Discovering the NAF, Part 3: Bedford Avenue Flutes

Who knew Wake County, North Carolina was such hotbed of flute makers? I’ve written before about the maker of my G4 NAF, David O’Neal, and I am on the build list of another well-respected maker who shall remain nameless at this point. Recently, I met a third maker who is less well known so far but deserves to be mentioned in the same breath with the others. His name is Mark Bickett. He does business under the name Bedford Avenue Flutes through his web site and Etsy shop.

I first saw his flutes on Etsy while browsing for lower keyed flutes in the neighborhood of E4. Upon discovering he was local, I contacted him through the website, and he offered to make an appointment to sample his flutes in his home studio in Raleigh. Unlike the visit with David where I knew the key I wanted and could be more focused, I went in this time with a more open mind and I tried a lot of different keys – from an A3 up to a Bb4. At first I focused on things close to my maple G4 – hardwoods from Eb4 up to F#4. They were all quite consistent: excellent fit and finish, quick response, accurate tuning, clear tone, solid bottom notes, and at least two clean high notes. On several, I could easily get a third high note with the same half hole fingering I use on the G4. On others I couldn’t as easily get it, but I’m pretty sure it’s there. The point is I would have been quite pleased with any of these.

Then I tried some lower keys: D4, C#4, C4, and A3. These were all surprisingly reachable and again, quite consistent: mellower tone, accurate tuning, not very much slower to respond than the higher keys (though more noticeable as the key descended and air volume increased – as you would expect). I kept coming back to a particular cedar D4, pictured here, which seemed to have the best of everything in this key range: cool mellow tone, comfortable finger spacing, good response, and 3 clean notes above the octave with no half-hole required. Mark explained that a lot of the magic could be attributed to design characteristics derived from the “large bore” on this one. He actually makes two different D4 designs, a “normal” bore and large bore, and after he pointed that out I could feel the difference. A few more quick comparisons and it was clear this was a keeper.

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Finally, I tried a couple of high(er) keyed flutes. The G4s and A4s were again consistently good, but I didn’t dwell on them as I have a very nice G4, and I have an A4 on order with another NC builder (not the one mentioned in the first paragraph – um, I might be developing a “slight” flute addiction). Then there was this one little Bb4 I was inexplicably drawn to – completely not on my radar. It has a “happy”, “chippy” voice, plays very quickly, and has an interesting story. Mark relayed that this flute was made from a small 6″ cedar tree cut down by his neighbor. As he said, “Just a common cedar you see everywhere around here-lots of small limbs resulting in small knots.” And from the pictures you can see a sizable knot running right through the barrel. Maybe that explains why the price on this little guy was a good bit lower than the rest of the collection, but I like the “character” and it seems perfectly stable, so I just had to nab this one too.

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More pics on PhotoBucket

Here are some quick sound samples.

Bb Sound Sample

D Sound Sample

As Forest would say, buying instruments off Etsy can be like a box chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get. Sometimes it can work out great, sometimes less so. I was very privileged to be able to try these flutes prior to purchase. Of course, not everyone will have that luxury, but if you’re considering a flute from Bedford Avenue Flutes, you really can’t go wrong. Whether it’s a simple single softwood or a fancy two/three hardwood combination, they all have the same careful tuning and quick response. Just pick the sound and the look that you like and you’re good to go. I do think there is something particularly special about the large bore D4 design (and down to C#4 and C4 but D4 was the sweet spot for me), so if you’re interested in that range, you should definitely give them consideration.

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