Making recorders. How in the heck did I get started on this journey? I was putting a woodshop together in the garage to try to get my son to do some woodworking with me. As a musician, I thought it would be fun to try making a musical instrument. I’m a guitar player and a piano player, and I had dabbled around with making a cigar box guitar in the past. But everyone makes guitars. And making a piano seemed a bit more than it would be wise to bite off. Now it turns out that I did play recorder as a kid, but not like most kids in a classroom playing Hot Cross Buns. My dad had a yamaha soprano and alto, and he also had a fingering chart. Which was enough for me to start playing around with and sounding out tunes on my own. Pretty soon we started playing duets, mostly hymns by ear, me on the soprano and Dad on the alto. That was my introduction to the recorder.
I had a couple old wood recorders around the house, so I dusted them off and said “hey I bet I can make one of these”. I went to Amazon and found a book on recorder making, ordered it, and went to work!
It didn’t take me long to make a rudimentary recorder flute from the instructions in the book. I made it out of some really cheap wood, and it looked and sounded terrible. It was then that I realized that I really didn’t have enough experience with recorders to actually have a feel for what is good and what is bad in a recorder. So I hit the computer again, this time ebay and started watching for interesting looking used recorders. Once I started I couldn’t stop! My dear wife dreads seeing another package show up on the doorstep … not another recorder. Let me show you my recorder collection.
Of the recorders you see here four were built by me, one (the best of the bunch) is on loan from and was made by a friend and mentor, one (the bass) I’ve had since I was in college – picked it up used at a sale, one I splurged and bought new, and the rest were from ebay. And these are only the best ones … I’ve got another dozen or so complete junk ones in a drawer.
Let me show you my best two purchases. First, a Moeck “Rottenburg” rosewood soprano that I bought new (mail order) from Lazar’s Early Music. It has an amazingly sweet and piercing sound.
And my favorite alto, a Mollenhauer Denner model that I got for a steal on ebay. Not sure what kind of wood it is, it might be pearwood.
Now, the surprise is that I actually have an alto recorder that I made, which I prefer over this beautiful Mollenhauer. As long as what I’m playing doesn’t have a low F in it. Anyway, more on that to come.
In my next post I’ll tell you some interest facts about recorders, including some of why they are so devilishly difficult to make by hand.
Now here’s a little clip for you to listen to … it’s me playing a Bach fugue on 4 recorders – soprano, alto, tenor and bass. Ok, I’m not a professional musician and I’m sure you can find plenty of issues with the technique. But what I want to tell you is that alto you hear that starts out the piece – I made that out of maple and cedar. Tuned it to A=440 (modern pitch) but with a Vallotti temperament. And I think it sounds pretty good. The other recorders are my Moeck rosewood soprano, a smelly old Honer tenor that it looks like someone tried to refinish by scraping it with a putty knife but actually makes a nice sound, and the Mollenhauer bass that I’ve had since college.
In case you wondered about the smelly old tenor, here’s what it looks like. It has a bite taken out of the mouthpiece. That bite was not taken by me.