About Recorders

Here at the von Huene Workshop, our main focus is on recorders. Our knowledgeable and dedicated staff are happy to answer questions and assist you in finding the best instrument for your needs. We offer a large selection of recorders in a wide range of prices, from low-cost entry level models to our own fine handmade recorders (used by many professional players for performing and recording). 

The choice of a recorder is a very personal one. Every wooden instrument is unique; even two 'identical' instruments of the same model, made of the same material by the same maker, will have individual characteristics. Modern production standards are very high, and there are many good options that are quite reasonably priced. However, because each recorder is different, and the 'best' choice depends on deciding what is appropriate for the kind of playing you do, what best complements the way you personally play, and which instrument has the sound and feel that you personally prefer, we generally recommend that beginners start with plastic recorders. Today's plastic recorders are exceptionally consistent, easy to play, reliably in tune, and forgiving in the upper register. Most beginners are best served by starting on a plastic instrument and gaining proficiency so that they can make an informed decision when the time comes to choose a wooden recorder.

In general, recorders come in three main categories: Baroque, Renaissance, and Modern.  Click on the links in the left hand menu for a description of each type. 

Recorders are made in a wide variety of woods, each with its own characteristics. In general, softer woods (such as maple and pear) produce a softer, warmer sound while harder woods (such as grenadilla, ebony, or rosewood) produce a louder, brighter, more brilliant sound. Instruments used for concertos or solo work are typically made of harder woods, while instruments intended for ensemble use are frequently made of softer woods. Copies of historical instruments are frequently made in the same material as the original for the closest reproduction. 

European boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) was the most common material used for original recorders of the 18th century. It produces a warm, sweet sound, and is often used for high end historical reproductions. However, it is very expensive to work with because it has many flaws; a large percentage of it must be discarded after many hours have been put into it.  Less expensive recorders are often made of Brazilian or Indian 'boxwood', species which are not related to European boxwood. They are cheaper to work with, but do not have the fine grain or the density of European boxwood.

Ebony
(Diospyros ebenum) and grenadilla (Dalbergia melanoxin) are both very hard, dense woods which are dark brown to black in color. They are often chosen for concerto instruments, modern instruments, and solo recorders where volume is desirable. However, recorders made of these woods are heavier to hold and play, and can take much longer to warm up. They don't absorb much moisture, and are likely to clog more quickly than instruments made of softer woods, but their brilliant sound and greater volume make them well suited to solo playing.

'Rosewood' is actually a generic term for woods from the Dalbergia family, which includes kingwood (Dalbergia caerensis), tulipwood (Dalbergia decipularis), and palisander (D. retusa and D. stevensoni), among others. These have an attractive brown or reddish brown color and striking, highly visible grain. Even within the same species, they can vary widely in color. Many varieties of rosewood have a comparatively "open" grain, with lots of tiny, barely visible holes, despite being very dense. This frequently gives the instrument a richer, "reedy" tone quality which some players prefer.

Maple, pear, cherry and plum are softer woods, lighter in weight and available in much larger sizes than the more exotic types of wood. Inexpensive recorders are frequently made of maple or pear impregnated with wax under pressure. This helps protect the instrument from moisture, and obviates the necessity of oiling. However, if the instrument is left somewhere very warm (a closed car in summer, on top of a radiator, etc), the wax will melt out and make a big mess. This can be cleaned up, but the instrument won't play very well until the excess wax has been removed!

Renaissance instruments are often made of maple. Maple and plum were common materials for surviving original instruments, because they could be obtained in larger diameters (original Renaissance instruments were typically made all in one piece, so a single large piece of wood was required). Also, since Renaissance instruments are typically designed with a wide bore and wide tone holes, increasing the volume by using harder material is less important. Maple (and sometimes boxwood) may have a rippled appearance to the grain, known as "flame". This can be very beautiful, and some makers even simulate flame for its appearance. 

However, the material of which an instrument is made is of secondary importance. The most important differences are the design and the voicing. The basic design of a recorder varies greatly, even among instruments of the same type, and will affect volume, tuning, and tone.  'Voicing' refers to the dimensions of the windway, window, and block. The voicing determines an instrument's tone, response, volume, and feel. Voicing and carving must be done by hand, and the amount of hand labor involved in finishing and refining the voicing of an instrument accounts for a large part of the difference in price between different models. 

If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to call or email; we will do our best to find you the recorder that will best suit your needs as well as your budget.

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