Buying a Used Recorder.

Things you need to consider.

Before you jump in and make a decision you may come to regret, pause a while and consider the issues I mention below. It may save you money and anguish, though the chances are, judging by the experience that leads me to write this, that it is already too late.

  • Recorders are, like other musical instruments, a complicated combination of art and technology. Beauty lies in the eyes and ears of the beholder, but the real value of an instrument is not evident to a novice.

  • Like other woodwind instruments, recorders wear out, but, unlike other woodwind, when they wear out, they do not rattle or leak, they can become impossible to play. It is by no means a certainty that they can be repaired or 're-voiced'.

  • Hardwood is far more durable than softwood.

  • Cracks are undesirable but can often be repaired with excellent results.

  • Recorders are, as musical instruments go, cheap.

  • Mass produced 'school' recorders have very little (or even no) second-hand value. I have a soft spot for Dolmetsch Bakelite recorders. Other models are generally of very poor quality. Those by Schott are virtually useless compared with modern production.

    (For the information of the younger generation... Bakelite is a moulding material that was in general use from the 1930's up to the 1960's. It was the first material of its kind and was used for many applications, most notably the cabinets of radio sets. It is very hard and brittle, sometimes being mistaken for china. It is usually brown and it has an internal texture, the result of its composition, a mix of resin and a 'filler', often powdered wood.

The best source of a used recorder is probably your teacher, who may know of a desirable instrument looking for a new home. Otherwise, there are shops, small ads. and auctions. Some shops have lists of used instruments, usually 'commission sales'. You should be careful to ascertain the degree of support and after sales service (if any) offered. Others have used stock, instruments bought or traded in and fully supported as if new, though sometimes for a reduced period compared to new stock. (That was my way of handling used instruments.)

With small ads. and auctions you are on your own. There may be no way back if you have made a mistake, and mistakes are frequent. These are some of the pitfalls:-

  • Wrong fingering, do not assume that the recorder you are buying from Germany has the standard, 'baroque' or 'English' fingering. Check it out (here)!

  • 'Little used'. There is usually a reason for this if the instrument is not brand new! Take care, it may not be worth playing.

  • 'Lovely low notes'. Top notes unplayable? Could well be, they often are.

  • Beware of 'house' names, like 'Schott', 'Boosey', 'Concert' and the like. Check the credibility of the name. You are safer with a manufacturer, 'Kung', or 'Moeck' for example. Be very careful with 'good' names that are applied to a wide range of qualities of recorder, 'Dolmetsch' for example, the actual model is important. If you don't find the name in my list, or any other, ask yourself "Why?". You could ask me too.

  • Be aware that the production of any article changes with time and the quality does not necessarily get better.

I have been asked why I do not have more used recorders for sale. The answer is simple, and to me, obvious. The supply is unpredicable, they are not orderable and I am fussy. With other instruments it is a bit easier, especially if you are not fussy. There are concerns who do business by trawling pawn shops and the like, even as far afield as the USA, buying up instruments and then offering them to retailers 'as is' or 'refurbished'. I don't think any business would lend me money against my Prescott recorder, though they might give me a few bob for my solid silver flute.

It is a sad fact that my best used recorders come from the partners of deceased players, or from a player stricken with a condition that stops their playing. These instruments are rarely less than five years old, it takes that long for anyone to bring themselves to 'let go'. I am reluctant to accept a well used and very playable recorder in part exchange for a better one of the same size. If the player has only one the chances are that the new one will be overworked from the outset and give trouble. Used small softwood recorders are of very little value unless in pristine condition. They never were a lot of money, are prone to wear out and are generally unappealing to a potential second owner. A small hardwood recorder with a good name and good performance, on the other hand, is likely to be snapped up by a discerning player. Big recorders tend to be worth more. Even the 'ordinary' brands can be viable and useful instruments in the larger sizes.

Now we come to prices. If you have a recorder to sell you will maximise your return by selling it yourself to a private individual, not the trade. But... it is work and there can problems. Use your imagination to find a possible buyer. After considering eBay (a gamble) you need to find a recorder player, or group of recorder players. You can track them down through the SRP (Society of Recorder Players) website. Look for and contact your local secretary. Old instruments from good makers, especially Dolmetsch, are appreciated by amateur players.

On the other hand, if you want a quick and painless solution you could try the trade. I do not sell on commission. I buy and sell. It is hard and time consuming work. I have found it difficult to get much more than half the new price for a marked used instrument. I have to pay tax on my sales, offer aftersales service and guarantee, maintain the business and have something left over to buy bread. (Don't take me too literally!) So, I used to buy in at roughly 1/3 the retail price of the nearest equivalent current model. This policy was flexible and I was usually more generous with trade ins. I am no longer buying used recorders.

Recorders frequently change hands at auction, eBay comes to mind. It is mentioned to me often. I do not buy and sell on eBay. If you decide to, please be careful and realistic. You are on your own. I have one client who has done well and we get on well. There is no serious conflict of interest and I am happy to swap stories and allow her to pick my brains. I have others who have caught serious 'colds'. In one case I was able to provide enough leverage for most of the money to be recovered. It is not something I want to have to do again in the way of fostering good customer relations, it took up a lot of time. If you want to dabble with eBay follow their directive and make use of the PayPal facility. Do not get carried away by the thrill of the chase and remain very hard headed over value. Read all the advice I offer on this site and follow it. Remember that an auction, particularly a remote auction, is very close to a gamble. Do not risk serious money. Work out how to stop beforehand. When you buy, even a used article, from a long established business, you buy much more than a unit of merchandise.

© Saunders Recorders