dolmetsch onlinechoosing a recorder

On Choosing a Recorder
John Everingham

It is best to go to a shop where there are hundreds of instruments on display and they may all be played. It does help to have your usual instrument with you, for comparison. If you can, take the recorders you want to test to the relative privacy of a separate room and play in comfort. If there is ample room for several people, so much the better. Take the elementary precaution of being reasonably in practice, do not wear lipstick, and trim your thumb nail! If possible, have some clear idea of the style of instrument you are looking for and, where relevant, find out what your teacher would recommend. Lists of things to try playing are only of use if you know how to interpret the results. The recorder specialist in the shop should be expected to have played them all and to have made sure they work well. If you use a tuning meter, remember that it may well tell you more about your technique than about the instrument. In some shops, including Saunders Recorders of Bristol, UK where the manager, John Everingham, is well equipped to give advice having been a woodwind teacher and professional player for many years, you may get good un-biased advice.

For mass use, in schools for example, it is best to choose plastic instruments, and to keep to the same make and model for each size. The cheaper models of large recorders are excellent value, but small cheap ones can be a problem. Small Yamaha recorders do not mix with other makes unless the head joint is pulled out about 2mm. Your players should be shown how to do this. The alternative option of "underblowing", which can result in a sweet sound, is not good for the musical development of the players. There is no reason why wood and plastic should not be mixed, but the instruments used should be adjusted, by pulling the headjoint out, to the lowest pitch being produced by strong players.

Where you cannot come to the shop a good supplier may be able to help via the postal services. There are so many instruments available that the array can be quite daunting! Price can be a good guide for quality but it does not tell the whole story. It is not unusual to find a suitable instrument which is well within a price limit. The very best instruments are worth the high price, but only if you can appreciate the difference. An expensive instrument will not make you play better, but it may enable you to make the most of your ability.

The wood (or plastic) used is of less importance than the design in determining the tone. Once a model is selected it is worth trying the range of available woods to discover the additional characteristics. Broadly speaking, maple (white) and pearwood (pinkish brown) are cheap because they lend themselves to machine production and originate in temperate climates. They are usually impregnated with wax to help preserve the soft wood and stabilise it. Pearwood usually gives a more vibrant tone with greater presence than maple. Box wood (yellowish when not stained) comes in two types, European and non-European. Although their characteristics are similar when made into a recorder, the much more expensive European variety is to be preferred despite the frequent occurance of knotty blemishes. In the best instruments the characteristic tone is warm and full. Tropical hardwoods were little used in the 18th century but are valued now for their bigger tone and durability. Rosewood, also known as palisander, comes in many varieties and colours, from almost black to light red-brown. Tulipwood is similar and striped like steaky bacon. The characteristic tone is more edgy than box, the overtones tending towards oboe tone. Ebony and grenadilla are black and heavy, and the tone more silvery and flute like. Other exotic woods are used, kingwood (stripy red brown) gives an "elegant" tone, use coral wood (red orange) if you are sensitive to rosewood, while satin wood (yellow), a good choice for a "wet" player, gives a sound similar to boxwood.

Some players come up in a rash as a result of playing one of the resinous tropical hardwoods, palisander in particular. I do myself. Should you discover this after purchase you should be able to get an exchange or a full refund.

Wooden recorders need some after care. New wooden recorders should be acclimatised slowly, play only for short periods, about ten minutes a session, two separated sessions a day for the first week. This may be increased gradually, and regularly up to an hour or so. It is not advisable to play any wooden recorder continuously for more than an hour at a time. If you alter your pattern of practice try to spread the load onto a plastic instrument. The popular recorder activity breaks, and the run up to exam periods do seem always to produce a crop of split instruments. An old instrument acquired at a recorder event should be treated even more carefully than a new instrument

After playing, dry the instrument, especially the sockets, and leave it apart in the open air for a while. Be sure to shut the case after half an hour or so. Extremes are harmful, it is not good to keep a recorder very wet or very dry, keeping it in a case prevents rapid changes from one state to the other and will help to prevent splitting. Damage to the labium edge is not repairable. Do not poke anything into this part of the recorder. When the recorder clogs, suck the moisture away. Covering the slot or putting your finger along the cut of the labium and blowing is harmful and ineffective. If you must blow, blow sharply into the slot, excess moisture will appear at the windway entry and may be wiped away.

Take great care not to score marks round your recorder if you wear rings. It is easy to bruise the wood or scrape off varnish while putting your recorder together or taking it apart.

Try to protect the recorder from large and rapid changes of temperature. Roll bags offer good protection, but not from knocks if the recorder has keys. Cases do not always protect well from temperature change. Avoid draughts and sunlight through glass, cupboards with hot pipes, car glove boxes and boots and similar perhaps unexpected places of extreme temperature. A bag produced for transporting frozen food offers very good protection, summer and winter. Never ever leave your recorder on a chair, bed or music stand. If you don't sit on it or knock it off yourself someone else will do it for you. Beware of dogs, they love to chew recorders. Do not use any more than a trace of grease on the cork joints. Apply grease only when the joint is very stiff and squeaky. If one application does not do the trick another will probably make things worse. Remove excess grease from the wooden parts of the recorder, otherwise it will migrate into the end grain of the wood, spoiling the appearance. Lipstick stains are similar and are impossible to remove. Apply any bore oil sparingly and evenly. Avoid the block and corks. Do not oil a recently played recorder and leave it for a day before playing it again. Remove excess oil with a cloth. Do not oil varnished recorders, eg, Dolmetsch handmade and the square section Paetzold basses. Do not use paper tissues on the inside of a recorder.

Mechanism will work better if lightly oiled occasionally with sewing machine or gun oil. Do not use "3 in One". Case catches should also have their pivots oiled from time to time, especially if they begin to grate. Recorders with keys are quite vulnerable. Watch what you do and take care not to catch long keys on clothing or bend them by twisting right round. If you do damage or break a key let me have it for repair. Do not give it to an amateur plumber to fix. A good repairer can avoid the pitfalls and in most cases mend as new.

John Everingham
Saunders Recorders

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