The Clearway Story
The recorder as a serious musical instrument has an age-old problem, and that's moisture collecting in the windway. Within five or ten minutes of starting to play most players can expect a reduction in tone clarity, resonance and volume even in expensive instruments in favorable conditions. This, of course, is caused by condensation from the breath beginning to clog the narrow windway.
Can you relate to this graph?
What if this problem could be solved? Your wonderful expensive recorder would then sound better and better as it warmed up along with you, instead of the sound being choked off over and over by pesky water droplets in exactly the wrong place. You could look forward to an hour or two of your instrument's finest tone and full volume without having to stop every five minutes to blow or suck the moisture out (you know the routine). Wouldn't that be amazing?
The simple answer is to make the windway channel out of something very absorbent. Then as the moisture condenses, it just disappears. Wood absorbs a small fraction... plastic nothing at all. Rebuilding windway surfaces using porous, fine-grained ceramic is a great answer to this chronic problem.
Moeck first had this idea and tried out a white ceramic-like substance in the 1980s. For some reason the material they used didn't work out so they stopped using it. I took up Moeck's idea and started using ceramic in the windways of my handmade Native American style flutes around the year 2000. Ever since, this has worked perfectly for several thousand customers and not one flute has been returned because of a problem with the ceramics. Now I've been adapting these porcelain ceramics to alto recorders for several years and the results have been outstanding.
I do three different Clearway modifications. The simplest is to replace an inner section of the block with ceramic, as Moeck tried. This "Rebuild" is hardly visible. Another option is to create an alternative cedar block incorporating the ceramic, so the original instrument can remain intact. This I call "Replacement" below. The most complete and complex option includes also reconstructing the roof of the windway using ceramic and wood inlays. This is "Full Clearway Rebuild".
Installing the ceramic in the block alone (Rebuild or Replace) seems to solve about 2/3 of most peoples' condensation problems. For those whose breath is more dry and who warm their instruments well it does up to 90% of the job. The complete rebuild of a windway, both top and bottom solves the entire problem for most players. Swelling of the block and head of the instrument are also reduced since the ceramic doesn't change shape or expand when it gets wet.
And it does get wet... inside! After an hour of playing the ceramics will have done their work for you. They'll have absorbed a lot of water and anyone who uses this new option must realize that this water must go somewhere (even though you can't see it). So special steps must be taken to dry out and care for these ceramics in the head joint.
A Clearway recorder, or at least the head joint should be kept out of its case to dry overnight after playing, and ideally should be positioned in the breeze from a fan for a half hour. In addition I advise applications of melaleuca (tea tree oil) to the ceramic surfaces once or twice a month, especially in humid summer conditions. This natural, non-toxic antifungal is helpful because the extra humidity is inviting to several types of mold. These recommendations have proven effective and there haven't been problems for those who follow them faithfully.
Imagine a recorder which plays beautifully and easily for hours on end, always clear and resonant. What would it be like practicing, rehearsing and performing with zero clogging? The high register would remain clean and flexible... the lows rich and full. Think of teaching situations where you might play intermittently for hours, with many cold starts, yet your recorder will always be at its best when you next pick it up. Try the Clearway option and you will see it's an exciting answer to the recorder's age-old problem.