I decided to upgrade my beloved Yamaha for a used 2004 Muramatsu EX
Congratulations. Muramatsu makes fine flutes.
My concern is that if I (heaven forbid) were to damage my EX flute to an extent where there is a dent or ding that I would like to get it removed, would this be possible on a plated instrument such as my EX?
Absolutely. Any good flute repair shop can remove dents. On plated instruments, the base metal is usually nickle silver which has no real silver in it. It's very similar to brass (composed of copper and zinc) but with the addition of nickel to give it a silvery color). Nickel silver is slightly harder than sterling silver, so it takes a little more manual effort to remove dents. However, that also means it is slightly more resistant to denting than sterling silver. So, the bottom line is that unless your flute has been run over by a steam roller or bent like a boomerang, dents can usually be removed. One caveat though is the shape of the dent. Round or curvy dents are usually easier to remove and after repair, there will often be no sign of damage. Crease dents (with sharp lines) are more difficult to completely remove and after repair, it may leave a mark along the line of the crease. However that is cosmetic only and does not affect the playability of the flute. Crease dents or deep scratches can penetrate the plating and expose the base nickel silver metal. If that should happen, the area can be very
lightly buffed, cleaned, and brush plated to improve the appearance and help prevent corrosion of the base metal. (Sort of like applying touch-up paint to scratches on a car to prevent rust.)
I hear that silver plating eventually wears off depending on how rigorous you play.
There are several factors related to the plating deteriorating. First, the base metal must be properly cleaned before it is plated. If not, the plating may peel or flake off. That's a quality control issue with some manufacturers, but it doesn't seem to be a problem for Muramatsu. Second, good flute makers use a heavy plating technique that is thicker and more durable. Third, as Flutigurl mentioned, acidic skin on some people can attack the plating over time. After playing, wiping the instrument with a plain microfiber cloth can remove most of any acidic skin residue.
I read somewhere that a Muramatsu should last about 15 years or so before it may need to be replaced. Any thoughts on this?
A better rule of thumb is that after 15 years of heavy playing, a flute may need an overhaul, but it wouldn't necessarily need replacing. Overhauls are expensive, but when compared with the cost of a new pro-level flute, an overhaul is a good economical alternative. Typically, as a flute ages from playing, the keys rods (made of hard steel or stainless steel) wear away a portion of key shafts (made of softer silver or nickel silver) and that makes it difficult for the pads to properly seal the tone holes. During an overhaul, the key shafts are "swaged" (sometimes called swedged) to remove the "slop" in the mechanism caused by wear. Flutes which get annual COAs, are cleaned and re-oiled which helps prevent wear and can dramatically extend the useful life of a flute.
On my Yamaha, I've only had a COA done once on it in the 5 years I've owned it. These yamahas are like machines! They seem to last and last with no need for an adjustment!
One COA in 5 years is not enough maintenance for any flute regardless of how heavily it is played. Would you run a car for five years without an oil change? OK, that's not a fair comparison, because flutes are not subjected to the same conditions as an engine, but it should still make you stop and think. In a flute, oil evaporates over time, oil gets dirty from particles in the air, and microscopic metal particles wear off which causes more wear almost like sandpaper. You might be surprised how much. While it might not be noticeable to most flutists, wear is always happening. Regular maintenance is the key to extending the life of any flute.
I took my Yamaha to a local band instrument shop, and they did a modest job. But because I have a Muramatsu now, I want to be more delicate with this instrument so that it will last me another 10 years or so. Are there any recommendations on good flute repair shops in the US where I can ship my instrument to, that's preferably cost efficient, but does not sacrifice the quality of their service?
Most local band repair shops can do a passable job with a Yamaha because they are familiar with them. For the Muramatsu, I'd suggest one of the flute specialty shops that also do repair. Here's a few well known flute repair shops that you could consider for COAs and repairs:
Flute Pro Shop
Cinncinatti Flute Works