by Howard Fosdick © FolkFluteWorld.com.
Almost everyone who plays recorder eventually decides they must acquire a tenor. Keyed one octave below the C soprano, the soft low tenor voice beguiles both musicians and audiences.
Wood tenors are pricey. For those who don't wish to spend hundreds of dollars, high-quality plastic makes sense. Plastic doesn't have the warmer sound of wood, yet even professionals won't deny its capabilities. A plastic recorder in the proper hands projects its own unique beauty.
Among plastic recorders, two makers dominate the market: Aulos and Yamaha. Aulos offers two current models, the 511B Symphony and the Classroom or "Robin" model. This article discusses the higher-end 511B model.
We compare it to the Aulos 111 tenor, which was the first Aulos tenor sold in the US. The 111 hasn't been in production for decades, so we'll spend most of our time on the currently-available 511B. We'll also compare the 511B to its direct competitor, the Yamaha YRT-304B II.
Here is a photo of the two tenors:
Aulos Tenor Recorders: Top 511B, Bottom 111
Both are three-piece instruments. This makes tuning, cleaning, and maintenance convenient.
They come in either brown or black. Both have "ivory" (white) trim. Neither came with a thumb rest, but I'm told the 511B comes with one today. (If not, you can purchase this separately for several dollars.) You can see that the newer 511B is about an inch longer than the older model. The 511B is about 25 1/2 inches long.
Player often wonder if they can reach all the holes on these rather large instruments. In the 511B, the length between the top hole and the bottom key is a reach of about 9 inches. The reach between first and last holes for the left hand is 3 inches. The distance for the right hand is about 3 1/2 inches.
This photo aligns a foot-long ruler with the topmost finger hole on both instruments:
Finger Reach for Aulos Tenor Recorders
This design should fit almost anyone's hands (that's the reason for the bottom key, after all). But I'd recommend taking a recorder in hand to see for yourself if it fits you. If you can't access an instrument, lay out a ruler and see if your fingers reach comfortably across these measurements.
Both the 511B and 111 feature a key for the furthest hole. In the modern Aulos, this is a double key. So you can hit either low C or low C# with the keys. The older 111 has but a single key for playing low C. You can't play C#.
Sound and Playability
This Youtube video gives you an idea of how the 511B sounds.
To my ear, the 511B sounds a bit brighter and louder than the old 111. The 111 features a softer, mellower voice. One nice benefit to plastic: with both recorders, I find it easy to hit high C (C6), and even the high D above that. I have trouble obtaining those two topmost notes on my Adler wood tenor.
On the other end of the scale, one must breath softly for most tenors to hit low C. And if you switch instruments, it takes a few days to develop muscle memory for the location and use of the low C key.
Here's a video for a head-to-head comparison of the Aulos 511B Symphony to its direct competitor, the Yamaha YRT-304B II.
The 511B and the Yamaha are very similar in most respects. Both are three-piece instruments made from ABS plastic. Both feature similar bottom-most keys. Even their voices are highly similar. Unless you're familiar with both instruments, I doubt you could tell them apart in a "blind" sound comparison.
One advantage to the tenor recorder is that it's in the same key, C, as the ubiquitous soprano. That gives you a ton of free sheet music to download from the web. It also means that most lessons fit the instrument, too.
Here are some free resources:
Free sheet music to download here.
Free video lessons here.
Free resources like websites, community, product reviews, and lessons here.
Free fingering charts here.
Unless you're either wealthy or a very accomplished musician, a plastic tenor makes much more sense than a wood one. Plastic costs dramatically less and presents a fine voice in its own right. The Aulos 511B tenor is an excellent choice. Should you prefer a slightly softer, mellower voice, you might pursue an old 111 on the used market.
The Yamaha YRT-304B II is similar to the 511B in many respects and is another fine choice. Prices vary, but at the time of writing I've seen the Aulos go for a bit over $100 USD, while the Yamahas can be purchased for nearly $30 less.
***** SUMMARY *****Instrument: Aulos 511B Tenor Recorder
Material: ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) Plastic
Pitch: C major, one octave below a soprano recorder
Range: Full, standard tenor recorder range of 2+ octaves
First available: 2012
Length: apx 25 1/2"
Components: 3-piece construction, one double-key for playing Low C and Low C#
Cost: Varies, usually a bit over $100 USD