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Recorder31 - Day 4

Recorder31 - Day 4

Buying a recorder? Top 5 questions to consider

We've put together our top 5 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!  

1. Which size?  

If you are picking the recorder up for the first time, or coming back to it after many years, there is the whole recorder family to consider! As a starting point, the most common sizes are the soprano (descant), alto (treble) or tenor recorder.  

Soprano & Tenor 

The soprano and tenor both have a bottom note of C. The tenor sounds an octave lower than the soprano. They play in the same way apart from 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' best to get really comfortable with one size (C or F) before learning another. The alto is a great choice for if you want to play mostly baroque pieces and are playing solo. 

The others 

That isn't to say that you can't start with a smaller or bigger size recorder..!   

2. Which fingering – Baroque, German or Renaissance?  

There are 3 main types of fingering:  

  • Baroque (sometimes called English) 
  • German 
  • Renaissance 

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. Quite often, 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 ending up with whatever works! Renaissance recorders have wide-bores and single holes, but nowadays these often have standard Baroque fingering for ease of playing. 

3. Pitch?  

  • Standard 
  • Baroque (a=415) 
  • French baroque (a=392)  

Standard pitch or modern pitch is referred to as A=440 or A=442. 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 A=415. This means that a "Baroque A" is one semitone lower than a standard or modern pitched A! Most Baroque groups play at A=415, and unlike string instruments, you need to have a different, low-pitch recorder to join in. 

French baroque pitch is at A=392 which works out as a tone lower than standard pitch or a semi-tone below baroque pitch. As the name suggests it works really well for French Baroque music, giving a warm, sonorous quality! 

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: 

  Plastic Wooden
Garklein £36 £97
Sopranino £10.95 £129.50
Soprano (Descant) £5.95 £66
Alto (Treble) £14.50 £215
Tenor £54.99 £345
Bass £199.50 £995
Great Bass £1995
Contra Bass £2950


The main difference between plastic and wooden instruments is the sound. Wooden recorders have such a rich, colourful tone quality compared to 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. This leads to them not playing properly and giving a muffled sound. Unfortunately this is something that you can’t avoid 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 to plastic recorders is they offer easy maintenance. This is especially good for younger players. Unlike wooden recorders, you can just wash them out!  

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 another recorder, it doesn't mean that this will be the best choice for a different size of recorder. 

What next?

We find the best place to start can be setting a budget. This along with your answer to the above questions 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 strong points – 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 3 pieces and the keywork.  

We have recorder experts on hand to talk you through the selection available to you. Once you have an idea of the above we can talk through your selection of recorders. We will be able to help narrow down your selection by discussing which would work well for you. 

We recommend trying recorders before making a decision as they vary so much. Even the same make and model!  If you can't make it to Saltaire, London or one of our pop-up shops, we can always send 3 or 4 recorders to you on approval. You can then try them in 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! 

More info

We partnered with Team Recorder's Sarah Jeffery who tried several recorders and compared them for us. Watch her comparisons here.

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