Wooden Keyless Tenor Impressions

Recorder Forum Home Page Forum Recorder Makes, Models and Maintenance Wooden Keyless Tenor Impressions


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    Ken In Dallas

    I’d appreciate the impressions and opinions of keyless wooden Tenor owner/players. I’m an advanced ‘keyed’ Tenor player of many years. I purchased an Aulos 211 plastic ‘Robin’ Tenor last week and am thrilled with the ease with which it plays. I’m now going to buy a wooden keyless Tenor and would appreciate any feedback from others that play one. I’ve read the websites of Antique Sound Workshop and Courtly Music. Any help from owner/players will be greatly appreciated. Thanks. — k


    Bit of a late reply so I hope it is still of some use to you. I have the Robin tenor, and I also own 4 wooden tenors (a bit ott, I know!). The finger hole spacing on all of them is mostly similar to the Robin so not much to choose between them there. The recorders I have are:

    – Küng Studio in cherry. This sounds subtly different to the Robin, but there isn’t much in it, and on the down side the top notes are harder. It’s nicely made but quite honestly it’s not worth (to me) the much greater price – even though it’s my cheapest wooden tenor it still cost about 10 times as much as the Robin.

    – Marsyas in plum. I like this instrument. I think it has a genuinely better tone than the Robin, with very clear top notes. The holes are quite small and easy to cover and spacing is great.

    – Tim Cranmore tenor after Hotteterre. This is not a “genuine” Cranmore instrument: I did his “make your own recorder” course and this is what I made, but it’s pretty similar to an original (Tim did all the really hard bits anyway). Mine is unstained maple, Tim’s are boxwood. It is a terrific instrument, excellent across the whole register. If money was no object, I’d buy one of Tim’s originals just to have it.

    – Kobliczek renaissance tenor. This is a bit different to the others as they are all baroque type instruments. I enjoy playing it so I’m glad I have it, though I probably wouldn’t have it as the only tenor I owned. Fingering is a bit harder than the others as hole 7 is further away, and can’t be rotated in relation to the other holes. I don’t find it difficult but it is more of a stretch. It has no bottom C# and although the fingering chart says you can get bottom D# by shading the hole, it’s not easy. The bottom few notes overblow very easily. Top G# isn’t great either, though it can manage a more convincing top C# than some recorders (without covering the bell).

    To summarize, if money was no object, I’d have the Cranmore, otherwise the Marsyas. It would be interesting to hear what you go/went for.

    Ken In Dallas

    Wow. You put so much into your reply. Thank you. I’m not at all familiar with Cranmore or Kobliczek though regarding the latter I am looking for a Baroque instrument rather than Renaissance. I would guess that all the mentioned tenors are keyless(?) Where I am at this point is that I’m being gifted the tenor by my wife. I’ll leave the vendor’s name out right now. I think it best. I loved the weight and speed of the Robin despite it’s problems – especially ‘in tune-ness.’ For nearly 60 years I’ve played a keyed Herwiga. It has the voice of an angel but is just plain worn out. Thus I’m needing a new wooden tenor. I also have an Aulos 311 single key. I wasn’t really thinking about getting a finer handmade instrument, looking towards less than $1000. At my age I’m fine with that, having commissioned and then playing for a lifetime my primary instrument, a classical guitar made to my body dimensions of Brazilian and Spruce. I’ll hold back from going on here about the privilege of owning such an instrument and pursuing Bach all these years as well as performing and blending with so many fine musicians with it. So… We went to order a keyless Boxwood Moeck but my wife and the vendor talked me into trying a keyed Boxwood Mollenhauer first, which is currently delayed by the Pandemic. I have a Mollenhauer Pearwood alto. After near a year of ownership, either I’ve gotten used to the voice or it’s broken in. Compared to the Herwiga the Mollenhauer is reedy to the edge of gritty to my ear. It still is till it’s quite warmed up. Thus my reservations while awaiting the ordered instrument though I’m assured an easy exchange for a Moeck keyless if I don’t like what arrives, just that that’s a far less popular instrument that therefore can’t be returned/exchanged. I accept that keyless tenors have way quieter bottom ends. I have all these reservations about the Mollenhauer, but I’m in for the ride at this point. I certainly have the musical chops to give it a try. I’m planning to record it, wait a day or two, and listen to it (hopefully) objectively. The Pandemic has made even a mid-priced recorder purchase way more problematic. If I’m truly disappointed at the end of this story and they’ve given me my vaccine shot, I’ll up my budget, hop in the car, and drive up to New England. So there you go… I am going to research your makers I’m not familiar with. I really appreciate all you put into your post above. I did rule out the Kung based on someone else’s reported experiences, and that was with a Superio. So… Thank you, and have a happy New Year, and I’ll try to post the end of the journey wherever it gets me. Stay Well, — Ken —


    Firstly, no problem at all as far as answering goes – I have had so much help from so many different forums over the years that it always feels good to put a bit back in. It’s all a bit subjective anyway – I have never tried a Küng Superio but I know a couple of people who absolutely love them.

    Secondly, Wow! Your guitar sounds fantastic. And playing Bach on it too. (I have a recording of Julian Bream playing Bach that is exquisite.) If I could do that, I wouldn’t be bothering with a recorder at all. Sadly…

    As far as the recorders go, yes, all the ones I mentioned are keyless. I own both the Yamaha and Aulos keyed tenors but I really do prefer keyless recorders, there is just something attractive about the simplicity of them. I used to own a Moeck Hotteterre, which was a lovely instrument, but in the end I decided I preferred not to have the keys.

    I agree about the problem of trying things out, but for me it’s pretty much a permanent state of affairs. I live in a very small place in Ireland and to try out instruments from a big choice I’d really have to travel to, say, the Netherlands. Recorders are really difficult anyway because they can change so much as you play them in. I suppose I’m still looking for my perfect instrument. I tend to buy one, play it for a while, and then maybe sell it and try something else. I’ll always keep the “Cranmore” because I made it. I’ll probably always keep the Kobliczek too because I acquired it ridiculously cheaply so I feel it doesn’t owe me anything, and it’s unique in a way: it’s not a proper renaissance instrument, strictly it’s a transitional instrument, so it has the range of a baroque recorder but a stepped rather than a conical bore, and no double holes. I think it’s the only such instrument you can get for a reasonable price. It’s very light and seems to play for ages without getting clogged, so it does have some things going for it. I have owned 2 different Moeck renaissance instruments and I liked them both but their limited range is a problem.

    Not sure why but I have never owned either a Moeck Rottenburg or Mollenhauer Denner. I probably should have tried them along the way. The Marsyas is interesting (well, to a geek!) because it was a fairly early example of a major manufacturer (Küng in this case) making an instrument designed by a craftsman but sold at something more like factory prices. Moeck and Mollenhauer both do that now of course. The Marsyas is also not particularly a copy of anything. I get a bit fed up sometimes with the whole “this is a copy of an original baroque instrument (except we have changed the pitch, the fingering, the bore, the length, and the materials)”. Still, shouldn’t start ranting this early in the morning 🙂

    Anyway, likewise have a good New Year and stay well.

    Ken In Dallas

    Early on staying home as we have, I overplayed and my hands kind of gave out, so I’ve mostly stopped playing guitar and focused on recorder. I miss multi-voicing the Two Part Inventions and such. It took decades to get good at it.

    Turning to recorder I brushed up on sight reading all the upper ledger lines at speed in both the F and C fingerings while ordering all eight books of the Schott Anthologies and the complete Handel Sonatas. I’m having a great time playing along with the CD harpsichord accompaniments as well as the exposure to many composers I’d never heard of.

    It became evident that there had been a huge improvement in the recorders themselves due to computers. I started replacing my plastic instruments first. I purchased the second generation Zen-On Brennon alto/treble and an Aulos Haka soprano/descant. They’re far far better than any of my old instruments.

    I then purchased my Mollenhauer Pearwood Denner alto. I do like the plastic instruments more from a player’s perspective, but the wood sound still has my ear. I’m toying with sending the alto to Von Huene up in Boston for re-voicing to smooth out the grittiness in the upper register. I figure if anyone can do it, his shop can.

    My ancient wooden tenor looks like someone tried to clean the fipple with some kind of tool. The wood is all uneven like a prize fighter’s teeth missing and broken. The wood just wore away from moisture, wind, and age. And yet it has the same beautiful rich voice over its entire range. The problem is that the top-most notes often jam. As you change fingering (descending,) it stays on the same initial note. I love it dearly, but its time for a replacement.

    It was great hearing of your experiences. Thanks again. And do have a great New Year’s. I’ll be a year behind you for about six hours.


    2019 possibly not the best place to linger 🙂

    Michael Pendred

    If you have not already bought your keyless tenor, I would like to offer my limited experience of them.

    I have tried Moeck Rottenburghs in maple, boxwood, rosewood and ebony and found them nice to play. The ebony had a particularly rich sound across the whole range.

    But the one that really blew my mind, was a Fehr Model III in palisander. The rich sound was so beautiful it made the back of my neck tingle.

    The other thing I likd about the Model III is the shape of the little finger holes – I found them easier to hit, especially the low C#

    The model III ones are very hard to get hold of though. The Early Music Shop has a Model 4 for sale:
    Fehr "Model 4" Tenor Recorder in Palisander

    However I do not know how this compares to the Model III.

    The Early Music Shop does have Model III tenors in other woods though. The one in Bubinga is probably as near as you will get to the one I had

    Fehr "Model 3" Tenor Recorder in Bubinga

    Ken In Dallas

    I’m aware of one shop here in the States that sells Fehr recorders – Antique Sound Workshop – which I believe is up in or near Boston. It’s gotten quite daunting to purchase mid- to high-end instruments due to the Pandemic. As a musician I would never consider a new instrument without playing it. Even when I commissioned my guitar, I had traveled the US trying perhaps 40 handmaker’s works. I read a review of one maker’s instruments in a magazine which ‘spoke’ to me. That maker later arranged for my playing two of his instruments which an owner graciously permitted. Only then did I place a deposit and was put on a list to wait nearly a year. While we’re not speaking to that level of instrument in the Tenor I’m seeking, as a good musician a new instrument is like a new family member. It’s never going to be perfect, and my job is to bring out its best. I’m not going to die tomorrow, but I am in my 70s and Pandemically shut in as I am, I’d like to proceed. I don’t mind paying some extra postage for any ‘back-and-forth’ needed, but the supply of instruments globally seems to have slowed. I did read that shipments from Japan are no longer being permitted by our postal service. All said, I think I’m beginning to understand why vendors are aiming me at ‘keyed’ Mollenhaures rather than the less common keyless instruments of other makers.

    I’ve four plastic and one keyed wooden tenor in the house to play, so I’m good for the time being. By chance I’m scheduled for my Covid shot later this morning. My wife and I are retired and for the last perhaps ten years have hopped in the car and traveled as we say, ‘like leaves in the wind,’ for two or three months each year. We were on the Continent last November, so when things permit here, it’s time to tour in North America. I’m beginning to lean towards holding off on the recorder till then – maybe as little as nine months – and then driving up to the Boston area where many of the Early Music shops tend to be. In the mean time, a number of the vendors seem to have me on their ‘short list’ and are keeping me informed of availabilities. For a $1000-or-less instrument? These are different times, that’s for sure.

    Your feedback on the Fehr instruments is greatly appreciated. I’ve no experience with them, and nobody’s suggested them before. Your words about them seemed well chosen. I’ll be open to them now. Antique Sound Workshop sells them here in the States if you want to compare prices and models to what you have where you are. I’ve heard much favorable from Moeck owners though the vendors keep steering me away from them. Again, it could be availability. Can’t tell.

    Thanks so much for taking the time to post the info. It’s appreciated.

    — k —


    Just a small additional note: I have never tried a Fehr instrument but Fehr’s chief designer used to be the same person who designed Küng’s Marsyas range, ie Heinz Ammann, so there is probably a fair bit of overlap between the ranges. There is some info about this on the ASW website.

    I have owned several Moeck recorders and they have all been excellent.

    As far as getting the vaccine goes: lucky you, getting it later today. Rollout seems to be going quite slowly here in Ireland – I’m retired, mid 60s, and I think it could be some months away yet. It will indeed be nice to be able to travel again: my wife and I plan to treat ourselves by going to Stockstadt recorder festival next time that is possible. They have a programme scheduled for this year, but it takes place in May, and I really don’t see that being possible. Maybe next year!

    Ken In Dallas

    Well here’s the ending: After months of waiting, the keyed Mollenhauer I had on order to try failed to appear. I know there’s been a ban on some Japanese goods. Perhaps there’s one on European goods as well. Things didn’t go well with the vendor on the phone when I mentioned my continued interest in a keyless instrument. We parted ways with my canceling the order. I did learn in a subsequent phone call to a different shop that there are new keyless tenors out there for sale. For some reason though I didn’t just say ‘send it to me’ and continued to mull over just what I wanted in updating my worn and outdated collection of recorders.

    A day or two later while browsing eBay with thoughts to a used wooden bass, I stumbled on a pristine Rosewood tenor originally purchased in the 70s. Today, they’re just under $1000. The asking was half that. I was checking out the seller when I found they had a Maple soprano for sale as well – also new looking. I’m of the belief that today’s factory instruments receive less skilled handwork. Both instruments were Moeck Rottenburghs. I requested additional photos with views of things I wanted to check out. Those too showed both instruments looked unplayed, in the box, and with receipts from a music store in Germany. I offered the seller $500 for both – tenor and soprano. The seller accepted and shipped them “2 day.” They’re with me here now as I’m writing having arrived about a week ago.

    I’m re-breaking them in as they haven’t been played for so long. The voices even now are way, way clearer than my nine-month old Mollenhauer Pearwood alto, which has been ‘raspy’ from the start. The turnings on the Moecks are sharper too. The tenor is more than I expected. It’s smaller than my keyless Aulos Robin that got me started about keyless tenors. It’s also much lighter and very fast to finger. I just love it. The voice is more of a soloist’s voice, but it’s just warm enough that I’m thinking I’ll be able to blend in with an ensemble post pandemic. Even without bundling in the soprano, I’m comfortable with the price I paid.

    The little soprano though is delightful. I don’t play much soprano, but I’ve never owned a wooden one before. Back in the 50s the schools started me off on a black-plastic instrument that’s likely now floating in some non-biodegradable hell of coke-bottle flotsam in the Pacific. My first year of High School (Music & Art, NYC) I went directly to tenor – the keyed one I still have. As such, there was always an ensemble where I was needed – with my plastic bass even more so.

    While investigating re-voicing my alto, I did learn something. Von Huene up in Boston will re-voice my Mollenhaure at no charge during the first two years from time of purchase despite my buying it from a different vendor. I’m responsible for to-and-fro postage and must furnish an original receipt of purchase. I’m going to send it out soon – likely at the one-year mark.

    Hey, thanks to you respondents above for all the in-depth and excellent info and observations on keyless tenors. I’m a convert. They may be a bit softer on the low end then a (longer) keyed instrument, but the aesthetic and play-ability are all I could ask for. All sweetness with no plumbing – whoo hoo! — k


    That all sounds great – I hope you will all be very happy together 🙂

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