Recorders are part of the woodwind family. So you'd imagine that means all recorders must be made from wood, right? Right?
Wrong! Traditionally, recorders were handcrafted from a variety of woods, and some of these popular musical instruments are still made this way. But a quick internet search or a visit to your local music shop will see you seeing plastic recorders as the popular choice. So what makes a good recorder?
Are wooden recorders better than plastic recorders?
What are the key differences between the two materials?
Does a wooden recorder sound better than a plastic recorder?
Recorders are often the first musical instrument that children learn to play, and at Warwick Music Group, we work with schools and music teachers across the globe. We also manufacture our own instruments and know a thing or two about working with plastic.
If you are buying your child's first musical instrument, you want to get the most bang for your buck and give them the best opportunity to start their musical journey.
So let's take a look at those pros and cons and help you to make the best decision when it comes to buying your next beginner instrument.
Which type of recorder sounds best?
For the purpose of this article, we will be focussing on soprano or descant recorders. These are the most popular type of recorders, although there are other types of recorders. Soprano recorders as the easiest to play, so most young learners and beginner musicians will grab a soprano recorder to make those first noises. And yes, they can get really noisy at first!
Wooden recorders are a classic for a reason. They are favoured by professional players due to their warm tone and rich sound. If you have seen a recorder player in a concert or heard a professional recording, it's likely that you're listening to a wooden recorder.
Plastic recorders have been a staple in schools and homes for decades. In fact, one of the reasons we see and hear so many recorders at a young age is that quality plastic recorders can get incredibly close to the sound of a wooden recorder, at a fraction of the price. There are subtle differences, with the warm, rich tones of the wooden instrument often brighter. In low-quality recorders, this can sound harsh, but a well-constructed plastic recorder with a bright sound can suit modern popular music.
A poorly-made wooden recorder will not sound better than a quality plastic model. Whereas a poorly-made plastic recorder will flag up the differences between wood and plastic. Like all instruments, research the sound you want and be prepared to pay more for a higher-quality product that will get you the best results. Speaking of cost…
Are wooden recorders more expensive than plastic recorders?
The answer to this is usually a resounding yes. There are some inexpensive wooden recorders that fit more into the toy category. There are also professional-quality recorders made from plastic that can cost more than wooden models.
Here are some pricing examples of wooden recorders:
The craftsmanship and materials required for elite wooden recorders can certainly drive the price of these instruments up. This is why most recorders for children and beginners are made of plastic. A recorder that costs four figures is probably not the best choice for most first-time players. Particularly when children are not always the best at keeping their musical instruments in tip-top condition. This brings us to our next section...
How long does a wooden recorder last?
A quality wooden recorder can last a lifetime but it requires careful maintenance. The wood needs to be kept dry, and should be oiled periodically to prevent cracking: this is a musical instrument with a skincare regime!
A wooden recorder made from soft wood, such as maple, may only last a few years.
Wooden recorders are also more delicate than plastic recorders and can easily be damaged from dropping.
A good quality plastic recorder made from robust materials can survive those bumps and scrapes far better than a wooden model. They are also more resistant to changes in temperature and humidity. This saves time on regular maintenance and saves money on costly repairs: an important factor for children who are playing on their first instrument!
Are recorders sustainable?
There are pros and cons to using both wood and plastic when manufacturing musical instruments. Top manufacturers will publish the carbon footprint of their instruments and provide details on recycling them.
The top-quality wooden instruments can last for decades or even longer with regular maintenance, while the best plastic recorders will be tough and built to last a lifetime.
(We do know a thing or two about the world's first carbon-neutral recorder too, but you can find out more in our pCorder guide!)
A quality instrument that will last for a lifetime of playing is always a better option for the environment. Ask your favourite music shop about their eco-credentials too!
Should I buy a wooden recorder or a plastic recorder?
If you are on the lookout for a beginner recorder, a quality plastic recorder is a great choice. Their low-maintenance, sturdy, affordable design is tried and tested. But be sure to check out their individual features and focus on what is important to you.
Want a recorder that sounds great? Have a listen! Looking for a sustainable option? Look for an instrument that keeps things green.
A wooden recorder can also be a brilliant option for beginners. Just be prepared to give your instrument a little TLC, and don't forget to factor in those additional costs.
Whether you choose a wooden or a plastic recorder, you could be helping a little learner or a budding beginner start something special. Just be prepared to listen to "Pop Goes The Weasel". A lot.
Soprano recorders are just one of many different types of recorders. Learn more about some of the others in our article about the best beginner recorders.