Are Wooden Recorders Better Than Plastic Ones?

I’ve always thought wood was better than plastic and recorders were no different. But were my perceptions right? As it turns out it is a lot more complex an answer than I first thought.  

Yes, wooden recorders are better than plastic recorders in sound and usage provided you buy a quality instrument. However, plastic recorders are better value for money. They are easier to maintain and less prone to damage.

Whether to get wood or plastic is a really important decision when buying a recorder. I spent a lot of time researching this before deciding on my purchase. Although this was only one element in the final decision. But everyone is different and has different needs so I have put all my findings below so you can see the individual plusses and minuses for yourself. 

Which Is Better Wooden Or Plastic Recorders

I love wood. I was brought up to believe everything wood was better its texture, its smell its richness of color, its quality. I had a wooden recorder as a child. Professional recorder players say wood is better. So, are wooden recorders better than plastic ones? Absolutely yes. In quality and sound. Are wooden recorders better than plastic for you personally? That’s a different story.

For me and I did a lot of research sadly there were some things I didn’t know about them that meant that in spite of my love of wood the answer was no and plastic recorders were a better choice. I have shared my findings below sTo help you make the best decision for you.

The Recorder Instrument

The Sound of Wooden and Plastic Recorders Compared

The sound of the wooden recorders is far superior to the plastic ones for a comparable recorder. They have a much warmer sound. They are richer, smoother, and less squeaky or screechy than the plastic ones. They have a warmth and richness that is unique to wood.

You can also get wooden recorders that are just better than anything you can get that is plastic.

When you hear the professionals describe a particular plastic recorder it is often against how it sounds to a wooden one.

Anyone that has played in school will know just how awful a cheaper plastic recorder can sound. This is particularly bad as you usually play the soprano (descant) in school which has a higher pitch sound anyway. This does reduce as you get to the lower deeper sounding recorders and as you improve your playing.

Be aware though that if you are comparing online on YouTube you can’t always tell the difference between wooden and plastic recorder sounds even if they sound different in real life. This is because of recording equipment, etc. Sometimes the reviewer will comment on this.

You can get a much better plastic recorder for the same money than you can a wooden one so you should get a recorder with good sound.

Quality Of The Recorder

The quality of wooden recorders is not necessarily superior. In fact, some can be made badly. However, you can get some very high-quality wooden instruments. When they are made well they far outstrip the quality of the plastic ones.

The advantage of wood is that it is often handcrafted and carved by highly trained professional recorder makers. Each of the wood the recorders is made from can give you a different sound.

Its rare that a professional recorder player would use a plastic recorder for concerts.

While a well-made wooden recorder is of better quality, not all wooden recorders are well made. Because the wood was a living item it is not consistent with what is produced. These variations can affect the sound. It is better to get a good quality plastic recorder that gives consistent sound.

The Cost Of Plastic and Wooden Recorders Compared

When it comes to cost wooden recorders are more expensive. A comparable recorder can cost double if you buy a wooden recorder over a plastic one even at the cheaper end o the price range. 

This is because plastic recorders can be churned out in a factory and have little in the way of human contact. Once you start adding human contact into the process the price goes up. But this doesn’t necessarily mean the quality.

Looking After Your Recorder

Cleaning & Maintenance of Your Wooden or Plastic Recorder

Plastic recorders are much easier to clean and maintain than wooden ones. Wooden recorders are much more finicky when it comes to cleaning. Condensation, for instance, will soak into the wooden recorder whereas it only lays on the surface of a plastic one. Also,  because wooden recorders came from a living tree the wood itself needs much more care than a plastic one.

Wooden recorders need to be oiled whereas plastic ones don’t. (Don’t oil the block though)

Plastic recorders are much easier to clean and to maintain. They can get mold if you do not dry them properly which is dangerous but overall need much less care than a wooden recorder.

This was a huge selling point for me as I wanted something that was easy to take care of and did not take up too much time to maintain and clean. I hate cleaning so less time doing this works for me! 

How the Environment Affects Your Recorder

The environment can affect your wooden recorder much more than your plastic one. If the environment is one of extremes either heat or cold that can affect the wood either drying it out or cracking it. This does not happen with the plastic ones. Although plastic does not do well if left out in the sun it’s not something that should happen to a recorder. 

For me, this was an immediate red flag as I live in a damp environment and the wood and floors are prone to that damp smell. Also, the wood and leather, etc that I do have, does attract damp spores and fungus if I am not careful even if in a case. This would affect the recorder without doubt and shorten its lifespan. It would also make looking after it that much harder and I wanted something that was easy to use and to look after.

Which Are More Durable Wooden or Plastic Recorders?

Wooden instruments can have a shorter lifespan due to all the factors mentioned here. But well looked after wooden recorders can still last years. They may need maintenance but as long as you do what’s necessary your instrument will last you.

Plastic recorders are far more durable than wooden ones. They can be damaged by the sun but other than that they are quite durable.

Plastic Recorders Are Definitely Better Than Wooden Ones For Children

There’s a reason schools use plastic recorders and not usually wooden ones. They are much more bombproof to the rough and tumble and lack of care that the instrument will get from children.  In the event that the child does break the recorder, it doesn’t cost anywhere near as much to replace it.

Issues With Playing Your Instrument

Plastic recorders are more prone to getting condensation in them than wooden ones which can block the recorder center and hinder or prevent play.

Some brands and styles of plastic recorders are worse than others for this as this is also determined by the center tube hole size, which varies. Of course, this also depends on the player and not just the instrument.

For me, this wasn’t a deal-breaker for the plastic recorders because it is solvable by warming up the instrument before you play it. Although some say you don’t even have to do this with plastic recorders.  Better playing can remove the condensation or learning techniques to reduce the condensation.

Wooden recorders can get tired if played for a long time.

Plastic and Wooden Recorder Comparison Chart

Plastic RecorderWooden Recorder
Ease of Play********
Value for Money**********
Kid Friendly*******
Environmental Effects On The Recorder *******

Alternatives To Plastic or Wooden Recorders

While considering which is best wood or plastic you might want to take a look at the other alternatives to compare as well. Wooden and plastic recorders are not the only option. You can also get resin recorders and Ecodear recorders which are made from a biodegradable resin material (a form of natural plastic). These are slightly more expensive to buy and their plastic counterparts but not as expensive as wooden recorders. They have many of the advantages and not so many of the disadvantages of both wood and plastic. 

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