January 2021
Adding Keys to Your Recorder
by Eric Haas, of the von Huene Workshop
You’ve been playing soprano for a while and decide to try a tenor, but you discover the right hand stretch is bigger than you can manage. Perhaps after decades of playing you discover you’re not quite as flexible as you used to be. What’s a recorder player to do?
My customers often ask if there are recorders made for small hands and the answer is—sort of. The pitch of a recorder is determined by the length of the vibrating air column, so to produce the desired notes and play in tune, a recorder has to be a minimum length, with holes at specific locations. While the holes can’t be moved, the finger stretch can be reduced by using a key.

How expensive is it to add keys?
By far the most affordable option is to purchase an instrument with keys added by the manufacturer. Double keys on the foot of an alto or tenor add about $300 to the cost of the recorder. Keys on holes 3 & 4 add an additional $300+ to the price.

Adding keys is not as simple as people imagine. They almost invariably ask "Can you just add keys to my recorder," but there’s no "just" about it. Keywork is expensive. There’s a reason why a professional concert flute can cost upwards of $20,000 while the best alto recorder in the world can be purchased for less than $2500 and that reason is keywork.
Because the reach in the right hand can be difficult for smaller, older, or physically limited hands, most customers inquire about having keys added to the foot. But this isn’t as simple as it may sound. First, a recorder needs to be made in such a way that keys CAN be added to the foot - most keyless tenors don’t have the "real estate" on the foot to accommodate keys. Second, keywork must be designed to fit the particular instrument involved. And third, the key parts are not cheap and the labor involved to install a key/keys is considerable.
One special case is the Moeck Rottenburgh model. Moeck circumvents all the issues above by using the same foot for both keyed and keyless altos and tenors, purchasing enough keys (made specifically for their instruments) that the price is reasonable, and maintaining a workshop set-up devoted specifically to installing this keywork. Moeck will retrofit any Rottenburgh alto or tenor with double keys for $300. This includes the cost of postage to Germany and back, filling the existing holes, re-drilling new holes for the c/c# (or f/f#), milling the area around the holes flat so that the key will seat properly, drilling holes for the posts, fitting the keys, and adjusting the angle so that the keys seal correctly.

Unlike Moeck, the keyed version of the Mollenhauer Denner tenors have a larger bore and longer foot than the keyless model, so retrofitting is not possible. However, UK maker Peter Worrell (who provided the accompanying photos) offers a variety of custom keywork including double keys for alto and tenor feet.
Still can’t cover all the holes?
"After-market" keys can be added on holes 3 and/or 4, which reduces the hand stretch. Options range from the Kelischek Workshop’s curved black plastic keys (for Yamaha or Aulos plastic tenors only), which are simple, but quite affordable at $35 each, to metal keys purchased from one of the major European recorder makers and installed by a technician. For replacement or after-market keys, the von Huene Workshop purchases the low f’ key used on the Mollenhauer Canta alto because the diameter of this key works on both tenors and altos (the keys from the Mollenhauer Comfort-Tenors are a touch too large to seat properly on the smaller diameter bodies of altos). Since these are foot keys, they are only made with the tab on one side. This works fine for hole 4, but for hole 3, the tab needs to be on the opposite side so that the posts and axle for the keys can be on the right side of the instrument (otherwise you’d be reaching over the mechanism to close the key). These keys cost $50 each; we cut the tabs off half the keys and hard-solder them on the other side, then file and polish them (another 45+ minutes of labor per key).
What’s involved in putting on a key?
A key has a flat pad—it cannot seal properly on the curved surface of the recorder—so the area around the hole to be covered must be milled flat. The key has to be mounted so that it seats completely when it’s depressed; this takes a bit of math to calculate the correct angle and position for the posts. Once the posts are in place, the key is padded and installed, tested, and adjusted until it seats properly. From start to finish, the process takes several hours. The cost of after-market keys varies depending on the shop, from about $150 to $300 per key. Bear in mind that you get what you pay for; a poorly installed key can leak or distort the tuning.
So what’s the bottom line?
 While it isn’t inexpensive, keywork can make it possible for players with small hands to play tenor, or for those with physical limitations to continue enjoying the recorder. Weigh the cost against the benefit. Adding keys could double the cost of your instrument, but if they make it possible or even comfortable to continue playing, it’s a worthwhile investment. 
Eric Haas is an ARS Board member who manages the Early Music Shop of New England in Brookline, MA. His many arrangements and transcriptions for recorders are played worldwide. He has just published the “Bass Recorder Solo Book.”

*This article references workshops and vendors the author knows well and does not attempt to list the many vendors who install keys.
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