The London International Festival of Early Music is coming up in early November, and before that Open Recorder Days Amsterdam. And then Christmas is nearly upon us! This means it’s the time of the year that lots of us start feeling the urge to buy a new recorder. But if you’re quite new to playing, you might not know what to look for, or how to go about it. This week and next I want to give you my tips for getting the instrument that best suits your needs.
The week I want to discuss the issue that often torments people when they are thinking of upgrading to a new recorder – wood or plastic?
New recorder – Wood or plastic?
Wooden instruments look very pretty, and it is tempting to assume that a wooden instrument will always be better than a plastic one. This is not necessarily the case. There has always been a bit of a bias towards wood; people tend to think of plastic instruments as only good for learners. I disagree – there are some really top notch plastic instruments out there. Yamaha, Aulos and Zen-on all make very high quality plastic instruments. Zen-on have even partnered with the Takeyama Workshop to produce a very good alto – a Bressan copy with proper Baroque bore and finger holes.
Similarly, one needs to be careful in one’s attitude to the wooden recorders. It used to be true that cheap wooden instruments were often poorly finished and of very variable quality. I’m not so sure that this is true now – I think production techniques have improved in the last decade or two – but I would still carefully consider my options before buying a bottom-of-the-range wooden instrument.
So here is my suggestion. Rather than getting into the whole ‘wood or plastic’ debate, how about choosing your new recorder by deciding how you are going to use it.
Questions to ask before starting to look for a new recorder
Are you a new-ish player? A good plastic instrument may be more stable and a more cost-effective option.
Do you play every week? It might be worth spending the extra for a really nice wooden instrument.
Is this going to be your main instrument, or a spare? A good plastic instrument makes a great spare for those times when you are doing a weekend course and you risk your wooden instrument getting sodden with condensation.
Do you actually pinch high notes? You can ruin the thumbhole on a wooden recorder by pinching. You will either need to spend extra on getting the thumbhole bushed (an extra bit of plastic inserted around the hole), or choose plastic for safety.
Do you have time to look after a wooden recorder? They do need oiling on a regular basis – some quite frequently. If you are short on spare time, this might be a good reason to stick to plastic.
Wood AND plastic
Just as a side point, Mollenhauer make a very decent Prima range that have a plastic head joint and a pear wood body. They are relatively inexpensive, have the stability of a plastic head joint, but the lovely extra resonance in the tone that comes with a wooden recorder. I have a couple of these; my Prima soprano is actually my soprano of choice. Here’s a picture of me holding it just before a concert (yes, I am wearing a scarf and coat – the church was cold!).
Next time I’ll give you come more top tips about how to choose the instrument that suits you and your playing style to perfection.