Berkshire Recorder Consort - Intruments


As a Consort of Recorders we have a total range of four and a half octaves over seven instruments (Garklein, Sopranino, Descant, Treble, Tenor, Bass, Great Bass). The sopranino, descant, treble and tenor have a range of more than two octaves, whilst the ranges of the garklein and bass instruments have slightly less. Music for the top three and the bass instruments is written an octave lower than it sounds in order to avoid excessive use of ledger lines.

Here's a small collection of some of our instruments. with the exception of the Tin Whistle, these instruments represent the mainstay of our performances. the only one missing is the Bass Crumhorn.

Here is a description of all the various sizes of recorders.

For a further, indepth descriptions of recorders, crumhorns and other early instruments, you can check out the Diabolus in Musica site.


The instrument open. Aspirat primo Fortuna labori is an old Latin motto, “Fortune favours our first effort”, perhaps more idiomatically translated as “Beginner’s Luck”!

Detail of keywell. This instrument has a four octave range from C to c''' (the c two octaves below middle c to the c two octaves above middle c). The keyboard has boxwood naturals and ebony sharps. The inscription in the keywell translates as “Richard Carlin began her. Ian Macdonald completed her, 2002”

Richard Carlin purchased this instrument as a kit from Bolton's Kits. It is an English virginal, based on an original by Thomas White dated 1642, now in the V&A museum in London.

When Ian Macdonald took over the building, Richard had completed the case and had started to veneer the outside. He had decided on an oak veneer, with a border of boxwood stringing (the thin lines of lighter wood) and cross-banded sapele. Richard had veneered the back and half of one end of the case. Ian needed to complete the veneering along the lines that Richard had started and complete the functional components to create a working instrument.

Virginals (and spinets) were favoured as household instruments during the 17th and 18th century, being somewhat cheaper and taking up less space than their grander cousins, the harpsichords.

Virginals, like harpsichords and spinets, generate their sound by the plucking of strings as a result of pressing a key, rather than hammers hitting a string like a modern piano. Because the volume of sound depends on how far the string is moved when struck, a plucked string keyboard instrument cannot vary its volume since the string is always plucked the same amount, no matter how hard the key is struck. In addition, this sound is relatively quiet compared to a piano and this, together with the lack of dynamic range, led to the virtual disappearance of the virginals, spinets and harpsichords in favour of the piano by the middle of the nineteenth century.

Whilst there was some renewal of interest in early keyboard instruments at the beginning of the 20th century, the building of such instruments was approached using the knowledge and techniques of piano building, usually resulting in instruments that while very clever and more versatile in their ability to vary their sound, did not deliver the authentic sound that the composers of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries would have heard on their own instruments. It is only in the last 20 years or so that keyboard instruments have been built using similar techniques, plans and structure as those employed by makers in the past. Although there is no definitive way to tell, these instruments should produce music in a form that Byrd, Bull, Bach and Handel would find very familiar.


The Cornett (Zink)is a tubular instrument often octagonal in cross section, made of wood or sometimes ivory, although modern instruments are often made of ebony resin and covered with leather. It is curved giving easier access to the fingerholes which are like a recorder but it is played with a trumpet style mouthpiece, by making the lips vibrate to produce the sound.

The tube is short, only the length of a woodwind instrument and as a result it is a difficult instrument to play, requiring considerable practice. Modern brass instruments are all considerably longer using valves or slides to control the pitch whereas the cornettist has to rely on a combination of lip control and finger holes.

There is a range of similar Renaissance and baroque instruments that can be played together in a consort: a cornettino, the descant version; the cornett is the alto instrument; a tenor cornett or lizard and a bass cornett although more commonly the serpent was used. The cornett was also frequently used with sackbutts to double a church choir, particularly in Venetian churches and it is often remarked that when played well it resembles the human voice.

It is also a very impressive virtuoso instrument with a lot of solo music surviving. Giovanni Bassano is probably the best known early player of the cornett and Giovanni Gabrieli wrote a lot of polychoral music with him in mind.

Another variety is the mute cornett, popular in Germany. It is straight and the mouthpiece is integral. Its narrow bore gives it a beautiful, soft sound ideal for playing with recorders, lutes, and viols.

The cornett gradually fell from use and its place of was never really filled by any other instrument but a recent revival has given us a chance to hear it again in its proper context.



Crumhorns are reed instruments of the woodwind family. They have a double reed mounted inside a windcap attached to a long, hollow wooden pipe that is curved at the end. Blowing into the cap causes the reed to vibrate producing a buzzing sound. Smaller finger holes along the length of the pipe are used to vary the pitch. The instrument has a very limited range of just over an octave and as a result there is a limited range of music to play. Modern crumhorns can have two holes covered by keys added at the top to extend the range and some larger instruments have the range extended downwards with added holes and slides to provide a slight improvement.

Crumhorns were popular in mediaeval and Renaissance times. The first reference to the word crumhorn was used to describe organ stop in Dresden in 1489 which suggests that the instrument was in use for a time before that. Crumhorns are usually played in a ‘consort’ with differing sizes, often soprano, alto, tenor and bass. There is also a great bass instrument which extends the range down a little when required.

The Cornamuse
The cornamuse is essentially a straight crumhorn with a closed bell instead of the crumhorn’s flared bore, producing a much softer tone which blends well with recorders. None have survived to the present day so modern instruments have been designed from drawings and descriptions.

Websites with more detailed information about these instruments:


The Rebec was one of the first bowed instruments, originating in the Middle East around the 9th Century and introduced to Europe during the crusades in the 11th Century. Authentically it should be carved from a solid block of wood. It has a long pear-shaped body, 3 strings, no sound post or frets, and played either tucked into the armpit or vertically on the lap.
In its early history it was seen as a court instrument – bowed instruments of any kind were very popular in the 11-13th Century in royal society, and whole groups were maintained by the courts in various regions. Having musicians was a sign of wealth and status, a tradition carried into the 14th C by the rising “middle class”, who often employed minstrels as part of their households. It appears on carvings in Rosslyn Chapel (infamous in the Da Vinci code book). The Rebec thrived through the 14th C until the development of fretted instruments where the musician did not have to be as accurate with finger placement for tuning.
By 15th Century its appeal in the courtly classes was diminishing, and it was regarded as a rustic instrument, suitable mostly for peasant dances – its sound was too harsh and sharp for “gentle” ears. The high, sharp voice contrasted strongly with the low mellow tones of the court favoured bowed strings of the time, and it slowly faded from the musical scene. It briefly re-emerged in the 16th Century as a dance instrument – Henry VIII had 3 rebecs in his “state band” in 1526.
Its fate was sealed by the mid-16th century appearance of the violin, which slowly supplanted all other bowed stringed instruments. Towards the end of the 16th Century the rebec was wholly regarded as a plebeian instrument, fit only for the lower classes, on public streets and in taverns – where the playing of the “noble” violin was especially forbidden.

Medieval Vielle

Medieval Fiddle
Medieval Fiddle (Vielle Medievale)
There were 3 categories of musical instruments in the Middle Ages – wind, string and percussion –known collectively as Bas (soft) or Haut (loud) instruments. Bas instruments were suitable for the chamber and included the Vielle, Rebec, the Lute and Harps. Haut instruments were more suitable for outdoors and included the Shawm, Sackbut, Pipe & Tabor. The Vielle is a predecessor to the modern Violin and would have been used by the musicians of the period including Waits, Minstrels and Troubadours. There was very little standardization of size, shape, number of strings, or tuning. This particular fiddle made by Matthew Farley has a carved back. The ribs, back and neck are maple, the soundboard is spruce with decorative inlays. The fingerboard and tailpiece are walnut. It has been designed to be similar in size and identical in string length/tuning to the modern violin. The carved back creates a greater volume within the instrument, and a more powerful sound. The Ox Gut strings are supplied by the Toro family in Salle, Italy


For more information regarding the building of Vielles see:
For an medieval Italian Bow maker see:
Ancient bows were very different to modern ones and also to the "screw bows" that came much later, around the end of 17th Century.


We have 2 sets of Leicestershire Smallpipes made by Julian Goodacre with Chanters in C, D and G majors. 

This simple English bagpipe is a modern instrument inspired by medieval images and carvings of pipes found in England. They have a low rich tone and distinctive flared bells.  The chanters each play a diatonic nine-note scale. In common with most European bagpipes depicted before 1500 these pipes usually have only have one drone but a 2nd drone can be added converting this instrument into a Renaissance style bagpipe.

G major set
Photo by kind permission of Julian Goodacre