November 2022

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Plastic Recorders

by Eric Haas

Why plastic?

Recorder players are in the enviable position of being able to purchase a high quality instrument that a professional would not disdain to play in performance(1) for a tiny fraction of the cost of a student model modern woodwind. Contrary to popular belief, the material from which a recorder is made has less effect on the sound than the design and craftsmanship of the instrument. The body of the recorder does not resonate and amplify the sound as stringed instruments do; the material affects the timbre primarily at the edge of the labium (the top of the sloping ramp on the front of the instrument). 

Although there are minor acoustic compromises in making an injection molded recorder (undercut tone holes are not possible), the best plastic recorders are extremely consistent. Making a recorder of wood, even with CNC technology (Computer Numerical Control), still involves a degree of hand work to finish, and even highly skilled and experienced makers cannot produce recorders as consistent as plastic models. The time required to finish a high quality wooden recorder directly affects the price, with inexpensive wooden instruments receiving the minimum amount of attention. A good quality plastic recorder will ALWAYS play better than a poorly made wooden one.


Plastic (‘Bakelite’ or phenolic resin) recorders were made in Germany as early as 1936 and cellulosic plastic sopranos were made by Schott (England) in 1941. Dolmetsch began to produce Bakelite instruments in 1947, using the same design as their wood recorders -- loosely based on baroque recorders, but with a large, rectangular windway, a short, wide labium, and large chamfers on the block and roof.(2) 

In 1968, Moeck asked Friedrich von Huene to produce prototypes for soprano, alto, tenor, and bass recorders based on originals by Belgian maker Jean-Hyacinthe Rottenburgh (1672-1756), which were put into production in 1970. These were the first commercially made recorders based on historical designs, with narrower, curved windways, which produced a more focused, reedy sound. The Rottenburgh model proved enormously popular, and about 1975, Zen-On Music Company, Ltd., Japan’s largest music publisher and retailer, asked Friedrich von Huene to work with Kodo Uesugi to design the first plastic recorders based on 18th century originals, the Bressan alto and Stanesby, Jr. soprano. These were soon followed by Yamaha’s 300 series (Rottenburgh) recorders and Aulos’s 700 series (Haka) soprano and alto.

What is ‘plastic’ anyway?

There are three basic types of thermoplastic commonly used for making recorders. Most are made from ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene), an opaque, impact-resistant polymer ideally suited for injection molding, the process used to manufacture these instruments. Translucent plastic recorders are made of MABS whereby Methyl methacrylate is incorporated into the styrene-acrylonitrile copolymer which results in a highly transparent ABS resin. In 2016 Yamaha introduced their Ecodear recorder, made of 70 percent ABS and 30 percent PLA (Polylactic Acid), a plant-based polymer derived from corn. This polymer is commonly used in 3-D printing because of its lower melting point.

In a separate class are the excellent recorders of Vincent Bernolin molded of a high-quality polyester resin and hand-finished with undercut tone holes and individually voiced cedar blocks. In 1994 Dan Laurin recorded a disc of contemporary music on a plexiglass (Polymethyl methacrylate) alto made by Frans van Twaalhofen.(3) In 2013, Mollenhauer and Johannes Fischer produced a plexiglass Helder tenor recorder.(4) These stand as convincing evidence that it’s not primarily the material, but the design and craftsmanship of the recorder that determines its sound and playing qualities.

Sopranos and altos

In the 300 (Rottenburgh) series Yamaha offers the YRS302B soprano (YRS312B rosewood finish, YRS314B ebony finish) and YRA302B alto (YRA312B/YRA314B). Their sound is clear and pure, without a lot of overtones and they blend extremely well in consort. The articulation is crisp and clear through the full range. In spite of anecdotal testimony to the contrary, the exterior woodgrain finish has little, if any, effect on the sound of the instrument. The basic design of the 400 series Ecodear recorders is the same as the 300 series, but the voicing is that of the Yamaha’s YRA42B alto (a model not available in the US). PLA is a bit denser and heavier than ABS and (quoting Yamaha) “produces a mellow, centered tone that is similar to that of wood recorders.” I would suggest that the timbre is not due to the material but to the tighter voicing, which produces a slightly more “reedy,” complex sound.


Aulos’s Symphony model (500 series) soprano and alto are similar in sound and quality to the Yamaha models, and likewise blend very well in consort. Of perhaps more interest is the 700 series Haka soprano and alto. These were designed in response to the original Bressan alto and Stanesby, Jr. soprano made by Zen-On in the late 1970’s, and have a much more interesting sound than the Symphony models. The timbre is complex with lots of overtones (what players describe as ”rich” and “reedy” if they like it or “strident” or “harsh” if they don’t), typical of 18th-century solo recorders. They are capable of producing a pronounced “chiff” and have very good articulation and response through the full range.

A relatively recent entry into the plastic recorder market is the soprano and alto designed by German maker Doris Kulossa and manufactured by Music Garden in Taiwan. In sound and feel, the Music Garden recorders are similar to the Aulos 500 series, with a slightly more robust sound and strong, stable low notes, but a somewhat more strident upper register. I was intrigued to read that the maker claims ‘You can easily play in tune…no matter what blowing pressure…’ (her emphasis). While Music Garden recorders can be blown more strongly than other models, the pitch does in fact change with breath pressure (as it does on any recorder). They are available in the US from


The original Zen-On Bressan 1500BN used to be our most popular model, but perhaps 20 years ago we noticed a significant change and drop in quality, probably due to a change in manufacturer. In 2018, Zen-On announced a complete redesign of this model by master Japanese makers Shigeharu Hirao and Hiroyuki Takeyama. This new version meticulously reproduces the bore of the original (scaled to a=442) and even has undercut tone holes achieved by the ingenious process of molding holes 0, 2, 3 & 5 separately and dropping them in. The sound and response is much more like that of a high-quality hand-made wooden alto, and it has an attractive matte black finish. Just two years later, Zen-On announced the first commercially produced recorder pitched at a=415 (G1A/415), which is a terrific instrument and opens up the possibility of playing at this lower pitch to almost everyone. A number of professional players have given it very good reviews.


Finally, there is the Mollenhauer Dream soprano, designed by the late Adriana Breukink. Originally intended as a school instrument, the model proved so popular with both amateur and professional players that a consort was developed and a version of the soprano made in plastic. The Dream is a large bore recorder with some of the timbral qualities of Ganassi-type and Renaissance instruments, with a strong low register, but a full two-octave-plus range, though some have characterized the sound as slightly “airy” or “breathy” especially in the bottom octave. It’s ideal for van Eyck.

Other sizes and models

Yamaha also makes the YRN302B sopranino, a two-piece model, with very good response and intonation, even in the extreme upper range. The Aulos A507B is also a superb design (in three sections, with an adjustable foot), that plays easily and responsively through the full range. This is the choice of many professionals when they have to play a sopranino at a=442. Aulos also makes the only plastic garklein recorder, the A501S, pitched an octave higher than a soprano!


Yamaha’s YRT304B tenor is a fantastic design with very powerful low notes and excellent response throughout its full two+ octave range (its dimensions and voicing are virtually identical to the von Huene tenor, which sells for $3000). However, the right-hand stretch (especially the distance between holes 4 and 5) is perhaps the largest of any commercially available instrument. Yamaha does not offer a bent-neck version (I’ve tried in vain for decades to convince them to do so), but sells a modified YRT304B head joint for just $81. The Aulos 511B tenor is a similar design, but with a more comfortable right-hand finger spread. The modifications that make this possible do compromise the clarity and power of the sound somewhat, but this is offset somewhat by the double key design which has separate holes for C and C-sharp, producing a stronger chromatic note (Yamaha uses a stacked key design, the C-sharp key uncovering a smaller hole in the C key, the same principle as a double hole). Aulos also makes the 211A (Robin) keyless tenor for small hands, and it is quite manageable, but the tuning, sound, and response are noticeably inferior to the keyed models.


The YRB302B bass does have a bent (knick) neck which reduces the stretch of the right arm, and easily plays two-plus octaves. Some of the cross-fingered notes are problematic (low E-flat requires a special fingering and high C-sharp is touchy and slightly flat) but these minor limitations are far outweighed by its other excellent qualities. Aulos offers two models of bass recorder, both recently redesigned. The original A533B model is bocal blown, with silver-colored plastic keys and has a very comfortable hand stretch. The newer A521 is a ‘knick’ style (bent neck) design very similar to the Yamaha, with black plastic keys. The key configuration of the Yamaha and Aulos basses are equivalent to their tenor models.

Caveat emptor

Over the past 40 years, I have found the recorders described in this article to be consistently reliable and excellent choices. There are always new, as yet unproven, entries into the market such as the Triebert recorders made for the EMS in the UK and those of the German music giant Thomann, but there are also Korean and Chinese knock-offs of the Yamaha recorders that may be cheaper than the ‘big name’ brands, but are much more inconsistent and generally poorer in quality. I advise people to always buy the best they can afford.

How to Care for your Plastic Recorder


(1) Some years ago, Aldo Abreu asked the von Huene Workshop to shorten a number of plastic alto and tenor recorders to play on a South American concert tour. Since he never knew in advance what the pitch of the piano accompanying him would be, he had to be prepared for anything.

(2) Lander, Nicholas S. 1996–2022. Recorder Home Page: History: Modern period.

(3) The Swedish Recorder. The cover art features a photograph of the instrument:

(4) This instrument can be seen and heard here:

Eric Haas holds a Master's in Early Music Performance from New England Conservatory where he studied recorder with John Tyson and baroque flute with Sandra Miller. He has taught at NEC, Tufts, Wheaton College, and Brandeis University, and served on the faculty of numerous early music workshops such as Amherst Early Music, Pinewoods Early Music Week, and the Mideast Early Music Workshop. Since 1990 he has managed the retail division of the von Huene Workshop, Inc., helping thousands of customers choose recorders. He is a frequent contributor to the ARS Facebook group as well as the unaffiliated Recorder Players and Enthusiasts Facebook Group where he valiantly (if vainly) strives to combat misinformation and prejudice against plastic recorders.

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