Repairs and Servicing
Some recorders are beyond economic repair, or, indeed, any repair at all. I hope that checking through the following points will save time and money. In the notes below, 'costly' means roughly 50 pounds and upwards, 'very costly' 100 pounds and upwards and 'prohibitive', more than the instrument would be worth after the repair. Please contact a specialist supplier if you need generic spares. My stock is small, sufficient to look after my needs when it comes to repairing instruments for clients. If you want to do the work yourself you should source the materials yourself. It is essential that your are able to measure accurately and specify the parts you need precisely.
- Firstly, it is not possible to turn 'sow's ears' into 'silk purses'. Really bad recorders can never be re-worked enough to make them 'good'. With a bit of luck they may made 'usable' but one has always to be prepared for them to be 'improved' to the point of total uselessness.
- Loose joints are no problem. The lapping of cork or twine is easily replaced. However, loose joints are sometimes the result of warping. If the bore and outside of the recorder are no longer circular the joint will be tight, or tighter, at some alignments than others. This is very bad news and the instrument should be regarded as a 'write off' unless there are mitigating circumstances.
- Tight joints are a similar problem to loose joints (above). If the parts are round there is no problem. It is generally possible to re-work the cork or tenon (in a lathe) to correct the trouble.
- Varnish finishes are not renewable. Softwood recorders are finished with special varnishes that are not affected by the wax impregnation. When the finish becomes chipped or worn the appearance may be improved by removing all the remaining varnish and applying an oil or wax finish. This is only a DIY proposition as the process is so time consuming. You may note that the crisp edges to original finishes are due to the holes and other features being made after the varnish has been applied.
- Blocks are not available 'off the shelf'. An old recorder with a missing block is not a repair proposition. (If you are determined contact me so that I can send you some links to instructions. I have done it... the first one took me three days but it was good enough to use when I took my Grade VIII.)
- Pad replacement is routine. Suitable pads are standard woodwind repair workshop items. Both the diameter and thickness are crucial. The thickness especially so. Dedicated 'recorder pads' are not available for wooden recorders but suitable pads are made for clarinets and bassoons. Plastic pads may be replaced with an easily obtainable substitute. Have a look at this page. I have also had success with 'closed pore neoprene hatch sealing tape' bought from a chandlery, for large plastic recorder keys. A few specialist suppliers stock pads for Yamaha plastic recorders.
- Metal keys can be repaired provided that all the pieces are available. Without them the cost is prohibitive. It is often possible to obtain new plastic keys as spare parts though Yamaha prefer to supply a complete replacement joint. Spare parts for old models are rarely obtainable.
- I have put notes and pictures showing how fontanelle keys work and can be serviced
- Metal mouth pipes for bass recorders are costly to replace or even repair. Custom pipes are prohibitively expensive for all except the most valuable instruments. A reasonable DIY solution is brass tube from a model shop and couplings from a big plumbing supplier. 8mm. and 10mm. are available sizes.
- Replacement springs are routine. Needle springs and flat springs are standard repair materials. They are generally individually cut to fit the instrument. These spares are not regular music dealer stock but can be bought from a specialist supplier. See here for DIY notes on needle springs.
- Split and crack repair is a specialist task. The results are generally more satisfactory when they result from damage rather than age or over use. It is generally too costly to be worth considering for a softwood recorder unless it is a big one. In my experience, glue is never satisfactory by itself. It always needs a metal ring or a pin to effect a permanent repair. A specialist recorder maker may be able to sleeve a crack in the beak area with wood or imitation ivory.
- It may be possible to obtain a replacement joint for a wooden recorder in current production. The cost is high, a head is generally charged at two thirds of the price a complete new recorder. There is often a problem in matching the colour or finish. It is rarely a viable option.
- Damage to the labium edge is not repairable.
- A distorted labium edge is not correctable. Often the labium edge of a softwood recorder takes on a concave contour. There is nothing that can be done about this.
- Re-voicing, the adjustment of the critical aspects of the windway and labium to improve the sound, is a very complicated task and needs to be undertaken by a specialist. Very often, however, cleaning is sufficient, and this is a DIY proposition if you have a feeling for precision objects and a strong nerve. There are pictures and notes here. Practise on a low value recorder first.
- Re-tuning is possible but there is great potential for making things worse. I can sharpen a recorder a little by making small, barely noticeable (non-reversible) adjustments. It is not usually possible to raise the pitch of a recorder significantly without shortening it in a lathe and a lot of other work. The tone and 'feel' of the recorder is changed. If you need to lower the pitch, simply pull out the head a little. Because the recorder has a variable bore the results are much more satisfactory then they are for the cylindrical modern flute or whistle.
Individual notes can be moved, downwards by reducing the size of the hole (usually with beeswax, its removable!) or upwards by enlarging (this is permanent!). There are always 'knock on' effects and tuning is something of a 'black art'. Because of the way western music works there is actually no absolute measurable pitch for any note other than the standard A=440Hz and even this is being pushed up as time goes on. It needs an experienced musician, who is a good player, to asses the tuning of a recorder. Do not think that it is simply a matter of blowing down the recorder, watching a tuning meter and carving away.