ACOUSTICAL WOODS FOR MAKING FLUTES

By David Osborn

Introduction: Matter and Spirit
Throughout their long history, flutes have been made from virtually every type of material conceivable, from condor bones to bamboo to wood, to metal, to clay and even more.  Just as the body is a temple for the Spirit in man, so the material substance that a flute is made out of houses or encloses the air column, which is the primary vibrating body in a flute.  And just as the book of Genesis in the Bible tells us that God breathed into man and man became a living Soul, so too does a flute player animate his or her instrument by breathing into it, initiating a chain of events that sets the primary vibrating body, the enclosed air column, into vibration.  If it weren’t for its outer material shell, a flute would not have its primary vibrating body, which is its enclosed air column.  And so it is in the material world – every subtle or energetic force or essence comes encased in a material shell to give it form and embodiment.  This, in a nutshell, is the subtle spiritual dimension of flute making and playing. 

Theobald Boehm, inventor of the modern fluteIn his classic work on the flute, Die Flote und das Flotenspiel, (The Flute and Flute Playing), Theobald Boehm states that the material of which a flute is made constitutes a secondary or auxiliary vibrating body whose main function is to support or assist the sound vibrations initiated by the principal vibrating body, which is the enclosed air column.  In other words, the material of which a flute is made fulfills its function when it synergistically supports or assists the vibrating air column in producing a beautiful, harmonious sound.  Although the material of which a flute is made can play an important role in the overall quality of sound produced by the finished instrument, its role is strictly secondary and supportive in nature.  Because of this secondary status, even the best quality wood or other material will not compensate for a flute that is sloppily or carelessly made in its critical components – the sound generating mechanism and the enclosed air column, which is the primary vibrating body. 

Theobald Boehm, being a silversmith by trade in addition to being a flute maker and player, was the first (at least in the modern era) to make flutes out of silver, which is now the preferred material for making the modern flute.  But throughout the vast majority of their long history, flutes have been made from wood and other organic, growing materials like bamboo, cane or reed – so much so that the general category of wind instruments has come to be called wood-winds.  Although bamboo, cane or reed were probably the first plants that furnished the material for flute making, because they were naturally hollow and tubular in form, various types of acoustical woods are now also used in flute making.  Bamboo, cane and reed probably provided man with the first and most natural material for flute making, because nature had already done most of the work in its formation into a pipe or tube.  Next came trees like Willow or Elder, whose branches have a soft, pithy interior that can easily be pushed out to form a hollow tube or pipe.  Boxwood was probably the preferred material for making the classical flute when Boehm came along, but Boehm turned to tropical hardwoods like Ebony, Cocobolo and Grenadilla wood in addition to silver.

Acoustical Woods for Native American Style Flute Making
Although Aromatic Red Cedar probably holds the most traditional and esteemed place in making Native American style flutes, an incredibly wide variety of other woods are now used.  These range from soft, coniferous woods like Pine and Cedar to various types of hardwoods, from moderately hard temperate hardwoods to tropical hardwoods, which can be extremely hard and dense.  These can also range from ornamental woods renowned for their aesthetic beauty to woods chosen primarily for their sound or acoustical properties.  The qualities that are most sought after in a flute making wood are: sonority, tone color, workability, aesthetic beauty and resistance to moisture and rotting.  Let’s examine each of these key parameters one by one:

Sonority:  
Sonority is the first acoustical dimension or parameter to consider in choosing a flute making wood, and can be defined as the wood’s resonant or vibrational capacity.  Sonorous woods are those that do a good job at supporting, enhancing or amplifying the vibrations of the enclosed air column.  Conversely, woods that are not so sonorous do a relatively poor job of this.  Although the particular timbres or sound qualities generated by the various acoustical woods used in flute making can vary considerably, and express qualities that can be quite subtle and hard to define or specify, the main polarity or continuum is between soft woods versus hard woods.  Generally speaking, the softer woods, which are mainly the evergreen or coniferous woods, have a sound that is correspondingly softer and mellower, whereas the harder woods, whether they be temperate or tropical, have a clearer, more brilliant sound.  This is because the softer woods tend to absorb the higher overtones or partials generated by the vibrating air column, or at least mute or temper them somewhat, whereas the harder woods tend to reflect and project these same higher overtones more than they absorb them.  If the wood is too soft, there will be too much sound absorption, resulting in a loss of sonority. 

Tone Color, or Timbre: 
After a wood’s basic resonant capability or sound power, which is its sonority, the next most important acoustical quality of a flute making wood is its tone quality, which is also referred to by the French word timbre.  This is probably the most elusive or subjective property of a wood to describe, and it may be safe to say that each person’s experience of tone color will be unique to him or her.  In fact, the dimension of tone color is so elusive that it cannot really be referred to directly, but rather through simile and metaphor, drawing comparisons to other dimensions of experience.  Since timbre is most often called tone color, many of the adjectives used to describe it draw parallels to visual qualities, with the most common descriptive terms being “light”, “bright”, or “dark” and the like.  After visual parallels, culinary or gustatory parallels are often drawn as to the particular flavor of a wood’s sound, with the most common adjectives being “sweet”, “robust”, “full-bodied”, and the like.  Sometimes the sound generated by a particular wood is described as “haunting”, but for that to be literally true, a ghost would have to come out of the flute to haunt the player or listener every time the flute was played!  Perhaps the basic polarity or continuum that can be drawn when it comes to tone color is between the softer coniferous woods, which tend to produce a softer, mellower sound, versus the various hardwoods, whose sound tends to be clearer and more brilliant.

If you are thinking of making a Native American Style Flute out of a certain wood and would like to know how it would sound, you can go onto YouTube and google it up.  Say you were thinking of making a Native American Style Flute out of Alder wood, for example – just type “Alder Native American Flute” in the search bar and you will come up with a selection of results that is bound to include someone playing a Native American Style Flute made out of Alder wood.  Or, any other wood that you’re curious about – just type in the name of the wood, followed by the words: Native American Flute.  Chances are you will get at least one positive “hit” or result in the form of a video you can listen to.         

Workability:  
Generally speaking, the softer a wood is, the easier it is to work with, especially if you are working with hand tools; conversely, the harder a wood is, the more difficult and demanding it will be to work with.  There are other factors that also enter the workability equation, which chiefly revolve around the wood’s particular grain and texture properties and characteristics.  For example, all Cedars are basically soft woods, and therefore tend to be more workable than hardwoods, but Aromatic Red Cedar can be more difficult than other Cedars to work with because it tends to have a lot of knots in it, which can pose special problems for the woodworker.  How easy – or difficult – is the particular wood in question for sawing, cutting, whittling, rasping, or sanding?  Also, how much of a high polish will it take?  Generally speaking, the harder woods tend to take a better polish.

Visual Beauty and Aesthetics:  
Although the sound quality or tone color of a wood used for flute making can be difficult to describe or put one’s finger on, a wood’s visual appearance is out there and plainly visible for all to see.  When it comes to woods used in flute making, some are chosen primarily for their exceptional tone quality and acoustical characteristics, whereas others are chosen primarily for their visual beauty or aesthetics.  Among the desirable aesthetic properties a wood can have are a distinctive color or a rich, beautiful grain pattern.  Among the woods chosen primarily for their aesthetic beauty are Birdseye or Burly Maple, Zebrawood, Purpleheart, and the various species of Rosewoods.  Often, these aesthetic woods are not the main wood that a flute is made from, but rather provide aesthetic highlights and accents that enhance the overall beauty and design of the flute.  Many of the woods chosen primarily for their aesthetic beauty tend to be tropical hardwoods like Ebony, Rosewood or Grenadilla, some of which may be on the endangered tree species list.  Definitely, the excessive use of tropical hardwoods has the ecological down side of depleting the tropical rain forests. 

Moisture and Rot Resistance:  Because one blows into a flute a lot to play it, and there is a lot of moisture in one’s breath, the inherent resistance of a particular wood to moisture and rot is a very desirable quality.  Because flute makers use other methods and means for protecting the wood that their flutes are made from, this particular quality or attribute, although desirable, is by no means essential.  The other means that flute makers use to protect the wood, especially on the inside, which is most directly in contact with the moisture generated by the player’s breath, are coating it with polyurethane or other sealing paints or finishes, as well as oiling the bore with various oils or waxes.  These same materials will also protect the outside of the flute, but they are most important for the life of the flute if they are used to protect the inside.  Among the natural constituents of a wood that can give it an inherent resistance to moisture and rot are various aromatic essential oils, many of which can be extracted from the wood via steam distillation; aromatic saps, resins and oleoresins, which have a thicker or heavier consistency than the volatile essential oils; and waxes, which have an natural ability to resist or repel moisture.  Sometimes a wood will have all three of these together.  These substances, which are so desirable in protecting flutes from rot and moisture, also constitute the immune system of the tree, protecting it from infection, rot and disease.  One reason that Aromatic Red Cedar is such a preferred and esteemed wood for flute making is that its aromatic oils and resins give it a high degree of resistance to moisture and rot.  Other acoustical flute making woods that have a high degree of inherent resistance to rot and moisture include the other varieties of Cedar, as well as Sassafras, Pine, Redwood, and Teak. 

Other Qualities to Consider in Choosing a Wood for Your Flute
The above five qualities – sonority, tone color, workability, aesthetic beauty and moisture and rot resistance – are the primary or most important qualities to consider when choosing a wood to make your Native American Style Flute from.  However, there are other qualities to consider as well, and other dimensions to consider when choosing a wood.  The ones that come most readily to mind are the following:

Heaviness, or Density: 
The qualities of heaviness or density are traditionally highly valued for the making of many flutes; it is usually a quality that is associated with hardness, but not always.  For making the Japanese Shakuhachi flute, for example, density was a highly prized quality, with the denser and harder pieces of Bamboo being the most preferred.  And due to such things as climate, moisture, terrain and other growing conditions, different pieces of Madake Bamboo (Phyllostachys bambusoides)  used for making Shakuhachi flutes can vary greatly in their hardness and density.  I have even worked on pieces of Bamboo that were given to me by Iida Sensei that were so hard and dense that they were almost impossible to cut or carve with the sharpest knife.  Getting back specifically to the quality of heaviness, weight or density, it is my current thinking that heavy, dense woods make flutes that are harder to overblow into the second octave because your breath is pushing against a greater weight or resistance; this seems to be my current experience from making a flute out of Sassafras wood, which is very heavy and dense.  If this is the case, it seems, the best remedy for making the flute easier to overblow would be to make the walls quite thin – shaving off the excess weight. 

Indigenousness: 
If you want to make a flute that is truly Native American in spirit, then you should choose a wood that is truly native or indigenous to the continent of North America.  The most celebrated and iconic wood for making Native American Style Flutes is undoubtedly Aromatic Red Cedar, and although the Cedar wood for the flute you’re playing may indeed have been from an indigenous North American species, there are still other varieties of Cedar that are not indigenously North American, but which are native to the Old World, like Spanish Cedar, or the famous Cedars of Lebanon.  Other species of Cedar which are definitely indigenous to the North American continent are Alaskan Yellow Cedar and Western Red Cedar.  Although they are not varieties of Cedar, other woods that are definitely Native American include Mesquite, Sassafras, Douglas Fir, Sitka Spruce, Palo Verde and Yucca. 

Sustainability or Ecological Viability: 
Is the wood you’re using an environmentally sustainable resource, or does its excessive or indiscriminate use constitute a threat to our forests and the environment?  This is an important dimension to consider for those with an environmental conscience.  Is the wood you’re using on the endangered tree species list, or is its excessive harvesting actively contributing to deforestation?  Since respect for Mother Earth was so important in traditional Native American culture and spirituality, making a flute from a more environmentally sustainable wood or resource may be more in line with the traditional spirit of Native America.  How fast does the wood or material you are using grow?  In this respect, the most quickly growing material to use for flute making are probably the various species of Bamboo, cane or reed that are out there, which are some of the quickest generators of green biomass on the planet.  Do a little research and see how many years it takes for a tree of the wood you are using to grow to maturity for harvesting. 

Botanical Family and Relations: 
Botanists, as well as herbalists, woodworkers and others who are active users of wood, plants and other botanical materials have long recognized that plants that are of the same botanical family or genus tend to share many qualities and characteristics in common – this is the phenomenon of family resemblance.  This phenomenon of family resemblance can also come in handy when it comes to choosing woods for flute making as well.  For example, Acacia Wood (Robinia pseudacacia), while not being true Acacia, which is Acacia Senegal, is the preferred species of wood for making wooden Pan Flutes in Romania.  It is a member of the botanical genus Fabaciae, which is the bean or legume family of pod bearing plants and trees.  A half a world away, native to the Sonora and Chihuahua deserts of the great American Southwest, we have the Mesquite tree, which is also a pod bearing tree of the same bean or legume family – and it also has desirable acoustical properties for flute making, as well as wood with similar physical properties of hardness, grain, texture and appearance.  Woods of a similar quality will tend to produce sounds of a similar quality as well – it’s all in the botanical family resemblance.

Botanically speaking, the vast majority of acoustical woods used for making the Native American Style Flute come from only a few botanical families.  First of all, there are the soft, evergreen coniferous woods like the iconic Cedars (Cedrus spp.), which also includes various geni of Spruce, Fir, Pine, Hemlock and Cypress, which include Abies, Cupressus, Pinus, Pseudotsuga and Tsuga.  When it comes to deciduous hardwoods, you have woods of the Rosaceae or Rose family like Apple, Apricot, Cherry, and Pear.  You also have woods of the Betulaceae or Birch family, which includes Aspen, Poplar and Cottonwood.  Then you have woods of the Fabaceae or bean / legume family, which include Acacia, Carob, Grenadilla, Koa, Mesquite, and the many varieties of Rosewood that are out there.  Finally, you have the Fagaceae or Beech family, which includes woods like Beech and Oak.  This amounts to only four botanical families, in addition to the large category of coniferous woods and their constituent botanical families or geni.    

Other Musical Uses: 
If a certain wood is used for making other musical instruments, like a string instrument, for example, chances are that it will also be a good wood, or at least a decent wood, for making flutes out of as well.  Woods that are used for making other kinds of flutes or wind instruments are likely to be even better.  And so, in Japanese music, the koto, or thirteen stringed zither, is made from a very resonant wood called Paulownia wood.  From this use of Paulownia wood the Kikusui school of Shakuhachi playing got the idea for making Shakuhachis out of Paulownia wood as well.  In general, musical instruments are made from resonant acoustical woods that might be good for your next flute. 

A Mini-Lexicon of Flute Making Woods – and Interesting Possibilities
With the above factors and considerations in mind, I have put together quite an extensive list of acoustical woods that are used in flute making, as well as woods that would probably be good for making flutes out of.  For each entry, I list their actual / probable pros and cons according to the above considerations. 

Acacia Wood
(Robinia pseudacacia) – Acacia wood is called Salcam in Romanian, and a very delicious honey is made from its flowers.  It is also the most preferred wood for making Romanian Pan Flutes out of.  The Acacia tree is a member of the genus Fabaciae, which is the bean or legume family of pod bearing plants and trees.   The sound of Acacia wood tends to be rich and throaty.   

Alaskan Yellow Cedar
(Cupressus nootkatensis)  – As its name implies, this is a Cedar wood that is yellow in color, and like all Cedars, it is quite fragrant, having good moisture and rot resistance.  Actually, the Latin botanical genus name for this tree reveals that it is not really a species of Cedar, but a type of Cypress.   Being a soft, coniferous wood, Alaskan Yellow Cedar is one of the easiest woods to work with, especially if you’re using hand tools, as it carves, rasps, and sands very smoothly and evenly.  The sound of AYC is the very heart and soul of mellowness, with a fluid, satin smoothness as well.  It is not only a joy to work with; AYC flutes are also an exquisite joy to play.  The aesthetic beauty of AYC can vary considerably, depending upon the particular piece and the richness of the grain patterns it presents with.   

Alder Wood
(Alnus rhombifolia, Alnus spp.)Alder is a medium hard temperate hardwood that somewhat resembles Cherry.  Alders are flowering trees of the genus Alnus, which is a member of the Betulaceae or Birch family.  I got tipped off by a fellow flute maker that Alder has a very nice sound, which I confirmed by listening to a few videos of Alder Native American Style Flutes being played on YouTube.  The sound was smooth, delicate and expressive.                 

Applewood
(Malus spp.) – The Apple tree is a fruit bearing tree of the Rose family, a family of trees that has given us many other acoustical woods for flute and wind instrument making.  So why not the Apple tree as well? 


The ancient Armenian Duduk, made of Apricot wood.

Apricot Wood (Prunus armeniaca) – As its botanical name implies, ancient Armenia gave us the Apricot.  Like the Apple and the Pear, the Apricot is a fruit bearing tree of the Rose family, a family that has provided many acoustical woods for making flutes and other wind instruments.  Apricot wood also has the distinction of being the preferred wood for making an ancient Armenian musical instrument, the Duduk – an oboe / saxophone –like instrument with a mysterious, intense, haunting sound.

Ash
(Fraxinus excelsior, Fraxinus spp.)Ash trees are those of the genus Fraxinus, which is botanically related to the Olive tree in the family Oleaceae.  It is a temperate, deciduous hardwood tree, which is known for its strength, pliability and resiliency, making it the preferred wood for making bows used in archery.  The Ash tree exudes a sugary substance that is fermented to make a kind of mead, and Ash leaves and bark have uses in herbal medicine.  Acoustically, it is used to make the bodies of electric and acoustical guitars, being known for its tonal brightness and sustaining qualities, being considered brighter than the darker tone of Alder.  The sound of Native American Style Flutes made from Ash wood is very clear, lucid and full bodied, with a certain depth and hollow quality.  Ash also works well, taking a high polish, and is a golden brown color with rich and deeply figured grain patterns.  The true Ash should not be confused with the Mountain Ash, which is actually Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia).
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fraxinus        

Aspen
(Populus tremuloides)Aspen is another iconic wood native to the American Southwest.  It is also called the Quaking Aspen, with the quaking denoted by its species name.  Botanically, the Aspen is a species of Poplar, which is reflected in its genus name, Populus.  Its wood is white to cream colored in tone with a slight grayish hue.  Its tone is soft, delicate and creamy – quite nice.  Like its cousin, the Poplar tree, Aspen sounds great for flute making. 


Constantin Celac, of the Republic of Moldova, plays a Bamboo Native American Style Flute

Bamboo – Although this article is not specifically about Bamboo as an acoustical material for making flutes, some mention of Bamboo and general information on it is appropriate here.  The generic term “Bamboo” refers to a wide variety of giant, hollow, grass-like trees of the cereal grass family, genus Graminae, which provide us with cereal grains like wheat and corn.  There are many different species that are referred to as Bamboo, of several diverse botanical geni.  Bamboo, cane and reed, because of its naturally hollow shape and form, provided primitive man with some of his first flute making materials.  Bamboo is quite a hard wood, although it is notoriously easy to split or crack along the length of its grain; however, this tendency to crack can be overcome by roasting Bamboo in an oven at low temperatures, a process that is similar to the kiln drying of wood.  Bamboo is also very fast growing and ecologically sustainable, being one of the quickest generators of green biomass on the planet.  Although Native American Style Flutes can be made from Bamboo, in its natural form and state it presents the flute maker with various structural and woodworking challenges, most of which revolve around the form and shape of its nodes.     

Basswood
(Tilia europaea) – Basswood is the wood of the Linden tree, which gives us its wonderfully scented flowers, which are also called Lime blossoms.  Being a very soft wood, and very easy to shape or bend, this is the traditional wood that is used in Romania for making the bottom frame for the Pan Flute.  Basswood is commonly available in hobby stores, since its light weight also makes it excellent for model airplane making.  Being so soft, however, I don’t think that its acoustical properties for flute making would be that great – but I could be wrong. 

Beech
(Fagus sylvatica, Fagus spp.) – Beech is a temperate hardwood that is quite similar to Alder in its overall degree of hardness, grain and texture, and probably in its sound or tone color as well.  Aesthetically and visually, Beech wood is distinguished by its many darkish flecks evenly distributed throughout its grain.  Because of its similarity to Alder in its overall hardness and texture, its sound as a flute would probably be quite similar to Alder.  The sound of a Beech wood flute is quite smooth and full bodied, and rather like that of Poplar.

Birch
(Betula pendula, Betula spp.)Birch can be either a rather plain looking pallid white wood free of major grain patterns, or it can be a darker grey or silver color and highly figured, with rich, curly and winding grain patterns throughout – it all depends on the particular variety or species.  As a tone wood for flute making, Birch is quite versatile.  It gives a bright, clear, incisive sound in the higher pitched flutes; a very pure and balanced tone, balanced between lucid clarity on the one hand and round mellowness on the other, for the mid-range flutes; and it even does well on the very low pitched flutes.  High Spirits flutes of Patagonia, Arizona uses quite a bit of it for their flutes.      

Black Walnut
(Juglans nigra) – Black Walnut has a number of different uses in making Native American Style Flutes, which are both acoustical as well as ornamental.  I like to use it for making totems or birds, and its dark, chocolate-like color will go well in virtually any setting.  Being a wood that is quite hard, Walnut is not so easy to work with, especially with hand tools – you have to be very patient with it if you are working it by hand.  Acoustically, many Native American Style Flutes are made from Black Walnut, which, even though it is a hardwood, seems to excel in the lower flutes where its sound is sweet, robust and full bodied, with a dark, chocolate-like flavor to complement its visual appearance.  You should be able to google up a video of a Black Walnut Native American Flute on YouTube. 

Box Elder
(Acer negundo)Box Elder is primarily a wood that is valued for its aesthetic beauty, being of a pale or whitish color with glimmering burly or wavy patterns distributed throughout.  Its botanical name reveals that it is not related to the Elder tree, but is actually a species of Maple, its wood being quite similar to Maple wood in its overall color and appearance.  Flute makers who have wanted to make a bold statement with Box Elder have also dyed or stained it other colors, even blue.  Its sound is quite beautiful, smooth and lovely, being similar to a cross between Maple and Hackberry. 

Boxwood  
(Buxus sempervirens) - Boxwood was one of the most preferred woods for making the classical flute or the Irish flute, and is still used today for this purpose.  It has an incredibly light and vibrant tone that spouts forth melodies with extreme fluidity and ease.  Aesthetically, Boxwood has a handsome whitish golden vanilla color, with subtly rippling textural markings. 

Bubinga –
(Guibourtia spp.) – Bubinga is a very popular imported African hardwood, much beloved for its aesthetic beauty, having a rich, deep brownish red color with dark, smoky grain patterns, which gives it an appearance quite similar to Rosewood.  Although Bubinga is more often used for ornamental purposes in flute design, flutes made primarily from Bubinga have a very thick, dense, intense and clear sound, somewhat like thick, sweet, sticky syrup – actually quite charming and pleasant.  The intensity of its sound definitely grabs your attention.     

Camphor Wood
(Cinnamomum camphora) – Camphor trees are an ornamental shade tree that lines many a residential street – so why not lop off a branch and make a flute out of it?  It has a clean, pristine camphor-like scent, because that’s where natural camphor comes from, as the crystalline essence distilled from the essential oil.  Since camphor is strongly antiseptic and anti-fungal, the moisture and rot resistance of Camphor wood is excellent.  As a wood of a fine grain and medium hardness, its acoustical properties should be pretty good.

Cane –
“Cane” is a generic descriptive term for any hollow Bamboo-like plant or reed.  The main differentiation between Cane and Bamboo is that Cane tends to have a longer distance between its nodes.  Otherwise, the two terms are interchangeable.  I will include more information on the various types of Bamboo that are called Cane in my page on Bamboo.    

Carob wood
(Ceratonia siliqua)  – Carob is a pod bearing tree of the Fabaceae genus, or the bean / legume family, like its botanical relatives, Acacia wood and Mesquite, which both have excellent acoustical properties.  And who knows – probably Carob wood does too.   Being native or indigenous to the eastern Mediterranean region, Carob trees also grow in California as well as other regions with a sunny, warm Mediterranean climate. 

Cedar
(Cedrus spp.) – There are many species of Cedar wood, whether they be true Cedars of the Cedrus genus or otherwise.  All of them are soft evergreen coniferous woods, and are therefore relatively easy to work with.  All of them have strong aromatic essences, making them quite moisture and rot resistant.  And many, if not most, of them have good to excellent acoustical properties as well.  Being soft coniferous woods, the tone quality of most Cedars is on the soft and mellow side, although the particular tone quality and acoustical virtues can vary considerably from one Cedar to the next.  The most common varieties of Cedar used in Native American Style Flute making include Alaskan Yellow Cedar, Aromatic Red Cedar, and Western Red Cedar.  The last of these Cedars is also used to make the resonant bellies of guitars and other string instruments.   

Cherry
(Prunus cerasus) – Cherry wood comes from a tree of the Rose family, which includes Plum, Pear, Apples, Quince and others.  There are many trees of the Rose family that bear sweet and edible fruit.  Cherry wood also has excellent acoustical properties as a temperate hardwood, and is also a favorite wood of Native American Style Flute makers.  Its sound is incredibly clear and pristine, yet with no harsh or hard edges, being sufficiently soft and rounded at the same time.  Visually, it has deep fleshy and tannish colored hues and a rich, exquisite grain pattern. 

Cocobolo
(Dalbergia retusa)  – Cocobolo is a species of Rosewood that is imported from Central America.  Like other varieties of Rosewood, Cocobolo has a rich, dark reddish color and smoky dark grain patterns evenly distributed throughout the wood.  Its drawbacks in relation to other varieties of Rosewood include its endangered status and poor ecological sustainability, as well as its oily nature, which may make it resistant to gluing.   

Cottonwood
(Populus fremontii, P. angustifolia)Cottonwood is the preferred wood used by Native Americans to sculpt Kachina dolls from, so at least it is soft and very easy to work with.  And who knows – it might just have good acoustical properties as well, being, of course, on the soft and mellow side tone wise.   Being a species of Populus, or Poplar, Cottonwood should have a sound quite similar to the former. 

Cypress
(Cupressus spp.) – Cypress wood is sometimes used to make the back and sides of classical guitars, so it should have good to excellent acoustical properties for making Native American Style Flutes as well.  Broadly speaking, Cypress is a soft, evergreen coniferous wood.  Alaskan Yellow Cedar is not a true Cedar, but is actually a species of Cypress, since it bears the genus name Cupressus.

Deodara
(Cedrus deodara) – This tree, which can even be found in some backyards and residential neighborhoods in the United States, is a species of Cedar that hails from India and the Himalayas.  Like Aromatic Red Cedar, Deodara is rich in protective aromatic principles, but whereas the former is reddish in color, the heartwood of Deodara has a brownish hue – but still the same rich grain markings throughout.  I have not been able to find any videos of flutes made from Deodara up on YouTube, but this species of Cedar might also sound good.    

Douglas Fir
(Pseudotsuga manziesii)Douglas Fir is sometimes referred to as American Spruce, even though it is not a true Spruce tree.  However, it is a soft coniferous wood with strong aromatic essences, so it should have a soft, mellow tone as well as good moisture and rot resistance. 

Ebony
(Diospyros crassiflora, Diospyros spp.)Ebony is a hard, black African hardwood that is most commonly used for making the black keys on a piano.  Many modern flutes, especially the Piccolo, have been made from Ebony, as well as many modern flute head joints.  Needless to say, its acoustical properties are excellent.  The main down sides of using this wood are that, firstly, it is extremely hard, and therefore difficult to work with hand tools; and secondly, there is an ecological downside with sustainability, since Ebony has been declared an endangered species. 

Elder
(Sambuccus nigra, Sambuccus spp.) – Shepherds have often made flutes out of the branches of Elder trees, since the branches easily become hollow once the soft, pithy interior of the branch is pushed out.  The tone of an Elder flute is very sweet, soft and mellow, and its color is a pale white.

Encino –
see Live Oak.

Fir
(Abies picea, Abies spp.) – Fir is a stately coniferous evergreen tree that is quite similar in many ways to Pine.  It also has a very strong aromatic essential oil, which should give it good moisture and rot resistance.  Tone-wise, it should be quite similar to Pine as well. 

Grenadilla Wood
(Dalbergia melanoxylon)Grenadilla Wood, also called African Blackwood, is another tropical hardwood that is commonly used for making modern flutes or their head joints out of wood.  It has excellent acoustical properties, as well a great visual beauty, having rich deep reddish and blackish hues and grain patterns.  Even though it is also called African Blackwood, and due to this name it has been confused with Ebony, which is true Blackwood, its botanical genus name, Dalbergia, reveals that it is actually a species of Rosewood, albeit one that is considerably blacker in color than other Rosewood species.   


A Native American Style Flute of Spalted Hackberry, tuned to an exotic scale. Note the rich, beautiful, balanced tone quality throughout.

Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)I have listened to some videos of Native American Style Flutes made from Hackberry wood up on YouTube, and the wood has a beautiful, amazing sound – rich and velvety in texture, with hints of depth and hollowness, and very expressive.  Visually, the wood is pallid or whitish in color with regular grayish grain lines.  The wood is of medium hardness.      

Hemlock
(Tsuga Canadensis, Tsuga spp.)Hemlock is a coniferous tree, and therefore related to Pines and Cedars.  Since it is a botanical cousin of these other acoustical woods, it may also sound good when made into a flute.   

Indian Rosewood
(Dalbergia sissoo, D. latifolia)Indian Rosewood, native to the Punjab region of India and Pakistan, is the state tree of India’s Punjab state and the provincial tree of Punjab province in Pakistan.  It is an important commercial wood, which is called Shisham or Sisau in the local dialect, and hence its Latin species name.  Indian Rosewood, although lighter in color than most Rosewoods, is still a very beautiful wood, with rosy, grayish and darker grain patterns woven throughout its relatively coarse grain.  Otherwise, its acoustical properties are good, and it is valued in flute making for its tone and aesthetic beauty.  Its sound, although clear, sonorous and resonant, tends to be a bit rough in texture, but that roughness can also be a desirable quality.  I have made a wooden Shakuhachi from Indian Rosewood, and was very pleased with the tone. 
Source:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dalbergia_sissoo        

Juniper
(Juniperus communis, Juniperus spp.) – Juniper is an evergreen tree, quite similar to certain varieties of Cedar, that bears dark blue or black berries, which are used to flavor gin.  Since it shares so many properties in common with Cedar, it should be a good wood for making Native American Style Flutes from. 

Koa
(Acacia koa)Native to the Hawaiian islands, the Koa tree, as its Latin Acacia genus shows, is a member of the Fabacieae genus, which is the legume or bean family.  It is the second most common tree in the Hawaiian Islands.  Due to its tonal and visual beauty, it is a favorite wood for making ukuleles and guitars.  Visually, Koa wood is a deep, rich golden brown with brilliant golden and reflective grain patterns throughout.  In flute making, Koa wood is a rich, deep golden brown with darker grain patterns marbled throughout.  For Native American Style Flutes, Koa wood has a warm, round, mellow and full bodied tone that resembles a cross between Maple and Walnut.   

Lacewood
(Panopsis rubescens, Panopsis spp.) – Lacewood derives its name from the many silvery flecks that are laced quite densely and regularly throughout its grain.  Otherwise, its basic color is a rich brown.  In flute making, it is valued primarily for its aesthetic beauty and distinctive grain patterns.  The sound of Lacewood flutes tends to be rather brash and brassy, although sonorous and resonant.  Lacewood is native to Brazil and South America, and is a botanical relative of the Macadamia nut tree, being a member of the same Proteaceae genus.  Although Lacewood is not a threatened species and is ecologically sustainable, it does not rank very high in terms of rot and infestation resistance, and is classified as a non-durable wood. 
Source: http://www.wood-database.com/lacewood/      

Laurel
(Laurus nobilis, Umbellularia californica)The Laurel tree is an iconic tree of ancient Greece, where it was used to make Laurel wreaths, being sacred to the god Apollo.  Because of its fragrant aromatic principles, it is used both medicinally and as a cooking spice.  The aromatic essential oils should give Laurel excellent moisture and rot resistance.  The dense, resilient and finely grained wood should give Laurel good acoustical properties, in my estimation.  The California Bay Laurel, Umbellularia californica, frequents shady canyons in the mountains of southern California, where I have found its presence vitalizing and refreshing, especially when I chew on the leaves.  The flavor and aroma of California Bay Laurel is considerably more spicy, sharp and stimulating than the Greek variety, which is more aromatic and full bodied.  Wikipedia says that the California Bay Laurel is valued as an acoustical tone wood, and is often called Myrtle wood – so Native American Style Flute makers who make Myrtle wood flutes could actually be using wood from this tree and not that from the true Myrtle tree, which is Myrtus communis.  The tone of the Myrtle wood, if it is indeed the California Bay Laurel, when used for flutes is sweet and bright, zesty and stimulating.
Source:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umbellularia      

Live Oak
(Quercus ilex)The Live Oak, also called the Holly Oak, is an iconic tree of California, originally indigenous to the Mediterranean region but naturalized in that great state.  It is called the Live Oak because it is not a deciduous tree like the Oak tree, which sheds its leaves in the fall, but is an evergreen, having leaves that are something like a cross between Holly leaves and miniature Oak leaves.  I have no idea of what the wood’s hardness, texture and quality is like, much less what it sounds like. However, it is a member of the Fagaceae or Beech family of trees, which includes Oak, a wood with excellent acoustical properties.
Source:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quercus_ilex       

Mahogany
(Swietenia spp.)Mahogany is an acoustical wood that is often used to make the back and sides of acoustical guitars.  I have also seen a lot of Native American Style Flutes made from it.  The tone of these flutes seems to be very sweet and clear – so it’s not a bad choice.  In my estimation, although its tone is pretty, it falls considerably short of beautiful.   Visually and aesthetically, Mahogany is nothing special; its grain is rather coarse, and there are certain characteristic rippling colors and patterns that run though it which are quite minutely detailed, but which, nevertheless, are not of any great aesthetic appeal.  The color is a light reddish brown.  Mahogany is a medium hard wood that is quite easy to work with.  Mahogany is a tree of the Meliaceae or Chinaberry family.

Manzanita
(Arctostaphylos spp.)The word “Manzanita” means “little apple” in Spanish, and this indigenous American tree or shrub is botanically related to the Old World Uva Ursi, or Bear Berry.  In my experiences hiking in the California mountains, bears also like to eat the fruit of Manzanita as well.  Visually, Manzanita wood and its branches are stunning – a brilliant, flaming orange-ish red.  From its relative hardness, its fine grain and texture, and its resiliency, Manzanita should have good acoustical properties.  The main problem with Manznita, as with Mesquite, is that, since it is a relatively small tree, it may be hard to find a branch that is sufficiently long and straight – you may have to go to the central branches, or even the main trunk, to find anything long, wide and straight enough to make a flute out of.    

Maple
(Acer spp.) – There are quite a few varieties of Maple that are used for making Native American Style Flutes, ranging from the more ornamental and aesthetic varieties, such as Quilted Maple, Birdseye Maple or Burly Maple, to your everyday Maple.  Maple is a fine grained hardwood of considerable hardness, yet it is not that hard to work with – although it’s harder to work with than soft coniferous woods, of course.  In Japan, many wooden Shakuhachis are made out of Maple.  Acoustically, Maple has a nice warm tone that is velvety, robust and full-bodied.  The basic color of Maple is white or cream colored, with the grain markings being a rich brown.  Maple, especially the more ornamental and aesthetic varieties, are favorites of Native American Style Flute makers.

Mesquite
(Prosopis glandulosa, Prosopis spp.)Mesquite is a pod bearing tree of the Fabaceae or bean / legume family that is native or indigenous to the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts of the great American Southwest.  The flowers yield a sweet, delicious honey, and the pods are often ground up to make an herbal superfood with mildly laxative properties.  Although Mesquite trees can grow to be quite large and high, it is rare to find such trees out in the wild; most Mesquite trees tend to be rather small and scraggly.  And so, it is relatively hard to produce wood or boards of any great size from Mesquite, especially if you want something that is free from knots and defects.  Mesquite is a very tight grained wood with deep tan and brownish-red hues, and quite aesthetically pleasing.  Tone wise, Mesquite flutes have a rich, bright and vibrant tone.  Ecologically speaking, Mesquite is not an endangered species; on the contrary, it has been classified as an invasive species throughout the American Southwest. 

Monkeypod
(Albizia saman / Samanea saman) – Monkeypod is a tree of the Fabaceae or bean / legume family that is native to Latin America, with its natural range extending from Mexico in Central America southward to Peru and Brazil in South America.  Having a rich golden brown color and a rather rough grain, Monkeypod is most known as a wood for making kitchen bowls and cooking implements and other specialty wood items.  In Native American Style Flute Making, Monkeypod’s use is mainly ornamental, for the end caps and things of that nature.  I have not been able to find any videos made of Monkeypod Native American Style Flutes on YouTube.  Nevertheless, it does have acoustical uses as a tonewood, mainly in string instruments.  Why not try it for your next flute?
Source:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albizia_saman 

Mulberry
(Morus alba, Morus spp.) – The Mulberry tree yields a delicious fruit that is used as both food and medicine.  There is a video of a branch flute made out of Mulberry up on YouTube, and its tone is mellow and full-bodied, with depth of tone and feeling.       

Myrtle
(Myrtus communis) – The Myrtle tree is native to the island of Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean, and is sacred to Venus, the goddess of love.  Aesthetically, Myrtle is a deep olive brown with wavy ripples going through it.  Its sound is bright and cheerful, excelling on both the low notes, which have great roundness and body, and the high notes, which are zesty and piercing without being shrill.  Although the true Myrtle tree is native to Cyprus and Greece, the California Bay Laurel tree (see Laurel) is sometimes called Myrtle or Myrtlewood – and it may very well be videos of Native American Style Flutes made from this “Pseudo-Myrtle” that are up on YouTube.    

Oak
(Quercus spp.) – Many different species of Oak are used in furniture making and woodcraft, and Oak is also used in making Native American Style Flutes.  The grain of Oak is rather rough textured, and it is a wood of medium hardness.  Oak is also a quite resonant wood, being used for the tops of these xylophone-like drums that you hit with little mallets.  In terms of its overall grain and texture, as well as its sound, the tone of Oak is quite similar to that of Sassafras, being quite soft, dark and haunting.  Videos of Oak flutes being played are available on YouTube. 

Olive
(Olea europaea) – This wood is not exactly Native American, but more a native of Greece, the Holy Land and the eastern Mediterranean basin.  It has great aesthetic beauty, with a rich olive color and deep, dark grain patterns throughout.  It also has great moisture and rot resistance, with its protective essence being not an aromatic essential oil, an oleoresin, or a waxy substance, but rather a complex flavonoid substance called oleuropein, which makes the leaves a natural antimicrobial.  Because of the great inherent immunity of the Olive tree to rot, decay and disease, Olive trees live for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.  If you want to make your next Native Flute with a classical Greek or Biblical flavor, why not try Olive wood?  I just finished watching a couple of videos of Olive wood flutes up on YouTube, and the sound is sweet and full – it sounds soft like milk, even though Olive is a hard wood, explains one Serbian guy selling an Olive wood flute in his video.  A similar softness and sweet richness was evident in the sound of a Native American Style Olive wood flute.    

Osage Orange
(Maclura pomifera)The Osage Orange tree is native to Arkansas and the central USA, and as both its English and Latin names suggest, bears a fruit.  Although called an “orange”, the Osage Orange is only distantly related to the orange; it bears a kind of green, spiny fruit that exudes a latex when cut.  Botanically, the Osage Orange is a member of the Moraceae family, and is related to the Mulberry tree.  I have seen Osage Orange wood in exotic and specialty wood stores, and have remarked at its hardness and durability, its strength and resilience, and its bright orange – yellow color; these are all properties that should make it a desirable wood for flute making. 
Source:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maclura_pomifera     

Padauk
(Pterocarpus soyauxii, Pterocarpus spp.)Padauk comes from the tropical forests of Asia and Africa, and includes many different species of the genus Pterocarpus, which is in the Fabaceae or bean / legume family, and therefore related to the Rosewoods.  Having a rich, deep reddish color, Padauk is often confused with the Rosewoods, and is a beautiful wood, being a favorite with woodworkers.  In flute making, Padauk can be used both ornamentally and as an acoustical tonewood as well. 
Source:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pterocarpus      

Paulownia Wood
(Paulownia tomentosa)Pawlonia wood is the traditional wood for making the Japanese Koto, or thirteen stringed zither, from, so it has proven acoustical virtues.  This has prompted those of the Kikusui (Chrysanthemum Water) school of Shakuhachi playing to make Shakuhachis out of this wood.  It may be great for Native American Style Flutes as well.    

Pear Wood
(Pyrus communis, Pyrus spp.)The Pear tree is a fruit bearing tree of the Rose family, and has been used for making recorders.  And so, it would probably be a good acoustical wood for making Native American Style Flutes.  I have just listened to a video of a Recorder made out of Pear wood on YouTube, and the sound is intensely thick and syrupy sweet.  The wood is vanilla or cream colored.    

Pine
(Pinus sylvestris, Pinus spp.) – The humble Pine Tree provides us with one of the cheapest woods to be found, but yet flutes that are made from it sound pretty darn good.  Just ask Jonah Thompson, who makes his Navajo Native American Flutes from it.  The tone is soft and sweet, bright and vibrant, and very pleasant.  And being a soft coniferous wood, Pine is very easy to work with.  Although various varieties of Pine grow all over the globe, one may wish to use indigenous American varieties, such as the Ponderosa Pine or the Pinon Pine, for making Native American flutes, although almost any species will do. 

Plum Wood
(Prunus domestica, Prunus spp.) – The common or domestic plum is a fruit bearing tree of the Rosaceae or Rose family, and the genus Prunus gives us many other favorite fruits, such as the cherry, the apricot and the peach.  Since it is so closely related to the Cherry and Apricot trees, the Plum tree and its wood should also have good acoustical properties for flute making.  I believe that I have heard of flutes of various kinds being made from it.  Acoustically, the sound of a Plum wood flute is very rich, soft and velvety in texture.    


Charles Littleleaf plays a traditional Sioux song on a flute made from the humble Poplar tree - proof positive that you don't need to use expensive or exotic woods to make a flute that sounds GREAT!

Poplar (Populus nigra, Populus spp.) – The Poplar tree provides us with another common and cheap wood, which is very soft and workable too, being about the same hardness as Cedar.  And from my preliminary knuckle rap tests, Poplar has a nice tone, albeit on the soft and mellow side, emphasizing the lower frequencies and overtones.  I just found some videos of Native American Style Poplar Lutes on YouTube, and the sound has an incredible roundness, softness and fullness, with a deep, hollow resonance.  Definitely a primo wood for making Native American Style Flutes! 

Purpleheart
(Peltogyne spp.)Purpleheart is a tropical hardwood that is quite hard and difficult to work with, especially with hand tools.  It is also one of the least absorbent hardwoods, and therefore the most resistant to moisture.  Purpleheart is most used by Native American Style Flute makers as an ornamental, aesthetic wood distinguished by its deep purple color. 

Quince Wood
(Cydonia oblongata) – Quince trees are yet another fruit bearing tree of the Rose family, and like the Apricot and Pear trees, its wood just might have good acoustical properties for flute making.

Rattan –
The generic term Rattan refers to a vast number of different species from the botanical family Calamoidae; rather than being a true wood, Rattan is actually a climbing vine.  Rattan is quite useful and versatile, and its principal uses involve the making of tropical style Rattan furniture, as well as various types of sticks and mallets.  A Rattan pole is quite similar to a Bamboo pole, except it is solid on the inside instead of hollow.  So if you hollowed it out to make a Native American Style Flute, why would it not produce a pleasant sound like Bamboo?
Source:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rattan         

Redwood
(Sequoia sempervivens) – Perhaps the most famous and iconic native tree to California is the majestic Redwood.  It yields a soft, coniferous wood, reddish in color, that has often been used in the carpentry and building trades.  Its sound is big, open and resonant, soft yet with a satin shimmer, similar to the sound of Aromatic Red Cedar.

River Cane
(Arundinaria gigantea) – According to Charlie Mato-Toyela of Blue Bear Flutes, River Cane was once a very pervasive species in the southern and central USA, where cane brakes covered large swaths of land.  River Cane is a type of Bamboo, closely related to the Tonkin Bamboo used for making Romanian style Pan Flutes.  It was one of the original materials used for the Native American Flute. 

Rosewood
(Dalbergia spp.) – There are many varieties of tropical hardwoods that have been given the name Rosewood, usually for its dark red or pink color mixed with smoky black and brown, which gives the appearance of Roses.  Yet, Rosewood is not of the Rose family, but, like so many other acoustical woods used in flute making, is of the Fabaceae or bean / legume family.  There’s Indian Rosewood, Brazilian Rosewood, and so on.  Sound wise, they are very brilliant and clear, and make an ideal wood for wooden head joints for the modern flute, for example.  Rosewood is greatly valued for its looks and aesthetics by makers of Native American Style flutes.


Dragan Jovanovic plays a Serbian flute made of Rowan wood.

Rowan Wood (Sorbus aucuparia, Sorbus domestica) – According to www.frula.info and their video of a Rowan wood flute on YouTube, the Rowan tree is native to Scotland, and is the preferred wood for making the pipes of the Scottish bagpipe.  The Rowan tree figures prominently in Celtic magic and mythology, and its berries have medicinal uses.  The Rowan tree is sometimes called the Mountain Ash, although it is not related to the Ash tree.  The sound of a Rowan flute is very sweet and rich – a great wood for flute making, if you can get it. 
Source:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z7pTzLavQB0       

Sassafras
(Sassafras albidum) – A tea made from the inner bark of the Sassafras tree was popular as a spring tonic with the early American settlers, and became the flavoring basis for root beer.  The wood has a similar sweet, spicy scent when it is being worked with, and because of its strong aromatic essences, Sassafras wood is resistant to moisture and rot.  In terms of its overall grain and texture, as well as its hardness and general workability, Sassafras closely resembles Oak.  Visually, its grain and texture also appears similar to Oak, except for its darker color, which is a deep tannish grey.  The sound is dark, smoky and intense; some have even called it haunting.  To me, the sound of a Sassafras flute is something akin to that of a hooting owl.  And of course, Sassafras is an indigenous American tree.

Satinwood –
Satinwood seems to be another one of those aesthetic woods that are so common in Native American Style Flute making.  These beautiful woods feature a lovely hazel color with beautiful quilted patterns throughout.  I do not have any information for you regarding the quality of its sound.   According to www.wwod-database.com , Satinwood has an identity crisis; although there are a number of woods that are commonly called Satinwood, only two of these species, in the author’s opinion, can truly be called Satinwood, and both belong to the Rutaceae, or Rue / Citrus family.  You can read more about the different “Satinwoods” by clicking on the link below:
http://www.wood-database.com/wood-articles/sorting-out-satinwoods/       

Spanish Cedar
(Cedrela odorata)Spanish Cedar is yet another one of the varieties of Cedar that are used in the making of Native American Style Flutes; High Spirits Flutes of Patagonia, Arizona uses it quite a bit.  Reputedly it is one of the softest and easiest acoustical woods to work with.  Although Spanish Cedar smells like a Cedar, having a fresh, Camphor-like aroma, it is not a true Cedar, but is closely related to Mahogany, also belonging to the Meliaceae or Chinaberry family.  The wood has a light reddish hue and rather coarse grain; although not an unsightly wood, it is not one that is particularly valued for its aesthetic beauty.  Spanish Cedar is most famous for making Cuban cigar boxes; it is also used for making Flamenco guitars, so it is an acoustical tone wood.  The sound quality of Spanish Cedar is light and clear.

Spruce
(Picea spp.)Spruce is a soft, aromatic coniferous wood of the genus Picea, of which there are quite a few species and varieties.  As far as I have been able to investigate, Spruce is another wood that is still “virgin territory” for the making of Native American Style Flutes – so why not try some?  There are other varieties of Spruce out there, such as Sitka Spruce, native to the southern region of Alaska, that have other acoustical and musical applications – in the case of Sitka Spruce, this fine grained variety of Spruce is the preferred wood for making the resonant bellies of acoustical guitars.  I have just watched and listened to a video of a Spruce Native American Style Flute on YouTube, and it has an eminently soft and mellow tone, like most coniferous woods, with deep hollow and haunting overtones.  Nice!

Teak
(Tectona grandis)Teak is a tropical hardwood that is native to Southeast Asia.  Although not too well known as a musical or acoustical wood, Teak is one of the best woods for making fine furniture, as well as for lining the decks of ships and sailboats, because of its high water resistance and resistance to rot.  This is due to thick, waxy substances inherent in the wood.  Aesthetically, Teak has a deep, rich olive brown color and is fairly coarse grained.  While visiting Burma, which is where Teak wood grows, I made a Shakuhachi from Teak wood and liked the sound; to me, its sound sounded a lot like Bamboo.

Walnut
(Juglans spp.) – See Black Walnut. 

Western Red Cedar
(Thuja plicata)Western Red Cedar, as its name implies, has a rich light reddish hue; it also has a very fine, regular grain, which makes it, after Sitka Spruce, one of the most preferred woods for making the resonant bellies of acoustical guitars.  In guitar making, the sound of Sitka Spruce is lighter and brighter, whereas Western Red Cedar guitar bellies produce a darker sound.  Flutes made from Western Red Cedar have a big, full bodied sound that is at once soft and mellow as well as clear and pristine. 

Willow
(Salyx alba, Salyx spp.) – Willow is a soft, bending, flexible tree; its propensity to bend and bow has given it the nickname “Weeping Willow”.  Medicinally, it contains natural salycilates, or aspirin-like compounds for pain relief, and to bring down fevers.  Willow is a soft wood, and Willow branches have soft, pithy interiors that are easily pushed out to make the branch hollow – and hence suitable for flute making.  The sound is soft and sweet.


Bruce Stoller of Tucson, Arizona plays a Shakuhachi style flute made of a Yucca stalk from the Sonoran Desert

Yucca – The Yucca plant is native to Arizona and New Mexico in the great American Southwest; the Yucca flower is the state flower of New Mexico, and can also be eaten as a vegetable, either raw or cooked.  The Yucca plant sends up long, tall spire-like stalks that yield its flowers and fruit.  Seeking to harness the musical potential of the Sonoran desert in which he lives, Bruce Stoller, a talented pianist, flautist and multi-instrumentalist who lives in Tucson, Arizona, has made Shakuhachi-type flutes from Yucca stalks, and the videos of him playing these flutes are up on YouTube; Bruce’s business card even bills himself as a Yucca Flautist.  The sound of Yucca is very warm, vibrant and mellow, as you will see from his videos.

Zebrawood
(Astronium graveolens, other assorted geni and species)The common generic term Zebrawood actually refers to a number of different species of tropical hardwoods, all of them being distinguished by the presence of black, zebra-like stripes on a cream colored background.  In Native American Style Flute Making, Zebrawood is one of those aesthetically attractive, “eye candy” woods renowned for their zebra-like black-and-white striped grain patterns.  The tone quality of Zebrawood is quite full bodied, robust and resilient – not a bad sound.  But its beauty and aesthetic appeal are its chief drawing cards. 

Conclusion: Picking the Sonic Superstars of Native American Style Flute Woods
The Native American Style Flute, otherwise known as the Love Flute, is definitely the easiest flute in the world to play.  Because of this, I feel, it has tended to attract many who are not really that great at playing the instrument, but rather those who are interested in collecting Native American Style Flutes as beautiful art objects.  Accordingly, there have been makers who have been more than happy to cater to their interests – even though they may make flutes that sound and play great as well.  And so, the beautiful “eye candy” woods have won a very dear and esteemed place in the making of Native American Style Flutes, both as the primary wood or main wood for the body of the instrument, as well as for more ornamental purposes, such as making the totem or fetish, or providing the end caps.  But which woods are truly the best sounding woods for making Native American Style Flutes?  That’s what I am after – it’s something that, I feel, has not received nearly the attention that it deserves.    

In compiling the list of acoustical and ornamental flute making woods cited above, I have ranged far and wide, thinking of just about every type of wood I can that either has been used to make Native American Style Flutes, as well as those that could conceivably be used for this purpose as well.  And so, some of the woods on the above list are as yet speculative and unproven.  In selecting my list of sonic superstar woods for making Native American Style Flutes, I have stuck with those woods that do have a proven track record, and which do have exceptional acoustical properties for producing incredible sound power and tonal quality.  I also wish to emphasize that the following acoustical woods are my own personal picks as those which sound the best, and no one else’s.  And the winners are (hand me the envelope, please)…

Alaskan Yellow Cedar, Alder, Aromatic Red Cedar, Birch, Black Walnut, Cherry, Hackberry, Maple, Olive, Poplar, Redwood, Sassafras, Western Red Cedar
and Yucca.

Acknowledgements and Internet Resources
Writing and compiling this page has indeed been a huge research project, and I couldn’t have done it without the help of some valuable internet resources.  For the botanical names of woods, as well as other important technical information about them, both Wikipedia and www.wood-database.comhave been invaluable references.  YouTube has been another invaluable resource, both for sound samples of flutes made from the various types of woods discussed and described above as well as for videos embedded in this page.  I wish to thank all of these sources and providers from the bottom of my heart.