If you have arrived on this page as a result of trying to identify or value an unknown recorder you should have a look at my comments regarding used (second-hand) recorders. Here is a link that will open a new page. But... Do check this page out while you are here!
My lists use numbers and words to identify and describe the instruments. I have produced this page because novices often latch on to an entirely incorrect interpretation of descriptions. Some of the more general terms feature in my glossary list. I discuss the more troublesome issues here.
Recorder... An end blown 'whistle' flute, with thumbhole and seven finger holes, usually with the lowest two finger positions made as a pair of small holes.
John Everingham FTCL
The common (popular) sizes are Soprano = descant and Alto = treble.
These names are size descriptions, players in the UK generally use the second word. The other 'size' words are international and you will find them on my information page.
The soprano is about 33cm. (13 inches) long and the alto is about 49cm. (19 inches) long.
The actual length depends on many factors so these dimensions can only be taken as a rough guide.
Most names are not actually makers' names, they are 'house names', associated with a distributor or even a music shop. Good manufacturers' names are no problem. A name that is associated with an area or a composer is most likely to be a 'house' name. The quality of the recorder may not be related to the reputation of the music house. Surprisingly, 'Schott' recorders are not good.
There are very few original C18 recorders in existence. The names of their makers are generally known, ie. Bressan, Stanesby, Denner and Rottenburgh for example.
Names from the past can be used a by makers who want give a model a name. (They are long out of copyright!) For a time the plastic better quality Yamaha recorders were described as 'Rottenburgh', as were the better wooden models by Moeck who had been using 'Rottenburgh' for decades. The recorders were very different. Moeck still use the name. Yamaha have stopped! Perhaps they had 'words' about it.
Such names are most useful in identifying different models by the same maker. One is on very dangerous ground when comparing different makers' Stanesby or Bressan models, for example. If you choose from a catalogue you are almost guaranteed to be in for a surprise when you come to play the recorder, they can be so different. Your best plan is to consult someone who has the experience and knowledge to assess the differences.
Good makers make good recorders. Trust them! Do not expect all 'Bressan' recorders to feel and sound the same. They will look similar, but none are exact reproductions of an original. The original design has to be modified to cope with our choice of modern pitch and temperament. Like children of the same parents there are variations within the family characteristics.
Pitch in relation to other instruments.
Most recorders are not transposing instruments, other than at the octave. The fingering patterns are the same for the different sizes, but produce different notes. Its not a problem when you have a little experience. There are two schemes... for descant (and recorders with lowest note 'C' ) and for treble (and recorders with lowest note 'F'). The actual 'fingerings' are the same, but produce different notes. For more on this tricky subject have a look at my page on transposition.
If you have a recorder that plays flatter than other recorders or instruments in your group it is extremely unlikely that it is at 'baroque pitch'. Such instruments are rare. The standard pitch of A is 440Hz and this is what your piano should be tuned to, though your tuner may prefer 'C=256', it amounts to the same thing.
Baroque pitch is a whole semi-tone lower (A=415). This is so different that 'out of tune' is the wrong description. I get asked about it in relation to tuning because players read about it and know that it exists without understanding its implications. Baroque pitch recorders are rare, hand made and expensive. There is a bit more about this in my glossary.
There is always upward pressure on pitch and I feel that this is more evident in Europe than the Americas. Most recorders are now specified to be pitched at A=442. The difference between this and A=440 is very small and accommodated by pulling out the head when necessary.
A likely cause for flatness being diagnosed is often sharpness in the other instruments. Woodwind players in general find it very difficult to play at a pitch that is higher than the design pitch of their instrument. (It is their common moan that string players always tune 'up' and never 'down'.)
A recorder needs to be blown hard enough for the pitch to attain a sense of security. There is a 'plateau' of breath pressure where the pitch and tone quality are at their best. Better recorders have a wider plateau than poor ones. If you 'under blow' you will be flat (too low in pitch). If you have to under blow because you are too loud the other players need to come down to your pitch, or you should avail yourself of another recorder. In this case, a cheaper model is very often the answer!
An old inexpensive recorder may actually be flat. Wood, particularly the cheaper soft woods (maple and pear) changes over time and this generally pushes the pitch down. It is possible for a technician to 'tweak' the pitch a little but the only sure and economic answer is a new instrument.
© Saunders Recorders
11th. August 2015