A guide to the lengths of flutes




If you're wondering about buying an old flute from an antique shop or internet site, you do need to make sure it's at the pitch you want to play at.  You can get a rough idea from the length of the flute, from end to end, or the "sounding length" of the flute, from middle of the embouchure hole to the far end.  This page lists the lengths of the most usual types of flutes you might encounter.

Overall length

This is perhaps the least useful of all, but one that is given most often.

Sounding Length

This is the distance from the middle of the embouchure hole to the end of the flute.  Again, not particularly helpful as different makers allowed different amounts of spare length on the tuning slide.  It's really an indicator of the highest pitch a flute can play, not where it's best tuned.

McGee Indicator, C# to D#

I prefer this measurement as it tells us more about the tuning of the body and foot of the flute than the others.  C# and D# were chosen after a lot of consideration - see:
C# to D# - a more useful indicator of flute pitch?  You probably won't see these listed in advertisements, but it's a good idea to ask.

[Historical note - I actually have since seen these measurements included in some advertisements!]

Anglo-centric, 19th Century

The lengths below are mostly for English flutes in the 19th century, as that is my area and period of speciality.  I'm happy to include figures for other kinds of flutes if supplied.

Pitch naming conventions

A lot of confusion arises in the naming of flutes by pitch.  The modern practice of naming the flute leads to immense problems when applied to earlier instruments.  I'm using the time-honoured convention, calling the flute by its "6 fingers covered" note.  If there is an extension below that note, I also give the lowest note achieved by that extension.  So an 8-key conical flute is a D flute with C foot.  

The expression High Pitch refers to the period in England (2nd half 19th century) where playing pitch reached 452 to 455 Hz, before being pulled back to 440 Hz.

Cylindrical Multi-key flutes

I've made a separate table for cylindrical multi-key flutes, by which I mean Boehm, Carte, Radcliff, cylindrical Clinton flutes, etc.  Old system cylindrical bore flutes seem to fit better among the conicals (historically) and have been left there for now. 

Range versus Single value

You'll notice I've given a range for some and a single value for others.  That was in order to get the chart up quickly.  If you find your flute falls outside the range, let me know and I'll expand it, thus making the chart more accurate and more useful to everybody.

Imperial conversions

The lengths above are given in mm.  If you prefer to think in Imperial, divide these by 25.4.  If you'd rather cm, divide by 10.

Concert Flutes

Concert flutes  Overall Length Sounding Length McGee Indicator
C# to Eb
1 - 4 key concert flute, D 610 530 257-262
6 and 8-key concert flute,
D with C foot, early 19th C
675-677 595-603 261-264
Ditto, Improved style 638-660 567-585 252-258
Ditto, Perfected style 650-660 567-578 244-249
8 key cylindrical old system 658 569 249
ditto, High Pitch body 652 574 240
Conical multi-key flutes, 
Clinton, Carte, etc
647-660 574-577 254-256

Conical & old system flutes in other pitches 

Conical & old system flutes in other pitches  Overall Length Sounding Length McGee Indicator
C# to Eb
D piccolo, conical 302-308 252-258 119-123
Eb piccolo, conical      
Bb band flute 390 328 152
F band flute with F foot      
F band flute with Eb foot 565 490 210
ditto, High Pitch 490 410 189
Eb band flute 605 527 236
Bb bass band flute, 
4 key with Bb foot
748 656 295.5
Bb bass band flute 
6-8 key with Ab foot
819 729 303

Cylindrical multi-key flutes 

Cylindrical multi-key flutes Overall Length Minimum Emb to A Sounding Length McGee Indicator
C# to Eb
Boehm cylinder flute,
Nos #1 & 2
  319 590.5 251.5
Ditto, early French
(Lot, Godfroy)
  315-324 584 - 595 251.4 - 254.4
Rudall Carte, early model 639 310 582 253
Rudall Carte, later High Pitch 654 312 579 249
Rudall Carte, 1940's 678 324 599 259
US Boehm style flute, 1970's  672 326 603 258
Powell Cooper scale, #4434 670 327 598 256.4
Modern scale
according to Wye
Revised Cooper Scale, A=441 Bennett, Spell & Wye, March 2011 253.7

Interesting to note that Rudall's early cylinder flutes appear to have been tuned (in the body) similarly to Boehm's, but the speaking length is considerably reduced.  This appears consistent with English habits of the times as illustrated by conical flutes - tune low, but provide a short head on a long tuning slide to permit playing at much higher pitch.  Later, at the heights of the High Pitch lunacy, the body scaling was shortened considerably, to permit playing in tune at high pitch.  We can see about the same change in sounding length, so no further change to the head occurred here.

Another factor affecting sounding length is playing style - there seems to be ample evidence that the English players turned the head in, largely covered the hole and blew down, while Boehm advocated more like the modern classical in line, hole open, blowing across style.  So English flutes would need to be pushed in further for the same pitch.  Note the dramatic increase in both scale and sounding length in the 20th century. This is partly lowering of pitch, but also adoption of the modern playing style.

Indeed, something very odd indeed happened in the 20th century - the flute scale became too long for the pitch at the time.  The 258mm C# to Eb length is taken from an Armstrong Model 90 in the McGee Flutes Research Collection.  While it is sometimes argued that 20th century makers used Boehm's or other early maker's scale, this does not appear to be the case - the 258mm scale is longer than any of the others listed.  It is quite likely that a later French A= 435 scale was used, but with the head shortened to make it appear to play at 440.  This shoddy work was corrected in the late 20th century by Cooper et al.  Note that the ratio of the C# to Eb lengths for post-Cooper and for the 1970's flute (255/258) is almost precisely the same as the ratio of 435 and 440 Hz.

Help Needed!

You'll notice a few gaps in the chart above, in addition to the single values where a range would be more realistic.  If you can help, please feel free to contact me.


Thanks to Charles C. Stevens, amateur flutist, Anaheim, CA for the data on the Powell flute, and to all the others, too many to mention, who have assisted in compiling this chart.

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