubic Zirconium in the headjoint crown, I instantly put a stigma on the flute of "too much time put into the looks usually means not enough time put into the design" on them. I have to admit that this could not be further from the truth.
The Galway Spirit models use a design that I was already familiar with. They are using the same machinery for the body and key-cup manufacturing as their higher-end counterparts in the Avanti line.
The Spirit models have their bodies and tone holes made on the same machinery and to the same design as the Avanti. They feature an authentic A=442 Cooper Scale. This gives these flutes superior intonation and overall scale.
They also use CNC machined key cups just like the Avanti meaning a more stable housing for the most sensitive piece of the flute, the pads. Perfectly flat inner cups to the keys give pads a stable backing that helps the pads maintain their adjustments over a longer period of time.
All Spirit models feature a professional style modern headjoint cut. This headjoint is definitely more open than the Avanti and provides for most intermediate level players a bigger, more open and expressive tone than the Avanti.
While I still personally prefer the tonal performance of the Avanti-Brannen headjoint (due to their more focused and darker tone), I do feel that the majority of student level players will find the Spirit headjoint easier to play yielding better performance at their level.
I feel that this headjoint is also ideal for the saxophone doubler as well as the intermediate adult who plays more for their own enjoyment and the occasional church or small ensemble playing.
Regardless of the level of flautist, all will find these flutes to be very responsive and a pleasure to play.
The headjoint is also equipped with the "Performance Flute Plug" instead of a traditional headjoint cork assembly. There are claims that this item will make a performance difference, and for some perhaps it does. We did not perform any sort of "blind test" using a traditional cork assembly vs. the Performance Plug. However, strictly from a mechanical repair stance, we like it. It is simply one less item to have maintained and replaced on the flute on a regular basis.
So regardless of whether or not it changes the performance of the flute, it is a good accessory that will help the player have one less adjustment/repair issue to deal with and that in itself is a great thing.
One thing that was changed when compared to the Avanti design is the size of the key cups. The Spirit models do have larger diameter key cups by about 2mm. While this is a small overall change, it is noticeable in the hands and actually quite comfortable. I assume that this change was made to accommodate smaller hands that wouldn't have as easy of a time gripping the Avanti keys.
The Galway Spirit flutes will be available in 3 models.
This model is completely silver plated and features closed holes with a low C footjoint. This is the typical "student" configuration. However, the term "student" when applied to this flute means something different in my opinion than the what the music industry will typically imply with the term.
This model is for the "student player". What is a student? Frankly, it is any player that is still in a learning phase or a non-professional level of playing. This definition covers a heavy majority of flautists out there. The headjoint cut on this model is the same one used throughout the line and will give advanced performance regardless of its "student" designation.
This is the same overall flute as the JG1 model except it is an open-hole, low B foot version.
This is the main "step-up" level from the line. This model features a Solid Silver headjoint, open hole with low B foot. This flute is beyond impressive! It offers a much bigger and sweeter sound than the JG1 or JG2 models.
This model, based on performance, will completely dominate the intermediate flute market when compared to the other offerings in its class. While pricing has not yet been released, they should fall in slightly above the $1,000 price point.
(click here to view pictures of the JG3 on my family's company site)
The "Bling Factor"
As I said earlier, I am not much of a fan of putting heavy focus on the cosmetics of the product because USUALLY this means that the company has skimped on the a feature that could have increased the performance of the product. In the case of the Galway Spirit, flautists do not have to compromise on this.
The Cubic Zirconium in Emerald Green that is placed into the headjoint crown may not be to my personal liking, but I have a feeling that students will absolutely flip over this. Conn-Selmer will also be selling replacement headjoint crowns featuring colored gemstones for all of the various "birth stone" colors. Again, not my cup of tea but definitely something that students will enjoy and appreciate.
I do however really like the delicate look of the "reverse bead decorative rings". These really add an elegant look to the flute that the majority of the music playing population will be impressed with.
The engraving on the flute is a little gaudy for my taste with James Galway's initials engraved into the headjoint along with a rose, but again, plenty of people will like.
Made in the USA
I have said this before and I will say it again, I love supporting American made product. Don't get me wrong, I am not the kind of person who will ONLY buy American. I feel we live in a global market and believe that there truly is quality product available from all around the world. BUT, when there is a quality American made product, I will always choose to support the American made product as long as it is at least up the performance/value level of the import.
In the case of the Spirit flutes, there is no need to compromise as they are 100% American made and will still be priced at the same level as many of the imports while completely outplaying those imports.
These flutes are going to be "officially launched" at the NAMM Convention in Anaheim, CA on January 14-17, 2010. Shipments to dealers should start in February of 2010 but this is of course subject to change.
All 3 models will be available to authorized Conn-Selmer dealers but only the JG3 model will be available online. The JG1 and JG2 will not be available online due to their "student" designation. While I personally feel that this will short term hurt the exposure of these flutes, the long term will yield (in theory) better dealer support and the performance of the flute will build a reputation on its own merit rather than any advertising policy could ever hope to accomplish.
These are plain and simple the best flute in their class. In my family's music store, we have been doing blowouts of several models of flutes specifically in anticipation of these new flutes. These will become our primary recommendation for the majority of flautists.
I want to thank Conn-Selmer for allowing us to review these flutes prior to their release. There are not many companies that I really anticipate new product from, but Conn-Selmer has been doing all of the right things in their past few product releases and so far, all have been resounding successes in my opinion!
To read more about options and pricing (once it is released) on the Galway Spirit flutes, please visit my family's company site at http://www.kesslermusic.com/