Choosing a new recorder? Five important questions to consider!
Buying a recorder? Five important questions to consider!
We've put together our top five questions to consider when buying a new recorder. Answering these questions will help narrow down the selection, helping you to pick the right one. We stock over 700 different recorders so this guide is a great place to start your search! Please do not hesitate to contact us for further advice and guidance.
1. Which size?
Whether you are picking the recorder up for the first time, or coming back to it after many years, there are many different sizes of instrument to consider! As a starting point, the most common sizes are the soprano (descant), alto (treble) or tenor recorder.
The soprano and tenor both have a bottom note of C. The tenor sounds an octave lower than the soprano; they play using the same fingering, but the tenor is much bigger! These tend to be the most common choice as many people learn the soprano recorder at school. In terms of learning, this is a great choice if you want to be able to play a variety of music and play in music groups. Lots of folk music and popular tunes can be played easily without going out of range.
The alto has a bottom note of F. Although the finger patterns/positions are the same, they produce different notes. It's usually best to become very familiar with one fingering set (C or F) before learning another. The alto is a great choice for if you want to play baroque pieces and are playing solo.
That isn't to say that you can't start with a smaller or bigger recorder! We have the full range available in stock and recommend trying out an instrument if you would like to begin with a different size. There are many sizes, but here is an overview of the most common:
2. Which fingering – Baroque, German or Renaissance?
There are 3 main types of fingering:
- Baroque (sometimes called English)
The standard modern fingering used on most recorders is baroque fingering. This is why teachers will often ask you to get a "baroque recorder". If in doubt, this is the option to go for!
German fingering was originally designed for younger players. Sometimes, if you are coming back to the recorder after years of not playing, this is a fingering system you may be familiar with. It’s generally best to avoid German fingering as it can restrict future playing opportunities.
Renaissance fingering broadly covers a whole range of different fingerings – usually varying from instrument to instrument depending on hole configuration and tuning! Renaissance recorders traditionally have wide-bores and single holes, but nowadays instruments in a renaissance style often have standard baroque fingering for ease of playing.
- Standard (a440)
- Baroque (a415)
- French baroque (a392)
- Renaissance (a466)
Standard pitch (or modern pitch) is referred to as a440 or a442. This refers to the frequency - 440/442Hz is labelled as an A. When starting the recorder, you want to get a standard pitch recorder. This allows you to play with a piano, other instruments and play in recorder consorts!
Baroque pitch has been standardised at a415. This means that a "baroque A" is one semitone lower than a standard pitched A. Many baroque groups play at a415, and unlike string instruments, you need to have a different, low-pitch recorder to join in.
French baroque pitch is at a392 which works out as a tone lower than standard pitch or a semitone below baroque pitch. As the name suggests it works really well for French Baroque music, giving a warm, sonorous quality!
Renaissance pitch is at a466 which works out as a semitone higher than standard pitch. Its bright sound is ideal for renaissance repertoire and although we don’t sell instruments at this pitch very often, it is most commonly found in ‘Ganassi’ style wide-bore recorders.
4. Plastic or Wooden?
Price can sometimes answer this question immediately: on the whole, plastic recorders are much cheaper than wooden ones. To give you an idea here are some starting prices:
The main difference between plastic and wooden instruments is the sound. Wooden recorders have a rich, colourful tone quality in comparison with plastic recorders. This is particularly noticeable in higher pitched recorders - sopraninos, sopranos and altos.
Wooden recorders are much more rewarding to play as they allow you to play with more expression. You can get more dynamics and colour from a wooden recorder. There is more resistance in wooden recorders, and often they are easier to play than plastic ones, especially on the lowest notes.
Plastic recorders tend to block up very quickly with moisture, meaning the sound becomes muffled and the instrument is less rewarding to play. Unfortunately this is unavoidable and will keep happening during playing, sometimes every 10 minutes or so. Unlike wooden recorders, plastic recorders can’t absorb the moisture.
This blocking up happens with wooden recorders when you’re playing them in. But when regularly playing your wooden recorder, this will happen less and less. You’ll soon be able to play for hours before your recorder will block up!
If you’re just starting to play, plastic may be the best option for you. You can see how you get on with playing the recorder, whether you enjoy it, whether you’ve chosen the right size. Then when you’re more comfortable with playing the recorder, you can upgrade to a wooden instrument.
One advantage of plastic recorders is they offer easy maintenance. This is especially good for younger players. Unlike wooden recorders, you can just wash them out!
Wooden recorders do require more maintenance including cleaning, drying, oiling and occasional servicing/re-voicing. It’s very simple to get to grips with the required care routine, and our expert staff can guide you through the process if you’re new to wooden instruments.
Recorders come in many different types of wood which all produce subtly different sounds. This is a whole extra decision in itself, and we partnered with Team Recorder’s Sarah Jeffery to compare the different woods and sounds available from one of our leading manufacturers, Moeck:
5. Which make? Which model?
We stock various recorder makes from all over the world. There are so many different makes and models available that it can be a minefield! It's always best to keep an open mind when choosing any instrument and this is especially true when buying a recorder. Just because you have one make or model for one recorder, doesn't mean that this will be the best choice for a different size.
We have a large range of instruments in stock and available to view on our website or in our showrooms. Our expert staff are always on hand to help you compare the different manufacturers and woods, and you can select different criteria using the search functions on our website.
We find the best place to start can be setting a budget. This, along with your answers to the questions above, will give you a good selection to choose from. Some recorders will feel comfortable instantly, so the kinetic feel can play a big part in helping decide on make/model. Each make and model has different advantages – some are louder, some have stronger bottom ranges, some play easier in the upper register etc. Other factors that can help narrow down the make/model choices are the wood, the recorder being in three pieces, and the keywork.
Once you have an idea of the above, our expert recorder specialists can talk you through your selection of recorders. We will be able to help narrow down your selection by discussing which would work well for you. Contact us here and we'll start the process!
We recommend trying recorders before making a decision as they vary so much. Even two supposedly identical instruments can sound subtly different!
If you can't make it to Saltaire, Snape or one of our pop-up shops, we can always send three or four recorders directly to you on approval. You can then try them from the comfort of your home to make sure you choose the best one for you. It also means you can take them to any groups, or venues where you play and see what works best for you!
Team Recorder’s Sarah Jeffery partnered with us on several recorder comparison videos in 2020. You can watch another of her comparisons here:
Couldn't find what you were looking for? Please contact us and we'll do our best to help!