Innovations

There have been a number of attempts to re-design the recorder and extend its capabilities for use in a contemporary context. However, even virtuosi have, for the most part, preferred instruments designed after historical (i.e. pre-classical) models.

Keywork

As early as 1636 Marin Mersenne (a French polymath, whose works touched a wide variety of fields) advocated the use of extra chromatic keys on recorders (see Schmidt 1959: 25), a suggestion not explored until the 19th century with the development of what later became the Wiener csakan in about 1820,  a recorder in a♭’ with a thumb hole and seven tone-holes, originally with one key, later with up to 11 keys,  culminating in the development of the Komplizierte  Csakan. Csakans were mainly built in Vienna and Pressburg (modern-day Bratislava) between 1820 and 1860. A smaller version in c” was being made in the Vogtland region as late as c. 1900.

Wiener csakan in c” by an unknown maker, Johann Ziegler model

Peter Thalheimer (2013: 28-29) has described how as the early twentieth-century revival of the recorder gained momentum flautists who began to play the recorder wanted to have an instrument fitted with the familiar keys rather than having to get used to historical forked fingerings. Thus, after c. 1930, several workshops started to offer recorders with between three and six semitone keys, among them German instrument-makers Oscar Adler, Max Hüller, Ludwig Schlosser, Martin Kehr and Karl Hammerschmidt & Söhne.

Soprano recorder in c” with 6 semitone keys by  Max Hüller, c. 1938

 The German firm Johannes Adler made keyed recorders in c” as late as the 1960s.

Keyed recorder by Adler
Soprano recorder in c” by Johannes Adler (c. 1960) with 6 semitone keys (auctioned on eBay, 2007)

In 1936, the Gustav Herrnsdorf firm acquired the right to protection of a c”-recorder with a b♭’ key, (D.R.G.M. 1 362 864). This new key operated by the little finger of the uppermost (left) hand and it also made an easy speaking low c#’ possible. The impetus for this came from modern reed instruments, all of which are equipped with downward extensions below the fundamental. However, downward extensions to the recorder’s range were explored in the 16th century, e.g. by Hans Rauch von Schrattenbach and by members of the Bassano family, though this might not have been known in the 1930s. The use of extension keys would be introduced yet again by Joachim Paetzold (1966) and Maarten Helder (1996) and then transferred to the Mollenhaer-Paetzold Tarasov recorder and, more recently, to the Breukink-Bollinger “Eagle” recorder which we will meet below.

Early 20th-century innovations include the addition of a key applied to an otherwise more or less conventional recorder to close the bell of the recorder in order to facilitate the production of certain high notes and to adjust the tuning of others (see Fingering the Recorder). End-stopping of the bell of the recorder had been mentioned by Agricola (1529) and  Cardano (1546), so there are historical precedents for its use. In the absence of a bell key, it is hard to do unless the player is seated. A bell key as such was probably first made in 1953 by John W.F. Juritz, a physics lecturer and bassoonist in Cape Town, whose invention was not patented (Waitzman 1968, Thomas 1998). A bell key designed by Carl Dolmetsch in 1957, and first used by him publicly in 1958, involved plugging the bell opening itself and letting a new hole in the side of the foot which was covered by a key operated by the little finger of the lower hand. This side-mounted key was the subject of British Patent #852165, 8th June 1959, based on a 1958 application, although the text of the patent application also mentions the alternative strategy of closing or partially closing the bell opening itself (Thomas 1998, Madgwick and Loretto 1996, Loretto 1998). A less successful Carl Dolmetsch invention was a similar side-mounted closed key operated by the little finger of the uppermost hand which made possible a tongued f#”’, the subject of British Patent #852164, also granted on 8th June 1959 (Thomas 1988). Later, a key was designed by Dolmetsch which covered the bell opening itself and which could be operated by the little finger of the lower hand or, more usefully, by that of the upper hand.

Bell key, by Dolmetsch
Bell key, by Peter Worrell (for Dolmetsch)

In 1958, Edgar Hunt constructed an experimental long bell key, operated by the little finger of the left hand, like the long F key of the 18th-century keyed flute and modern oboe (Hunt 1961, Waitzman 1968). The left-hand little finger depressed a lever to pull a wire which passed through the bell of the foot joint to pull a key against the hole. Also in 1958, William (not John) Koch of Haverhill, New Hamphsire, USA, was using a bell key to obtain additional notes on his bass recorder (Waitzman 1968, 1969). Tsukumoto (1975) built side-mounted bell-keyed recorders with a lengthened foot which obviates closure of the bell opening itself. This could be made to be operated by the little finger of either hand. The end-mounted bell key was applied to a substantially re-designed recorder which adopted a dramatically different fingering system unsuccessfully championed by the American player Daniel Waitzman (1978).

The ‘OrKon’ or ‘Chromette’, invented in 1941 (US Patent #2330379) by Edward Verne Powell (1903-1986), the son of V.Q. Powell the famous New York flute maker), was essentially a modified soprano recorder moulded in bakelite with metal reinforcement rings and fitted with a simplified Boehm system keywork. Its lowest notes could be blown loudly as well as softly with minimal pitch change and the chromatic scale was much facilitated by the keywork. Although the Orkon was intended to be mass produced for use in schools as a preparatory instrument for potential flute players, the venture failed (Huene 1994, Jerome 2002, Burgess 2015: 63).

'Orkon' by Edward Verne Powell
‘Orkon’ by Edward Verne Powell © TJ IMaging

Japanese musical instrument manufacturer Nikkan (acquired by Yamaha in 1970) advertised a keyed recorder in the September 1957 edition of the magazine Ongaku-no-Tomo for which a patent was applied for on 25 February 1960 and issued by the Tokyo Patent Office on 7 February 1963 (record 38-1528). From the illustration this instrument appears to be a recorder with a semitone hole for the little finger of the lowermost hand and two keys operated by the little finger of the uppermost hand, presumably to extend the range downwards (Henseler and Otse 2010: 16).

Nikkan Superior-Paipu and patent for a keyed recorder

In 1984, an application for European Patent 0138231 was filed for a fully keyed recorder by the saxophonist Arnfred Rudolf Strathmann of Memsdorf and granted i1987 (see also United States Patent 4664011), Strathmann’s recorder featured the elaborate keywork and fingerings of a saxophone. With the assistance of the Klein company Kiel, a series of Strathmann flutes was developed with many modern features. The body is made of wood or durable plastic, the block height is adjustable with a simple thumbscrew, and the thumb hole is replaced by a key which opens two small holes high up in the head-piece which raises any fingering of the lower register to the octave above. The volume of sound for all notes is stronger than on conventional recorders, and the timbre is said to be between that of a recorder and flute (Huene 1994). These instruments  have been made in both soprano and alto models. After the Klein company collapsed, Strathmann continued to make these interesting instruments alone, in small quantities until his death in 2016. Strathmann flutes found favour with a number other jazz musicians, amongst them Fiete Felsch, Klaus Doldinger, Herb Geller and Steffen Schorn.

Keyed recorder by Arnfred Strathman
Keyed recorder by Arnfred Strathman

The firm Mollenhauer have recently incorporated in a newly designed alto recorder the adjustable block (ie a tilting windway) patented separately by Strathmann in 1992 (United States Patent #5107740; European Patent #0431344).

In 1996 Strathmann patented a device in the block, operated by the lower lip, which alters the pitch of the recorder by up to 5 cents. The device is based on the principle of the universal semitone key, which was already used on recorders in the 1930s (Moeck 1997, Thalheimer 2013).

It is worth noting that it has long been possible to fix a recorder-like head-joint to a keyed flute. L’Encylopedie (Diderot & D’Allembert 1751-1772) includes a description and illustration for a flûte traversière et à bec which is side-blown and has flute fingerings , with a d# key (8) and an octave hole (1) opened by pressing the upper key:

Side-blown keyed recorder (Diderot & D’Allembert 1751-1772)

Surprisingly, a similar but keyless instrument appears in a painting made a century earlier by Joos van Craesbeeck (?1605/6 – 1654/61), namely The Mandoline Player, present whereabouts unknown. Here, the ‘mandoline’ is actually a lute.

creaebeeck_mandoline
Mandoline Player, Joos van Craesbeeck (?1605/6 -1654/61)

In the early 1930s the German firm of Carl Kruspe offered a fully keyed Schnabelflöte provided with both flute and recorder head-joints made by Max Hüller (Thalheimer 2013: 44).

hüller_schnabelföte

Today, specially designed head-joints are made to fit any modern concert flute by Martin Niethammer and any flute or piccolo by Nick Metcalf  The result in each case is an inexpensive, fully chromatic instrument which will play with great agility over two or more octaves.

Chromatic whistle by Nick Metcalf
Chromatic whistle by Nick Metcalf

Volume

In 1930 Carl Dolmetsch also introduced the echo or piano key operated by the chin or little finger of the left hand which opened a small hole in the block of the recorder by means of a plunger and raised the pitch of instrument a semitone thus making it possible to play very softly with diminished breath pressure as well as facilitating chromatic playing. This method was latter abandoned in favour of a small additional hole in the rear side-wall of the head behind and opposite the main slot in the window. The latter modification was also patented in 1958 (British Patent #852135), though it derives from the echo key of certain eighteenth-century flageolets. A similar device patented by Max King & Sons in Zwota (Patent DRP 671 814, dated 26 January 1937) was fixed to Herwiga ‘Pan’ recorders.

Recorder lip-key by Peter Worrell
Lip operated ‘echo’ key by Peter Worrell

Moeck offer a modern recorder designed by Dutch maker Adriana Breukink and marketed as the Slide Recorder. This instrument is similar to so-called Ganassi recorders, but incorporates a specially designed slide mouthpiece for the production of dynamics and microtonal playing. In the Breukink/Moeck design, a spring loaded pad operated by the player’s lower lip activates a plunger which opens a hole in the face of the block, a variant of the first of echo/piano keys developed by Dolmetsch in 1930 (see above).

Slide recorder with chin-activated key by Adriana Breukink
Slide recorder with chin-activated key,
by Adriana Breukink

Similarly, Geri Bollinger offers recorders with “le Souffleur”, a hole drilled through the block which can be opened or closed with the player’s lower lip thus permitting a greater dynamic range. Obviously, any make of recorder can be modified in this way. The piano or whisper key has been applied to the Harmonic Tenor Recorder and the Eagle Recorder, both described below.

Carl Dolmetsch also invented the so-called “tone-projector” (British Patent #666602), a wooden wheelbarrow shaped attachment which clipped on to the window of the recorder’s headpiece to focus the tone and project it forward in an attempt to give the recorder more volume. Initially, these were made from rosewood or satinwood by Michael Heale (then an apprentice at Dolmetsch) who manufactured them as overtime work (Cave 2003). The tone-projector, first used publicly by Carl Dolmetsch in 1949, was later replaced by a plastic model in two sizes, one for sopranino and soprano, the other for alto and tenor (Ward 1949).

Dolmetsch tone-projector

All of the above innovations leave the recorder essentially unchanged and it can still be played like any other recorder until the player has good reason to bring them into use (see Dolmetsch 1996, Madgwick and Loretto 1996).

Over a period of 25 years Klaus Grunwald, a painter and art teacher living in Cologne, developed Trichterflöten or “bell recorders”, largely for his own use. He sought a keyless recorder which would project well in large indoor spaces and hold its own with modern instruments. Working largely with simple tools such as files, rasps, drills and hot air guns, Grunwald made some 80 prototypes ranging from sopranino to great bass, at every conceivable pitch, and from a variety of materials. Grunwald’s recorders were similar in appearance to renaissance recorders, with a wide, largely cylindrical bore, a simple external profile, and large single tone holes. The crucial difference was the incorporation of a large, widely flared exponential bell (of wood or metal) similar to that of a clarinet. Another feature was a raised finger hole for the lowest finger, added for ergonomic reasons; this can be seen, too, on the Wiener csakan (c. 1900) illustrated at the top of this page. Grunwald was besieged by orders for his unique instruments but really had no desire to replicate them for commercial sale. Eventually, a contract was signed allowing the Adler-Heinrich  firm to produce instruments to Grunwald’s design under his supervision until the firm foundered some years ago.

Grunwald alto bell record by Adler-Heinrich

A novel solution to the problem of recorder dynamics has been suggested by English flute maker Clive Catterall who offered a specially designed notch-flute of cylindrical bore but with recorder fingering. The resulting instrument, similar to the Japanese shakuhachi and the Andean quena, is played by putting the head against the lower lip and chin so that the edge is level with the gap between the lips. Formation of the lip shape, angle of blowing and air pressure must be learned, as with the transverse flute. The thumb hole can be used in the same way as it is on the recorder or the shift between registers can be done with the embouchure alone, it is up to the player. Catterall no longer makes flutes, but it is possible to make such an instrument yourself from a plastic soprano recorder with a single saw-cut.

Recorder without a windway, by Clive Catterall

Recorder without a windway, by Clive Catterall

Another Dolmetsch innovation was the recorder mute, a narrow fold of paper hooked over the labium of the recorder first described by Carl Dolmetsch in Part 3 of The School Recorder Book (Dolmetsch 1974). In fact, these are best made using the smooth soft plastic material of which the recording surface of 5¼-inch  floppy diskettes are made (Delong n.d.).  An adjustable mute for soprano recorder has been developed and marketed by Italian plastics manufacturer Bonini as Sordinella.

Sordinella recorder mute

Solutions to the condensation problem

A solution to the perennial problem of condensation in the narrow windway of the recorder and its relatives has long been sought. Both English and French types of flageolets made use of a wind-chamber in which a sponge is placed to absorb moisture from the breath passing through it. This has the added advantage of creating a resistance to the player’s breath. Nineteenth-century csakan makers developed a number of novel approaches (Tarasov 2005). Carl Doke of Linz and Martin Schemmel of Vienna introduced a thin wooden wedge into the windway. Franz Schöllnast of Pressburg and Johan Ziegler & Son of Vienna drilled two small holes into the side of the block, draining into the channels below. Stephan Koch of Vienna adopted a hollowed-out block to collect moisture which drained out via a small tube, the dried air passing into a normal windway.

A 1962 patent application (USA Patent #3178986, German Patent #1235122) was made by Hermann Moeck which shows how the windway was to be lined either completely or in part by stable, moisture-absorbing materials. The final patent registered in 1974 (USA Patent #3988956, German Patent #2432423) used a different design in which an absorbent and very stable artificial chalk-like material was inserted into the floor of a normal wooden block. However, the ceramic material from which the absorbent insert was made eroded in response to the ghastly cocktail of food and alcohol present on the average recorder player’s breath, necessitating expensive repairs. Improving on this line of attack,  Mollenhauer introduced Synpor, a synthetic block material which absorbs moisture without changing dimension (Burger and Tarasov 2001).

The American recorder maker Friedrich von Huene fitted a silver sleeve over the labium of some of his early recorders in an attempt to check the buildup of moisture, but this was only partially successful (Burgess 2015: 78), presumably because the problem resides in the windway rather than on the labium of the instrument.

A number of makers have experimented with a system of longitudinal grooves in the wind-way floor to facilitate the flow of condensed moisture away from this sensitive area (Stephenson 1987). The latter idea, inspired by certain Markneukirchen recorders made early in the 20th century, has been implemented in plastic recorders and in soprano and alto instruments designed by Hohner for school use.

Most recently, French recorder-maker Vincent Bernolin has adopted a three-pronged assault on the condensation problem. The blocks of all his instruments are made from cedar treated by an exclusive procedure devised by physicist Arthur Gohin. Furthermore, Bernolin places an expansion joint between the block and the wood of the head with which it comes into contact which absorbs residual moisture. He also offers instruments in which the block is prepared with a more sophisticated treatment of his own devising.

Extreme sizes of recorder

Some makers have experimented with recorders of extreme size. Perhaps the largest conventional recorder ever made is a renaissance-style sub-contrabass in B♭ by Adriana Breukink. The only historic recorder of a comparable size, in the Vleeshuis in Antwerp, made by Rauch von Schrattenbach (c.1535) was, in fact, a contrabass in F with an “extension” to C with keys that have to be played with the little finger and thumb. Mersenne (1636) mentions a recorder with keys that could be played with the feet or by another player. So there appear to have been different versions of this giant!

Subcontrabass recorder in B♭, by Adriana Breukink
Sub-contrabass recorder in B♭, made and played by Adriana Breukink

At the other end of the spectrum, Frans von Twaalfhoven‘s ‘piccolino’ recorder in f”’ (an octave above the sopranino) is probably the smallest fully functional recorder ever made. To make it playable, the finger holes for each hand are on a separate axis. It has a thumb hole. Although the player’s fingers are effectively interleaved, the expected patterns for each hand still apply.

Piccolino recorder, by Frans von Twaalfhoven
Piccolino recorder, by
Frans von Twaalfhoven

Even smaller recorders, made as novelty items or jewellery by Kobliczeck and by Mollenhauer, can actually be sounded; when she was a child, my daughter was able to coax simple tunes from one of the latter, much to my astonishment.

Miniature recorder (8 cm long),
by Mollenhauer

New materials

In the early 1970’s, Gyula Foky-Gruber in Vienna developed the ‘Silberton’, an all-metal soprano recorder made entirely of nickel-plated brass, and an alto made of rosewood with a metal head-joint and two keys for the lowermost finger hole. Both featured a system of adjustable voicing achieved by altering the position of the block and the height of the windway. Both had a cylindrical bore. Later, the German firm Amati produced a look-alike ‘Silbertonflöte’. Similarly, Hopf continues to produce metal instruments which are offered as ‘Gruber System’ recorders in sopranino, soprano, and alto models. Today, Foky-Gruber is making them again by himself as signed handmade recorders in small series, also in pure silver.

'Silberton' recorders, by Willi Hopf
Metal ‘System Gruber’ recorders, by Hopf

Recently, an all metal (aluminium) recorder has been made by USAmerican instrument maker John Orth.

john_orth_aluminium recorder
Aluminium alto recorder by John Orth

Plastic has been used for hand-made recorders as well as for production models. Loretto (1993) relates an apocryphal tale to the effect that one of the pioneers of the German recorder revival, Ferdinand Conrad succeeded in convincing Martin Skowroneck to make a plastic instrument for him. Skowroneck, anxious that such a recorder not be played in public, made it of a violent blue-coloured plastic, a feature that would be considered a virtue by today’s players! Indeed coloured recorders are now made by the firm Mollenhauer, amongst others. Vincent Bernolin offers exceptional quality hand-finished recorders after Stanesby Senior made in resin with a cedar block. Colourless recorders in transparent plexiglass have been made by Thomas C. Boehm, Pietro Sopranzi, and Frans van Twaalfhoven.

Yamaha recently introduced their 400 series recorders which are identical in acoustical design to their 300 series but made of a new ecologically friendly composite material named Ecodear, which consists of 70% ABS plastic resin and 30% PLA resin derived from plants – all previous models have been made of 100% ABS plastic. These new instruments are yellow in color and similar to boxwood in appearance, with white imitation ivory trim similar to that in the 300 series instruments.

Yamaha 400B soprano recorder in Ecodear (composite resin)

Francesco Li Virghi and Marco Piga have made ceramic-headed recorders after Stanesby. An enterprising amateur maker, Joseph S. Wisniewski, has experimented with glass – not that this is new: the inventory of Vittoria Vellia dated 1 November 1615 in Rome included two recorders made of purple glass (Lasocki 2005: 500).

A number of makers have made recorders from composite materials. In 1933, Rudolf Otto in Markneukirchen patented a recorder with an ebonite beak and block and, in the same year, Wilhelm Jan in Zwota patented a recorder with a one-piece celluloid beak (Thalheimer 2013: 122). Recorders with Acolit (phenolic resin) head-joints and wooden bodies were made as early as 1940 by the Markneukirchen firm of Oscar Adler, namely their “Sonora” model soprano (Thalheimer (2013: 121). Today,  Mollenhauer makes a ‘Prima’ recorder with a plastic head and a wooden body which has found favour amongst players interested in popular music, eg Jean-François Rousson (France), Evelyn Nallen (UK). A similar model is offered by Moeck as their Flauto 1 Plus model. Hohner market a Melody model with a plastic head and pearwood body.

Flauto 1 Plus recorders in plastic & maple, by Moeck

The neo-renaissance ‘Dream’ recorders designed by Adriana Breukink and manufactured and marketed by Mollenhauer are available in brightly coloured wood stained red, blue and green, primarily to appeal to children, as well as in a natural finish.

Dream recorders, by Mollenhauer

Recorders for children

Several makers have modified the recorder to render it more suitable for children. Thus Joachim Kunath, has designed 5-tone and 7-tone pentatonic recorders, diatonic recorders and special soprano recorders for use in Waldorf (Steiner) schools.

Diatonic soprano recorder, by Joachim Kunath
Diatonic soprano recorder ,by Joachim Kunath

Similarly, Choroi Instruments offer diatonic, pentatonic recorders and so-called interval flutes with only one finger hole and two notes each. Moeck offer a pentatonic recorder, their Flauto Penta. The Suzuki Precorder PRE-1 is a two-piece plastic recorder with raised tone holes for pre-school use, rather like the American Tonette.

Precorder, by Suzuki

Swiss maker Huber have recently introduced two half-recorders, namely the Soprina and Tenorina, which are provided with holes for the left (upper) hand only. The soprina is allows young beginners to focus on the movements of the fingers of one hand; the tenorina is suitable for somewhat older children, who prefer warm sounds.

Soprina and Tenorina recorders by Huber

Interchangeable windways

American recorder maker William F. Koch (1892-1970), whose instrument-making business was founded in 1934, manufactured a basset recorder with a unique horizontal windway, presumably in order to render it direct-blown with improved response and to shorten the instrument.

Basset recorder by William Koch

Basset recorder, by Wiliam Koch, showing horizontal windway

Basset recorder, by William Koch, showing horizontal windway

English recorder player and maker Robin Read (1966) carried out a number of experiments in the early 1960s resulting in a tone generation assembly of cedar constructed as a separate entity with the windway floor formed from a conventional plug. Advantages of this innovation include more accurate control of windway dimensions and better resistance to condensation (from twice the normal surface area of cedar. This novel windway design was coupled with a separate tongue which was adjusted before fixing in place, thus reversing the normal voicing procedure.

New Zealand maker, the late Alec Loretto, designed a rotating head with a chamber containing a selection of windways much like the chamber of a six-shooter rotates into position. And the same maker built recorders with a large slot instead of a windway into which prefabricated windways couild be fitted, all with identical exterior dimensions, but each containing its own windway optimised for the pitch of the notes being played (Madgwick and Loretto 1996: 41-42). He also experimented with an adjustable labium on a contrabass recorder in F, allowing changes to made to the distance of the labium from the windway, the position of the labium in the airstream, the angle of the labium in the airstream (Loretto 1970).

An innovation from Hohner is a recorder with a wooden body and head but with a plastic insert which forms the upper windway and cutting edge of the labium. Some of the Australian Pan recorders (made by a young Fred Morgan working with ‘Lazy’ Ade Monsbourgh and Don ‘Pixie’ Roberts) featured a combined block and windway which slid in and out of the beak as a single unit, probably so it could be cleaned.

Pan soprano recorder with removable block/windway, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney

Pan soprano recorder with removable block/windway, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney

Italian maker Giacomo Andreola offers recorders with a specially constructed beak (which he says he copied from an idea of the recorder maker Claude Monin) which allows the player to change the windway as needed, either to vary the voicing of the instrument or in order to overcome condensation problems.

Head joint of alto recorder, by Giacomo Andreola, showing details of removable beak

Head joint of alto recorder, by Giacomo Andreola, showing details of removable beak

The Mollenhauer/Helder Harmonic recorder incorporates a removable windway system, a lip-operated mechanism which can raise or lower the floor of the windway during playing, an adjustable block which slightly alters the depth of the windway exit and the height of the windway roof above the labium. The result enables extensive experimentation with the sound produced by the instrument.

Harmonic recorder sound unit, by Mollenhauer

Harmonic recorder sound unit, by Mollenhauer

Harmonic recorder sound unit, by Mollenhauer - internal details

Harmonic recorder sound unit, by Mollenhauer – internal details

In a sense, these experiments with adjustable blocks were anticipated by French organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll (1840) who suggested that the historic recorder could have been improved by a sliding bevel operated by a system of keywork (Reinhardt 1984).

Long bores

Swedish maker Ragnar Arvidsson built novel recorders of his own construction and design with a unique bore derived from his engineering experience of microwave waveguide systems in radar and telecommunication equipment. With the timbre of renaissance recorders but played with neo-baroque fingering, these recorders have a full chromatic range of 2 octaves, plus some extra high notes (Hulthèn 1997).

Alto RA recorder, by Ragnar Arvidsson

Alto RA recorder, by Ragnar Arvidsson

A study of certain pre-war German recorders with unhistorical long bores and the characteristic that over-blowing the bottom or second note produced a true set of harmonics drawn to his attention by recorder player Nikolai Tarasov, has led the American maker Friedrich von Huene to explore the use of additional keywork to close fairly large tone holes far down the instrument out of reach of the little finger thereby extending the range downwards and creating many new fingering possibilities for higher notes. A tenor recorder made along these lines has a range of two octaves and a sixth from b to g#”, the same as a modern oboe. Some of these features appear to have been incorporated into the Yamaha YRT61M tenor recorder.

Yamaha YRT61M tenor recorder with b-extension and g# keys, by Friedrich von Huene

Tarasov collaborated with Maarten Helder to construct a recorder with harmonics tuned in such a way as to make it possible to play very strong and stable low notes with a tone quality matching that of its higher registers. Indeed their so-called Harmonic Tenor Recorder boasts a range of three octaves from b-c””’, with 4 keys and an optional piano key. It also implements the adjustable block patented by Strathmann, though here it can be adjusted by a twist of the hand, even during a short pause, allowing the player to alter the voicing for maximum tone quality or special sound effects.

Helder Harmonic Tenor recorder

Helder Harmonic Tenor recorder

 The Harmonic Alto Recorder, a companion instrument to the Harmonic Tenor Recorder, with similar range, features, and performance characteristics, is now available. Like its predecessor, this unique and radically new instrument is a collaborative effort between the Dutch recorder maker Maarten Helder and Mollenhauer. A novel feature of this instrument is the inclusion of a number of interchangeable wind-canals. These may be of different materials or different shapes. Like the Harmonic Tenor Recorder, the Harmonic Alto Recorder also includes an adjustable block, and a sophisticated keywork for the lower tone holes.

Helder Harmonic Alto recorder

Helder Harmonic Alto recorder

Recently, Mollenhauer in cooperation with Susanne Fröhlich have launched a highly revised version of the Helder Harmonic Tenor Recorder which they call the Helder Evo Tenor recorder. Amongst many improvements, this instrument extends the range further from b to e””’. The tones of the instrument’s foot-joint now overblow to their natural partials, thus  stabilizing the recorder’s sound in any register, rendering it more flexible in combination with modern orchestral instruments. A metal tuning slide allows a secure intonation within a wider pitch range. The Sound-Unit now allows many tonal parameters to be regulated either before the playing or altered during the performance. The piano or register key has been improved to better facilitate variable pitch control as well as the response of the highest registers.  The middle-joint is now equipped with alternative keys for f, f# and g#. Several new features support a perfectly balanced playing position, namely the knick-system head-joint, the vertically and horizontally adjustable special thumb rest and the elastic neck strap.

Helder Evo Tenor Recorder, by Mollenhauer

Tarasov has also collaborated with Joachim Paetzold to create the Paetzold-Tarasov Modern Alto Recorder with a range of two and a half fully chromatic octaves from f’ to c”’. This has been further developed and refined in the Mollenhauer workshop. This instrument has a full, resonant, and uniform tone quality throughout its range with outstanding projection and response, is ideal for performing music of the late 18th century and 19th centuries, and contrasts well with historical or modern pianos. It can be heard on Tarasov’s CD, The Modern Alto Recorder and is played by a number of the world’s leading recorder virtuosi, notably Michala Petri.

Paetsold-Tarasov-Mollenhauer modern extended alto

Paetzold-Tarasov extended modern alto recorder by Mollenhauer

Adriana Breukink and Geri Bollinger together with Küng have developed a striking new instrument they call the Eagle Recorder which combines many of the innovations in recorder design made over the past decade or so. The Eagle alto recorder, launched in 2013, combines equally strong low and high registers, flexible dynamics and an extended range (e’– c””). It features a wide bore, a metal labium (as found certain renaissance recorders),  a triple foot-key and an octave key.

Eagle recorder
Breukink-Bollinger Eagle recorder by Küng

The Eagle recorder can also be fitted with a chin-operated slide mechanism to further control volume and intonation.

Eagle recorder slide mechanism
Eagle recorder slide mechanism

How ironic it is to note that the hitherto scorned work of the German recorder makers of the 1920s and 1930s should actually have provided the springboard for what may well prove to be the most significant developments in the recorder’s history since the seventeenth century!

Square bore profile recorders

Over the past decade or so the square-profile recorders have become enormously popular. First designed and made in 1953 by Joachim Petzold, based on the principle of a cranked tapered organ pipe,  their design was patented and further developed by Joachim’s nephew Herbert Paetzold in 1975. Their ease of construction, requiring little more than a decent mitre saw, a measuring tape and some clamps. Their use of inexpensive materials lend themselves particularly well to the larger sizes of recorder and render these otherwise very costly instruments more affordable to a wider range of players.  Furthermore, their tone is impressively strong in the lower register and speaks easily over two or more octaves.

Herbert Paetzold with his extended consort of square-profile recorders

These wonderful instruments are capable of an extraordinary range of timbre, attack and other sound effects and have become the ‘axes’ of choice for recorder players exploring what in my day used to be called ‘musique concrete”, these days known as “contemporary music”.

In 2012 the rights and production of the square-profile Paetzold bass recorders were transferred to the workshop of Joachim Kunath, their name changed to “Paetzold by Kunath” and the workshop itself relocated from Ebenhofen to Fulda. They are now made in tenor, basset, greatbass, contrabass, subgreatbass and subcontrabass sizes, each with a full two-octave range, thus providing a rich full 8-foot pitch set for consort, recorder choir, or continuo use. Construction materials include birch, cherry, mahogany, and RESONA. The latter is a synthetic composite with a similar density to rosewood but made from renewable raw materials. The Paetzold by Kunath range incorporates many innovations, including the option of a direct-blown mouthpiece.

“Paetzold by Kunath” sub-contrabass recorder

Independently, New Zealand maker Alec Loretto built an experimental square-profile bass recorder in 1967, a photograph of which was published by him in 1970 (Loretto 1970, Madgwick & Loretto 1996), although it lacked keywork of any kind. Dolmetsch also adapted the square-profile approach to their own range of Millennium Series bass recorders which were furnished with conventional woodwind keywork.

Dolmetsch Millenium Series bass (in C) and contrabass (in F) recorders

At the same time as Harlan initiated the Recorder Movement in 1928, the construction of bamboo recorders was introduced in Germany  (Schuman 1952). Hitherto, (including in Germany) bamboo flutes had been made with six fingers and one thumbhole and continued to do so, but Schuman’s instruments were based on the eight-holed recorder and adopted Harlan’s “German” fingering (Thalheimer 2021). They were made in various sizes, amongst them  tenor and bass instruments of square profiles, illustrated by Christoff Schellenberger (c.1955).

Tenor or bass flute made of glued “individual boards”,
illustrated by Christoff Schellenberger (c. 1955).

Alec Loretto gave instructions for making DIY square-profile “medieval” soprano and alto recorders (Loretto 1996a&b, 1998). But perhaps he was anticipated in this by actual medieval forerunners of his craft.

One of a series of anonymous 14th-century painted limestone carvings in the musicians gallery of Exeter Cathedral depicts a musical angel who appears to be holding a duct flute which is square in cross-section, though I note that these carvings were restored in 1976 ( Kinsky et al. 1930: 51, Cave 1953: 60, Crispin 1968: 358-9, Early Music 1987 front cover).

14th-century square-profile recorder (c.1342), Exeter Cathedral, Musicians Gallery, West Side

An anonymous 15th-century manuscript (F Lm 391, f. 28) depicts a man in what looks like a bowler hat playing a duct flute which is decidedly square in cross-section.

15th century square-profile recorder
15th-century square-profile recorder, F Lm 391, f. 28 (repr. Boragno 1998: 12)

A second 15th-century depiction of a square-profile recorder can be found in a copy of Christine de Pisan’s L’Epître d’Othéa (ca 1406),  namely Midas Judging the Contest Between Pan and Apollo, an illumination by the Master of the Epistle of Othéa (F 606, f. 14r.)

15th-century square-profile recorder by the Master of the Epistle of Othéa (F 606, f. 14r)

A third 15th-century square-profile recorder has been clutched for some 700 years by a monkey in an anonymous stone relief in the cloister of the Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes, Toledo. A notable feature of this version is the placement of finger holes for each hand on adjacent faces of the body of the instrument.

15th-century square-profile recorder (1477-1504),
Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes, Toledo

Note that the artists in all four of these 14-15th-century depictions seem perfectly capable of rendering curved surfaces and edges where they wished to.

Microtonal recorders

The American composer and recorder player Tui St George Tucker (1924-2004) employed a system of alternative recorder fingerings for the purpose of executing quarter tones (Tucker, undated). She is also said to have developed a recorder with extra finger holes for this purpose (Wikipedia 2013).

Under the auspices of the Centre for New Musical Instruments (CNMI) at London’s Guildhall University (now London Metropolitan University), Lewis Jones together with David Armitage designed and, in 1999, built  two prototype 19-division equally tempered tenor recorders for the performance of microtonal music (or other music composed in alternative tuning systems) and as a new form of expression. These keyless recorders, were based on wide-bored renaissance models. Later, in 2001, they were further developed with five small keys operated by the two little fingers.  Recorder players Katherine Bennetts and Peter Bowman worked with these  instruments over several months but found the positioning of the keys awkward and were unable to perform with them (Bowman 2014: 89).

Microtonal recorders, by Lewis Jones & David Armitage
Microtonal recorders, by Lewis Jones & David Armitage

Electro-acoustic recorders

Fajardo (1970) described fitting an alto recorder with a microphone and reverberation unit, but this innovation long remained an isolated case. French recorder maker Philippe Bolton has developed an electro-acoustical recorder for contemporary music, jazz etc. (patent pending) which can be amplified, or played without amplification. There is a hole in the side of the bore at the top of the head joint into which a microphone can be screwed. This can be connected to a PA system, giving the musician the possibility of having a louder instrument for playing in difficult conditions, or in ensemble with loud instruments (jazz for example), without having to stay rivetted a few centimetres in front of an external microphone.

Electro-acoustic recorder, by Phiipp Bolton
Electro-acoustic recorder, by Philippe Bolton

The electro-acoustical recorder can also be connected to an effects processor, giving a very wide palette of sounds for use in contemporary music, or any other contexts in which such effects can be useful. For complete freedom of movement, a wireless system can replace the traditional cable leading to the amplifier. When no amplification is required a special plug can be screwed into the instrument instead of the microphone, converting it into a normal recorder. For a review of the use of microphones with recorders see Dessy & Dessy (2001).

Japanese recorder maker Yukio Yamada has made an electronic device that will transpose the recorder two or three octaves above the pitch you play (Epstein 1988: 8). This facility is also available on the Bolton electro-acoustic recorder attached to an effects processor or MIDI device.

More recently, Nikolkaj Tarasov in conjunction with Mollenhauer have developed an electronic and acoustic recorder marketed as ‘Elody’. Like the Bolton electro-acoustic recorder, the ‘Elody’ is fitted with a specially designed internal pickup which, coupled with a computer or effects unit, gives access to an infinite range of timbres and effects. Unlike the usual cylindrical external profile the ‘Elody’ is flattened and angular in cross-section for more comfortable handling and is available in a range of brightly coloured designs.

Elody electro-acoustic recorder by Mollenhauer

 Steve Francis (Australia) produces the PiezoBarrel R1, a pickup designed specifically to overcome the low output of the recorder in the lower register compared with the upper register by boosting the bass response. This provides an inexpensive way for those with very modest DIY skills to explore this new and exciting world. With all these the output can be fed into an effects panel and amplifier to enhance or modify the sound for live or recorded performance.

PiezoBarrel R1

Similarly, the American Michael Barker, who teaches at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, has developed a system linking a square Paetzold contrabass recorder in F to two computer-controlled synthesisers. This system, which Barker terms an Interactive MIDI Performance System, or ‘midified blockflute’, enables him to mix ‘real’ and synthesised sounds as he plays.

Michael Barker's e-recorder

Cesar Villavicencio’s e-recorder

The system developed by Barker has been further extended by Peruvian recorder player and teacher Cesar Villavicencio. This new instrument consists of a Paetzold contrabass recorder with many sensors installed on it:

  • mouth pressure sensor, measures the pressure generated by the player’s breath
  • HALL-Generators, detects magnetic fields produced by closing and opening the keys
  • 6 buttons, mainly for changing or turning on/off effects
  • 2 pressure sensors, triggered by the player’s thumb, not only turns on and off but controls the amount of effects
  • 1 fader, controls the output volume of the effects
  • The Bird Cage, a stand that allows the instrument to move like a “joystick” equipped with a potentiometer activated by the torsion of the contrabass, and an accelerometer ADXL202 sensitive to the speed of the movement and inclination of the instrument. All sensors produce signals which are received by a 32 analog input device called MUX MICROLAB developed and built at the Sonology Department at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. This device converts the signals to MIDI which is then routed to a Mac PowerBook running a program called MAX-MSP which is responsible for the sound processing.

Robot recorder-players

Towards the end of his life, the Australian/American composer Percy Grainger became interested in electrical and mechanical musical instruments designed for use in the context of his so-called ‘free music’. A number of ‘free music machines’ capable of playing continuous gliding tones were developed with a US collaborator, Burnett Cross, and included both electronic and air-blown instruments. Amongst the latter, a machine from 1950 survives in the Grainger Museum, Melbourne, in which a Swanee whistle and two recorders (an alto and tenor given to Grainger by Arnold Dolmetsch) are operated by a roll of paper perforated with holes and slits cut by hand (Davis 1984).

Free Music Machine incorporating a Swanee whistle & two recorders, by Percy Grainger & Burnett Cross

Free Music Machine incorporating a Swanee whistle & two recorders,
by Percy Grainger & Burnett Cross, Grainer Museum, Melbourne

Perhaps the inevitable outcome of the mechanisation of the recorder commenced by Percy Grainger in the 1950s (see above) is the development of musician robots capable of playing the recorder. This has been achieved in the ground-breaking research of Makoto Kajitani and his colleagues of a MUBOT that comprises a computer-driven mechanism which plays an unmodified recorder (Kajitani 1989, 1992, 1999, Kapur 2005).

Recorder-playing Mubot, by Makoto Kajitani

Recorder-playing Mubot, by Makoto Kajitani

In the recorder-playing MUBOT, blowing is generated by converting air supplies from an air compressor at a predetermined pressure into at the optimal flow for each tone by a current-to-pneumatic converter. Vibrato is created by delicately changing the value of the flow instruction to the pneumatic converter. Articulation is achieved by opening and closing an air valve at the entrance to the recorder wind-way. Rubber finger tips are placed over each vent of the recorder and driven by an air cylinder of the pencil type. The octaving vent is so designed that it can be half or fully opened and fully closed. The recorder-playing MUBOT can join with other MUBOT musicians playing violin, cello and guitar in performing ensembles. All that is wanting is an audience of robotic listeners. What a jolly prospect!


RePRo (Recorder Performance Robot) in action, playing Kimi no Shiranai Monogatari,
see Kato et al. (2011), Masuda et al. (2012)

Electronic wind instruments

Until recently, the only purely electronic ‘recorders’ as such were made by Innovations Fm7 and Suzuki. Fm7’s MIDIWIND MW-1 was described as a recorder paradigm instrument designed specifically for the elementary education market. The controller was sized to work well with both children and adult-sized hands. The unit was slaved to a sound module (called the “Player Station”) which provided built-in sounds MIDI output. The Player Station could accept up to four MIDIWIND controllers simultaneously and was designed to be used in a classroom music lab. The Suzuki SRW-100 Recorder Wind Controller was an electronic input device for use with MIDI instruments. It used standard recorder fingerings, was equipped with pressure sensitive finger holes, and required traditional breath control.

By now, there are a several more versatile electronic recorders on the market, most notably the Artinoise re.corder, described by its developer as “the recorder reinvented”, aimed squarely at the educational market but a very impressive and appealing instrument. Another is Cantux Research’s eCorder, built by Michael Shonle and reviewed by Sarah Jeffrey (aka Team Recorder).

Of these two products, it seems to me that the clearly focussed approach taken by the developers of the re.corder is on firmer ground than that of the eCorder. The former is further along the development path and seem to have a far better handle on marketing and advertising. But it is early days yet and the progress of instruments like the re.corder and eCorder will be very interesting to watch.

Electronic Wind Instruments (EWIs) have a long history of development, manufacture, marketing and use in the music industry. They are all breath-controlled and variously equipped with pressure sensitive finger holes, keys or pads. They can be programmed to produce the sound of almost any instrument, including the recorder. They are capable of glissando, portamento, chords, “timbre attack” (a type of chorusing) and other effects. Some can be programmed to play with the fingerings of a variety of acoustic instruments. Most EWIs are designed to be used with a synthesizer.

Yamaha WX5 wind-controller
The inexpensive Akai EWI USB plugs directly into your computer where it interfaces with the Garritan Aria Player software which includes 80 sounds. Additional sound libraries can be purchased from Garritan. The Akai EWI USB can also be used as a MIDI-controller with the synthesizer of the player’s choice.
Akai EWI USB

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Cite this article as: Lander, Nicholas S. 1996–2022. Recorder Home Page: History: Innovations. Last accessed 27 June 2022. https://www.recorderhomepage.net/history/innovations-in-recorder-design/