No doubt, the Native American Flute can be made from many different varieties of wood. I would expect that everyone would develop their own preferences over time, as you have the chance to hear and play many different types of flutes/woods.
But the answer to the question: "What's the most popular wood?" would have to be cedar...
There are many varieties of cedar used for flute making today, including:
- Western Red Cedar
- Eastern Red Cedar
- Aromatic Cedar
- And my favorite: Port Orford Cedar
However, one of the key attributes to cedar is that it is a softwood. In wooden musical instrument manufacturing, different woods are used for different purposes. For example in guitar and violin construction, soft wood like spruce is used for the sound board (top) because they transmit sound the best. In Marimba construction, a hard wood like Paduk is used for the keys. In my experience, my cedar flutes practically jump out of my hands, while my hard wood flutes (like walnut) are much quieter. Of course there are many other elements of flute design which come together to contribute to the 'voice' of the flute, but if every variable could be held constant, then a cedar flute would be louder than a hard wood flute (IMHO). In fact, I only have my custom flutes made from cedar now.
The other consideration is that in the spiritual beliefs of many of the first nations, cedar and the other evergreen trees represent everylasting life, because they don't lose their leaves like the decidous trees do. In this respect, cedar has many spiritual properties which are apart from the sound.By the way - if you have a question that you'd like me to answer here, send an email to: ncfc AT naflute DOT com