The Importance of Quality Bassoon Reeds

The delicate yet complex bassoon reed serves as the sound source for the instrument. Learn vital reed know-how from selection to hand tweaks enabling personalised tone and more.

Bassoon Reeds Guide
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The bassoon is a double-reed woodwind instrument that plays a vital role in orchestras, wind ensembles, and other musical groups. While the bassoon itself is a precisely crafted instrument, bassoon reeds are the components that produce the sound.

Bassoon Reeds Guide

Bassoon reeds are delicate and complex yet vital for good tone production and ease of playing. Selecting and caring for bassoon reeds is an art form that bassoonists must master.

What Makes Bassoon Reeds Unique

Bassoon reeds have a shape, texture, and thickness, unlike any other woodwind reeds. They are made from shaped cane, bound by wires and string, with an opening cut into one end for the player to blow through.

Two reeds are tied together with string onto a metal staple to place on the bassoon. This double-red setup vibrates while playing to produce sound. However, the opening between the reeds, known as the aperture, must be precisely tuned for the instrument and player.

Cane Selection and Shaping

High-quality bassoon reed cane grows in limited regions, primarily in France. The cane needs just the right mineral content, moisture and sunlight as it grows to produce strong yet flexible reeds.

Once harvested, the cane is sorted so only the finest hollow pieces are selected for bassoon reeds. Crafting companies shape tubes and gouges from whole cane pieces.

Bassoon reed makers purchase these gouged canes to make reeds from scratch or to adjust commercial reeds for individual players.

Commercial vs Handmade Reeds

While most student bassoonists use mass-produced, lower-cost reeds, professional players often prefer more expensive handmade reeds. Commercial reed-making aims for consistency using machines. However, handcrafters can tune reeds for individual bassoons, playing styles and desired tone colours.

Custom options may include choices of cane tubes, different reed profiles, aperture sizes, special bindings or consistency adjustments. Though initially more costly, pro players find the improved life span and reliability make handmade reeds worthwhile.

Types of Shapes and Profiles

The most common bassoon reed profile style is the French cut. French-style reeds have gradually shaped tapered blades and an elongated aperture. This classic design offers dynamic flexibility suited for orchestral playing. However, bassoonists may also select German or American-style reeds.

German reeds have thicker blades and a more pronounced curve for a robust sound. American cut reeds are more rectangular shaped for greater thickness through more of the reed length. This gives a free-blowing feel, requiring less air pressure.

Bassoonists may use a mix of reed types depending on the repertoire, gear, and playing environment.

Choosing Reeds as a Beginner

For starting bassoonists, reed selection focuses mainly on price, availability and suitability for student instruments. Beginners tend to use softer reeds rated between 2-3 on a scale from 1 (softest) to 5 (hardest).

Softer reeds require less air and are more forgiving for inexperienced players. Most music teachers recommend beginners buy student reeds from reliable brands first, then try more variety once playing is established.

Having 3-5 reeds on hand allows rotation as needed. As skills improve, intermediate players may transition to slightly firmer reeds for expanded range and tone options.

Reed Care and Maintenance

Proper maintenance is crucial for reed longevity and retaining desirable tone and intonation. Bassoonists soak reeds briefly before playing to moisturise the cane and free the blades from sticking together when dry. Many carry small water containers for this purpose.

For storage, reeds sit best resting on flat surfaces, or special reed cases help them hold shape. Players avoid damaging edges when putting reeds on bocals. Regular play also keeps reeds supple. Rotating multiple reeds evenly distributes wear over more cane.

Should tone quality or pitch adjustment decline from swelling and wrinkles, reed specialists can profile and tune used reeds to refresh them. Understanding reed anatomy helps bassoonists detect signs a reed may soon fail while playable life remains.

Timely minor interventions then restore reeds to their original potential.

Diagnosing Problems with Failing Reeds

When a reed loses tone quality or becomes unresponsive, bassoonists must determine the cause to remedy it. Opening the blades shows possible cracks near the thread lashings, a closed or uneven aperture or a warped shape.

An air leak means replacing the reed. If the cane appears intact yet the reeds feel too rigid or closed, adjusting the profile or aperture may help. Using plates or sandpaper, targeted profiling along the blades’ curve or tapering the tip opening balances stiffness.

Filing across cracked bark also refreshes older reeds. In contrast, soft, limp reeds respond better to careful drying than excess moistening. Always finish adjustments playing softly to ensure the reed still functions before performing on it.

Reed Adjustment Tools and Techniques

Bassoonists can acquire a few essential tools to extend reed life with their minor tuning. Sandpaper files help remove rough bark edges from crack points. Small metal shims or reed profiling mandrels realign blade curves if warped.

Fine-grit sanding plates let players precision taper openings and alter thickness along the blades’ vamp. Tip pliers allow precise control when closing or widening the delicate end aperture. A reed knife trims excess length or shapes the reed collar.

Micro-adjustments target the reed windows, spine, heart, bark ridges and rails as needed. Players learn vital reed anatomy and experiment cautiously at first. A better understanding of reed construction informs savvy tweak decisions.

Choosing Bocals for Best Reed Performance

The small curved metal tube holding the reed against the bassoon’s boot joint is called a bocal. Bassoon bocals come in different shapes, lengths and openings. These properties significantly impact reed performance and tone production.

Longer bocals require stiffer reeds, while shorter bocals accommodate softer ones. The bocal’s interior diameter also affects reed response and intonation across registers. Wider bores pair well with broader, thicker reed profiles. Narrower bores match better with thinner, French-style reeds.

Bassoonists may own multiple bocals for section work, blending or solo needs. Test playing reeds on each bocal to determine ideal combinations. Building personalised bocal/reed sets takes trial and error but creates more consistency.

Speciality Reeds for Bassoon Pros & Students

In addition to standard bassoon reeds for classical playing, contemporary musicians utilise other specialised reeds:

Contrabassoon Reeds

The contrabassoon plays an octave below the bassoon and is usually the most prominent instrument in the reed family. Due to immense air demands from its size, contra players require even more significant, thicker reeds made from premium gouged cane tubes.

More mass gives the power needed for that register without resistance overwhelming tone. Contra reeds have a more extended blade profile on a more prominent staple for stability across extreme vibrations.

Jazz Reeds

Some jazz bassoonists experiment with saxophone reeds for unique effects. Sax reeds come in a range of strengths to produce varied timbres. Their single reed reacts differently than double reeds when paired with innovative extended bassoon techniques used in jazz.

Alto or tenor sax reeds may suit bassoons after adjustments to fit the bocal. However, most jazz players use bassoon or contrabassoon double reeds for air capacity and pitch control.

Electric Pickup Reeds

For amplified playing, bassoonists can install contact mics into reeds instead of placing external pickups elsewhere on instruments. Tiny embedded pickups inside reeds accurately capture subtle vibrations right at the sound source.

Pickup reeds connect to cables that attach to amplification systems. This avoids feedback issues when performing electro-acoustic bassoon works. Internal pickups cause minimal physical reed changes, so players achieve a natural acoustic feel despite sound processing effects.

Plastic Reeds

Some student oboes and bassoons utilise moulded plastic reeds instead of cane. Plastic reeds follow a similar double reed, stapled design but with synthetic materials. They eliminate cane variables that complicate initial learning.

Plastic bassoon reeds give relatively limited sound compared to cane. However, their durable build tolerates beginner handling. Cost-conscious teachers welcome plastic reeds for time-saving durability, assisting fundamental acquisition.

Students still transition to cane reeds for tonal nuance later on.

Looking Ahead

Selecting and caring for bassoon reeds intimidates developing players. Mastering reed know-how removes that barrier to reveal new expressive potential in performers. Bassoonists passionate about their instruments invest time in reed evaluation and improvement skills. Knowledge of reed anatomy demystifies tweaking for personalised tone and response.

Tools enable safe do-it-yourself home adjustments between professional work visits. Experimenting with reed brands, handmade options, profiling styles, and bocal pairings unlocks greater mastery to share through performance. For devoted musicians, even bassoon accessories become an artistic craft.

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