Recorder bores and what they tell us

As professional recorder player I am very much used to perform on different recorder models, depending on the style and epoch of the particular composition. It is quite logic, that for example next to the different shape and size of the windway and the labium or the different shape, place and size of finger holes, these different models are also built with different bores varying in length, shape and size. This has a big impact on the general sound, the dynamics, the fingerings and the response of the instrument, and one needs to adjust his/her playing practice towards each specific model.

When we take a closer look at original recorders as well as fingering charts (starting with S. Ganassi[1] to baroque charts[2] until today), we will realise that there are three different categories of recorders[3], independent from the concept and the music historical context, and each of them with certain capabilities and characteristics:

1.) Recorders which overblow into pure partial tones on the root and extension note, e.g. Ganassi recorders[4], modern Soprano, Alto and Tenor recorders by Tarasov/Mollenhauer and Ehlert/Moeck, Helder Alto and Tenor recorder, Eagle Soprano and Alto recorder:

  • cylindrical (with or without conical sound bell) or reversed conical bore (evenly flat cone, sometimes with cylindrical foot joint)
  • long bore, with (stabilized low notes and better tuned 3rd octave) or without extension[5]
  • well balanced through most of the registers (extended 2nd and 3rd register)
  • good sounding note range up into the third octave (depending on the size of the instrument), including #I´´´[6] without closing the bottom hole
  • different response in different registers
  • one can overblow up until more or less the 4th or 5th partial tone by modifying the fingerings of the root note and use these fingerings for a soft 3rd register

2.) Recorders which overblow up until 100 Cent too high on the root note, e.g. all kind of bass instruments with keys for the lowest notes, Kynseker recorders, early baroque recorders, Stanesby Soprano recorders (regarding the fingering chart) and some of the Stanesby Alto recorders, Hotteterre Tenor recorders, 19th century Csakan, recorders in relation to fingering charts of e.g. Joseph Friedrich Bernhard Caspar Majer (1732, 1741), Pablo Minguet y Irol (1754), John Sadler (1754) and in the recently discovered collection for “Baron v. Tschiderer” (mid/end of 18th century)[7]:

  • reversed conical bore (cone lies in between category 1. and 3.)
  • long bore
  • dynamically quite balanced through four registers
  • fast response in all registers
  • #I´´´ playable without closing the bottom hole

3.) Recorders which overblow more than 100 Cent too high on the root note, e.g. most of the Soprano and Alto recorders which are used today, Denner Alto recorders, Voice flutes, recorders in relation to fingering charts of e.g. Robert Carr (1686), Jean-Pierre Freillon-Poncein (1700) and Johann Christian Schickhardt (1715):

  • reversed conical bore with strong narrowness towards the bottom
  • short bore
  • dynamically not well balanced: week low register, well sounding middle register, powerful high register
  • fast response in all registers
  • not so stable I´´´
  • some notes of the 3rd octave have to be played with closed bottom hole

Although recorder makers can improve the instrument quite a lot through the shape and size of the windway as well as the labium, it is the bore which actually defines what kind of recorder you play and at the end makes you decide on everything else, e.g. fingerings, mouth and throat adjustments as well as air pressure. I very much like to compare this with the image of driving a car: first you have to know what kind of car you drive and then you will know how to drive it and how much you can expect from it. Once you have understood the concept of the three categories, performing on different models will become more clear and will feel like an enrichment rather than a too complicated task. And then also performing on contemporary recorder models will become quite accessible. You will realize how much the different recorder models have in common – at the end it all comes down to one principle: the combination of the components breath, tongue and finger. Of course, the HOW? and HOW MUCH? will always differ, but the WHAT? will always stay the same.

Comparing the three categories, technically speaking category number 1 has the biggest potential. In general, one can say: the longer the bore (within a certain frame of course and in relation to the finger holes), the more balanced the instrument will be, the wider the range will be, the better the quality of the third octave will be and the better tuned the instrument will be, especially in the third octave (yes, we do have a third octave, even though this fact is still ignored by some recorder players today[8]). The biggest difference between category 1 and 3 is the fingering system in the third octave. Many recorder players from today are used to play with fingerings not related to each other in the third octave (= category 2 and 3, closing the bottom hole for some of the high notes) and have to use a lot of air pressure in order to reach most of these notes. However, fingerings in the third octave in category 1 are very much related to each other, using the principle of harmonics, which means the technique of half-closed/shadowed holes[9]. I have to admit that this technique is quite challenging, but also something rather common if you look back in history[10]. Thinking one step further, we will realize that it will very much train us in our dynamic possibilities. Other wind players already realized that moving fingers only up and down is too big of a limitation when it comes to expression. The more flexibility our finger movements get, the more expressivity our playing will gain[11].

When it comes to traditional recorders, we have to make one big compromise: no keys on the instrument until more or less the tenor recorder. This means, that finger holes need to be placed in a way that one can reach them easily, involving the acoustics of the instrument being dependent on a convenient fingering. The whole instrument has to be built shorter, the finger holes have to be built smaller, the placement of each finger hole needs to be closer to each other – so, a big compromise has to be made when it comes to intonation and sound. Especially today, with the standard pitch tuning of 440Hz to 443Hz, I kind of start to imagine what it might feel like after a plastic surgery or a Botox treatment. Since the models change quite a lot just by being modified to the modern tuning pitch, it gets more and more difficult to categories our instruments from today. Knowing that the longer the bore, the more possibilities our instrument will have, it doesn’t feel right that we nowadays mainly use copies of original instruments from a completely different time, with completely different expectations from the instrument in a completely different tuning.

At this point I want to make clear, that every category absolutely has its legitimation, its own charm and was made for a certain reason and a certain repertoire. For today, with all the knowledge and technical abilities we have, it is very important not to melt everything together in one pot and therefore loose the variety of our instrument just to make life more easy[12]. For example, why shall the “Ganassi” recorder be sold and used as an instrument from the renaissance, if it is completely modified and modernized[13]? Why should renaissance instruments and baroque instruments have the same fingerings and therefore have a compromised bore? Of course we will have to accept a few limitations, we will need time to figure out adjustments. But isn’t this exactly what our instrument is about: incredible diversity? And does this not mean, that today we have to make an even more crucial step forward and start performing on contemporary recorder models with everything they can give us extra? If we modify, we should modify to the maximum potential, work with long bores, extensions, key mechanisms and sound units – everything which enables the recorder to be an equivalent partner to any other modern instrument[14]. Only then we will be able to appreciate the value of our traditional instruments, open new doors for a new repertoire and make a complete use of the big variety of the recorder.


[1] Sylvestro Ganassi: Opera Intitulata Fontegara, Venice 1535; Bologna: Forni 1980

[2] Jean-Claude Veilhan: The Baroque Recorder; Paris: Alphonse Leduc 1980, p.60/61

[3] Peter Thalheimer: Eng oder weit, kurz oder lang?  in: Tibia 1/2010, p. 3-12

[4] Inspired by the original recorder called SAM 135 in the “Kunsthistorisches Museum” in Vienna

[5] Peter Thalheimer: Wieder aktuell: die Blockflöte mit Extension. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte eines Baumerkmals; in: Tibia 2/2015, p. 427–438

[6] = a half tone higher root note in the third octave

[7] Nik Tarasov: Eine überraschende Entdeckung. Unbekannte Grifftabelle für Altblockflöte aus dem 18. Jahrhundert aufgetaucht; in: Windkanal 3/2015, p. 8-13

[8] like e.g. Ulrike Mayer-Spohn: The Recorder Map:, have a look at “Sizes and Ranges”(current status: March 2016)

[9] Nik Tarasov/Mollenhauer: e.g. fingering chart for modern Alto recorder with extension:

[10] Nik Tarasov: Hoch hinaus. Zum Spiel in der dritten Oktave im Kontext des Hochbarock; in: Windkanal 2/2008, p. 18-24

[11] Johannes Fischer: Die dynamische Blockflöte; Celle: Moeck 1990

[12] Peter Thalheimer: Beobachtungen zum Überblasverhalten von Blockflöten – alte Bauprinzipien als Ausgangspunkt für neue Instrumente? in: Tibia 1/1995, p. 362–368

[13] Adrian Brown: Die „Ganassiflöte“ – Tatsachen und Legenden; in: Tibia 4/2005, p. 571–584

[14] Gisela Rothe: Helder-Blockflöten: Konstruktion & Bauweise; in: Windkanal 2/2002, p. 25–28

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  1. Richard Gregory March 18, 2016 at 2:20 pm

    A very interesting article



  2. As a earlyflute maker and player, I am very sensitive to this subject. Taking only about my recorder background, I was student of Ricardo Kanji at Den Haag Conservatory (1979-80). Ricardo introduced me to Fred Morgan who was in a two years study in Amsterdam at that time. We started a nice friendly relationship and in extra of being in his recorder making class at the Conservatory, I had the chance to visit his small workshop many times in Amsterdam. Six years later, I went to his Australian home for a six weeks study with him. I remember that his favorite model was the Ganassi and he considered it as the best modern design to be develop. He was incredibly creative and his great knowledge of the recorder principles allowed him to invent any new model. Already at that time, being also involved in the traverso, I wanted to make some researches in the reborn of the “Concert flute” of Stanesby Jr that could be consider equal to the traverso and hoboy. I still think that in a project of creating a modern recorder, it should be the size of the tenor and not an alto, that for getting the same notes with similar fingerings of the traverso as G: (123). During my time in Mr Morgan workshop, I could convince him to try creating a Ganassi tenor and being very exited by this project, he too two full days (working very fast) to make a prototype that finally could not be good enough to be saved. About his Ganassi alto, I remember that he was not 100% satisfied with his model because of some fundamental tuning problems that I think he never resolved and that every other makers just reproduced. I still think that for any recorder player of our time, their main instrument should be a tenor for being equal to the traverse flute and the hoboy. Equally for baroque and modern music. If we focus only in the baroque (world) as an example, the maker-creator can start his model from the Dupuis tenor that was in the Bruggen collection in which the drawing is available from Zen-On edition. This model is a very old first generation baroque design, a real French design from the time of Louis XIV, probably shortly before 1700. It is interesting to see that its short foot joint gives C# and not C probably to avoid the key but maybe also for considering his last low note being D as the traverso. Modern or baroque style, we need now makers to create tenor that are not too big and heavy. A version without keys and a version with keys for going lower than D and higher than third D.
    About my own researched, I decided in 1994 to start my project of creating a modern traverso for getting more power without adding keys. Today I can say that it is a success. See: just for your curiosity.



  3. Helge Michael Stiegler December 1, 2017 at 8:36 pm

    Interesting the comparison with car driving. One should first know where to drive, than will follow what has to. I wonder how many original recorders you might have played? Music seems not reliable , good to know what car you drive!



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