Flutes and recorders      -      Vincent BERNOLIN

Recipient of the Prize of Best Instrument Maker in France 2006




Resin recorders Boehm Flutes
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Recorder Making

Over the last ten years, the expectations of recorder players have greatly increased, constraining manufacturers to make considerable improvements. Nowadays, a high quality instrument must have speed of attack in the upper register, power in the lower register, perfect intonation and refined sound color.
Making recorders is a stimulating experience but demands infinite time and painstaking accuracy.My workshop is rationally designed and well equipped, so I can create my instruments with great flexibility: I can switch from making a Rafi Tenor recorder to a Baroque Soprano with ease.

I use a stereoscopic microscope to check different aspects of manufacture (sharpness of  cutting edges, condition of surfaces, porosity of  different types of wood), which illustrates my whole  approach to my work. Nothing is left to chance be it  the brand of abrasives I use, the length of immersion  time in linseed oil, the steel quality of my tools, the sharpening processes, etc, everything is tested, checked and regularly revised. Vincent Bernolin - Facteur de Flûtes


The design of the instrument.

Many different fingerings and pitches have been used during the history of the recorder. For practical reasons, the pitches most used today are 415 and 440 Hz. The 460 pitch applies essentially to Consort Renaissance recorders, used for a specific repertoire. The most common fingerings are the Baroque, the ancient (or Hotteterre), and the Ganassi fingering (similar to the ancient fingering on the first octave and a half).

Because of this multiplicity of fingerings and pitches, more often than not the recorder maker must base his work on historical models. Some of these were measured and drawn with great care by their manufacturers. Fred Morgan, especially, left us extremely interesting, precise and detailed plans.

The conversion of the pitch is done following very simple homothetic mathematical relations but there is an inevitable modification of the tone of the instrument. Often, the fingering has to be adapted. Modern fingering (erroneously called Baroque) is unfortunately unavoidable today. Since recorder fingering has changed so often during the history of the instrument, was it really necessary to invent this one? I would have preferred to keep the Hotteterre fingering, since it facilitates playing on instruments nearer to the originals, but modern fingering is so widespread today that it is unlikely to be abandoned.

The range must sometimes be increased, as is the case with the Ganassi recorder or the Renaissance recorder. In his Treatise, Sylvestro Ganassi included a fingering table for a recorder with a vast range, so it seemed reasonable for musicians to demand such an instrument.  However, since this range was not entirely used in the examples of diminutions which followed, we presume it was not that easy to play it. The makers were thus led to make this flute fit for use over two and a half octaves, but without real historical justification.

Another problem is the temperament. Our modern ears are used to the homogeneity of the equal temperament but unequal temperaments bring a color and unique expressivity to instruments, even in solo works. The electronic tuner is a precious aid but should be used with precaution. I advise all musicians to use this excellent tool with circumspection. By its use, we have compelled manufacturers to come nearer and nearer to using equal temperament, which presents little interest for a recorder. Deviations of 35 cents between two notes (Do sharp and Mi flat for example) can be found on a perfectly tuned flute with Mesotonic temperament. Among the best known, the most moderate temperament is Valotti, which I recommend to you for baroque instruments if you are a novice.


Making the recorder

The wood used must be left to dry for four or five years, more if possible. The ideal is to have a stock of wood cut or bought by a far-sighted parent. Happily, my father assembled a stock of boxwood, maple, pear, African blackwood (grenadille), Brazilian rosewood and bubinga during the years 1975 to 1980. Of course, I renew this stock regularly for future use.

But length of the drying period is not the only criterion. I attach a particular importance to letting the wood rest for some months between the diverse phases of manufacture. I let two or three months elapse between the roughing out, boring, turning and finishing operations. Boxwood undergoes a specific treatment: it is plunged into hot oil to complete drying and eliminate the internal tensions which have accumulated during growth.

Cutting up lengths is done with a band saw. Strict selection is already carried out at this stage.


The corners are removed before turning


Rounding off and cutting lengths are done on a CNC lathe to guarantee geometric precision.      This simplifies the drilling and boring operations and gives a better final result.


Again, some pieces go from the workbench to the dustbin as the first turning operation can reveal hidden faults inside the piece.

Drilling is the next operation. To obtain better centering, the wood turns and the drill stays immobile. A first cylindrical hole is made with a tool which takes away a great deal of material, such as an air drill.


With this type of tool precise drilling can be done without generating heat as the shavings are progressively evacuated by compressed air.

Finishing is done with a special cutting tool called a "reamer". Unlike the classic helicoïdal drill which cuts at its extremity and can therefore only make a cylindrical hole, the reamer has a cutting blade along its whole length, making a conical hole with a excellent finish. The reamer reproduces its own shape inside the drilled hole, thus making it possible to obtain a bore of complex form. A different reamer is required for each interior form . Reamers are very important tools, specific to the manufacture of wind instruments.


I make mine in my workshop where they are turned on a high precision CNC lathe. The blades are cut with a milling machine, a very useful tool to have in a workshop.



To cut the windway, I use a machine I have specially adapted which allows me to duplicate the appropriate curve inside the head of the recorder with great precision.


The result is a rough cut close to the final objective which gives me a good foundation on which to work.


Turning is done by hand for some instruments or with a digital command lathe for others. This complicated machine executes work of such high quality that one forgets how difficult it is to operate.  Whether or not it is done by hand, turning creates the aesthetic appearance of he recorder but the actual creative part, which gives the instrument its individual sonority, comes much later in the process.


  Polishing and staining gives a unique character to each instrument. Finer and finer abrasives (up to grain 1200) are passed one after the other and the piece is then finished with a polishing paste. The final result depends in part on the sharpness of the tools used for turning.


Recorders of simple form like the Ganassi and the Radi can be varnished French fashion with shellac, particularly if they are in light-colored wood and not stained. Those more complex in form, like baroque recorders or those in darker wood like African blackwood are simply polished.

In all cases, the recorder is treated with linseed oil to improve its acoustic qualities and to limit exchanges of dampness with the air. Staining is done in the old style using nitric acid, among other things, and following a strict process of preparation and finishing. This type of stain has shown an exceptional resistance over time as we can see from historical instruments.


The window is cut on a milling machine, the head of the recorder being held on a special support.



I have a 4-axis piloted milling machine to realize different operations, notably drilling the finger holes in the body. Of course, this machine is over-sophisticated for such work but it offers great precision, notably for drilling at an angle. Failing this, one can trace the hole and use a traditional drill press.


I also make excellent rough cuts of blocks for the most common models with this machine.


An excellent result with a nice, clean cut.    


From this moment on, lathes, drills and other machines are set aside. Now we have the most time-consuming and interesting part of the work which I do at my desk with simple traditional tools.


The labium is cut by hand with a wood chisel and finished with special tools.




The block is carved in a piece of cedarwood after two shoulders have been turned corresponding to the inside diameter of the head, which serve as points of reference.


It is dovetailed into the head of the recorder  to give a perfect fit without forcing.



The windway is worked with fine abrasives and the window finished with diverse small tools like fine files and scalpels.


The scalpel is also used to flare out the holes of the body and foot, which is one of the methods of tuning the recorder.



Some types of wood are sensitive to humidity in the first few hours of life of the instrument and require many adjustments before the wood settles down and stabilizes.

Some aspects of the finished recorder can be judged objectively: ease in the higher register, stability in the lower register, the pitch. But the sonority, the ease of interpreting the musical intention and the comfort of playing are much more subjective. This is when the recorder maker can become really creative, as he models the sound and personality of the instrument. The regulation of the beak is a work of great finesse, which requires delicacy and patience.

The recorder is played, tried out then adjusted as often as necessary until it becomes a unique instrument facilitating easy musical expression and giving the player a real pleasure.


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