Contrabassoon Reed Tuning Method
Tests for the contrabassoon reed are very similar to bassoon reed tests described in the Quick Guide to Bassoon Reed Tuning. However, there are several notable differences in the procedure. A complete contrabassoon reed tuning method will be published in the future within the expanded work, The Unruly Trinity: the Reed, Bassoon, and You.
Contrabassoon cane comes in two lengths: 142mm and 150mm. Folding shapers will accommodate both sizes of cane. Cane for flat shapers should be sized to the length of the shaper. Reiger shapers come in folding shapers only. Fox Products sells only flat shapers with both lengths available. In some cases, the same shape design is available in the shorter length from Fox.
The tone quality from the shaper is deeper with a chalice shape/wide belly (see Arundo # 3 and 5) and a concave belly shape(Arundo #2) is more less resistant/more responsive, with a lighter, brighter tone.
Note: the contrabassoon reeds produced by Arundo Research use 142mm cane and reed shapers with a tube length of 33mm. Several Fox contrabassoon shapes are attributed to Mark Eubanks and used in Arundo Contrabassoon reeds. Some of these are available for purchase at Fox Products. Contact them (or us) for more information or see their contrabassoon shaper comparison guide.
Here is an out of date version of the Fox guide: Fox Contrabassoon Shapers
Reed Test Procedure
The pitch of the crow is near B or C. This crow pitch is more similar to the oboe reed than the bassoon reed, which crows between F and G. Acoustically, the contrabassoon is more similar to the oboe with the lowest notes being flatter in pitch unlike the bassoon’s sharper low register. If there is no “rattle” to the crow or it is difficult to get a sound out of the reed, sand the front portion of the blade until vibrancy is established.
The vibrating length or VL (tip to first wire) for the Arundo contrabassoon reeds ranges from 36-38mm. Vibrating length for 150mm cane ranges from about the same or slightly longer up to 39mm due to heavier blade profiles.
Level 1 (Open F to Low Bb)
Test 1 F and E Pitch Centering
- Play open F (F2) with a full tone.
- Without adjusting, check the pitch on a tuner.
- Make adjustments as needed for flat or sharp pitch.
- Repeat with E.
- Clip the tip to shorten VL and recheck.
- Adjust tip opening with wire adjustments for F tuning 2S/1S.
- Tighten and round wires.
- Ream for deeper bocal penetration.
- If quite sharp, sand the front 1/4 of the blade. Recheck crow.
- Scrape in the F tuning zone or E tuning zones as needed.
- Adjust wires to weaken the blade arch 1T/2T.
Note: the locations and methods for tuning open F is the same as for the bassoon reed as is one-finger E. See the Quick Guide to Reed Tuning publication for more detail.
Test 2 F Octave Slur Up
- Slur from open F to high F (F3).
- Check the tuning of high F.
- If quite flat on high F, clip tip to shorten VL.
- Tighten and/or round wires.
- Adjust for smaller tip opening as needed in Test 1.
- Adjust wires for more blade strength: 2S/1S.
- Adjust blade by sanding or scraping to lower the pitch of the crow.
- Adjust wires for less blade strength: 1T/2T.
Test 3 Low C Pitch Centering
- Play low C (C1) with a comfortable full tone.
- Check the tuning
- Clip the tip to shorten VL.
- Ream for deeper bocal penetration.
- Tighten wires.
- Loosen wires.
- Relocate 1st wire closer to 2nd wire.
- Sand blade beginning with front 1/4 until pitch of crow drops.
Note: The goal of these 3 tests is to achieve a balance in pitch level between Low C and open F and high F. Some back and forth between tests is to be expected.
Test 4 Earplug Tests
- Play each note where it is comfortable, then follow by plugging the right ear flat to compare pitch to tuning or pitch drift sharp or flat.
- Play from open F2 down to C2 with ear plugged and then and back for pitch comparison. Listen if pitch of one or more of the notes is out of tune. Also check played chromatically. Note: Sharpness on D scrape is similar to Eb scrape for bassoon.
- Follow tests in Quick Guide for tuning point methods and locations.
- Note: if Eb does not match D’s pitch centering or C# does not match C’s pitch, check pad height (too high=sharp, too low=flat).
- Low G instability or “gargle”, usually related to several significant blade balance problems. Bumps or bubble slurring in loudly from above.
- Uneven tone color between low notes F and below. Sometimes related to excessive cane hardness or balance of blade profile problems
- Low notes are not vibrant enough. Related to G gargle and low note tuning points at back of blade.
- Difficulty with repeated articulation, especially the lowest notes (Think Brahms 1st Symphony, Beethoven 9th). Can be related to overly large tip opening and/or blade balance problems. Can be related to reed shape type.
- On Fox bassoons with a divorced Low A mechanism, the Low Ab-Bb Trill Test will not work unless the open pad is closed temporarily either by tape (or put your foot on it!) to close it.
LEAKS??? You betcha…
Level 2 (F#2 – G3)
Harmonic Tuning Tests
The same harmonic fingerings used in the Quick Guide to Bassoon Reed Tuning and their tuning locations can be used to fine tune the middle register. However, in tuning the harmonic B and C, the upper register may need to be used for the harmonic instead of the normally used lower register key for the standard fingering. Play the standard fingering for B and C then shift to the upper register key when slurring to the harmonic.
It is common for C3 to be at a different pitch level than it’s neighbors.
The middle register tone and flexibility is greatly enhanced on the Fox contrabassoon by the use of a wooden u-tube replacing the metal top u-tube. These u-tubes are designed and manufactured by Keith Bowen Bassoon Workshop. In a blind test between an older Heckel contra and Fox contrabassoon with the Bowen u-tube, the tone was nearly indistinguishable. More tone color added to resemble the Heckel. Recommendation if you try and buy: Be sure to try several of the u-tubes as they are not all equal in vibration. We found 2 out of 5 tried were acceptable with 1 standing out above the others.