During the past two decades, recorder makers have produced a wide variety of instruments, some intended for highly specialized purposes and others for more general performance use. All of these instruments, however, may be divided into four broad categories: medićval/early renaissance, late renaissance/early baroque, middle/late baroque, and modern recorders. Each type of instrument has its own special tonal qualities and performance uses, and no one style of instrument is suitable for all types of music and playing situations. The following information is intended to guide the recorder player in making some preliminary choices as to the best type of instrument for his or her performance needs. We strongly recommend, however, that you call us and let us assist you in finding precisely the right instrument to meet your needs, tastes, and budget. We have a detailed knowledge of the design characteristics and playing qualities of every make and model of recorder that we sell and have had much experience in matching instruments and players.
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There are only a few surviving recorders and fragments from the late middle ages and early renaissance. An almost complete instrument found in Dordrecht, Holland, dating from the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century, has been used as a basis for reconstructing a medićval recorder by several makers; the results, however, have not been particularly successful. John Hanchet, the only maker to take a different approach, designed a conjectural series of three medićval and three early renaissance recorders, incorporating design aspects from medićval iconographical sources, surviving later renaissance recorders, and European folk recorders of various types. His instruments have extremely wide cylindrical bores and produce a full, windy tone quality; they are designed to be played at rather high breath pressures. They sound well in mixed ensembles with other woodwind, plucked or bowed string instruments, or portative organ, as seems to have been the most common practice in the twelfth through the mid-fifteenth centuries. They are available in sopranino, soprano, and alto sizes. Unless some other surviving instruments from this period come to light, the Hanchet recorders are probably as close as we shall be able to come to realizing the sonority of the recorder in this earliest period of its history.
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A modest number of original instruments from the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries survive in museum collections; these instruments are usually referred to as renaissance recorders, although they are more exactly termed late renaissance/early baroque recorders. These instruments, which have wide cylindrical or slightly tapered bores with a choke toward the foot and large single tone holes, produce a full, rich tone in the lower and middle registers. The earliest modern reproductions of these instruments achieved only a limited range of an octave and a sixth; more recent attempts to reproduce these instruments, particularly the Mollenhauer Kynsecker renaissance series, have successfully expanded the range to over two octaves. The extreme high register in these instruments, while quite playable, is nevertheless not as secure as on modern recorders and some experience on the part of the player is necessary to control the response accurately.
Renaissance recorders are the ideal instruments for the performance of the consort music of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, either by themselves, in sizes ranging from the tiny piccolo (gar klein flötlein) to the imposing contrabass, or in combination with other renaissance woodwind, brass, string, keyboard, and percussion instruments. Compared to modern recorders, which are also frequently used for this literature, they have a much fuller and richer tone and blend better together, have greater resistance and require more air pressure, and are more responsive to articulation.
The Mollenhauer Kynsecker instruments, patterned after a set of seven surviving original instruments in the Nuremberg Germanisches Museum, have a rich, complex, and colorful sound, have narrower and highly curved windways, greater resistance, and are economical of air. They require some custom retuning, but can be highly playable when serviced in our workshop. The maple instruments are somewhat darker and more covered in tone, whereas the plumwood instruments are lighter and brighter in tone and develop a considerable reediness after they are played in. Both the maple and plumwood instruments are ideal for playing renaissance consort music, but the Kynsecker plumwood models are also ideally suited for playing the extensive early 17th century Italian baroque solo literature and the van Eyck solo pieces. Two different tenor recorders are offered in this series: a compact keyless design and a larger keyed design with an historical swallowtail key mechanism covered by a perforated fontanelle.
The Mollenhauer Dream recorders in pearwood are relatively inexpensive wide-bore neo-renaissance recorders; they are a viable substitute for the more authentic Kynsecker models at a much lower price point. The even newer Dream plumwood models are appreciably more expensive than the pearwood models, but have a great deal more handwork in their production, and offer substantially improved performance over the pearwood models. The Mollenhauer Waldorf-Edition recorders are also modern wide-bore neo-renaissance recorders with a very plain exterior profile; they are an ideal choice for players on a limited budget who want to specialize in renaissance consort repertoire.
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There are many surviving original late baroque recorders in museum and private collections by a fair number of well-known eighteenth century continental and English makers such as Denner, Stanesby, Oberlender, and Bressan. These instruments, in comparison to the earlier renaissance-type recorders in use until the mid-seventeenth century, have much narrower, more sharply conical bores, smaller tone holes, and extremely narrow, highly arched windways. The tone of these instruments is relatively quiet, usually quite reedy and complex, and varies in timbre and volume from the low through the middle and high registers. They are extremely sensitive to subtle articulation and develop highly individual characters. They are excellent solo instruments, contrasting greatly with other baroque woodwind, string, or keyboard instruments, but are not well-suited to recorder consort playing because of their individuality and lack of blending properties. The alto recorder was the predominant size in this period, and the other sizes were used only occasionally. Most advanced players own and treasure one or more baroque solo alto recorders for the authentic performance of the sonata and concerto repertoire of the early eighteenth century.
We offer many different models of reproduction and non-reproduction baroque recorders. Because of the elaborate turning, complex widway design, and large amount of handwork required in finishing these instruments, baroque recorders tend to be considerably more expensive than renaissance or modern recorders. Of the ones in our catalogue, the Marsyas recorders, originally designed and finished by Heinz Ammann, but now made entirely in the Küng workshop, are quiet, yet bright in tone, gentle, and somewhat reedy. They may be played at lower breath pressures than most other baroque style instruments. The Mollenhauer reproduction Denner recorders (not to be confused with their modern Denner series instruments) have a wonderfully rich and complex sound, modest in volume but extremely sensuous and resonant. The Fehr Stanesby alto is unusually full-toned for a reproduction baroque instrument, yet gentle and sweet; it is extremely well-suited for baroque orchestral playing or performance in large halls where quieter instruments might not be heard. The superb Huber Model IV baroque alto, available in either a'=440 or on special order in a'=415 Hz., is patterned after the famous original Denner alto in the Copenhagen Museum collection. It has a fuller low register than most other baroque altos, and a quiet, subtle upper register. The custom-made late baroque instruments from the workshop of Stephan Blezinger are very full in volume and project well in larger venues without sacrificing the rich, complex tone quality of a reproduction instrument.
The tonal influence of the type of wood used seems greater in baroque than in modern instruments, and each model and wood type has a distinctive personality. If your tastes are very specific as to tonal and response characteristics, we suggest that you call and discuss your wishes with us at length. We have a large selection of reproduction instruments in stock and have had a great deal of experience helping players find just the right instrument.
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Most of the instruments available today are not reproductions of medićval, renaissance, or baroque recorders; rather, they are instruments of modern design which may, however, incorporate some design features of one or more of the historical types. Modern recorders are extremely diverse in tone and playing qualities, but it is possible to draw a few generalizations about them: they tend to be fuller in tone than baroque recorders, although not as loud as renaissance recorders; their tone quality may range from full and warm through open and clear to bright and reedy, but is usually plainer and less complex than historical recorders; they have relatively larger windways, sometimes with some curvature but usually straight, and usually have less resistance; they are not as sensitive to articulation, have a more limited dynamic range, and are not as stable in pitch. On the other hand, they may be played for longer periods of time and are far less prone to clogging if correctly designed and voiced, and they do not require as much care and attention. Perhaps most important, they require less effort and control on the part of the player and tend to be far more forgiving of a wide spectrum of playing techniques and styles. Whereas historical recorders are more player-dependent and require considerable experience and skill to produce optimum results, modern recorders have more of the performance built into the instrument, are therefore more reliable and less dependent on the ability of the player. Most modern recorders are equally suited to both ensemble and solo use; they are the ideal instrument for a player who does not want to acquire a number of highly specialized literature-specific reproduction instruments for early music but rather one all-purpose recorder which can be used successfully for all literature.
The large number of modern recorders we stock are greatly varied in appearance and playing qualities. The instruments from our three Swiss suppliers are uniformly excellent in wood quality and workmanship; the several joints of each instrument are made from one continuous piece of wood, insuring uniformity not only of grain and color but also tonal properties. The Küng Model II recorders are the latter-day descendents of the original series of Küng instruments, having a solid, clear, well-focused, plain tone that lends itself to both consort and solo playing and, in the harder woods, competes well with modern instruments. There were as many as ten different choices of wood for each model in the past, but the number of wood choices has been greatly reduced in recent years and they are now available only in a few of the more expensive tropical hardwoods. These instruments often appeal to players of modern woodwind or brass instruments. The newer Küng Model III recorders have a very rich, complex, sweet, mellow, and covered sound more like that of historical reproduction instruments, but have the fullness of tone and greater ease of playing characteristic of modern instruments. The Fehr Model IV and Huber Model III instruments are quite similar to one another, each having a full, bright, clear tone and superb high register response; the Fehr recorders are somewhat fuller in the middle and low register and freer-blowing, whereas the Huber recorders are slightly tighter and more resistant. The styles of these two outstanding makers seem to be becoming more and more alike in recent years, however. They are both outstanding all-purpose mainstream modern recorders and well suited to baroque solo literature as well as consort use.
The German and Dutch workshops produce instruments which are in general good but less outstanding in wood quality and workmanship than the above Swiss makers; they are also somewhat less expensive, however. With custom servicing, these instruments can be made to play extremely well and provide good value for money. The instruments by Conrad Mollenhauer, however, have been vastly improved in design and quality over the past two decades and now offer the same quality as the Swiss makers at a much lower price point. The Mollenhauer Denner series was previously, under the Flauto Dolce name, rather warm, covered, and flute-like in tone quality but was redesigned to produce a brighter, more focused tone and far better upper register response. They have a fair amount of reediness and complexity, a compact low register, are rather quiet in tone, and well suited to the performance of baroque music. All of the above instruments are available in a basic model made of pearwood and/or maple and three to eight more expensive models made from a variety of domestic and tropical hardwoods.
All of the above makers, however, also produce a student series of wooden recorders (Fehr Model II, Huber Model II, Küng Model I, Mollenhauer Canta, made of either maple or pearwood and having a plainer modern exterior design, which offer some of the same design characteristics as their more expensive instruments but have more simplified windway construction and are somewhat less refined in tone. They do, however, provide very good quality and value and can be a good choice for the beginning student.
Easily among the best bargains in modern wooden recorders is the small number of models produced by the Japanese maker Zen-On. These instruments, each size available only in a single wood choice, have been recently redesigned and are now competive in quality with those from the European makers and at a far more attractive price as well. The cherrywood keyed tenor and the two models (bocal and direct blow) of bass recorders provide outstanding quality at extremely low prices.
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The choice of wood does have a definite and predictable influence on tone, although the overall bore and windway design and the voicing of the individual instrument are far more important factors. The influence of the wood is due not to the hardness or density of the wood per se, as is generally believed, but rather to the fiber structure and porosity, which determine the relative roughness or smoothness of the bore. In general, softer, less dense woods yield a rougher bore surface, which produces a warmer, more covered and diffuse tone. Harder and denser woods permit a smoother, more highly polished bore surface and produce a brighter, clearer, and more centered tone quality with greater projection. A good rule of thumb is that the softer woods are less expensive, and the cost of the wood increases with hardness. There are two exceptions to this rule, however: olivewood and European boxwood are relatively soft woods but, because of their rarity, are more expensive than some harder tropical woods.
The softest and warmest sounding woods are the domestic European fruitwoods: pearwood, olivewood, cherrywood and plumwood. Pearwood is the most gentle-toned and covered sounding, whereas the other three have a trace of brightness around a soft core. Instruments of maple are somewhat fuller, louder, and darker, but windier and less refined than any of the fruitwoods. Fruitwood instruments tend to become brighter with use over a period of years, whereas maple instruments, after the initial break-in period, apparently do not. Haldu is a brownish yellow wood from India with tonal properties very similar to plumwood. Boxwood is a popular term for a variety of woods from many different countries which have very little in common except for their pale yellow color. The boxwood used by 18th century makers was either English, European, or the closely-related Turkish boxwood, prized for its hardness, tonal quality, and resistance to water. This wood is only occasionally used today, not just because of its rarity and high cost but also because it often has knot holes and tends to warp very easily as it ages. Most instruments from European makers labeled as boxwood are in fact made from a South American wood known variously as Maracaibo, Zapatero, or Venezuelan boxwood, which is plentiful and inexpensive, easy to work, highly stable, but softer and blander in tonal properties than true European boxwood. South American boxwood is intermediate in cost and tonal quality between the softer European domestic fruitwoods and maple on one hand and the denser exotic tropical hardwoods on the other; it has a clear, cool, neutral sound equally suited to solo or ensemble playing.
Tropical hardwoods such as bubinga, padouk, hornwood, and zebrawood are considerably harder and denser than any of the above-discussed woods. They are more striking in color and grain and offer greater volume, projection, personality, and presence than the softer woods. Bubinga, often called African rosewood, is reddish-brown and a good middle-of-the-road choice for both solo and ensemble playing, being full and slightly windy, neither too bright nor too dark. Padouk, from the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean, is an intense red or reddish-purple in color, much lighter in weight than the other hardwoods (especially welcome in tenor and larger sizes), and has a clear, transparent tone with moderate brightness. Zebrawood is striking in appearance, with large dark-brown to brown-black stripes on a yellow-brown background, and a burly tone quality most similar to maple.
The hardest woods used in recorder making are from the South American Dalbergia family of rosewoods which includes such varieties as palisander, cocobolo, kingwood or violetwood, and tulipwood (in order of increasing hardness and brilliance) and their close cousin grenadilla wood from Africa, often called African blackwood. Palisander varies widely in color and density from a softer, dark brown variety to a very hard, light yellow brown wood, all with highly distinctive brown stripes. Cocobolo is the same species, but is usually solid dark brown in color (although sometimes reddish brown and other times jet black) and often lacks the distinctive stripes. Kingwood or violetwood is also essentially the same wood species, a harder and brighter-sounding variety of palisander, with smaller and more varied grain markings and a slight lavender cast which is most attractive. Tulipwood is the hardest and rarest of the Dalbergia genus, having light to dark red stripes on a yellow or grayish-yellow background, and is easily the most dramatic wood in appearance and the most brilliant in tone. All of the Brazilian rosewoods have pronounced personalities and make excellent solo instruments, but they are as a result less well suited to consort use. Grenadilla wood, extremely dark brown to black in appearance and quite heavy in weight, is stronger in tone than the rosewoods but not as edgy or brilliant. It is usually the wood of choice for professional players who must perform in large halls or with modern instruments such as flute, oboe, or violin. Ebony, a softer blackwood from Africa or India, is not as satisfactory tonally but is occasionally used as a grenadilla substitute.
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A decade or two ago, one of the most frequently heard truisms about recorder selection was, "if you can't afford a decent quality wooden recorder, you are better off buying a plastic instrument than a cheap wooden one." While there is still a good deal of merit in this statement, it cannot be taken simplistically at face value as in the past. There have been many changes in the design and production of both plastic and wooden recorders in the past twenty years. There are many more good quality instruments, both plastic and wooden, available to today's players, although there are still many substandard instruments of poor design and production quality polluting commercial music channels. Good quality, inexpensive instruments are available, but the discriminating player has to do a lot more research to separate the wheat from the chaff.
There have been impressive improvements in the design and production quality of some makes and models of plastic recorders, particularly those made by the three major Japanese makers Yamaha, Aulos, and Zen-On. Unfortunately, there are also a large number of very poorly designed and crudely made plastic recorders produced for the commercial and school markets, where price alone is the driving force. The best quality plastic recorders are not inexpensive; typically, they cost about 50% of the price of a good quality inexpensive wooden instrument. Even the best of plastic recorders have their drawbacks: they still sound hard and bright, have a shiny "plastic" appearance (with the exception of woodgrain-finish models), and tend to clog with condensation much more readily than a wooden instrument. However, for players on a very limited budget, they do provide acceptable performance at a relatively low price.
There have also been tremendous improvements in the quality of relatively inexpensive low-end wooden recorders during the past ten to twenty years. It used to be true that virtually all inexpensive wooden recorders were poorly made and designed, but that is simply not true today. A number of very good quality wooden soprano recorders can be had in the $85 to $125 range and there are also altos in the $275 to $375 range that are worthy of consideration. Such instruments as the Mollenhauer Canta, the Küng Model I, and Huber Model II recorders provide excellent quality and outstanding value at relatively low prices. Any instruments costing less than these, however, are generally of substandard quality and should be avoided, particularly those bearing phony trade names such as Ideal, Alpine, Trophy, Cambridge, and Hameln, rather than the names of recognized makers. At the lower end of the wooden recorder market, one can get substantial improvements in design and overall quality for relatively little additional money. It therefore makes little sense to buy the cheapest instruments on a price-alone basis.
Thirty years ago, we tried putting wooden cedar blocks into plastic recorders in an attempt to improve their playing properties. After a good deal of experimentation, we came to the conclusion that the effort and cost of doing so were simply not worth the trouble to us and the expense to the customer. We found that, although there was a slight improvement in some models in water absorption, there was little discernible improvement in tone quality and response. Furthermore, the stability of a plastic block had been replaced by the typical instability of a wooden block. The result was an instrument with all of the drawbacks of a plastic instrument plus one of the major drawbacks of a wooden instrument, a lose-lose situation if there ever was one. Although we occasionally get a request to put a wooden block in a plastic instrument, we do not recommend this procedure and find it neither performance-enhancing nor cost-effective. In addition, the recent availability of excellent quality inexpensive all-wooden recorders makes this modification even less worthwhile.We feel it is better to appreciate and use plastic recorders for what they are and not try to remodel them into something they are not intended to be.
On the other hand, several makers have recently introduced recorders of hybrid construction with plastic headjoints and wooden bodies, which combination makes a great deal more sense than a wooden block in a plastic head. These instruments offer a tone quality which is appreciably better than all-plastic instruments and at the same time provide the opportunity to play for long periods of time without damaging the voicing. The best of these hybrid instruments are the new Mollenhauer PRIMA instruments, which are available in both soprano and alto sizes. Thanks to an innovative windway design, these instruments are somewhat less prone to clogging than most all-plastic instruments. The soprano in particular is extremely competitive in price and a viable alternative to the best Japanese plastic instruments, although they are not as good as some of the least expensive all-wood instruments.
In our opinion and experience, the best of today's plastic recorders are the Yamaha 300 series recorders, made in five sizes from sopranino to bass, the Aulos 500 series recorders, made in six sizes from piccolo to bass, the Aulos 700 series Haka and Zen-On Stanesby and Bressan recorders. The latter two series are baroque-style instruments and are available only in soprano and alto sizes. The Yamaha 300 series soprano and alto recorders are also available in a choice of palisander or ebony woodgrain finishes, which enhance the appearance and also make a subtle but noticeable improvement in tone quality as well; the Aulos Haka instruments are also optionally available in a palisander woodgrain finish.
The Yamaha 300 series instruments are essentially middle-of-the-road modern recorders, suitable for both solo and ensemble playing. They have a full robust tone, especially in the lower register, and good high register response as well. Their intonation is considerably less than ideal, but our custom tuning procedures correct these intonation problems. The Aulos 500 series instruments feature much better inherent intonation than the Yamaha instruments (although they still need some doctoring) but they are plainer and less complex in tonal quality and not quite as full in the low register; we recommend them primarily for ensemble use, where their unobtrusive tone quality can be an asset.
The Aulos 700 series instruments, patterned after original 18th century recorders by the Dutch maker Richard Haka, are baroque-style instruments with a complex, intense, reedy tone quality and greater sensitivity to articulation; they are best suited to 18th century solo literature. However, they require more experience and ability on the part of the player than the Yamaha 300 series and Aulos 500 series instruments; we do not usually recommend them for beginning players. There are some intonation flaws in the design and production of these instruments, but our custom-tuning procedures guarantee that each instrument purchased from our workshop will be well in tune. The best of the Zen-On plastic recorders are the Stanesby, Jr. soprano and Bressan alto, patterned after those two famous English makers. Like the Aulos Haka models, they are baroque-style instruments with a overtone-rich, complex tone quality that is well-suited to 18th century solo music. The current models have been recently improved over their original namesakes and are now worthy competitors to the Yamaha and Aulos instruments. Our prices on these new models are also now about 30% lower than those set by their former American distributor in the past, making them now more competitive in price as well as in quality.
Plastic instruments, including the four series recommended above, are intended by their makers for the lowest common denominator of beginning player, and are excruciatingly sharp in pitch unless played at artificially low breath pressures. The reason is that, since all players, both experienced and inexperienced, are more aware of and sensitive to flatness than sharpness, recorder makers have learned from bitter experience to err by making their instruments appreciably sharper than a'=440 Hz. in order to avoid complaints of their instruments being "flat", especially from inexperienced players who underblow their instruments as a result of poor (or no) instruction in breathing and blowing a wind instrument properly. Such playing will achieve the best intonation possible on an inherently sharp instrument, but will cause or exaggerate other problems, such as more frequent clogging, insecure high register response, and weak low notes.
Even more pernicious, learning to play at an artificially low breath pressure will inevitably come back to haunt the player who eventually purchases a decent wooden recorder, finds that it is "flat" in comparison to his/her previous plastic one, and has to relearn how to breath and blow into a wind instrument properly. This is why we retune even inexpensive plastic recorders to play properly in tune at a'=440 and normal moderate breath pressure. Our custom-serviced instruments not only play better in tune than unserviced ones, but they have a richer, more complex tone, more secure high register response, and tend to clog somewhat less as well. They are designed to inculcate proper playing techniques from the very beginning and eliminate the steep relearning curve when transitioning to a wooden instrument, as most players beyond the beginner stage eventually do.
Please note: we ask that all orders for plastic recorders be placed using our ASW Order Form. This will enable us to process and fill your order much more quickly and efficiently. Because of the great volume of orders for our custom-tuned plastic recorders, we are not able to accept telephone orders for or answer calls about these items if we are also to continue to provide time-consuming custom service for such inexpensive items; they are what they are. We must ask for your cooperation and understanding in this regard.
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Some tenor recorders have a single or double key on the footjoint to facilitate closing the lowest fingered tone hole. Tenors with a single key can play a low c' but not a c#'. Players needing a low c# should purchase either a keyless instrument or an instrument with a double key.
Tenor recorders vary a great deal more than smaller instruments in design and ease of playing. It is useful to make a distinction between small or short bore tenors and large or long bore tenors. In general, small bore tenors have, as one might surmise, a narrower bore toward the bottom, are shorter in length, and are typically keyless instruments; larger bore tenors are appreciably wider in bore toward the foot, are longer in length, and usually have a single or double key on the lowest tone hole, which otherwise could not be reached with the little finger alone. Small bore tenors are usually said to have a smaller tone in the lowest notes and less reliable intonation and response in the extreme high register, but are smaller, lighter in weight, and less expensive. Large bore tenor typically are fuller in tone in the low register, also have better intonation and high register response, but are larger, longer, heavier, and more expensive.
However, things are not always what they seem in the world of tenor recorders. Some keyed tenor recorders, such as the Moeck Rottenburgh instruments, are not in fact large bore recorders but simply small bore instruments to which keys were subsequently added. Some very sophisticated large bore instruments, such as the Huber Model II and Model III recorders and the Küng Model I instruments, are nevertheless made only as keyless instruments. So the presence or absence of keys is not necessarily a reliable indication of the size of the bore or overall design of the instrument, conventional wisdom notwithstanding. If you are thinking that this all sounds very confusing, please rest assured that it most certainly is -- little comfort though that may be.
Recorder makers seem to be of very different minds about tenor recorder designs. Some makers, such as Huber (Model II and Model III,) Fehr (Model III and Model IV,) and MARSYAS make only very high quality keyless tenor recorders, which however do not have any of the typical drawbacks of older keyless designs, such as a weak lower register and intonation difficulties in the high register. The Küng workshop makes only a double-keyed tenor in its now-discontinued Model II Classica and newer Model III Superio series instruments, but offers excellent and inexpensive keyless tenors in its Model I Studio series.
On the other hand, the Mollenhauer workshop in their Canta and Denner instruments, offers two entirely different models of tenor recorder, a small bore instrument with no keywork and a large bore instrument with a double key. The latter type of instrument is longer in length, fuller and more uniform in tone in the lower register, and plays better in the extreme high register as well; however, such instruments are somewhat heavier in weight, can be more tiring to hold and play for longer periods of time, and are of course more expensive as well.
Conventional wisdom in the recorder world would have one believe that players with smaller hands should consider only keyed tenor recorders; however, "it ain't necessarily so." Keyless instruments are smaller, shorter, lighter in weight, less expensive, and the right hand tone holes are smaller in diameter and located closer together, whereas keyed instruments are larger, longer, heavier, and have larger tone holes spaced further apart, particularly toward the bottom of the instrument. Often, a manually-challenged player will find an ergonomically-designed keyless instrument such as the Huber Model II or the Küng Model I tenor much more manageable than a larger keyed instrument.
Be that as it may, the great majority of players who experience difficulty in playing tenor and larger recorders are usually convinced that they have small hands and that that is the source of their problems. Most of the time, the difficulty is due not to having small hands, regardless of what they believe or have been told, but rather to incorrect arm, hand, and finger position. Once this issue is addressed by proper instruction, the problems and/or discomfort quickly disappear. Players having difficulty in playing a tenor recorder purchased from our workshop are invited to call up and receive a free, five-minute tutorial via telephone that will help them identify the source of their problem and provide the tools to remedy it.
Players who optimize the ergonomics of their playing technique may then freely choose from a wide variety of suitable tenor recorders, whereas those who do not do so are condemned to a long and often fruitless search for an instrument that is "easy" to play. No instrument is easy to play if it is being played incorrectly. Furthermore, simplistic efforts to determine in advance the playability of a tenor recorder by measuring the distance from the first to the third tone hole or the fourth to the seventh tone hole prove to be largely useless. There are many other factors that need to be taken into account beyond one or two measurements that, taken out of context, are virtually meaningless.
Similarly, well-intentioned but ultimately ill-fated efforts by dealers or repairmen to improve the playability of a tenor recorder by installing additional keys, typically for the ring finger of the left hand and/or the index finger of the right hand, are never very successful. Such open-standing keys shade the tone holes they are intended to close and invariably have an adverse effect on tone quality, response, and intonation, especially in the second octave. An instrument must be substantially redesigned if it is to work properly with supplementary keywork. Adding keys to an existing instrument is a crude solution that creates more problems than it solves.
The now-closed Adler-Heinrich workshop in Germany produced excellent inexpensive tenor recorders in their Filius series which were optionally available with additional keywork for the left ring finger and right index finger, allowing players with smaller hands or, as is more often the case, less-than-optimum arm, hand, and finger position, to play comfortably larger bore instruments. These are sadly no longer available, but the Mollenhauer workshop has recently introduced modified tenors in their Canta and Denner series which have these supplementary keys, albeit at a much higher price point. However, these instruments may be the only ones that will allow a manually-challenged player to manage a tenor recorder successfully.
Just recently, several makers, such as Küng in their Model I Studio series, and Mollenhauer in their Canta series, have introduced bent-neck tenor recorders. The idea was actually pioneered some years ago by the now-defunct Heinz Roessler workshop in Germany. Whereas bent-neck bass recorders (see below), which were introduced by the Johannes Adler workshop over a half century ago and much more recently adopted by almost all other recorder makers, do provide some appreciable ergonomic advantage by reducing the distance the right arm has to reach and the angle of the right wrist, bent-neck tenors are unfortunately somewhat less successful and at the same time not as necessary. The abnormally high right hand position and cramped left hand position required by such instruments is found by many players to be quite uncomfortable, and the bent neck limits the range of angles at which the instrument can be held and played. Furthermore, a bent-neck design does nothing to reduce the stretch between the various fingers of the right hand, which is usually the real source of the problem for players who are manually challenged. Such players are usually much better off with one of the Canta or Denner multi-keyed straight tenor recorders described above. The original Roessler bent-neck tenor also had these additional middle keys, and they were the real reason for that instrument's popularity.
Once again, it should be borne in mind that tenor recorder designs vary a great deal more ergonomically than soprano or alto designs; the hole size and spacing can and do vary greatly from one make and model to another. Players are best advised to seek the help of a dealer with a large and varied inventory of tenor recorders and extensive experience in recorder pedagogy when selecting an instrument to suit their specific needs. There is no one make and model tenor recorder that is universally suitable.
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All bass recorders have a single or double key on the footjoint to facilitate closing the lowest fingered tonehole. Basses with a single key can play low f but not f#. Players who need the capability of playing low f# should therefore consider purchasing only a double-keyed instrument.
Most bass and greatbass recorders and virtually all contrabass recorders have other additional keys as well; these reduce the finger stretch for the player and simplify the design problems for the maker by allowing all tone holes to be in their acoustically correct location and of the correct size as well. However, supplementary keywork increases both the weight and the price of an instrument; the advantages of extra keywork must be weighed against the drawbacks. As with tenor recorders, bass recorders vary greatly in terms of tonehole size and location as well as keywork design and placement. Players with smaller hands or physical disabilities such as arthritis or carpel tunnel syndrome should consult a dealer with a large variety of basses in stock in order to insure that they will obtain the make and model best suited to their particular needs.
Some bass recorders are equipped with a blowpipe or bocal which allows the player to hold the instrument higher and thus reduces the stretch necessary for the right hand to reach the lower keys. Other bass recorders, such as the Huber Model III straight basses and Mollenhauer Kynsecker renaissance bass recorders, are "direct-blown" from the end like smaller recorders; such instruments require fairly long arms and good-sized hands, but typically offer a fuller, more robust sound. The now-discontinued Küng Model II basses were available with a bocal and a bocal blow cap as an alternative option to the direct blow cap, whereas the Aulos 500 Series plastic basses are equipped with a bocal and the direct blow cap is an option. The Mollenhauer Denner series basses are provided with a bocal but may be blown directly by removing the cap if desired. In recent years, most makers have been phasing out their bocal-blow models in favor of direct-blow bent-neck models, which are appreciably easier to design and voice for the maker, as well as easier to hold and play.
An interesting variant on the direct-blow bass is the bent-neck bass (German: Knickbass or bent bass), in which the headjoint is angled back toward the player and coupled to the body through an elbow piece. This style of instrument, which has in fact been around for over fifty years but has only recently been made by a large number of makers, provides the playing advantages of a direct-blow instrument with the comfort and reduced stretch of a bocal-blow recorder without the limitations of the latter. Mollenhauer replaced its aging Chorus bocal-blow bass with a substantially improved bent-neck model in its new Canta series. Both Huber and Küng have recently introduced superb bent-neck basses with a wooden elbow; these are among the finest playing bass recorders currently available. The Yamaha 300 series and the Aulos 500 series plastic bass recorders are also highly successful bent-neck design instruments and are in fact the only decent plastic bass recorders currently available. All of these instruments are ideal for players with short arms and small or arthritic hands.
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