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Caution: Wordiness and Unorganized Rambling Ahead

More and more often I'm asked for my opinion about a recorder when a player is
considering a purchase. I always hesitate to give an outright opinion, however, because
the right instrument for one player may be the wrong instrument for another player. But
I do think that anyone making decisions about purchasing a recorder should consider the
following points:
1) How you will use the recorder:

Are you playing the recorder by yourself for your own enjoyment? If so, you have only
yourself to please. Intonation (playing well in tune) may not be something you need to
be overly concerned about. Recorders are the friendliest instrument for folk songs on a
beach or a mountain top, on a rainy Sunday afternoon with a cup of tea, or even to
soothe your nerves as you while away long minutes in stalled traffic. Pick the recorder
that appeals to you. But try before you buy.
Are you part of a group of players? To some extent, the group will have an effect on
what you choose. Your recorder must be reasonably well in tune, and the tone (the
sound it produces) might be a consideration. Renaissance and baroque-type recorders,
for example, have different tone qualities. Blend may be a consideration. The range of
the recorder - how high it plays and how easily it responds up there in the stratosphere may be a consideration. Try before you buy.
Will you be taking recorder lessons from a teacher? The teacher may have opinions
about the quality of the instrument. Consider the teacher's suggestions, and then buy the
recorder you like. But try before you buy.

2) Life expectancy of the recorder:

This refers not to its actual lifespan before it falls apart, but how long you will be
playing it - satisfied with it - challenged by it. Beginners aren't likely to spend a lot for a
recorder, but adults in particular are likely to make better progress on a good-quality
recorder than on a poor instrument. Players are often taken aback when I suggest that
the reason their old faithful recorders are not playing as good as before is because the
owners are now better players than the recorders are! It sometimes doesn't take long for
enthusiastic beginners to outgrow their recorders.

3) Differences between high-quality and mediocre recorders:

This is what most players seem to want to discuss, and rightfully so. There are a number
of factors to consider, and this is where I start to ramble.

Wood: the most expensive recorders are usually made of harder, denser woods, like
rosewood, bubinga, grenadilla, and ebony. Less expensive recorders are often made of
softer, less expensive wood - maple, pear, plum, and other fruitwoods. In between are a
host of other woods - boxwood, kamba, olive, etc., etc. Generally speaking, the harder
and denser the wood, the more brilliant the tone; most concert soloists play hardwood
recorders. Softer woods tend to produce a mellower tone that blends well in a consort.
But correct voicing is all-important in the way a recorder sounds and responds. See the
"Repair Services" page for a discussion of voicing and tuning.
Hand work: A more expensive recorder is usually the product of more hand finishing,
voicing, and tuning - a real factor in its cost.
Finer features: Higher quality recorders often incorporate features that cheaper ones do
not have, such as:
A) Curved windway: the end you blow in is gently arched from side to side, instead of
being made straight across.
B) Tapered block: the block (the all-important insert that forms the bottom of the
windway) is narrower from side to side at the window end than it is at the beak end
(where you blow).
C) A block set quite high: the beak opening is quite a bit smaller from top to bottom
than in less expensive recorders, requiring very accurate voicing dimensions. It also
results in more resistance and requires more consistent breath support for the player,
unlike a recorder with a wide-open windway where the breath just flows. And flows.
And flows. In other words cheaper recorders often use more air, while more expensive
recorders use less air but require more breath support and control.
D) Undercut tone holes: the holes that your fingers cover - their bottom edges inside the
bore are somewhat flared.
E) With soprano recorders, a three-piece instrument is usually preferable to a two-piece
one, though most Renaissance sopranos are indeed made with two pieces or in one
piece. The movable foot enables a player to fit his or her pinky exactly. It also makes
for more exact tuning; if the highest notes on a soprano are sharp, pulling out the foot a
bit will help correct them.
4) Cost factor

This is what many players consider first - how much I can afford. Good thinking! It's
wise to set a realistic limit and abide by it. And depending on the level of expense you
can afford, there will surely be several recorders to consider.
One question I am often asked: "Does a recorder that costs twice as much as another
recorder play twice as good as the cheaper one?"

Probably not. The better the player you are, however, the more you will expect from
your recorder and the better recorder you will want. An $800 alto in the hands of a
beginner doesn't make much sense; in the hands of an experienced player, however, the
quality of that fine recorder may well be worth every penny of the $800 or $1800 or
$2800 it cost.
One comment I often hear: "I love the way my friend's (fill in the maker's name) maple
alto plays, so I bought one just like it - same model and everything. And it plays and
sounds a lot different.
Why? - because of its voicing, its tuning, the shipment of wood it was made from, how
long the recorder wood seasoned, how long the cedar block seasoned, how the person at
the workbench who voiced it felt that day, how long it sat on a store shelf before you
bought it, etc., etc. Most makers of high-quality recorders maintain stringent quality
control standards, but wood is wood is wood and people are people are people; wooden
instruments can vary quite a bit, as do players.
Remember, correct voicing is essential for a good recorder to play its best. Most makers
give a warranty for a period of time after purchase. During that "break-in" time, the
voicing will probably change somewhat, and that is one reason why Collins and
Williams is the "authorized US repair agent" for a number of overseas firms; voicing is
necessary when the windway dimensions change even a little, and over a period of time
the warmth and moisture in a player's breath can certainly change those wooden
Wood or Plastic?
Some players seem to think plastic is almost blasphemous; to them, wood is the only
material for a recorder worthy of the name. "If the good Lord had wanted us to play
plastic recorders, He would be growing plastic trees!" There is certainly no question that
plastic recorders cannot compare with fine wooden recorders. But the operative word
here is "fine." There is also no question in my mind that a high-quality plastic recorder
is far superior to a mediocre wooden one.
The reason for that superiority is because many characteristics of fine wooden recorders
are built into high-quality plastics (see "finer features" above). The best plastics on the
market today are, in my opinion, the higher-priced Zen-Ons and Yamaha 300-series,
and they have the features of fine wooden recorders. What those plastics don't have is a
wooden block to absorb moisture and lessen windway clogging. One reason the Collins
& Williams customized Zen-On plastics sell so steadily is that their cedar-surfaced
blocks do absorb moisture and sound "woodier." In addition, they have been voiced to
play their best - impossible to do with other plastics. See the "Customized Zen-On
Plastic Recorders" page for further information.
A beginning player would be wise to buy a good plastic that is built to play like the
good wooden one he or she will be playing one day. When that day comes, the good
plastic becomes a practice/travel/back-up recorder; the mediocre wooden one is rarely
played again. Think about it. And try a good plastic.
Did you make it all the way through the above? Congratulations! I hope the thoughts

and opinions have been helpful and not confusing. If further questions come to mind,
don't hesitate to get in touch with me. I'll be happy to help if I can.

Q. "Should I be oiling my recorder?"

It's a question that players often ask, and I can, with assurance, unequivocally and
categorically state that it depends! I have worked on wax-impregnated maples whose
bores were caked with oil residue from over-oiling and on rosewoods that were dry as
Speaking of bones - the following might be of interest to any of you with bone-loving
dogs. I use what can best be described as cow thigh-bones to make recorder thumb
bushings, and they must be as hard, dry, and durable as possible. A veterinarian friend
passed along a tip from the owner of a large dog who used to go through a bone a day:
keep the bone in the freezer for a while. Freezing dries out and hardens the bone, and a
dog will get a lot more chew out of it. And a recorder player will get a lot more wear out
of it.
Back to oiling. Where to oil? Only the bore and the labium (the lip). If you are supercareful, dab a very little bit on the end of a toothpick around the area above where the
air leaves the windway, but only on the vertical surface. DON'T get any on the slanted
part (the head chamfer) that angles back into the windway. The labium (lip) should be
oiled because it gets continually bombarded by your warm, moist breath, and you can
oil the walls beside the window labium if you want. But DON'T get any oil in the
windway; the block must absorb as much moisture as it can, and it CANNOT have oil
on it. When oiling the bore, if any oil runs into the finger holes, wipe it out so that dust
doesn't accumulate there
How to oil? I use a slotted plastic stick with a cloth from an old T-shirt or handkerchief.
Swab a thin film of oil evenly throughout the bore of all the pieces - not on the corks or
in the windway. Wipe off any that runs. Stand the pieces upright (with the open joint
end of the head down) for several hours. If the recorder hasn't been oiled for a long
time, it might be necessary to repeat the process.
With what? I recommend RAW linseed oil, used by most major recorder-makers. You
may not care for the smell, and in hot climates linseed oil can make a recorder get a
little rancid if over-used. Some people use olive oil, salad oil, or mineral oil that is sold
for clarinets and oboes.
They are better than nothing, but they probably won't polymerize as well as linseed oil
does, which means that raw linseed oil soaks into the wood and then hardens to seal the
pores. It doesn't evaporate; it solidifies without diminishing in size.
You must use RAW linseed oil. "Boiled" linseed oil is for sale. Don't use it. "Boiled" is
fine for furniture, but not for your woodwind. Today's linseed oil hasn't really been
boiled, by the way, but has just had dryers added to it. (You might be interested in an
intriguing book entitled "The Periodic Table" by Primo Levy, in which he described the

early Italians gauging how long to boil linseed oil by throwing in some onion rings;
when the rings were browned, the oil was done. Neat.)
How often to oil: Now it gets iffy, depending on what wood the instrument is made of,
if the maker coated the bore with urethane or varnish, and if the wood has been waximpregnated. Let's deal with the last item first: some makers impregnate their softer
woods (most often maple and fruitwoods) with paraffin wax, rendering the wood denser
and fairly inert. These instruments will absorb next-to-no oil, and there is little reason to
oil them, unless they are years old and some of the wax has seeped out. The heavier
blackwoods and boxwoods should be oiled perhaps twice a year, and the more openpored rosewoods somewhat more often. Players in dryer climates and those who keep
their instruments in dry heated rooms may decide to oil more often. Remember, it is not
usually the consistently dry or consistently moist wood that cracks and warps; it is the
wood that from use becomes wet and dry, wet and dry, wet and dry, that reacts the most.
Look through the bore. Does it look dry and in need of oil? If it is smooth and shiny, it
is made of a dense, close-grained wood, or perhaps it has a finish on it. Neither will
need much oil. If it is dark and rough-looking, it probably needs an oiling. You can't
really hurt an instrument by oiling it if you:
1.Use only a thin film of oil;
2.NEVER get oil into the windway;
3.Stand it upright so that excess oil drains off.
Problem: raw linseed oil is sold at most hardware stores in pints, each of which is
enough to last several lifetimes. It is not expensive, but it may turn rancid after a while.
Collins and Williams will send you a film canister (the little black plastic container that
35 mm film comes in) with about an ounce of raw linseed oil blended with some sweet
almond oil (very expensive, but it sweetens the linseed oil and keeps it from from
turning rancid). See the Accessories web page. Keep a strip of swabbing cloth in there, a
slotted stick handy, and it will last you a long time.
For a thorough discussion of oiling, see the article Wood, Water, and Oil by Raymond
and Lee Dessy in the November, 1995,"American Recorder found at

Q. " I've been told that I must 'break in' my new recorder: why is it necessary,
and how do I do it?"
Breaking in a recorder is a process to introduce the warmth and moisture of your breath
over a period of time to a new recorder, whose wood gradually adapts to it with small
changes in dimension and moisture content. Long periods of playing a new recorder
sometimes produce changes quickly in some parts of the recorder and more slowly in
others, resulting in uneven expansion; cracks are often the result. Gentle playing at first
usually prevents this.
My recommendation (easily remembered) to players is this:

first week - no more than ten minutes a day;

second week - no more than 20 minutes;
third week - no more than 30 minutes.
After that, go ahead and play away, although I will say that playing for hours a day on a
wooden recorder - three to four hours a day, perhaps - will shorten its life. Most players
who are that devoted to recorders, however, usually have several recorders that they use
in rotation during practice sessions.
The larger recorders, such as the bass and contrabass, don't seem to be affected as much
by moisture and temperature as the smaller ones. With their large bores and thicker
walls, moisture just doesn't condense as much in the bore. Since the windway is also
bigger, moisture clogging is usually less of a problem there. So while breaking in a new
recorder is always advisable, the big ones probably don't need as much attention to the
process as smaller ones.
Hard woods seem to require more careful breaking in than soft woods. Again, I think
the expansion rate inside and outside the recorder takes longer to equalize and stabilize.
Also, some softwood recorders are wax-impregnated, which lessens the risk of cracking.
Finally, a very few recorders have tiny invisible flaws in their wood that will crack, no
matter how careful the care. Most makers have a warranty period to allow for these
cracks within the first months of playing.
"How about an old recorder that hasn't been played in years? Does it need to be broken
Yes, I would go through the same process as for a new recorder. The wood has probably
dried out, and there is the same chance of the wood cracking due to uneven expansion.
By the way, if there are keys, the pads have probably hardened and will need to be

Q. "My right pinkie can no longer reach that bottom hole on the foot.
Can you add a key to a recorder for me?"
Maybe, but only if it is a single hole. I may also be able to add a key to a tone hole on
the middle section (a prime candidate for this procedure is the first finger/right hand
hole on the Yamaha YRT 304B plastic tenor). See the Repair Services page.
If you have a foot with double holes, a key cannot be added. Your only option is to buy
a new foot with keys on it from the maker. Contact me for availability and a price

Q. "The top of my recorder is blackish, and the window where the air comes out is,
too. And it smells funny. What is the matter?"

It sounds like you have mold and/or mildew. Mold and mildew growth is a real problem
in some recorders, most often maple, fruitwood, and boxwood instruments. Not only is
it unsightly in light-colored woods, but the recorder's tone and response can be
adversely affected. If left unchecked, mildew can permeate the wood, resulting in a
punky, rotten surface. In the windway, such a soft surface means that the recorder
cannot be voiced with any assurance of success. In short, mold and mildew can
significantly shorten a recorder's useful life.
I say "can shorten", because experience has led me to believe that moisture from
different players' breath must differ chemically, to the extent that some recorders will
show mold and mildew growth, while other players' instruments, under essentially the
same conditions, will not.
Related to that, deposits of hardened "crud" (for want of a more sophisticated term) are
also quite evident in some otherwise well-cared-for instruments, again (I think) the
result of an individual player's saliva. While these deposits do not affect the wood of an
instrument like mildew does, they do indeed affect the tone and response. Don't let these
deposits build up in the end of the windway. One reason God gave us thumb nails is to
chip away at the deposits around the mouthpiece without damaging the finish. But
removing deposits gently from the block in the end of the windway must be done with
the end of a knife blade, being VERY careful not to remove any wood.
Back to mold and mildew: I recommend the following for all players, with a further
suggestion for those with a more serious mold and mildew problem.
1) Always dry your recorder as thoroughly as you can after even a short playing session.
A lint-free cotton cloth on a stick is better than a woolly swab. Take care to wrap the
cloth over the the end of the stick to avoid hitting the edge of the labium (lip).
2) Blow out the head joint. It's NOT a good idea to cover the window with your finger
to prevent a shriek and then blow through the beak end. Over a period of time, even the
slight finger pressure on the warm, moist labium can produce a sway-backed labium
edge, and a head that makes a fine piece of kindling wood! Instead, take the head joint
off, cover the open joint end with the flat of your hand, put your mouth on the window,
and give a vigorous puff to blow moisture out the beak end.
3) Clean out the windway after playing, but not with anything harder than a small
feather or a folded piece of file card or cardboard. These types of materials are fine for
regular windway maintenance to help reduce deposit ("crud") build-up. No pipe
cleaners, paper clips, steak knives, screwdrivers, or nail files in there! The only
exception is the TLC scraping away of deposits at the beak end of the block, as
described above.
4) If your case is fairly air-tight, leave it open for a while to let the recorder air out and
dry out. If your case is a box with a hinged cover, putting the head in backwards may
keep the cover open enough to let air in but keep dust out.
5) Though unrelated to mold and mildew, it's a good idea to disassemble your recorder
between playing sessions. Leaving it together will compress the corks over time,
resulting in loose joints and the need to recork.

For those with an evident mildew problem (darkening around the window and labium,
at the beak end, and in extreme cases, an evident discoloration on the top of the head
joint following the outline of the windway), the following will help: Fill a water glass
1/3 full of household chlorine bleach; add the same amount of water for a one-to-one
mixture. Immerse the windway area of the head joint in the bleach solution, up to and
including the labium (the inclined ramp that the air hits when it leaves the windway).
Leave it there for five minutes or so, then take it out, wipe off the outside, blow out the
moisture as directed in 2) above, and let it dry. The smell will disappear with drying and
airing. It's best not to play it while the bleach remains in the windway, since ingesting
bleach can be unpleasant.
The finish on your instrument should not be affected by this treatment. If in doubt, test it
on the bottom of the foot joint. I don't recommend the bleach treatment on a regular
basis, but I know it works, especially for players whose breath seems to foster the mold
farms that I occasionally see.

Q. "How about humidifiers? Do I need one in my case?"

You may, if the year-round climate where you live is hot and dry, or the winter climate
in your living quarters is hot and dry. This situation can obviously apply to both a
hacienda in New Mexico or an apartment in New Hampshire.
Wood kept in a state of dryness or a state of moisture does not usually deteriorate as
much as wood that is subject to changes from wet to dry and wet to dry. Off-on-atangent time: I grew up on a farm, and every year my father and I had to replace fence
posts that had broken off. It was evident that the above-ground wood in those posts was
fine and could be used for firewood; the wood below ground was still solid and wet and
had to be dug out - the worst part of the job! - before a new post could go in. What had
happened was that the post had rotted off right at ground level - the wet/dry line. It was
a graphic illustration of what wood will and will not endure.
Your wooden recorder doesn't like the shock of changing quickly from dry to wet.
Oiling will help ease the shock (see "Oiling the Recorder" above). A humidifier will
also help. The ones that I stock are small plastic tubes with holes in the end and a piece
of sponge inside. From time to time the sponge is wetted and left in the case to raise the
ambient humidity. You can make one yourself by poking holes in a little plastic pill
bottle with a hot needle or nail and putting a piece of sponge inside.
But don't use one if you don't think it's necessary. Too much humidity can result in
mold and mildew (see FAQ above). Use your own judgment.

Q. "I left my maple recorder in the trunk of my car on a summer day, and it must
have been pretty hot. When I opened the case, everything was covered with a slimy
wax-like stuff. What happened? Is it ruined?"

No, it isn't ruined, but it needs a good cleaning by a professional. It is indeed wax that
melted in the heat and seeped out of the wood.
Some makers of fine recorders - Moeck and Mollenhauer are two - impregnate their
maple instruments with paraffin wax. It is done under extreme pressure and renders the
wood quite stable and fairly impervious to moisture. On the downside, if a waximpregnated recorder is left in a hot environment, the wax will melt and seep out of the
wood. The bore and windway will collect pools of wax, and the recorder will be out of
commission. Cleaning is a messy job, the block may need to be replaced, and the whole
thing is best left to a repair person.
On the upside, I've never known of a player who let his wax-impregnated recorder sit in
a hot place more than once.

Q. "After I've played my recorder for a while, moisture collects in the windway,
and the recorder sounds awful. What's happening, and what can I do about it?"
Clogging is a real bother for some players and not a problem for others. If your recorder
clogs up with beads of moisture, the sound becomes choked and fuzzy, and the highest
notes won't play. Maybe it's because you're so excited about playing that you begin to
salivate? Anyway, the following may help:
The recorder should be in proper voice; this is the single most important factor. If your
recorder hasn't been voiced for a while (or ever), it's the best first step toward correcting
the moisture problem. A plastic recorder cannot be voiced, however; it is glued
permanently together and the windway is not accessible. A treatment with a prepared
solution may help (see below).
Are your playing habits part of the problem? Remember, the only part of your mouth
that touches the recorder is the outside part of your lips - not the moist inner side of your
lips, not your tongue, not your teeth. If any of these three does touch the recorder,
moisture will find its way in. The recorder rests on the lower lip, which covers the lower
teeth; the upper lip holds the recorder in place, and it also covers the upper teeth. The
basic tongue technique consists of starting the tone by making a "t" or "d" on the roof of
the mouth in back of the top teeth.
Most players instinctively make a quick quiet suck on the mouthpiece during a rest or
pause, bringing any accumulated moisture back into the mouth; it is the simplest way to
clear the windway, though not entirely effective, and some people think it's yucky. But
do it. It does help.
The best way to clear the windway of anything, however, is to remove the head, cover
the open joint end with the flat of the hand, cover the window with the open mouth and
blow with a quick, sharp puff; almost anything in the windway will be blown out the
beak end. Putting your finger on the labium to prevent a shriek while you blow into the
beak end of the windway with a vigorous puff is NOT a good idea, at least with a
wooden recorder. Over a period of time, that warm moist labium can get pressed down

and retain a permanently warped shape, irreparably ruining the tone and response. That
will not happen with plastics, but it's best not to get into the habit.
There are prepared solutions available to help moisture clogging in the windway;
Moeck makes Anticondens and Dupont makes Duponol. They can be a real help. While
I refer to Duponol in the following, the use is the same for Anticondens. Duponol is a
detergent solution that helps moisture in the windway to stream, rather than form beads.
It works much like dishwasher detergent does, helping the water to form a sheet, rather
than stay in drops. That's why your glasses shouldn't have spots when they come out of
the dishwasher.
To use Duponol most effectively, let the head section dry thoroughly, preferably
overnight. Cover the beak end of the windway (the end you put in your mouth) with
waterproof tape like electrical tape or duct tape. Or if you're the patient type, just put
your finger over the end. Hold the head or prop it up in a secure place with the beak end
down. Drip Duponol into the narrow opening of the windway until it is full. Let it sit
and soak for five minutes or so. Hold the head joint over a sink, take the tape (or your
finger) off and let it drain. If not much comes out, it's because some of the solution
seeped down between the sides of the block and the inside of the head - not a problem.
Wipe any solution off the outside of the instrument, but don't shake or blow it out of the
windway. You want a coating to remain in there. Let the head joint dry overnight. If
another treatment is necessary, follow the same procedure. The treatment may last for a
month or more, or you may find it must be repeated more often.
Two considerations for those players plagued with moisture problems:
1) More experienced players usually have fewer problems than beginners. Your
clogging problems will probably lessen the longer you play the recorder.
2) If it's any consolation, most dentists say that people with more saliva in their mouths
usually have healthier mouths than those people with dry mouths. So drool and be

Q. "Playing a soprano recorder and an alto recorder at the same time from the
same music sounds all wrong. Sopranos and altos have the same fingering, but the
notes that come out are different. What's going on?"
This can be very confusing for a beginning recorder player. I'll do my best to explain it.
The recorder, like the contemporary flute, is a non-transposing instrument - that is, what
you see on the music is what sounds on the recorder; when you play C on the recorder
music, C comes out of the recorder. That is different from the Bflat clarinet, for
example, which is a transposing instrument. When you play C written on the clarinet
music, Bflat comes out of the clarinet. Don't ask why - that's a whole other question that
doesn't concern us. Okay so far?

Now it changes and gets even more confusing, but stick with it. The clarinet family all
has the same fingering - soprano, alto, bass - whenever you see C below the staff, it's
always left-hand thumb and three fingers. Not so with the recorder. The soprano and
tenor recorders are said to be in C, because C below the G-clef staff is the lowest written
note that they can play - all holes are covered. When the tenor plays that C, it sounds
that C; when the soprano plays that C, it sounds a C an octave above the tenor, but it is
still a C.
The sopranino, alto, and bass recorders are said to be in F, because first-space-on-thestaff F is the lowest written note they can produce, with the sopranino producing an F
two octaves above the alto, and the bass two octaves below. And C music looks the
same for all C recorders, and F music looks the same for all F recorders (except the
bass, which is often written in the bass clef). That's why the same method book serves
to teach the soprano and tenor in C, and the method book in F works for the sopranino
and alto.
Therefore, the finger pattern for every recorder is the same from top to bottom, except
that the fingering for a particular note will be different for the two groups, F and C.
Second-line G on a C recorder is left hand thumb and three fingers; second-line G on an
F recorder is all fingers down except the bottom pinkie. You can play "Mary Had a
Little Lamb" with the same finger pattern on both a soprano and an alto; the alto version
will just sound four notes lower the whole way through.
For experienced players that want to play all recorders, that means switching fingering
patterns when changing from C to F recorders and back again. For beginners it can be a
challenge, but it is definitely worth being at ease with both fingerings. One of the joys
of recorder-playing is being able to enjoy the whole family of sounds.
But the range of each recorder is also a factor. The alto and sopranino cannot play
below first-space F, which leaves out a lot of vocal music. Experienced players
routinely switch octaves, which may take some planning and practice on a particular
piece, however, to make it come out sounding at all musical. The low C on a tenor, for
example, may sound fairly soft and not be effective in a group of instruments. Recorder
music is often arranged and rearranged for different consorts of recorders in order to
produce the most effective ensemble sound. Again, one of the challenges for the
recorder players is to adapt its capabilities to the musical situation that presents itself.

Q. "One of my recorder joints is stuck, and I can't get it apart. I don't want to
break it. Do I have to send it to you?"
Probably not. If you're careful and persistent, you can do what I would do. Stuck joints
seem to occur most often on tenors and basses. Here are suggestions for two different
1) To separate a too-tight joint: sit down, spread your knees, and lay the joined pieces
across them, with the joint in the middle. Rock the joint gently but firmly up and down,
all the while pulling and/or turning the joint apart. The two pieces should slowly
separate. It may take some time and effort.

2) To dislodge a cap that has become stuck on a bass head: with the head joint on your
lap, take a sturdy kitchen carving knife and while rolling the head back and forth,
carefully force the cutting edge into the crack between the pieces. (Make sure you are
working on the crack; don't be fooled by a turning that looks like the crack.) As you roll
it back and forth, the knife will push the cap away from the head. When it separates a
little, change to a duller, thicker table knife, to prevent cutting the cork. Then rock and
pull as described in 1) above. Be careful with those sharp knives!
In both situations, use cork grease! Or something! Vaseline is better than nothing. But at
$1.50, cork grease is a cheap and easy maintenance item that belongs in every recorder

Q. "The low F on my bass recorder is very weak and soft, and I have to really push
hard on the key to get it at all. It must be leaking air. Can I send you just the foot
to repair?"
Recorder keys and pads can be the cause of problems, particularly when the pad doesn't
seal the hole properly. Repairs on tenors and basses are often time-consuming and
fussy, since the tone hole rims must be perfectly level and the pads must meet them
exactly, so that no leaks occur. It's no fun for the player who must cram the keys down
hard to get notes to respond. Some older recorder key assemblies are also fairly flimsy
in design and don't provide much force to the pad, however, even when the player exerts
what should be sufficient pressure.
If you're having problems with a pad sealing properly, you may help it temporarily by
squeezing down on the pad with your thumb for a moment before you begin to play.
Don't use the lever that your finger normally uses, but push down hard directly on the
cup that holds the pad. It will help the pad conform to the hole and should help stop the
leaks. If you aren't sure what pad may be leaking, squeeze down on them all. You can
even put a rubber band over the pad cup to hold it down between playing sessions anything to get the pad to fit the hole better. But eventually you should get the pad or
pads replaced.
And no, don't send just the foot. In order to ensure that the low notes are responding
properly, I need the whole instrument.

Hand Tools for Recorder Making

by Gary Cook
Windway Cutters
Underside Edge Cutters
Other Tools

In the public eye, recorders are usually regarded as "simple" wind instruments, a bit like
tin-whistles. This is perhaps not surprising as recorders are most often heard in the
hands of massed groups of young children at schools. Everyone is familiar with the
awful strangled shriek of those overblown plastic instruments. This has led the general
public to the natural conclusion that recorders are simple, because children usually play
them, and they sound awful, so they cannot be real musical instruments. I've often seen
parents pushing their children into giving up their recorders in favour of a proper
(grown-up) instrument. This is a shame, because anyone who has learned to play the
recorder will appreciate just what a lovely, and challenging, instrument it is.
In fact, the recorder is not a simple instrument. It evolved continuously over many
centuries, from its birth, probably in early Medieval times, until its death at the end of
the Baroque period. The instrument was brought back to life again less than 100 years
ago, by Arnold Dolmetsch, initially in the Baroque form. The recorder probably died
out originally because it could no longer compete with the louder, newer instruments of
the time. The Baroque recorder is an inherently quiet instrument compared with those of
the modern orchestra. However, the early makers designed these quiet instruments with
a purpose. They are designed to have a wide range, play especially well in the higher
register, and sound wonderful. These key attributes are due mainly to the shape of the
bore, and to the design of the windway and voicing.
This article describes methods for fabricating modern special hand tools for Baroque
recorder making, with emphasis on bore and windway cutting. It also lists the ordinary
tools which are needed to make a recorder. All of the tools can be used to make earlier

Renaissance and Medieval versions as well. The article is aimed at those who either
already make recorders, or those who wish to have a go at making their own recorders.
The information on tools should be of greatest value to keen amateur makers, like
myself, but may also be useful to some professional makers. Everyone has a different
approach to recorder making; this is mine.

Reaming the bore of a recorder to the correct dimensions is an essential part of recorder
making. Recorder bores generally follow a complex profile, especially Baroque
recorders. This profile is achieved by first drilling through the timber blank with a
conventional drill, and then reaming the bore with special tools to produce the required
shape. Some of the tools used by the original makers from the Renaissance and Baroque
periods have survived to this day. Large sets of spoon reamers were used by these early
makers to cut different parts of the bore separately. Indeed, the same spoon reamers
were probably also used to make adjustments to the tuning of their instruments. Some
surviving illustrations from these times also show what appear to be simple tapered
wooden reamers, fitted with metal blades, although these were probably only used for
roughing out in preparation for spoon reaming. Spoon reamer marks are visible in the
bores of many surviving original recorders.
There is nothing to prevent anyone who intends making recorders from doing exactly
the same as our ancestors did. However, accurately reaming recorder bores with spoon
reamers is a difficult and skilled task, requiring years of patient dedication to learn
properly. It is much easier, today, to produce single reamers for each joint that cut the
whole section profile in one go. The idea is to make a "former" that has the same shape
as the finished bore. The former then has cutting edges set into its surface to become a
working reamer. Once the timber blank is drilled through, the reamer is inserted into the
hole and slowly rotated by hand to cut away the bore. When the reamer has been
advanced to a pre-determined depth, it is withdrawn and Hey Presto! the bore is
finished. A good reamer will leave the bore perfectly smooth and polished, requiring no
further attention.
The simplest home made reamer, the bargain basement model, is made from an old
metalwork file. All that is needed to make this is access to a bench grinder, or at a
pinch, an angle grinder. Take great care with these machines, they can be dangerous if
used improperly. Remember to wear the appropriate safety equipment, and work slowly
and patiently.
First lightly grind away both sides of the file so that they are as smooth as possible. This
is so the finished reamer will have a good cutting edge. Any trace of the original file
surface would spoil it. The next step is to grind away the edges to the required profile. It
is important that both sides of the file are ground away identically and symmetrically
about the centre line of the file. If one side is different from the other, the reamer cannot
possibly produce an accurate bore profile. Slow, patient work will give its rewards. The
finished edge should be bevelled back slightly, so that the trailing edge just clears the
bore. If the bevel is too shallow, the reamer will tear the wood. If it is too steep, the
trailing edge will foul the bore and prevent the cutting surfaces from working properly.
Figure 1 shows how this works.

Fit a standard wooden file handle to the reamer. Drilling a hole through the handle will
allow a suitable length of wooden dowel or metal rod to be inserted, making it easier to
turn. The finished reamer should be advanced gently into the recorder body. If it is used
too aggressively it will bind and tear the wood. Making the first few centimetres parallel
and of the same diameter as the initial drill will also help to make the job easier. This
type of reamer will not usually produce a perfectly smooth and polished bore. It cannot
compete with the finish quality and accuracy of the steel reamers described below.
However, it is simple and cheap to make, and it allows people who do not have access
to metalwork lathes to have a go at recorder making. It can also be useful for quick
prototype instrument development. It warrants a recommendation because of this.
The second type of reamer is made of wood, and appears to be similar to the reamers
seen in surviving illustrations from the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Access to a
wood turning lathe (which is necessary for recorder making anyway) is required for this
reamer. It is particularly useful for bigger recorders, where the large bore size makes the
reamer strong. This type of reamer is not suitable for descant or sopranino instruments.
It should really only be considered seriously as an option for tenor and bass recorders.
However, it produces a much better finish than the metal file version, and it is easier to
The reamer is made by first turning a length of timber to the exact dimensions of the
finished bore. The timber must be very well seasoned, to avoid warping and distortions
occurring later, and it must be very strong and hard. Suitable timbers are Lignum Vitae
(Guaiacum officinale), Greenheart (Ocotea rodiae), Brazilwood (Caesalpinia echinata)
and other timbers with similar properties. The surface finish should be as smooth and
polished as possible.
The next step is to fit a metal blade; a hacksaw is ideal. The blade can be fitted in one of
two ways. Either a 90 degree quadrant is removed (by sawing, by routing, or with an
edge plane) so that the blade can be screwed to the reamer, or alternatively by carefully
cutting a narrow slot along the reamer and gluing the blade in place. If the latter method
is chosen, it is good practice to plane away a small flat area immediately in front of the
blade to allow the shavings some clearance. The first method allows the blade to be
changed easily, while the second method gives a slightly better finish. Figure 2 shows
the general idea for both options.

Once the blade is fixed in place, grind away the protruding excess until it is just level, or
very fractionally above the wooden surface. The last grinding should be done with a
fine grit wheel, or with a hand slip-stone so that the edge is left as sharp as possible.
Finally, drill a hole through the thicker end so that a suitable wooden or metal dowel
can be inserted to act as a handle. Do not apply any kind of varnish or wax to the
finished reamer, as this will cause it to jam in the bore. Instead, liberally apply a nondrying oil, like almond oil, which will prevent any warping and make reaming process
much easier. Any excess oil should be wiped off before reaming commences, otherwise
the shavings will stick together and clog the reamer.
A third type of reamer is based around a linear metal taper (i.e. a shallow cone). A linear
taper is easy to turn on a metalwork lathe, by simply off-setting the tailstock and taking
straight cuts along a metal bar. The metal used for the taper will not be used to form a
cutting edge, so it can be relatively soft. Brass is free-cutting and is ideal for this
purpose. The degree of taper should be sufficient to clear the finished bore profile at all
The next step is to cut a narrow slot along the entire length of the reamer, into which
will be set a cutter. In this respect, the reamer is similar to the wooden taper described
above, except it is strong enough to be made small. Again, a hack-saw blade makes an
excellent cutter. The slot needs to be narrow, and it is best to cut this using a small
slitting saw. I do this using an electric drill (fitted with a speed reduction gear or
electronic speed control), mounted onto a vertical slide which is attached to the crossslide of the lathe. The cut is made by gradually lowering the drill and making repeated
passes back and forth. Providing the drill mounting is robust and cannot flex, an
excellent finish can be achieved.
Once the slot is completed, the hack-saw blade can be fitted to the reamer. It can be
glued, but it is better to drill and tap some grub screws fixings through the reamer for
this, so it can be replaced easily. The grub screw holes must be carefully de-burred to
avoid scoring the bore. All that remains is for the blade to be ground to the correct
dimensions and sharpened.
The linear taper reamer is best suited to gently tapering bores, like renaissance
instruments. If the bore shape changes rapidly, the blade will stick out too from the
surface of the reamer, and the finish quality will suffer. Also, the side opposite to the
blade will tend to ride on the high spots of the bore. This can cause an eccentric cutting
action and an inaccurate profile if the blade sticks up too far. It is best to choose

recorders that allow the blade to be no more than 1 or 2mm proud of the surface at any
The last, and best, reamer design is the so-called "D-bit". Most professional wind
instrument makers use this design. It gives supreme accuracy and finish and lasts for a
very long time. D-bit reamers can be re-sharpened hundreds of times before they need
to be replaced. The principle is very similar to that used for the wooden reamer
described above. An exact bore profile is turned from a piece of steel and the cutting
edge is machined directly into the surface. The type of steel used depends on what
timbers are to be reamed. Mild steel is OK with softer timbers like Maple or Cherry, but
stainless or silver steel should be used for cutting harder woods. Silver steel rusts easily
if not protected in storage, but it can be readily hardened by heating and quenching to
produce a longer lasting cutting edge. Brass could also be used, but a suitable steel
blade would have to be fitted, and it is easier to make the whole thing from steel.
The first stage is therefore to accurately form the reamer shape. This is best done by
turning a series of small steps, of about 0.1mm depth, in a steel bar. The length of each
step is chosen so that the inner corner corresponds to the bore diameter at that point.
Remember to add a suitable length to each end of the reamer to allow for a handle, and
for transitioning from the minimum bore diameter to the drill size used to make the
initial hole through the timber.
Once this is done, the small steps need to be removed to leave the finished profile. I do
this by hand using a fine metalwork file while the lathe is running. Take care to avoid
loose clothing etc. while doing this, and use a chuck guard! As soon as the steps have
almost disappeared, swap the file for some emery cloth/paper glued onto some scrap
wood. Once the step marks have just gone, polish the reamer to a mirror finish using
wet & dry paper and some metal polish. Figure 3 shows the idea.

The next step is to machine a cutting edge along the length of the reamer. The
traditional way is to machine away a quadrant from 12 o'clock to 3 o'clock from the
cross-section. If access to a milling machine is available, this is straight forward. This
can also be done using the lathe mounted electric drill described above, but fitted with
an end-mill cutter. The reamer is sharpened by raising a slight burr with some tool steel
on one of the machined faces. Alternatively, either an end-mill or slot-drill can be used
to machine away a wide trough along the middle of the reamer. This is my own
preferred method. The slot can be any width, but the reamer works best when the slot
gap is wide. It should not be too wide though; limit the cutter width to approximately
half the diameter of the reamer at its narrowest point. This also means that less metal

needs to be machined away than with the traditional D-bit. Figure 4 shows the crosssections of the two alternative methods.

You will notice that the latter method produces a more acutely angled cutting edge. This
is why I make my reamers this way. The traditional D-bit, and indeed all of the other
reamers described here, cut by scraping the bore. My design cuts the bore, leaving a
superb finish. The shavings look like they have been planed away.
One last practical note on machining the slots/quadrants in these reamers. Most small
metalwork lathes, like my Myford ML7, do not have the facility to separately drive the
leadscrew while the headstock chuck is locked. This makes it impossible to
automatically feed the milling cutter along the reamer using the leadscrew, because the
reamer has to be held static by the locked chuck. After spending hours manually
traversing the cutter back and forth, I found a solution. Grip the reamer by its smallest
end using a drill chuck mounted in the lathe tailstock. Support the other end at the
headstock by using a live centre. This allows the headstock spindle to rotate freely, so
that power can be applied to the leadscrew, while the reamer remains static and
supported at both ends.

Windway Cutters
Most professional makers, and certainly all of the larger volume producers of recorders,
use special machines to cut the windway roof into recorder heads. This consists of some
form of cutter, usually a broaching tool, mounted onto a reciprocating drive bar which
moves the cutter back and forth into the head joint. The recorder head is held in a jig
which is gradually lowered down onto the moving cutter until the desired depth of cut is
reached. Sometimes, the broaching tool also has an extension which simultaneously cuts
the underside of the edge as well.
Although I do not own a windway cutting "machine", I can appreciate how useful they
must be to volume producers. Some makers of hand built recorders might also find them
attractive as a labour saving device for roughing out the windway shape. All of the
cutters that I will describe here are intended for hand use, because that is the way that I
use them. However, anyone who owns a windway cutting machine could easily fit most
of these cutters onto their devices.
The easiest windway cutter, suitable for school-style recorders which have flat
windways, can be made from an ordinary flat file. Grind the sides away until the file is
of the required width for the windway. A couple of files, one coarse and one fine, will
usually be enough for each size of recorder. Make sure the file is seated accurately

within the bore before starting to cut. Do this by making sure the file is parallel to the
bore axis, and by gently rocking the file from side to side while holding it against the
bore wall. If it rocks easily, it is not seated properly, so that it is resting in the bore on
just one corner and one edge. Waggle it about slightly and it will seat itself properly.
When it is seated, it will feel stable and a gentle cut can be made. Once the cut has been
started, it will guide itself. Carefully inspect the cut regularly to ensure that the cut is
indeed flat, is not becoming slightly convex, is cutting evenly on both sides and is not
slanted up or down.
Finish the windway with some fine abrasive like wet & dry paper, 600 and 1000 grits,
or some very fine (0000 grade) wire wool. Wet the windway surface and allow it to dry
out completely, then re-finish the windway again. This is because the windway will
become wet when the recorder is played. If it is finished only once, the first playing will
raise the severed wood fibres at the surface and make it look "hairy". The tone quality
will suffer if this happens. Pre-wetting allows the hairy windway to be shaved off so
that it doesn't become a problem. Don't put any kind of wood finishing like oil or
varnish in the windway. This would cause the condensation to form beads and quickly
block the instrument. An untreated surface allows the condensation to develop as a flat
film which is partly absorbed by the timber, and does not block the windway. Cheaper
wooden recorders, which are make from pressure treated timber (usually with paraffin
wax) to stop cracking, and plastic recorders, suffer acutely with blocking because the
condensation cannot film properly.
Curved windways usually give a much better tone quality to recorders. Half-round files
could be used to make curved windways, but I have found the finish they leave to be
inferior to the curved cutters described below. Most curved files also have a radius that
is too small for larger recorders, They can only really be used for sopraninos and
descants, but I wouldn't recommend them.
A curved windway cutter can be easily made on a metalwork lathe. Fix a cutter blank, a
rectangular bar of steel of the right width and length, to a hexagonal support bar,
mounted between centres. This is best done by screwing through the support bar, into
the underside of the cutter blank. Make the mounting holes blind so that the fixing
screws don't break through. The same screw holes can be used later to fix the cutter to a
handle. Several blanks can be mounted onto the same support bar so that more than one
cutter can be produced at once. A simple straight cut, taken along the rotating blank,
will produce a nice uniformly curved surface. The radius or curvature can be varied
simply by inserting a spacer between the blank and hexagonal bar. As with the reamers,
the best material for the cutter is either stainless steel, or silver steel.
Once the blanks are correctly shaped, a cutting edge needs to be put into the curved
surface. Either machine a series of simple slots across the cutter, or alternatively a sawtooth profile using a shaped lathe tool. Figure 5 shows the two schemes.

The saw tooth profile is slightly trickier to machine accurately, but it cuts very quickly.
However, it wears out fast because the cutting edges are narrow ridges with little
surface area. The multiple slot style lasts indefinitely, but requires constant sharpening.
Do this by raising a slight burr edge at the top of the slots with a slim piece of tool steel.
The best surviving examples of Baroque recorders had windways which were not only
curved, but which had a radius of curvature that varied continuously along the length of
the windway. The windway starts off curved at the beak, and gradually flattens out
towards the exit at the chamfers. It took me a while to figure out how to make a cutter to
reproduce this effect. What is needed is a cutter whose radius of curvature varies along
its length, just like the recorder windway. As long as the cutting surface is relatively
fine, a very short cutting stroke (a few mm back and forth) can successfully reproduce
this type of windway in one operation. The reduced stroke length prolongs the cutting
time, but the results are worth it.
A cutter with a varying radius of curvature can be made in a similar way to the previous
uniform radius cutter. All that is needed is to mount the blank at an angle onto the
hexagonal support bar. One end is closer to the lathe axis than the other, so the radius of
the finished cutter will be smaller at this end than the other, and it will gradually change
along its length. The beak end of the finished cutter is the end closest to the lathe axis,
with the smallest radius. The same choice of cutting surfaces as before can also be used
here. Figure 6 shows the tooling arrangement.

I find the cutters easiest to use by fixing them to a short flat handle, using the tapped
mounting holes in the underside. The finished tool looks a bit like a metal toothbrush,
but is very effective. Figure 7 shows the finished device.

Underside Edge Cutters

Make these from either old chisels or from woodworking flat drill-bits. First grind the
tool square and to the required width. Then grind a suitable concave radius into one
side, to form the underside of the cutter, by holding the steel sideways onto a grinder.
Choose a grindwheel of the right radius, or use one of the cheap disposable drill
mounted grindwheels found in local hardware stores. Finally grind a shallow bevel onto
the top edge, following the curvature of the underside. Don't make the bevel too steep,
or the cutter shaft will foul on the opposite side of the bore, as the bevelled surface is
brought parallel to the underside of the edge.

Other Tools
The remaining tools for recorder making are all commercially available, and can be
found in most woodworking tool kits. This is a short description of the main tools that
are required:

A range of abrasives is essential, 240 - 600 grit for most uses. "0000"
grade wire wool is also useful.


A range of sizes for initially drilling through the timber blanks before


For block making (the name is a coincidence!). Use one with a shallow
blade angle and an adjustable mouth, such as 9 1/2 and 60 1/2 sizes.


Vernier, dial or digital, take your pick. Use to accurately measure turned
diameters. If you can find one, an internal calliper with a dial gauge is
ideal for checking the windway depth. If you can't get hold of one, make
your own using a standard dial gauge fitted to a pair of thin "scissors"
arms. The gauge fits on one side, while the other end of the scissors arms
is inserted into the bore.


For cutting the ramp. Use a range of sizes from 4mm to 12mm to suit.


To cut the beak underside profile.


Lengths of dowel are useful for removing the block.


Lip and spur type is best for drilling the tone holes. Metal drill-bits are
next best. Pack the bore with a wooden former made from scrap timber to
prevent internal splintering.


A range of needle files is always useful. Use round needle files to

undercut he tone holes, but break off the sharp point and grind the end
smooth first, to avoid damaging the opposite side of the bore.


Forstner bits are used for seating thumb bushings. Larger Forstner bits, or
preferably saw-tooth bits can be used to cut tenon sockets. However, I
prefer to use a metalwork lathe for the job, to get a good fit.

Gents saw

Cutting block blanks.


Used to make thumb bushing blanks. Use in conjunction with Forstner

bits for a perfect fit.


Use for delicate cutting of the chamfers, cutting the step in blocks and
preparing cork strips for the joints.

Steel rule

Ditto callipers, but for lengths.


Make miniature scrapers, parting tools and beading tools from short
lengths of slim tool steel set into wooden handles. Grind to shape as
required. Use to form the delicate beading and detail on Baroque

The most important tool is patience! A good recorder can take a long time to make.
Count on at least 30 hours labour for an alto; 50 if the timber is difficult or the recorder
has embellishments like contrasting wood fittings. A hand made recorder is a thing of
beauty. Enjoy creating it.

Malvern Recorders (Gary Cook) | Recorder Home Page

Part 1: Making Reamers

A stainless steel blank is first step-cut in

0.1mm radius steps to the required profile.

A finished step-cut blank ready for


The 0.1mm steps are gently blended together

by hand using progressively finer grades of
emery paper.

After blending out the small steps, the

finished profile is given a very high polish.
This helps to maximise the sharpness of the
finished reamer.

A cutting slot is milled along the length of the

reamer blank.

The machining marks left from milling the

cutting slot are worked away by hand using a
diamond slip-stone. After final sharpening
with a fine water-stone, a T-handle is fitted
and the reamer is ready for use.
Three different sizes are needed (one each for
the head, middle and foot respectively).

Part 2: Drilling and Reaming

Square sections of carefully seasoned timber

are turned round prior to drilling through.

Each round blank is drilled right through

using a drill diameter which corresponds to
the reamer minimum diameter.

After drilling through, but before reaming,

the sockets are bored into the ends of the
head and foot joints using a specially made

Each section is reamed to produce the

required complex internal bore profile.
Some timbers (e.g. boxwood) are initially
part-reamed and allowed to "rest" for a few
days. This allows any movement to occur
prior to final reaming to the finished

Part 3: Turning

Turning the outside profile of the head joint.

Great care is needed to produce the delicate
fine beading.

Applying the finish. Shown here is the

application of a tung oil based finish. Oil
finishes take several days to several weeks to
apply, depending on the take-up by the
timber. Each section is liberally coated with
oil and left to soak for a few minutes. As
much of the surface oil as possible is then
removed by buffing on the lathe. After
hardening, further oil coats are applied in the
same manner. Eventually a beautiful surface
sheen develops.

Turning the foot joint. Again, attention to

detail is paramount.

Applying an oil finish to the foot as described

for the head joint above.
Oil finishes are ideal for recorders. The finish
penetrates below the surface of the wood and
is longer lasting than surface lacquers. Many
makers choose to simply submerge the whole
joint in oil for a time, followed by burnishing
on the lathe to harden the oil. I do not do this
as the surface finish is inferior and easily
scratched. A quality finish takes time!

Turning the middle joint. At this stage, the

outside profile is only part finished in
readiness for adding the thumb bushing.

Part 4: Thumb Bushing

Cutting bone blanks for thumb bushings.

Bone is a very hard-wearing natural material
which is ideal for recorder thumb bushings.
Bone sections are glued onto scrap wood and
sawn into sections. Each section is turned
round and faced-off ready for gluing into the

Drilling the thumb bushing recess using a

Forstner drill.

After gluing in place, the thumb bushing is

carefully trimmed flush to the surface of the
middle joint.

An oil finish is applied, but not to the

recesses for the cork seals, which are left

Part 5: Finger Holes and Cork Seals

Drilling the finger holes. All of the holes

are drilled slightly under-size ready for

Drilling the angled foot joint holes using a

support jig.

Filing the finger hole recess for the foot

joint. The same operation is carried out for
the 6th hole of the middle joint.

Adding cork seals to the middle joint. The

ends of the cork strip are steeply bevelled
to create a lap-joint.

Part 6: Windway and Ramp

Drilling an access slot to form the window in

the head joint.

Filing the window square. The finished

dimensions of the window define the axis
along which the rest of the voicing is aligned.

Cutting the windway roof. I use a special

hand broaching tool to do this. Details of this
tool can be found in my article in Nicholas
Lander's Recorder Home Page (see links to
other sites).
The windway roof is further adjusted using a
tiny scraper during the final voicing.

Cutting the ramp. The head joint is carefully

protected during this operation. A slip of
wood is inserted into the window to prevent
the chisel from striking the windway exit.

Fine sanding the ramp to the finished

dimensions. The ramp profile is refined at this
stage ready for the final voicing.

Each joint is sealed with masking tape and

filled with oil for a period until no further oil
is absorbed by the wood. The time taken
varies considerably with different timbers,
and this can take many weeks.
I prefer to use almond oil to which a small
amount of vitamin E has been added (the
vitamin E is a powerful anti-oxidant and
prevents the oil from going rancid).

Part 7: Voicing and Tuning

Cutting the chamfers. This is a critical

operation and must be done with the utmost
care. A similar chamfer is also cut into the

Fitting the block. This is not glued in and

must be a perfect fit. The block is made from
very stable timber which does not swell too
much when wet, and readily absorbs water to
prevent the windway from glogging with
moisture during playing.

Cutting the beak. After cutting, the beak is

carefully sanded smooth and finished with a
porous sealant

Tuning the recorder by undercutting the

finger holes. This process smooths out the
response and balances the octaves for each
note. I often carry out this operation in
parallel with the voicing as tuning can
slightly alter the tone of some notes.

The finished recorder!

Time taken from start to finish for this
instrument is approximately 30 hours, not
including the time needed to make the

You have complete freedom of choice for your recorder. I can make copies of historical recorders by most of the
great makers (Bressan, Stanesby, Denner, van Heerde, Haka, etc.). However, you do not have to be bound by these
designs. You can, for instance, have a Denner style windway fitted to a Bressan body, or a Baroque voicing to a
Medieval recorder. It's your choice. The options below represent the extremes available. You don't have to choose
any of these variations, but they are available if you want them.

Exterior Design. Choose from any known recorder profile, such as Baroque, Renaissance, Medieval, or design
your own! Within the Baroque range, you can specify either a generic Baroque profile or a specific one like a
Stanesby, Bressan, Steenbergen, Denner, van Heerde, Haka, etc.
Bore Profile. Select any bore profile you wish, such as Baroque, Renaissance, Medieval, Transitional, Ganassi.
Some combinations of outside profile and bore don't go well together. I can advise you whether a chosen bore profile
will fit within a given outside profile shape. For instance, I can create a Medieval or Renaissance looking instrument
with a Baroque bore, but a Medieval or Ganassi bore will not fit within a Baroque outside profile (a Baroque foot
section is too small in cross section to accommodate the width of a Medieval or Ganassi bore).
Tuning. I can accommodate most tuning schemes. By default I use equal temperament, but I can also produce
recorders with other temperaments such as Werkmeister, etc.
Fingering. Where possible I try to adopt the standard Baroque fingering pattern for all my recorders. For a few
instruments, such as the Ganassi bore, this is not possible for the full range. On request, I can adjust the fingering
patterns in some cases, although the variations possible are limited by the bore profile.
Voicing. For this, the most critical feature of any recorder, you have a complete choice. I can generally make
recorders with the sound you want. There are limitations, however. The range of notes obtainable with a given bore
profile depends on the voicing, and vice versa. The dependence varies greatly from one bore design to the next. I can
advise you on whether a particular tone colour is compatible with your selected design.
Pitch. I make recorders at any required pitch. Modern pitch is at a'=440Hz and modern low-pitch is at a'=415Hz.
However, I can match other pitches such as the original pitch of antique instruments (e.g. a'=405Hz) or renaissance
pitch at a'=466Hz. I can also lower or raise the pitch slightly to accommodate a player's high or low breath pressure
Timber(s). If I have it, you can have it. My favourite timbers are Maracaibo Boxwood and Lemonwood, but I have
stocks of other timbers as well. I can also embellish joints with contrasting timbers or imitation ivory. I can even use
your own timber; I have made recorders from storm-felled fruit-trees.
If I don't have your required timber, I can probably get it (but see timber policy below). However please bear in mind
that it takes several years to properly season the wood before I can use it. Obviously, where possible I buy seasoned
or part-seasoned stock, but I still keep the timber indoors for a few years before using it. Some stock, like genuine
Boxwood, can take a decade before it's really ready for use. I won't use rapidly dried stock for my instruments as I
don't trust the dimensional stability of such material.
Genuine European Boxwood is becoming hard to find in good enough quality. Many makers seem willing to fill knots
and cracks in poor quality small-section timber, just to be able to state that a recorder is made from genuine Boxwood.
This seems to me to be a pointless exercise as there are excellent alternative timbers with equally good tone properties
and better dimensional stability.
Timber policy: Although I will do my very best to meet your timber requirements, I will not use rare or endangered
timber species. Although I use very little timber annually, I am very careful about sourcing my timber. I only buy from
responsible suppliers who obtain their stock from a sustainable source and actively encourage a maximum replanting
policy from their suppliers.
Thumb Bushing. If you want one (most people do), I'd recommend a polished bone thumb bushing. I can also use

certain hard timbers like African Blackwood, Karanda, etc., or imitation ivory.
Finish. Your choice. My favourite is a tung based oil finish. This is built up gradually using many coats until a
deep lustre sheen is achieved. This is hard wearing, easy to renovate, looks beautiful and doesn't mask any detail of
the turning. An alternative is linseed oil, popular with many makers, but is easily scratched. There are also some
excellent polymer sealants available, which are incredibly hard wearing, but more difficult to repair if damaged than
oil finishes. The polymer finishes can be either a high gloss or a semi-gloss finish. Other possible finishes include
shellac based polishes, wax polishes and varnishes.
I generally don't recommend staining or colouring recorders. Wood is a beautiful natural product and I always feel it
is a shame to hide the beauty of the grain and its natural colour. However, I can certainly colour or stain your recorder
to your requirements if you wish. I regret that for reasons of safety, I am unable to acid stain recorders.
Bore Oil. I prefer to use Almond oil in all of my recorders. I add a small quantity of vitamin E (an antioxidant) to
the oil to prevent it degrading through oxidation or decay. On request, I can use other bore treatments such as linseed
oil, tung oil, etc.


by Raymond & Lee Dessy
HTML version by Nicholas S. Lander

Basic Chemistry
The Wood
Oils and Waxes
Wood and Water
Oils and Water
Oils and Wood
What, Which and When
An Informative (?) Survey
Commercial Products or "DIY"
Wood, Oil and Water do Mix
Alternative Impregnation Strategies
Acoustics and Woodwind Materials
Prior Cellulose Publications

References, Suggested Reading, and Source Books

Figure Captions

Imagine you have just acquired two recorders and the dealer has given you two oiling
kits to maintain the bores. One contains Yamaha Bore Oil and the other Moeck
Recorder Oil. Each is colorless, rather odorless and slightly viscous. Each can help
protect the wood from water and slightly improve sound efficiency in rough bores. But,
the oils are chemically quite different.
There have been many articles on the subject of recorder oiling. They are not always
consistent, and most lack needed chemical and physical information. The best is by
Simmons (1), and Naylor's report is provocative (2). This article provides an
interlocking view of wood, oil, water and how they interact.

The chemical elements carbon (C), oxygen (O), and hydrogen (H) bond together like
Lego toys. The rules are simple; hydrogen bonds to one other thing, oxygen to two, and
carbon to four. Carbon is one of the few elements to form chains, -C-C-C-.

CELLULOSE: The three major building blocks of wood are cellulose, hemicelluloses,
and lignin. Cellulose is a polymer (many units) made up of repeating units of glucose.
There may be 10,000 glucose units in the final polymer (Figure 1).
The cellulose polymer in wood forms long chains that bond with one another by a weak
chemical linkage called a hydrogen bond. It is formed from the connection of the -OH
of one chain with an O- of its neighbor, -OH...O-. These bound chains twist in space to
make up ribbon-like sheets of material. These sheets are used as the basic construction
material for a variety of tubular structures that run longitudinal to the trees axis. These
serve as support columns and/or carry water in living wood from the roots to the
growing tips and return newly synthesized carbohydrates downward for storage. The
carbohydrates are made from atmospheric water (H2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2) in the
leaves by the action of sunlight on a molecule called chlorophyll.
Hardwoods have longitudinal "vessels" that transport solutions, "fibers" that perform the
mechanical support role, and "parenchyma" for storage. Hardwood vessels are 0.15-1.5
mm long, and 20-300 micron in diameter. Hardwood fibers average about 2 mm in
length and 20 micron in diameter. Hardwood parenchyma are brick-shaped cells. These
may be longitudinal and/or occur along radial lines (Figure 2).
At a macroscopic level we can think of vessels as closed tubes of cellulose having pores
at each end that allow fluid to pass from one perforated tube to another. If many of these
tubes are bundled together longitudinally in the tree trunk a pathway exists for fluid
flow up and down. Imagine a bunch of soda straws glued together, all pinched off, but
with small pin holes at each end. Some of the cellulose polymer areas are very ordered,

and are termed crystalline. These segments are quite strong. Other areas are less
ordered, and are called amorphous.
LIGNIN: As the tree grows between the bark and the sapwood each season, some of the
carbohydrates are used to create another member of the composite, lignin. Lignins begin
with a simple chemical substance derived from phenylpropane, phenylalanine.
Phenylalanine can be converted to 4-hydroxyphenylalanine, tyrosine, by plants or man.
Phenylalanine and tyrosine are important aminoacids in man.
In wood, as the process continues, a very complex polymer is produced made up of
many phenylpropane units originally substituted at the 4 position with HO- and at the 3
and/or 5 positions with CH3O groups (Figure 1). Lignins with a majority of 3-methoxy
substitution are found in softwoods, while hardwoods have a mixture of 3-methoxy and
3, 5-dimethoxy substitution. There may be 1,000 phenylpropane units of one kind or
another in the final polymer network. The function of lignin in wood is to provide
another supporting structure, and to help the wood repel attacks from degrading
HEMICELLULOSES: The last major components in wood are called hemicelluloses.
They are short polymer chains made up of a variety of carbohydrates. In hardwoods, the
most common non-glucose carbohydrate found is called xylose. There might be 100200 monomer units in the final polymer. Hemicelluloses play an important role at the
interface between cellulose structures and the lignin portion of wood. Hemicelluloses
are amorphous. Some theories suggest that small circular lignin polymer chains bonded
periodically to the hemicelluloses encourage the surrounding cellulose chains to become
more crystalline.
The normal cellulose/lignin/hemicellulose ratios vary from wood to wood. Typical
ratios are 2.2:1:1.5 for hardwoods. Tropical hardwoods are usually more heavily
ligninized. The three components together form a composite which provides strength
and flexibility to the wood.
THE COMPOSITE: Cellulose occurs as long, threadlike fibers (microfibrils). These are
imbedded in a matrix of hemicellulose and lignin. The assembly is just like fiber-glass
imbedded in resins that are used to repair automobile body dents- a composite material.
The microfibrils consist of the outer original primary wall (Figure 3), and three inner
layers of secondary wall (S1, S2, and S3 (the innermost)). The three secondary walls
have their microfibrils oriented at different biases with respect to the long axis, roughly
like these lines; /, |, \. Biasing adds strength; e.g., the belting in tires, or your
abdominal muscles.


VEGETABLE OILS AND WAXES: Glucose polymers are one way nature stores
energy, in you or the tree. Another storage form involves long chains of carbon that
terminate in a -COOH group, R-COOH molecules. These are called carboxylic acids or
fatty acids (Figure 1). Their biosynthesis favors even numbered fatty acids, from C12 to
C22. These are weak acids, about the same strength as acetic acid or vinegar, which is
In plants and animals these free acids would make the environment too acidic, so nature

found a way to make the molecules neutral. It does this by forming what is called an
ester. This involves removing a molecule of water between the R-COOH and an HO-R'
alcohol molecule to give R-CO-OR' (Figure 1). Esters with small R, R' groups are
volatile liquids and usually have characteristic pleasant odors. The energy storage
elements, however, need to be viscous or semi-solid materials at body temperature that
can sustain body shape, yet not be too rigid. When the carbon chains are longer, and the
ester product is a solid, it is called a vegetable wax. Vegetable oils have three ester
groups in the same molecule, since the alcohol has three HO- groups react with three
fatty acids (Figure 1, Figure 4). In porous recorder woods, like maple or some fruit
species, the wood is often impregnated with waxes (either ester or paraffin waxes) by
the maker to make them resist moisture uptake from the breath during playing.
Vegetable oils are often used to oil bores made from fine grain wood. But so are
paraffin oils.
MINERAL WAXES, OILS: Paraffin (mineral) waxes and oils are long hydrocarbon
chains (Figure 1, Figure 4). If they are solid at room temperature they are called paraffin
waxes, and mineral oils if they are liquid. They are organic compounds, despite the
names. Some players use the latter as bore oils.


Water, HOH, is essential to the living tree and our own bodies. Newly hewn green tree
wood can contain a great deal of water. How much? 40-200%! Where is it all located?
Some is bound near the surfaces of hemicellulose and cellulose structures. The rest is
free water in the open tubules. The internal surface area of wood is enormous. Internal
surface areas viewable by visible microscopy in a one cubic centimeter piece of wood
will be larger than the combined area of several pages of this magazine. Smaller tubules,
from 1 micron to 4 nanometer, augment this surface area by factors of a hundred. Wood
is a very porous material. How porous? Density is defined as a weight/volume
relationship, grams/cubic centimeter (gm/cc). The density of "wood substance" (the
collection of cellulose, lignin and hemicelluloses) is about 1.5 gm/cc. A dried wood
sample of Scots pine with a density of 0.5 gm/cc would have a void volume of about
0.65 cc/cc (internal empty space/wood volume). Common recorder woods and their
reported densities (3,4) are: maple 0.72, pear 0.76, rosewood 0.88, boxwood 1.00, and
grenadilla 1.29 gm/cc. Their calculated void volumes range from 0.50 to 0.20 cc/cc.
Wood shrinks as water is lost (desorbed). Wood swells as water sorption occurs. The
term sorption will be used to avoid the confusing adsorption and absorption terms. The
addition of water to dried wood takes place in three successive steps. First, individual
water molecules insinuate themselves between the elements making up the hydrogen
bonds that hold the cellulose chains together. This swells the wood composite. This
insertion occurs mainly in the hemicellulose and amorphous cellulose regions. The more
ordered crystalline cellulose regions are much less affected. Large amounts of lignin
will reduce the amount of water taken up.
The chemist, in plotting the amount of water uptake versus the relative humidity (RH),
would say that the first step in water sorption by dry wood was obeying a principle
called a Langmuir isotherm (Figure 5). This can be viewed as the formation of a single
and then double layer of water molecules across the affected wood surfaces. The
amount of water sorption first rises as the RH increases, and then levels off somewhat as

the layering becomes complete (20-60% RH). As the RH increases (60-90% RH) a
point is reached where the layering becomes so deep that hydrogen bonding of water
with itself becomes the important factor. The equilibrium moisture content (EMC) now
begins to rise rapidly with increasing RH. This sorption mechanism continues until the
wood fibers have taken on as much water as they can without the void volume
becoming filled with bulk condensed water. This is called the fiber saturation point
(FSP). This point is actually somewhat indefinite.
For Scots pine the FSP is 30% EMC; the void volume of the swelled structure is 0.55
cc/cc, and its density is about 0.45 gm/cc. If condensed water vapor then filled all the
void volume, the third and final step, the maximum moisture content of the wood would
be 190%!
RECORDERS AND WATER: Fortunately, the player is not often faced with a water
logged instrument, nor a completely dry one. If you care for your recorder the room
humidity or the instrument case should be near a relative humidity of 50%. This lies in
an area where the plot of water sorption versus change in RH is the flattest. Humidity
control can be important. If you store your recorder in the shower, the RH can be near
100%. The outdoor RH in Denver can drop to the high 30s, and in back-of-Bourke,
Australia it can drop to the low 20s.
As the instrument is played, the water content of the air in the bore quickly reaches a
high RH. Untreated wood would start water sorption and move toward the fiber
saturation point. At some point, the smaller tubules would begin to fill with condensed
water. Small tubes (under 20 micron) condense water at lower RH than large spaces.
Fortunately, the rate of water sorption is not very rapid. Typical hardwood sections, 4
mm in thickness, take about 18 hours to reach the average moisture content as the RH is
stepped from 60 to 90% on both sides. It takes over 36 hours to reach 90% EMC.
The gain or loss of water results in different dimensional changes in each type of wood.
Each unique direction has two coefficients of change associated with it, a swelling and a
shrinkage coefficient (Figure 5). There are three separate effects: one of change along
the long axis of the tree (longitudinal), another in a direction perpendicular to this axis
(radial), and a final one tangential to the growth rings. The tangential/radial coefficient
ratio is often near 2:1. However, it is the percentage difference in the measured
dimensional changes that determine if your recorder is in danger from water.
Coefficient ratios over 2.2 and dimensional change differences greater than 3% indicate
potential risk induced by too rapid a water sorption. The machined bore, tenons and
holes are circular. Because of the different tangential/radial and longitudinal coefficient
ratios, these structures oscillate between various elliptical shapes as the humidity
changes. For palisander the differences between major and minor axes of the ellipses for
EMC's of 50-80% RH is a few mils. The internal pressure changes in the wood are
the biggest danger. These can exceed 2000 pounds/in2.


THE GOALS IN OILING: One goal in oiling bores is to reduce the rate and amount of
water vapor entering the wood so that it does not swell either to quickly or too much.
The oil also prevents condensed water droplets from being imbibed into the wood
structure. A third goal is to slow the loss of the water after playing, so that the wood is

not suddenly stressed by rapid shrinkage. How can it play these three roles? Think of
Gortex that is rain water resistant, yet permits water vapor from the body to escape.
CONTACT ANGLES: Vegetable oils and mineral oils have contact angles of less than
90 degrees with the wood surface. Drop one of these oils on a clean wood surface. The
angle between the wood/oil interface and the exposed drop's surface will be less than a
right angle. This indicates that the oil can "wet" the surface and can penetrate into the
wood pores. Now, spread it out. The oil can provide the protection the instrument needs.
Place a drop of water on the treated surface, and observe how it "beads up". The water
drop cannot wet and penetrate the treated surface, but water vapor can slowly pass
because of the thinness and/or nature of the surface oil film. How do typical wood
finishes affect water vapor transport rates? Table I presents some data that may surprise
you. Most films and paint allow the wood to breath, a requirement for wood stability.
Table I: Film Water-Vapor Transportation Abilities (5)




Two Part












*Numbers represent uptake of water vapor by brush coated Ponderosa Pine samples
compared to uncoated controls exposed in a high humidity chamber (90% RH @ 80 F)
for a period of 14 days. Linseed Oil exposed for 1 day gave values of 88 and 78% for 1
& 2 coats respectively.


VEGETABLE OILS: In fine grained woods, vegetable oils are often used by instrument
players to prevent rapid water-induced wood swelling/shrinking. Nature uses Glycerin,
an alcohol with three HO- groups, to make these. Each of the HO- groups is condensed
with a fatty acid, R-COOH, to form a glyceryl triester (Figure 1). If this is liquid at
room temperature it is called an oil. If solid, it would be a fat. A shorthand notation for
the fatty acids will help in the following discussions. Their structure can be represented
by (1) the number of carbon atoms, (2) how many C=C double bonds exist, and (3)
where these bonds are located (indicating the carbon atom # at which they begin,
counting from the -COOH); thus 18:2;9,12 represents CH3-(CH2)4-CH=CH-CH2CH=CH-(CH2)7-COOH. (18 = the number of carbons, the 2 = the number of double
bonds, and the 9 and 12 = the # of the carbon atom where double bonds start.)
Some of the acids found in recorder oils are listed in Table II.
Table II: Common Fatty (Carboxylic) Acids Found in Recorder Oils (9)


Lauric Acid


Myristic Acid


Palmitic Acid


Stearic Acid


Oleic Acid


Linoleic Acid


Linolenic Acid


Eleosteric Acid


Erucic Acid


UNSATURATION: Compounds without C=C double bonds are saturated. Double

bonds create unsaturation, since the carbons COULD bond to other atoms if they were
available. For example, Oleic Acid can be converted to the saturated Stearic Acid by the
addition of a molecule of H-H across the double bond. The degree of unsaturation in an
oil determines its drying characteristics, and can be found by adding Iodine (I-I). The
Iodine Number is the # of grams of iodine taken up by 100 grams of oil. Table III lists
the approximate Iodine Numbers for four oils made up of the pure glyceryl triesters
from Stearic, Oleic, Linoleic, and Linolenic Acids. The name Tristearin comes from
TRI STEARic acid glycerIN, etc...
Table III
Iodine Numbers of Pure Glyceryl Triesters(9)

Iodine Number


0 (saturated)






255 (very unsaturated)

Vegetable oils are mixtures of various saturated and unsaturated acids. With just Stearic
Acid and Oleic Acid there are four (4) possible combinations. Using G to represent
glycerin, and U and S to represent the unsaturated and saturated fatty acids attached to
the glycerin, we have GS3, GUS2 ,GU2S, and GU3. Just imagine the number of
combinations possible for 6 or more acids, as is common! Vegetable oils do not contain
just one substance, but hundreds. Nature distributes the acids rather randomly among
the many glycerin molecules, except that it usually avoids GS3 combinations which are

solids. This is called a restricted random distribution. Why is this important? It

determines the drying characteristics of the oil which is discussed later.
Table IV shows the fatty acid composition of typical oils that have been used for oiling
recorder bores. These are nominal values, since genetics, growing conditions (soil and
weather), storage, and processing can dramatically affect the ratios. The Table also
gives an average Iodine Number for the oil, and divides the oils into non-drying (Iodine
# <100), semi-drying (100-150), and drying (>150). The first remain quite fluid after
application to a surface, semi-drying oils become somewhat more viscous over an
extended time, and drying oils eventually form a tough film after 3-6 days.
DRYING OILS: For unfinished porous wood, rough surfaces, and occasional oiling the
drying oils work best. When applied, the oily touch soon changes to a surface film
described as "set-to-touch". The film is sticky, and if broken will transfer an oil residue
to your finger. During film formation oxygen is rapidly absorbed by the surface of the
oil, up to 10% by weight. After the set-to-touch point is reached, oxygen uptake is
reduced by the polymerized surface. Eventually the film becomes hard and smooth. It
helps repel bulk water but allows water vapor to slowly pass through. The oxidation
process induces a complex polymerization process creating a three dimensional network
that entraps smaller molecules, a gel.
Table IV: Nominal Fatty Acid Composition Recorder Oils (9)































Iodine #









What characterizes a drying oil? The ratio of the rate of oxidation of Oleic, Linoleic,
and Linolenic Acids is 1:10:25. It is easier to polymerize carbon chains with two nearby
C=C bonds (linoleic) than it is with just one double bond (oleic). Three such bonds in

close proximity make it even better (linolenic). The presence of the three double bonds
also promotes the 3-dimensional gel cross-linking, as does high GU3 content.
SEMI- and NON-DRYING OILS: These oils coat the wood surface, also preventing
penetration by liquid water and reducing water vapor transport. The oils have a low
vapor pressure and do not evaporate easily. However, periodic renewal is necessary.
These may be of vegetable origin, a low viscosity mineral oil, or even a citrus oil.


WHAT KIND, WHEN? Experience suggests it is best not to randomly mix the two
oiling approaches. Wax impregnated woods are already protected and occasional
application of non-drying oils might help. Unfinished, rough bores will benefit from
application of drying oils every 3-4 months for the first year, and then semi- or nondrying oils thereafter. Fine grain bores are possibly serviced best by semi- or non-drying
oils from the outset. Always remove excess oil.
WHICH? But which oil to choose? Tung Oil, which has "conjugated" double bonds
(C=C-C=C-C=C) drys very quickly, but may leave a frosted surface if you are not
careful. Addition of iron ion or lead ion driers can help reduce this. The average player
will use linseed oil. This should be the "raw" linseed oil. The nomenclature in the area is
arcane and confusing. Raw linseed oil has actually been processed to remove
undesirable materials. "Boiled" linseed oil has cobalt and manganese driers added to
make the polymerization process faster. Its films can set up in hours, rather than days.
Older boiled linseed oils had lead salts as the accelerator, but these have been
abandoned because of toxicity. Unfortunately, cobalt driers can lead to frosting, since
"top drying" of the film is promoted. This leads to undesirable volume changes in the
maturing film that may lead to cracking. Use raw linseed oil.
With semi- and non-drying oils, rancidity must be considered. This implies degradation
of the oil to produce offensive or unusual odors. And this often makes the literature
confusing. The reports are not necessarily wrong, but oils from different geographic
sources, growing conditions, and processing steps respond differently. And rancidity
can come from several sources. For example, liquid coconut oil would appear to be a
perfect oil, since its low Iodine Number suggests stability. However, under certain
conditions, hydrolysis of the esters back to free acids with unusual odors occurs.
Olive oil is a very promising candidate. Pure Triolein is rather resistant to oxidation, but
Linoleic Acid appears to catalyze oxidative rancidity. Fortunately, high grade virgin
olive oil has natural anti-oxidants present. These prevent the formation of oxidized
Oleic Acid products that have unpleasant odors. Unfortunately, this same olive oil may
also contain chlorophyll, trace metal ions, or other materials that serve as pro-oxidants,
by activating oxygen in the presence of light. Which side wins?
IS AN OIL "THE" OIL?: To make life more complicated, plant growers and nature are
altering the genetic make-up of many of the oil producing plants. Peanut Oil is in a
transient state of natural genetic modification. Rape Seed Oil is an example where man
has intervened. Many of the normal plant species produce an oil with high Erucic Acid
content. Animals cannot use glycerides from this acid efficiently. Hybridizing and
genetically altering the Rape Seed plant has produced Canbra and Canola Rape Seed Oil

with low Erucic Acid and high Oleic Acid content. Is the oil you can get today the same
as the oil in an old report or recommendation?
These problems can be avoided by using a commercial mineral oil bore protector that
lacks the ester functions and double bonds which give vegetable oils their reactivity,
potential rancidity, and tendency to revert back to odors typical of the unrefined


Waldemar Meckes, of W. G. Smith Inc., an oil expert and music lover who provided
technical input to this article, asked professional woodwind musicians with the
Cleveland Symphony and Institute of Music what bore oil they preferred. Each had a
different, strong opinion about what was "the good oil".
At the recent BEMF '95 the author took a survey of the woodwind makers present
concerning their preferred bore oiling practice. This informative survey of six artisans
revealed the following six different specific suggestions: (1) mineral oil, (2) olive,
peanut, or corn oil with Vitamin E added for stability, (3) linseed oil, (4) linseed oil plus
almond oil [2:1 or 1:1], (5) almond oil, and (6) boiled linseed oil. A Woodwind
Quarterly E-Mail survey revealed that with some instrument makers another alternative
found favor: (7) don't oil!
Despite this panorama of suggestions, there did seem to be general agreement that: (a)
Drying oils often present considerable problems to instruments with pads and keys and
bores when too generously used by owners. Excessive oiling without swabbing out
before skin formation has led to instruments being returned for repair. A wooden dowel
has often been needed to scrape out the hardened residues! (b) It is better to suggest an
oil that owners commonly have around the house, since it encourages regular oiling
practices. These suggest that an important variable is how players employ whatever oil
they do choose.
When experts disagree, what does a player do? Decide yourself.


DO IT YOURSELF: Does that mean you have to purchase commercial bore-oils?
Moeck Recorder Oil can be analyzed using C13 nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR)
which clearly shows each type of carbon atom and allows you to count them. The
Moeck Recorder Oil is a semi-drying triglyceride oil (Table 4), perhaps with some
antioxidant added.
It is possible to add your own antioxidants to a semi- or non-drying high grade food oil
you have selected. Find a friend who is taking Vitamin E capsules. Each contains 200
I.U. (200 mg) of alpha-tocopherol, enough to treat a pint of oil. Slit just one capsule
open and stir the contents (not the capsule wall) into the oil. Then, keep the material in
an amber bottle to prevent air and photo-oxidation. Moeck very carefully uses a brown
PVC plastic bottle for their product to avoid light and oxygen diffusion through the
container. Polyethylene containers are not safe, since they pass both light and oxygen.

What if you wanted to avoid vegetable oils? Yamaha Bore Oil, analyzed by NMR, is a
low viscosity mineral oil (Figure 4). It is a mixture of long carbon chains with
hydrogens attached at all points (hydrocarbons). A good grade of Baby Oil clearly
labelled as Mineral Oil will suffice. The mineral oil used internally is more viscous.
For the connoisseur, Aerospace Lubricants, Inc. makes a series of lubricants of differing
viscosities. NMR and infra-red analysis indicates that these are linear hydrocarbons.
They are extremely pure, narrow molecular weight spread materials. This is of
importance under high rates of shear, where traditional lubricants may exhibit
thixotropic behavior and show a marked decrease in viscosity. They range (low to high
viscosity) from Alisyn Valve and Slide Key, to Finger Board, and Bore Oil.
If you prefer pleasant odors, both lemon and (sweet) orange oils have been used. These
are both about 90% limonene (Figure 1). This is a simple cyclic unsaturated
hydrocarbon biosynthesized from two isoprene units in the plant. Your body uses
isoprene units to build cholesterol and the sex hormones. The citrus oils differ in the
small amounts of oxygenated materials present. The instability of these can rapidly lead
to a terebinthinate odor. Addition of about 5-10% of a non-drying vegetable oil will
help prevent this because of their natural stabilizers, like tocopherol; or add your own
Vit. E.
IS THERE A MAGIC OIL? Is there one magic formula that is better than anything
else? Perhaps, but it is difficult to find controlled experimental evidence to substantiate
such a claim. Players and makers have their own preferences based upon experience.
All help smooth roughened, checked bores and provide a water barrier.
SWABBING: A convenient way to oil recorders takes advantage of the availability of
gun cleaning patches of various sizes. They are tough, lint free, thin enough to
discourage "soaking" the surface, and cheap enough to dispose after use. That is
advisable for non-drying oils to prevent dirt accumulation, and necessary with drying
oils because of the danger of heat build-up in improperly stored rags.
DECONGESTANT SOLUTION: It is also easy to make the decongestant solution sold
by many vendors. It is a dilute solution of sodium lauryl sulfate. Reducing Lauric Acid
produces Lauryl Alcohol. This forms an "inorganic" ester with sulfuric acid. Its sodium
salt is a detergent. It is sold by DuPont under the trade-name Duponol, and you may be
able to get small quantities as a sample. Since you only need 1 gm dissolved in 8 ounces
of distilled water, a sample will take care of your consort's needs for years.
Chemistry can be useful!


Wood is magic, and the various species all cast a different spell. With the above
background it is now appropriate to examine the physical properties of some typical
recorder woods (3,4). Table V shows why the dimensional instabilities of maple have
been addressed by many vendors via wax impregnation. Pearwood is borderline, and
some pear instruments are impregnated while others are not. The characteristics of
Rosewood (Palisander) depend upon the species, so a "rose is not a rose, necessarily".
Lignum vitae is included as a final reference point since the best literature source lacks
data on the more popular heavily ligninized woods, such as grenadilla.

Table V: Recorder Wood Properties (7)




~50% RH (EMC)





0.721 (12%)

2.6 (3.9%)




0.695 ( 9%)

2.5 (2.9%)




0.863 (10%)

2.0 (2.6%)




1.301 (12%)

1.5 (1.5%)

FSP=fiber sat. point, RH=rel. humidity, EMC=equil. moisture content

BREAKING A RECORDER IN: The hysteresis shown in Figure 5 for
sorption/desorption of water indicates that the loss of water is slower than its uptake. As
a new, or long unused recorder, is first played the water content in the wood increases.
As it stands between sessions it loses water more slowly. If the playing sessions are
spaced closely together the water content of the wood, on average, will slowly increase.
That is why experts recommend a breaking in protocol of increasingly longer playing
sessions spread over time. It allows the wood to adapt to the increasing water content,
and avoids stress fractures. Water and water vapor barriers on the wood surface reduce
the rates of sorption and desorption; but the build-up pattern remains. Softer woods pick
up and lose the water more quickly. Thus, the wood, the oil, and the playing pattern
interact in a complex way and each instrument/player combination is unique. Possibly
this is why some players might prefer drying oils, others non-drying, and yet others
mixtures of non- and semi-drying oils (2).
As the wood surface of the bore interior "weathers" due to repeated moisture
sorption/desorption cycles it may grow rougher. Oils can reduce this type of roughness.
Drying oils form a hard film, but users should recognize that it will follow the contours
of the roughened surface to a great extent. Each treatment also reduces the bore
diameter slightly. Semi- and non-drying oils reduce the roughness, but may locally
deform due to flow/pressure. A dilemma! (But not a big one, since both will work
to improve sound somewhat.)


Just when plastic recorders are making their products look like wood, there is interest in
making wood/plastic composites. Sometimes the goal is cost, sometimes fashion, and
sometimes it is the elusive immortal woodwind. The technique is not new. Amish
farmers have impregnated maple wheel bearings for over a century with lard. The
WWII Maytag ringer-washers used mineral wax impregnated maple. Most techniques
today are aimed at the floor panel, knife handle, and designer pen body market. But
woodwind makers may possibly realize shape stabilization, and water repellency. Only
time will tell.

METHYL METHACRYLATE (MMA): Wood Stabilizing Specialists Inc. (Cedar Falls,

IA), has produced a billet of cherry impregnated with polymerized methyl methacrylate.
Scott Hirsch, a flute maker in Coleville, WA, has made instruments from the material.
Wildwoods (Monclova, OH) has produced similar impregnated billets of maple and
black-dyed birch for Powell Flutes (Waltham, MA). Tim Bernett of Powell Flute made
an impregnated maple alto in the mid '80s. Bamboo has been treated for use in making
Japanese flutes; Yamaha has worked with impregnated rosewood for clarinets. Roger
Rowell of the USDA Forest Product Laboratory has explored impregnating maple wood
with MMA for recorder manufacture.
The pure polymer is the well known Lucite or Plexiglass. Such impregnated woods do
pose challenges to the craftsman because of brittleness, the need to use low turning
speeds and coolant because of the low melting point of the plastic, and a tendency to
clog sanding materials. Finished instruments play well and seem to have good
dimensional stability. Some results are reported in Woodwind Quarterly, #2, August
1993. Such impregnations for many commercial purposes began in the 1960's. Ken
Caines of WSSI reports load factors of about 50% are normal with common woods.
Exotics, such as ebony, accept much less polymer (<10%) and are prone to bleed
displaced "wood oils" for many months after treatment. This can be removed by wiping
with acetone. Odors from the monomer are often prominent, and are due to excessive
water in the impregnated wood (>10%), or improper curing. Drying (40 C) can remove
such odors.
OTHER ACRYLATES: Many other efforts in wood impregnation exist. Daniel Deitch,
a Baroque woodwind maker in San Francisco, has utilized cyanoacrylate impregnation
for wood stabilization. MMA has the structure H2C=C(CH3)COOCH3, while a typical
cyanoacrylate has a structure H2C=C(CN)COOCH3. They differ by the substitution of
a -CN group for a -CH3. This substitution makes it easier for the material to polymerize
into long carbon chains, much like a zipper closes. The cyanoacrylates are used as rapid
setting "glues". Deitch swabs out the finished bores with the cyanoacrylates, lets the
material polymerize, and then finishes the interior surface. Deitch also reports that he
has been pleased with a technique for finishing the exterior learned from Rod Cameron,
a flutemaker from Mendocino, CA. A few drops of the cyanoacrylate are added to
linseed oil, and the mixture applied as a hardening finish to the exterior. The
cyanoacrylate accelerates the hardening of the mixture. Do not be concerned about the
presence of the -CN group in the molecule. It is an organic nitrile or cyanide, not an
inorganic cyanide. The latter are toxic, but the organic -CN is not. Some artisans find
the cyanoacrylic bore finish beads water excessively.
OTHER FORMS OF POLYMERIZATION: The polymerization of both the
cyanoacrylates and methacrylates depend upon chemical induced free radical formation
to begin the polymerization. A free radical is a carbon with only three groups around it,
and one lone electron. This poses some interesting problems in getting complete
penetration into all the void space of the porous wood. The cyanoacrylates react with air
and polymerize quite rapidly, providing good near surface penetration. Free radical
initiators added to the methacrylates allow somewhat deeper penetration before
blockage occurs. Firms such as Applied Radiant Energy (Lynchburg, VA) have
developed an alternate strategy for achieving an even more complete penetration. The
methyl methacrylate is forced into the wood by first applying a vacuum, then flooding
the chamber with the liquid acrylate, and finally bringing the head space up to

atmospheric pressure. They can achieve loadings of 10-100% in this way, filling a great
deal of the void space. The polymerization of the material is then induced by exposure
to gamma radiation. This ionizing radiation penetrates the wood completely and evenly,
allowing uniform polymer hardening throughout. The degree of polymerization can be
carefully controlled by the amount of irradiation. This permits careful adjustment of the
working properties of the resulting composite. Don't be concerned about the radiation
initiator. Gamma radiation is just like an X-Ray beam. Once the beam is turned off, its
gone. The route has been used to sterilize food for long term preservation. Gamma
radiation DOES NOT consist of radioactive particles which have long half-lives, and
which slowly emit hazardous particles and radiation.
Billets up to 8"x8" have been treated. Ash, oak, pine and poplar are common. More
exotic woods include cherry, ebony, and jatoba (Brazilian cherry). Best results come
from using the heart wood. Robert Turner, a Charlottesville, VA recorder maker, is
experimenting with some of the materials.
PHYSICAL AND PSYCHEDELIC PROPERTIES: It should be noted that these
treatments do not prevent the penetration of water vapor into the wood. It is merely
slowed down, as described earlier. The composites have increased tensile strength and
lower impact resistance due to their brittleness. They are harder. Little objective
acoustic data on composite woodwinds are available, although strong opinions exist.
Most composite manufacturers are focusing on dyed impregnated woods, often with
multicolored, swirling patterns for designer products. Imagine a recorder playing cool
jazz or hot Blues with a color scheme to match! Avant-garde players could have
complete sets. On the other hand, although the Pacific Rim produces the greater part of
ABS plastic instruments, most players there seem to prefer buying perfect, natural
material woodwinds. But good grenadilla and rosewood are becoming scarce.
Interesting marketing problems.
Wood, composite or plastic? Some subjective panels claim they can tell the
difference; others claim no distinction. A paradox.


Buffet has announced its Green-Line series of commercial clarinets. These are made
from grenadilla wood powder, polycarbonate fibers, and a bonding polymer. But, will
recorders made from such synthetic and impregnated woods sound the same? Wait and
The recorder player sees and feels wonderful instruments made from different bulk
woods and hears differences. The artisan sees and feels different bore surfaces and hole
edges and hears differences. The acoustician sees and feels (in the mind) the boundary
air layers of the played instrument and conceives possible differences. But they use
different languages in expressing cause/effect. Leibniz, in discussing a metaphysical
approach to language, suggested the need for a Universal Language. We must try top
hear these different views. Most players feel they detect tonal differences in what appear
to be identical instruments made from different materials; but, are they really identical.
Experimental and theoretical evaluations (10) suggest that the bore wall construction

material does not noticeably influence the timbre of sound produced from a thick-wall
cylindrical "wood"-wind.
A WOOD IS A WOOD IS A WOOD? Considering mechanical distortion, differing
construction materials can affect sound quality in thin square or rectangular tubes (organ
pipes), or where the material is essential to sound production (like string instruments),
or in very thin wall wind instruments with very large side holes. Thick walled circular
bore instruments are quite different. Compare the relative compliance associated with
expansion of the bore under pressure, and the compression of the air in the tube. The
ratio is about .001 for even thin walled cylinders. Direct sound radiation from wall
vibration is insignificant. This is not surprising, since it would require local changes in
the radius of the bore, coupled to air column vibrations. The walls are just too stiff.
Such vibration levels are estimated to be some 60 dB below that of the air column. It is
like hearing a cat purr next to a subway train.
Only a few percent of the energy of the air stream makes it way out of the tone holes as
perceived sound (0.5-1%). Where does the rest go? Tube walls can influence vibrations
of the contained air column because of viscous air and thermal losses across the
air/wood boundary layer. This is where free movement of the air is affected by the
proximity of the wall and viscous and thermal losses occur. Wall materials all have
thermal conductivities much greater than air so this cannot be a differentiating factor.
Surface roughness only becomes a factor when it develops to a scale relevant to the
thickness of the boundary layer. The viscous and thermal boundary layers are frequency
dependent, but range from about 0.1-0.05 mm (100-50 micron). Machining practices
yield a surface roughness average of 10-1 micron. Wood grain and smoothness can
affect the damping coefficient or drag, but in a filled, fine-finished and oiled bore such
differences are small compared to those caused by the edges of chamfers, the blade,
finger holes, key pads or even finger tips, which are sources of turbulence. These
variables are determined by the working nature of the material, the skill of the artisan,
and how much time can be afforded by player and maker.
CHEMICAL CHANGES: Sorbed water, or chemical modification of the wood material,
can change the visco-elastic properties of the wood composite. Here, the word viscous
refers to a material that absorbs sound energy and converts it to heat. Elastic refers to a
material that can give back such energy, like stretching and releasing a rubber band.
Wood is inbetween, and is called visco-elastic. Sorbed water makes it a little more
viscous. Benders of wood "knew" this, since steaming wood (heat + water) allows you
to form the complex shaped ribs of a violin. The water acts as a plasticizer, lowering the
glass-transition temperature of the composite. This is the temperature where longer
segments of associated molecules in the composite can begin to slip past one another,
but basic form is retained (rubbery). The heat raised the rib material above this
temperature. In the finished violin there is a major air resonance from the box, as well as
a top-plate wood resonance. The latter can certainly be affected by wood composition
and treatment. In recorders the cylindrical bore is used below its glass-transition
temperature and any affects are less than most musicians can detect.

The authors would like to thank Scott Hirsch for his direction and encouragement, and
particularly for his reference to the source of the data shown in Table I; Ben Dunham

for his continued enthusiasm for the "Wood-Works" project; Roger Rowell for technical
editing assistance; and Ching-Wan Yip and Yue-Ling Wong for the computer graphics.
Wood impregnation vendors were most helpful, including Rodney Bell and James
Myron of Applied Radiant Energy, Jim Fray and Nicholas Forosisky of Wildwoods,
Ken Caines of WSSI, and Tim Bernett of Powell Flutes. John Martin (University of
Queensland) and Susan Thompson (Yale University) were most collegial in sharing
their opinions, as was John Gates of ALiSYN and Wally Meckes of W.G. Smith.
Finally, the following artisans freely shared their experiences: Lee Collins, Tom
Prescott, Jonathan Bosworth, Daniel Deitch, Robert Turner, and Daniel Noonan. The
support of the Gomer van Awsterwyke Institute has been invaluable.


This article originally appeared in the Winter 1996 issue (#11) of Woodwind Quarterly,
1513 Old CC Road, Colville, WA. A shorter form appeared in the November 1995 issue
of American Recorder. Response to readers questions, and detailed analyses of the
woodwind/composition controversy appeared in the Spring 1996 WQ, with an
abbreviated version in the January 1996 American Recorder The authors appreciate the
permission of WQ and its editor, Scott Hirsch, for permission to mount this material on
the Web.

Raymond Dessy is Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at Virginia Polytechnic Institute
and State University, Blacksburg, VA. His research areas include microsensors and
computer applications in science. He and his wife are interested in playing the recorder,
from Kunstlieder to the Blues; and in discovering how recorders work. They raise
and train dressage horses.


1. "The Good Oil", T. Simmons, The Recorder. #17, 15, 1993.
2. "Grenadilla Wood and the Environment", L. Naylor, Woodwind Quarterly, #6,
August 1994.
3. "Woods Used for Woodwind Instruments Since the 16th Century", M. Zadro,
Early Music 3, #2 134; and 3, #3 249, 1975.
4. "Which Wood Should I Use?", P. Levine, American Recorder, May 1986, 60.
5. "The Moisture Excluding Effectiveness of Finishes on Wood Surfaces", W.
Feist, J. Little, J. Wennesheimer, USDA Forest Products Laboratory, Research
Paper FPL 462, 1985.
6. Wood Structure and Composition, edited by M. Lewis and I. Goldstein, Marcel
Dekker, New York, 1991.
7. Physical and Related Properties of 145 Timbers, J. Rijsdijk and P. Laming,
Kluwer Publishers, Dordrecht, 1994.
8. The Chemistry of Wood, B. Browning, R. Krieger, Huntington, NY, 1975.

9. Bailey's Industrial Oil and Fat Products, edited by D. Swern, Wiley-Interscience,

New York, 1979. The Physics of Musical Instruments, N. Fletcher and T.
Rossing, Springer-Verlag, New York, 1991.

1. Simplified Chemical Structures In Wood And Oils
a. Glucose
b. Lignin Precursors
c. A Carboxylic, or Fatty Acid
d. An Alcohol
e. An Ester
f. A Glyceryl Triester
g. Limonene

2. Microscopic View of the Cross-Section of a Typical Hardwood

V=Vessels, F=Fibers, R=radial parenchyma
Micrometer bar in lower right is 10 micrometer (micron)
(from Ref. 6 with permission)

3. Idealized Microfibril Cellulose Wall Construction

(from Ref. 6 with permission)

4. Space-Filling Models of
A. Triolein (Vegetable Oil)
B. Mineral Oil (typical chain)

5. Water/Wood Interactions
a. A Plot of Equilibrium Moisture Content (EMC) versus Relative
Humidity (RH) for Brazilian Rosewood (Dalbergia nigra). The
separation of sorption and desorption curves is common and is called
b. A Plot of Radial and Tangential Shrinkage and Swellage of D. nigra at
various EMCs. (r=radial, tg=tangential) (from Ref. 7 with permission)

Choosing a recorder
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
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
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
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.

FAQs from Beginners

Dear ASW:
What is a good all-around recorder for an adult beginner? I am not certain whether I
will ever become an advanced player and don't want to spend a whole lot of money, at
least not at first.
You should first decide whether you want to play soprano or alto
recorder. Most advanced players eventually learn to play both c-fingered
recorders (piccolo, soprano, tenor, and greatbass) and f-fingered
recorders (sopranino, alto, bass, contrabass), but the beginning player
needs to concentrate on one or the other. Trying to do both often leads to
confusion and discouragement.
A soprano recorder is cheaper and usually plays the top or lead voice in
recorder ensembles, but it is small for adult hands, has a higher and
shriller tone quality, and has relatively little solo literature available
and the bulk of that consists of arrangements and transcriptions, not
original music. The soprano is usually the beginning instrument of
choice for children or adults with small hands.
An alto recorder, on the other hand, is more expensive to purchase (2-3
times as much for a wooden alto than a soprano of corresponding make
and model), usually plays an inside voice in recorder ensemble, but is
better suited to adult hands, has a more pleasant tone and range, and has
a vast amount of original baroque solo music available. The alto is, all
things considered, probably the best beginning instrument for most
A tenor recorder can be another possible choice for a beginner who
wants to play melodic material in a soprano range but prefers a deepertoned, mellower instrument, can afford to spend a good deal more money
for an recorder, and has sufficiently large hands. The tenor recorder is

largely an ensemble instrument and has relatively little solo literature

written for it; however, much of the soprano solo literature can be played
to good if not better advantage on a tenor, and solo oboe music from the
baroque period also usually works well on tenor recorder.
I notice that you have both plastic and wooden recorders. Is wood preferable to
All other things being equal, yes but then all things are not always
equal. There are good and bad plastic recorders, as well as good and bad
wooden recorders. A good plastic recorder is far better than a cheap poor
wooden one. However, a good wooden recorder is always preferable to a
good plastic instrument AOTBE.
Advantages of plastic instruments: they are relatively
inexpensive to purchase and require little if any care.
Disadvantages of plastic instruments: they have a hard,
glassy sound which many players find unpleasant, and
they also tend to clog up with moisture easily and
repeatedly. Also, although there are a large number of
makes and models of plastic recorders on the market, only
a few models are really decent instruments.
Advantages of wooden recorders: they have in general a
much more pleasant tone than plastic instruments and
tend to clog less readily if correctly voiced and when
properly played in. Perhaps most important, there is a
wide choice of good makes and models available,
although there are still many inexpensive wooden
instruments of very poor quality, usually sold through
commercial music channels. In addition, many more
expensive wooden recorders have quirks and drawbacks
of which the informed buyer needs to be aware before
laying out a substantial amount of money.
Disadvantages of wooden recorders: they are more
expensive than plastic ones and usually require more care
and maintenance. In general, less expensive wooden
instruments made of maple or pearwood are less careintensive than more expensive instruments made of exotic
tropical hardwoods, which typically require
humidification in dry climates and periodic oiling.
Summary: Caveat emptor you pays yer money and
takes yer choice. If you are anguishing over whether to
invest in a custom-serviced instrument to replace your
store-bought one, or whether to spend the extra money for
a wooden instrument, take our course Recorder Buying
101. Whether you buy a plastic or a wooden instrument,

you would be best advised to buy an instrument from a

source that will customize, voice, and tune your
instrument and guarantee that it will stay that way for the
life of the instrument. Makers typically guarantee their
instruments for six months to two years, but such
warranties can be of little or no value if the ability and
experience of the person doing the repair work are
Ultimately, it is the selling dealer who is responsible for the customer's
satisfaction. Dealers who run discount warehouse operations typically
provide a limited choice of instruments and no custom service; customers
who buy instruments from the cheapest commercial sources on a price
basis alone should be aware that they are buying a recorder off the shelf
"as is". Such instruments rarely play well when new and will most
definitely deteriorate with use. When you purchase a recorder, you are
ideally buying not just a musical instrument but a complete package of
goods and custom services, as well as investing in an on-going
relationship with someone who will hopefully be able to provide you
with information, education, and guidance.
Okay, I think I want a good but inexpensive wooden recorder. Is there anything in the
below $100 range that would be a good choice?
You can get any one of several very good wooden soprano recorders for
$60-$80. Unfortunately, there are no decent wooden alto or tenor
recorders available in that price range; you have to spend $160 to $210
for an alto recorder and $250 to $350 for a tenor recorder of equivalent
quality. See the section on inexpensive modern recorders in our ASW
Guide to Recorders for a list of recommended instruments.
Unless you really can't stand the sound of a plastic instrument and don't
want to deal with the chronic clogging problem, you are probably better
advised to start off with a good quality plastic alto recorder rather than a
wooden soprano instrument. If you find that, after a period of time, you
are seriously interested in learning to play the instrument well, you can
upgrade to a wooden instrument and retain your plastic recorder for
backup. If you find that you are not all that interested, a good plastic
instrument may be all the recorder you will ever need to buy. And if you
find that recorder playing is really not for you and you would rather
spend your spare time doing something else, then you haven't blown a
big chunk of your disposable income. See the section on plastic recorders
in our ASW Guide to Recorders for a list of recommended makers and
Bottom line: unless you have other priorities, buy yourself a top quality,
custom-tuned plastic alto recorder (we recommend the Yamaha 300
series woodgrain alto in either palisander or ebony), both volumes of the
Hugh Orr method "Basic Recorder Technique" for alto recorder, and
Hans-Martin Linde's "The Recorder Player's Handbook" to educate

yourself as to what it is all about. Total cost: $108.35. We pay the

shipping and insurance. Come back when you have worked your way
through both volumes of Orr and read the Linde book from cover to
cover, and we can talk about where to go from there.
I would like to get my elementary school-age children interested in recorder playing
as well, so that we can learn together as a family. What beginning instruments and
methods would you suggest for youngsters?
I have always been an ardent advocate of family music-making, which is
called Hausmusik in German, and firmly believe that "the family that
plays together, stays together." Many families have a home music
tradition that goes back for decades and spans more than two
generations. The recorder and early music are also an ideal choice for
both parents and children involved in home schooling. The Yamaha 300
series woodgrain soprano recorder in either palisander or ebony or the
Adler Filius soprano, and Volume I of the Mario Duschenes "Method for
the Recorder" for soprano recorder, together with a bit of adult
supervision, should get any youngster off to a good solid start. This
method has some useful easy duets for soprano and alto recorder in the
back for beginning parent/child ensemble use. There is also a separate
volume of simple piano accompaniments available which can make
learning a fun family project if someone has rudimentary piano-playing
ability, and the piano accompaniments are now also available on a CD
If several adults and kids are learning soprano recorder simultaneously,
the Giesbert "Schule des Zusammenspiels" (don't let the name intimidate
you) offers a wide variety of easy trios for soprano recorders. However,
if you are seriously interested in family ensemble playing, I usually
recommend that one parent learn to play soprano along with the child,
and the other adult learn to play alto recorder. After the child has gotten
beyond the beginning stages, the adult playing soprano can switch easily
to tenor, since the fingerings are virtually identical, and the family
ensemble will then be able to access the vast amount of trio literature
available for soprano, alto, and tenor instruments. Edward B. Marks
publishes three excellent, extremely inexpensive anthologies of early
music (renaissance, baroque, and preclassical) that can be played on
either SSA or SAT recorders and provide a wealth of material for the
beginning family recorder consort.
All of the methods and materials mentioned on this page are listed in our detailed
discussion of Adult Recorder Methods and Materials. as well as in our complete
catalogue. If you have any further questions, contact me via E-mail at or give me a call M-F 10-6 EST at +1 (508) 833-3979.
David H. Green, director
Antique Sound Workshop, Ltd.

Associations with the supernatural

Amongst the literary references to the recorder gathered to date a significant number are
associated in some way with the supernatural. We have already encountered several of
The recorder features in many depictions of angel choirs.
There might be one in this Jesse Tree of 1411 (British Museum). See detail here and a
closer detail here.
A cherubic recorder-playing angel can be found in a Triptych by Giovanni Bellini in the
Chiesa di Santa Maria Gloriosa del Frari in Venice.
A positively exquisite one graces The Coronation of the Virgin (ca 1607) by Guido Reni
(1575-1642). See detail here.
And there certainly is a recorder playing angel in this angel choir from El Greco's
Annunciation (ca 1590) although, typically, he seems to have lost his part while all
about are playing their's!
Another angelic recorderist by El Greco may be seen in his Imacculate Conception of
1607-1610 (Thyssen-Bornemiza Collection, Prado, Madrid).
Recorder playing angels also occur in literature. The earliest manifestation of this might
well be Chaucer's House of Fame (1340-1400), a dream vision, owing quite a bit to
Dante, in which the poet meets and hears the harpers Orpheus, Orion, Eacides, Chiron
and, lastly, Glascurion (a famous Welsh bard) and the pipers "many thousand tymes
We have already encountered the description of an angel choir from from the mid-15thcentury Buke of the Howlate.
In an early 16th-century Cornish miracle play, Ordinale de Origine Mundi, recorder
playing minstrels are included in King David's band.
Likewise in Stephen Hawes' Passetyme of Pleasure (1509) a recorder player is amongst
those musicians who "did sytte about their ladyes mageste", the lady in question being
"dame Musyyke".
Thomas Campion's exquisite devotional song Come let us sound the praises of the
King's king (1601) affords the striking lines:
"But when once thy beams do remove my darkness,
O then I'll shine forth as an angel of light,
And record with more than an earthly voice thy
Infinite honours."
Well, of course these angel choirs and their Earthly surrogates contain all manner of
instruments and there is nothing remarkable about the appearance of recorders in them.
But, unlike other instruments, for the recorder this association with the supernatural
extended to spirits of all kinds, portents, miracles, death, resurrection and to fake

funerals. Unfortunately time allows only the briefest sampling of these. They are
brought together in an Interactive Database here for the first time.
Thomas Norton's Gorboduc (1561) begins every act with a dumb show accompanied by
music. The stage directions for Act 3, scene 1 call for flutes (ie recorders) for "a
company of mourners" for the murdered Ferrex.
John Marston's Antonio's Revenge (1600) affords us our first fake funeral for which "the
still flutes sound a mournful cynet" as a coffin enters. However, the coffin's occupant is
latter found to be alive!
In Shakespeare's As You Like It "still music" is requested for the entrance of Hymen
"leading Rosalind in woman's clothes and Celia".
In his Midsummers Night's Dream "still music" is called for when Oberon casts his spell
over Bottom. In this scene we have a ritual beheading, magic and symbolic rebirth.
In John Fletcher's Bonduca (1613/1647) the stage directions for a Druidic ceremony
involving sacrifice stipulates recorders.
In Thomas Middleton's A Chaste Mayd in Cheap-side (1613) "recorders dolefully
playing" accompany the entrance of the coffins of Touchwood junior and of Moll. This
turns out to be a double fake funeral!
In Beaumont & Fletcher's The Maid's Tragedy (1610/1619) recorders play for a
wedding masque of gods and goddesses.
Such references come thick and fast and continue on unbroken well into the 18th
century. It seems likely that the solemn and ethereal tone of recorders played together
readily created in the listener a sense of mystery, of majesty or holy dread, much as the
electronic confections of our own age do for horror films.
Perhaps one of the most moving examples of such use of the recorder is the Ode on the
Death of Mr Henry Purcell (1697) with words by Dryden and music by John Blow:
"Mark how the Lark and Linnet Sing,
With rival Notes
They strain their Warbling Throats,
To welcome in the Spring.
But in the close of Night,
When Philomel begins her Heav'nly lay,
They cease their mutual spight,
Drink in her Musick with delight,
And list'ning and silent, and silent and list'ning and
list'ning and silent obey.
Struck dumb they all admir'd the God-like Man,
The God-like Man,
Alas, too soon retir'd,
As He too late began.
We beg not Hell, our Orpheus to restore,

Had He been there,

Their Sovereigns fear
Had sent Him back before.
The pow'r of Harmony too well they knew,
He long e'er this had Tun'd their jarring Sphere,
And left no Hell below.
The Heav'nly Quire, who heard his Notes from High
Let down the Scale of Musick from the Sky:
They handed him along,
And all the way He taught, and all the way they Sung.
Ye Brethren of the Lyre, and tunefull Voice,
Lament his lott: but at your own rejoyce.
Now live secure and linger out your days,
The God's are pleas'd alone with Purcell's Layes,
Nor know to mend their Choice."
This quotation encapsulates almost all we have discovered so far of the recorder's
associations making reference to birds, Gods, heavenly choirs, resurrection and
miracles. It's scored for two countertenors and two recorders; after all, Purcell was a
countertenor and, as you can see from the comprehensive list of his works which
include the recorder, was fond of this instrument.
These associations were not confined to England. In the Spanish theatre, recorders were
associated with religious events. In La gran columna forgos, San Basilio el Magno
(1596-1603), recorders accompany the discovery of an altar. In El tuhn del cielo y loco
santo (1620-1630), recorders accompany the discovery of a Christ figure and the
appearance of the Christ child. In France, Lully used the recorder to represent the
lamentation of a choir of mourners for the hero in Alceste (1674) and pleas to Apollo for
help against the monster in Bellrophon (1679).
In a number of self-portraits of the 17th and 18th centuries, artists are shown holding,
playing or contemplating a recorder as a symbol of inspiration, eg. Metsu's (1629-1667)
self-portrait Inspiration (Private collection, Roermond), Job Andrianz Berckheyde's
(1630-1693) Self-portrait in the atelier (Uffizi Gallery, Florence), and Jnos Kupezki's
(1667-1740) Recorder player (Szpmvszeti Mzeum, Budapest).
The recorder has been associated with the supernatural and with religious ceremonies in
music, too. In Purcell's incidental music for Nathaniel Lee's Theodosius (168)), two
recorders accompany the bass aria "Hark! Behold the Heavenly Quire" as an angel choir
descends. In his Dioclesian (1690), two recorders accompany the soprano aria "Charon
the peaceful Shade" which concerns crossing the River Styx. In his St Mathew Passion
(1727/9), J.S. Bach replaces flutes by recorders (doubled by oboi di caccia) in the
recitative and chorus "O Schmerz! Hier zittert das gequlte Herz", describing the
suffering of Christ on the Cross. And Bach scores for recorders in the funeral cantatas,
namely the aria "Bestelle dein Haus" from Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit, BWV 106
(1707) and the chors "Wenn es meines Gottes wille" form Komm du ssse Todesstunde,
BWV 161 (1715). Gluck's famous "Dance of the Blessed Spirits" from Orfeo is thought
to have been scored originally for recorder rather than the transverse flute.

Associations with disorder

Suprising as it may seem, after ca 1600 the recorder often appears in references to
disorder and conflict, even war!
In Martin le Franc's Le Champion des Dames (1440-42), Francvouloir and Malebouche
seem to be discussing the merits of this 15th century girl's recorder playing. In fact they
are arguing about her virtue! From the 16th century onwards the recorder became
increasingly popular amongst amateurs. Their intolerable fumblings might often have
given rise to conflict. A hint of this is found in the reference from Actes and
Monuments, The Book of Martyrs (1563) of John Foxe in which it is noted that Bilney,
who gave his life at the stake for his opinions:
"could abide no swaring nor singing ... and when Dr Thurlby, the scholar
living in the chamber underneath him, would play upon his recorder (as
he would often do) he would resort strait to his prayer."
As we have seen, even the problems of naming the instrument seems to have provoked
argument. Remember the Pepper/Piper dispute?
In Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream Hippolyta comments on Quince's
introduction to Pyramus and Thisbe:
"Indeed he hath played on his prologue like a child on a recorder; a
sound, but not in government."
And in King Henry IV, Part 2 Rumour likens himself to a pipe:
"I, from the orient to the drooping west,
Making the wind my post-horse, still unfold
The acts commenced on this ball of earth;
Upon my tongues continual slanders ride;
The which in every language I pronounce
Stuffing the ears of men with false reports.
I speak of peace, while covert enmity,
Under the smile of safety, wounds the world;
And who but Rumour, who but only I,
Make fearful musters, and prepar'd defence;
Whilst the big year, swol'n with some other grief,
Is thought wath child by the stern tyrant war,
And no such matter? Rumour is a pipe
Blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures;
And of so easy and so plain a stop,
That the blunt monster with uncounted heads,
The still-discordant wavering multitude,
Can play upon it. But what need I thus
My well-known body to anatomize among my household?"
In William Percy's The Cuckqueanes and Cuckolds Errants (1601) is the following
interchange between Shift and Nim:
"Thats a new song now ..."

"Shift, did'st ever hear better music in thy days, Shift?"

"No, by the crowd of Apollo, Nim, have I.
Why, sirrha, this now was better to me than a pair of recorders, I vow."
"A pair of disorders, you should have said, gentlemen"
Of the war-like references perhaps the most fascinating and certainly the most chilling
is that in Milton's Paradise Lost (1667) where the angels defeated in Heaven ritually
prepare their minds like "warriors old" for the more fatal confrontation to come on
".............. Anon they move
In perfect phalanx to the Dorian mood
Of flutes and soft recorders; such as raised
To highth of noblest temper heroes old
Arming to battle, and instead of rage
Deliberate valor breathed, firm and unmoved
With dread of death to flight or foul retreat,
Nor wanting power to mitigate and swage
With solemn touches troubled thoughts, and chase
anguish and doubt and fear and sorrow and pain
From mortal or immortal minds. Thus they,
Breathing united force with fixed thought,
Moved on in silence to soft pipes that charmed
Their painful steps o'er the burnt soil; and now
Advanced in view they stand, a horrid front
Of dreadful length and dazzling arms, in guise
Of warriors old with ordered spear and shield,
Awaiting what command their mighty Chief
Had to impose."
In Dryden's Don Sebastien (1689) Antonio pulls out his recorder first in order to attract
his master's daughter, and later to drown out a woman with whom he is quarrelling.
Lines from masques and operas like "Since the toils and the hazards of War's at an end",
"Ye blustering bretheren of the skies", "Why should men quarrel", all accompanied by
recorders, continue this particular association well into the 18th century.
Strange to relate, the very last eighteenth-century literary reference I have found to the
recorder in William Cowper's translation of The Iliad (1791) has the lines:
So frequent were the groans by Atreus' son
Heaved from his inmost heart, trembling with dread.
For cast he but his eye toward the plain
Of Ilium, there, astonish'd, he beheld
The city fronted with bright fires, and heard
Pipes, and recorders, and the hum of war;
But when again the Greecian fleet he view'd,
And thought on his own people, then his hair

Uprooted elevating to the Gods,

He from his generous bosom groan'd again.
In music, Charpentier associated recorders with the transition from violence into calm
or war into peace, as in Mde (1693). Worthy of note here is Telemann's use of two
bickering recorders ('a pair of disorders') to evoke Xantippe, Socrates nagging wife, in
his well-known trio-sonata in C major. Bach's aria for alto accompanied by two
recorders and strings, "Jesus schlft, was soll ich hoffen?" from the cantata of the same
name, BWV 81 (1724), depicts the sleeping Jesus in a boat on the Sea of Galilee when a
storm frightens his disciples enough to wake him up.

Pastoral and amorous associations

As we have seen, from Chaucer onwards the recorder has been associated with pastoral
scenes involving birds, rustics and shepherds. Here is a typical scene from a Shepherd's
Calendar of ca 1500.
Intimately bound up with such images are amorous or erotic encounters of various
kinds, illustrated exquisitely by this Chelsea porcelain group (from the Art Gallery of
Western Australia, right here in Perth) after The Music Lesson (ca 1765), a painting by
Franois Boucher (1703-1770) (from Melburne's Art Gallery of Victoria.). This
langorous pair depicted by Louis Silvestre (1675-1760) in an Allegory of Music (Stadttheater, Lindau) seem more than a little distracted.
Although da Cossa's Triumph of Venus (1470 is explicit enough, those smug little
rabbits we saw earlier in the complete picture are often remarked upon as a symbol of
fecundity. But the recorders and the pregnant shape of the lute's back are surely an
equally obvious reflection of what is going on in the foreground!
Titian (1488/89-1576) exploited the erotic symbolism of recorders in several of his
paintings. Here he does so in an early work, the so-called The Three Ages of Man (ca
1510-1515, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh), in which a young girl presents
two recorders to a youth, who is already holding a recorder in his right hand. Thus a
straightforward interpretation understands the iconography to represent childhood or
youth, marriage or middle age and old age (Egan 1961). Recently, Joannides (1991) has
suggested that the narrative theme of this picture is in fact the legend of Daphnis and
Chloe as told by Longus in a Greek 3rd-century manuscript which Titian might have
known of through his literary contacts.
And he does so again, in what is thought to be one of his last paintings, and certainly his
most blatantly erotic, the Nymph and Shepherd.
It has been said that Titian's Pastoral Concert (Louvre, Paris) is the outstanding
masterpiece of the Venetian Renaissance. It is thought to have been inspired by the
Poesia card from Andrea Mantegna's 'tarochi' series. The naked figures are the Muses of
Poetry. The recorder (which reminds us of the Greek aulos) and the lute allude to
Aristotle's Poetica. Thus this painting proclaims the close interrelationship between
human beings and nature and between poetry and music.

Other paintings by Titian depicting recorders are his Venus and Cupid with a Lute
Player (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge), in which Venus holds a recorder (detail)
whilst a lutenist turns towards the goddess as if seeking inspiration through gazing at
her beauty, and Bacchanal of the Andrians (Prado, Madrid) which depicts two recorders
in the hands of women revellers, with a third recorder by the foot of a woman (detail).
In Titian's Assumption of the Virgin (Franciscan Church, Venice) a cherub holds a duct
flute (recorder or flageolet) beside another who is playing the crumhorn (detail); on the
other side of the painting a third plays the timbrel. In the National Gallery of Scotland,
Edinburgh, is a Portrait of two boys with musical instruments, attributed to Titian
(Anonymous loan, 1993) in which one boy holds a lute, the other what looks like a
recorder but is probably a six-holed pipe.
In literature uses of the recorder music to accompany amorous scenes, weddings, and
entrances and exits of Cupid, Hymen or Venus abound.
In James Shirley's The Grateful Servant (1629) an assignation is arranged for which
recorder music is provided as an aphrodisiac:
"............ be prepared
For your first entertainment; these about serve
To quicken appetite."
[SD. Recorders.]
"............ I like this well,
I shall not use much courtship. Where's this music?"
"Doth it offend your ear?"
"'Tis ravishing."
Dryden's Song for St Cecilia's Day (1687) has the lines:
"The soft complaining flute
In dying notes discovers
The woes of hopeless lovers
Whose dirge is whisper'd by the warbling lute."
Henry Purcell's Hail Bright Cecilia (1692) set Nicholas Brady's words to music with an
obbligato part for recorder:
"In vain the am'rous flute and soft guitar
Jointly labour to inspire
Ardent heat and loose desire."
Lully employed recorders to represent Mercury's pipe in Achille et Polixne and Perse
(1682), and again for the pipes of Pan in Isis (1677) and Cadmus et Hermione (1673).
Purcell used the recorder for a number of texts involving shepherds or celebration of the
pastoral life in arias such as "We reap all the pleasures we freely enjoy", "How pleasant

is this flower Plain" (1688), "Ah, happy, happy life!" (1688), "How blest are shepherds"
(1691), "Shepherd, shepherd, leave decoying" (1691).
Vivalidi's chamber concerto La Pastorella RV 95 is scored for recorder, oboe, violin
and continuo.
The aria " While Corydon the gentle shepherd" from Johann C. Pepusch's cantata
Corydon (1714) has an obbligato recorder part.
Bach's aria "Doch Jesus will auch be der Strafe" from the cantata Schauet doch und
sehet BWV 46 (1723), scored for two recorders and two oboi di caccia refers to Jesus
the shepherd. In the opening tenor recitative "Er rufet seinen Schafen mit Namen" and
the alto aria "Komm, leite mich" from BWV 175 (1925) three recorders and continuo
evoke a pastoral atmosphere.

Conclusion: the Twentieth Century

I do hope none of you are feeling like this chap who is so anxiously watching the
sundail. Lest you are, let me hasten to assure you that we are very near the end.

I have confined my attention today to references to the recorder prior to the revival of
interest in it at the end of the last century by a few antiquarians and scholars. However,
one contemporary use of the instrument in a dramatic context demands our serious
On one of his televised escapades, Dr Who allows his trusty plastic recorder to fall into
the force-field generator of the tardis just before getting stuck in a black hole. Thus the
recorder remains the only positive matter in a universe of anti-matter.
With his usual flair for celestial mechanics, Who is able to use this unique recorder to
bring about the downfall of the sinister Omega, a rogue Time Lord! Omega is induced
to dash the force-field generator to the ground thereby dislodging the recorder which
goes off with a 'big bang' and creates a supernova!
Needless to say, Who and company make good their escape a nano-second before this
tumultuous event.
What is fascinating here is how, after a lapse of nearly two hundred years all the old
associations reappear -- the presence of immortals (Time Lords), conflict (on a cosmic

scale), death (Omega's), symbolic rebirth (Who and company escape the black hole),
and miraculous events (the creation of a supernova).
It is my sad duty to report that Who's brief tootle on the recorder can only be described
as deplorable and that nothing he says or does gives any inkling that he is aware that the
instrument is of serious musical intent.

Now after seven-hundred years, Dr Who has come to remind us of a terrible truth. Like
all great inventions with obvious power for good the recorder can unleash immense evil,
too. As I said at the outset, the number of recorders on Earth exceeds that of all other
musical instruments combined. Thus "the still- discordant wavering multitude" now
have it in their power to use recorders to blow up the universe. Our only hope lies in
turning the tables against that "blunt monster with uncounted heads" by doing our
utmost to realize the full musical potential of "this little organ", for as William
Congreve had it long ago:
"Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast."