Unauthorized Leaks: the Sneaky and the Wacki-Leaks

One of the most frustrating elements of bassoon playing is the mysterious leakage of air along the 8-foot long bore of the bassoon. Finding these leaks is critical to making your playing predictable be it pianissimo or fortissimo playing, not to mention playing in tune. Leaks in the instrument are by far the biggest problem and difficult to manage by band instrument repairmen who are totally clueless. Management of leaks by dedicated bassoon instrument repairmen are also difficult in finding the “sneaky” leaks that are especially common to older wooden bassoons and bassoons that have not been well-maintained.

Starting top down, the first leak is one that can be controlled (or not!) by the player’s embouchure. Many players are “passing gas” as they leak air while playing by not keeping a seal between the reed and their lips. Bassoonists can over-exert in fortissimo playing and occasionally out-gas on a fortissimo staccato. Those who gas us regularly are annoying especially if you are sitting next to them or if you are in a recording studio with a microphone within two feet of the player.

The reed is the next leak point. If your reed is flat and you have to narrow the blade and go to far, leaks can occur between the blades to the ruination of the reed. You might be better off looking for a narrower reed shape to help raise the pitch or review the methods for tuning in the Quick Guide to Bassoon Reed Tuning. Leaks can also occur near the first wire as a result of poorly constructed reeds and reeds can leak at the bocal for the same reason. The leaks above can be felt or heard if they are excessive.

The bocal can give us sneaky leaks. The most common is a crack or pinhole in the soldered seam that runs the length of the bocal. You may not be able to see it but you wonder why your bassoon is not playing right. This can be quickly assessed by plugging your finger on the big end and vent button and either sucking on the small end to check if it will hold suction or blow on it forcefully to see if it will hold air. By immersing the bend of the bocal underwater and sealing the end and button, blowing forcefully in the small end will show bubbles at the point where the air is escaping. Quick fix solutions will appear below.

A less common sneaky leak is again along the seam but at the tip of the bocal beyond the point where the reed penetrates into the bocal. It is common for the plating of nickel or silver to wear away over time exposing the soldered seam and weakening it to the point where it may crack the seam and cause a leak. This is the case all along the bocal if plating is worn away through wear and tear. The more common problem is abuse of the bocal by an accident where the bocal is bent or dented in the area of the seam. The bocal should be treated with great care. Never leave it on the bassoon unattended and a more common problem is the proper insertion of the bocal into the wing joint that does not strain or accidentally bend the bocal. And (duh!) don’t drop da bocal!

An additional sneaky leak can work its way from the inside of the bocal out as saliva for some individuals is so acidic that the solder is dissolved from the inside out. These individuals can also be identified by their fingers eating through the plating on the bassoon’s keys. We should all clean our bocals regularly but the acid folks should pay particular attention. A notable woodwind repairman suggests cleaning the interior of the bocal with baking soda to neutralize the pH balance

Unfortunately, bassoon cases traditionally have been made to store the bocal with the soldered seam facing downward against the bottom of the case leaving the remaining saliva in contact with the seam. This assumes that the bassoon case is laid flat. The seam always runs along the opposite side of the bocal button. If you are particularly anal about keeping the saliva off the seam drill a hole in the case for the bocal button can fit in to so the seam side is up. New cases commonly come with a bocal carrying case rather than at the bottom of the bassoon case where they can be damaged by those who throw their instrument into the case in a hurry or where the bocal is not secured in the case floating around at will.

The bocal cork can also provide a sneaky leak if it is cracked or has a very loose fit into the bocal receiver (well) at the top of the wing joint. Quick solution below.

A leak in the wing joint can ruin your day and it is so common it is surprising.

Arundo Donax

The scientific name for reed cane is Arundo donax L. and commonly known as Giant Reed plant. It is found on all continents and has two distinct varieties. One variety is called Arundo donax Variegata, which is not suitable for reed cane. It is my opinion that there is some genetic variation between plants worldwide. One plant dictionary indicates a sub-variety in France which has been the traditional source of reed cane.

Bassoon cane is typically taken from tubes of Arundo donax measuring 24-25mm in diameter (the same diameter as used for clarinet cane). Contrabassoon cane uses the largest diameters: 26mm and larger. Saxophone reeds range from 24mm for soprano and up to the largest diameter for bass sax. Reed cane is harvested in the winter of its second year of growth. This is necessary for it to obtain ‘woodiness’ and density. It is also necessary that the cane is carefully dried and later sun cured.

Oboe cane typically is 10-11mm, English horn 11-12mm, and diameters between the extremes are found in other double reed instruments including Renaissance instruments, bagpipes, shawms, etc.

Arundo donax typically grows near rivers and streams and is considered a nuisance weed in California and other locations in the United States. It has traditionally been used by farmers as a windbreak hence the term ‘canebreak’.

Arundo donax for reeds can be harvested in the wild as is common for some California reed makers and was planted around the state in the early 20th century by an Italian woodwind musician (source: Don Christlieb). It is also commonly planted for erosion control as was the case in the Sacramento River delta (cane harvested by boat). Cane is also farmed for reed cane in locations around the world.

For more information, see the Wikipedia article on Arundo donax.

Bassoon Reed Tuning Basics

What are the basics of tuning a bassoon reed?

In the simplest terms you manipulate the length, strength, tip opening and tapers of the reed blade. Adjustments of the reed will affect the tuning not only of individual notes but of entire registers and their pitch and response.

Another element that effects tuning is how far the reed fits on to the bocal. If it barely fits on the bocal, it has the same effect as playing on a longer bocal and is flat in pitch. If the reed fits deeper onto the bocal, it will raise the pitch and help certain notes play better in tune. Typically, the reed should fit at least 1/4″ or 6-7mm onto the bocal. It does not fit far enough onto the bocal the end of the reed needs to be opened up with a special tool called a reed reamer.

The design of the reed is also a huge factor. This includes the hardness of the cane, the blade taper (profile), the reed shape (narrow, curved, wide), and the spacing of the wires. Each of these factors influences the tuning of notes in different registers (high, middle, low notes).

What is the correct blade length?

What often determines the correct blade length is stability on key notes such as one finger E (3rd space bass clef) with proper pitch on all the other notes. Blades that are too long or reeds that lack sufficient strength often go flat on this E if played loudly. Cane that is too soft and reed shapes that are too wide often contribute to a sagging E.

The best measurement to use for the blade length is actually the measurement from the tip to the first wire, which includes the area of bark between the blade and the first wire, called the collar. This critical dimension is called the vibrating length. There is no correct vibrating length, but the length can range from 27 to 33 mm from the tip to the first wire. This depends largely on the design of reed and the amount of breath support (the force the player uses in blowing) and the position of the lips on the blade. Generally, a longer vibrating length will favor the low notes and may create problems for the high notes and vice versa: a shorter will favor the high notes. If you use strong breath support with thicker blades you can use longer lengths.

It is critical for the first wire to stay in position when the reed is wetted and ready to play. If it strays from this position, the vibrating length is changed and will create a flatter pitch and instability on some notes.

My personal reeds range from 28-28.5 mm and if my reeds don’t work for me at that length I set them aside. I know that my embouchure will tire or I will play out of tune if I’m way off from my vibrating length preference.

Some teachers insist on using a set blade length. This dogma makes for difficulties. When I first started making reeds my teacher told me to make all my blades exactly 1 inch in length. How wrong he was! He had me measuring from the tip of the blade to the ledge (edge of the collar and blade) where the scrape ends sloping up to the bark. But not to the wire. The space between the 1st wire varied from reed to reed, so my reeds all played quite differently. I had to reinvent my embouchure with every reed. Bummer!

So if my reeds all go flat on E what do I do? You mentioned both length and strength.

Yes, the blade needs more strength to support the E. So, you can try:

  • If the 1st wire near the blade has slipped back toward the 2nd it should be re-positioned. If it’s so loose that it won’t stay in position, the wire must be tightened with small pliers. Sometimes that’s enough to fix the sagging E.
  • Reshape the wires by pulling, rounding, and tightening the wires with pliers. This makes the inside of the reed’s tube more rounded giving the blade more arch and structural strength.
  • Squeeze the second wire from the sides and then follow by squeezing the 1st wire from the sides. Check that the tip opening doesn’t get too wide or close up completely when you’re done.

If that doesn’t do it, then the reed’s vibrating length (from the tip to the wire) and blade must be manipulated. You have a choice of:

  • If the collar is wide enough, re-position the wire closer to the tip and tighten it to stay in place.
  • Shorten the blade by clipping a small amount of the tip of the reed away. Cut only a very small amount at a time and recheck E after clipping. Bassoonists use special clippers to make this job easier.
  • A third choice is to narrow the width of the reed shape at the tip by sanding or filing the “rails” or along the whole length of the rails where the two blade halves come together. If a reed is extremely wide across the tip you may need to do this along with clipping. See diagram on right.
  • If you have to do too much work with every reed, consider changing to a different reed maker with a narrower or shorter reed style.

By clipping the reed tip back or narrowing the reed tip blade you are giving the blade more strength because it is thicker at the tip. If you keep clipping and clipping but the E keeps sagging, the cane may be too soft. Also the design of the reed may not be right for you with a throat diameter that is too big around. A reed tip that closes in the center first when squeezed between the fingers is a sure sign that it will be unstable on E. Correcting the problem may take several steps outlined in Preliminary Tuning Q & A.

If you can’t make any of these adjustments or you want to be sure that the E is stable, use the stabilizing fingering.

Many reeds purchased from music stores are poorly constructed. In a recent test, three reeds made by different manufacturers all purchased from a music store and labeled medium hard failed to play a stable E and the blades weren’t too long! No wonder so many of you are suffering with your reeds making it difficult to enjoy your bassooning. There are many choices available online with reeds of different styles and every bassoonist must experiment to find what works best.

Do store reeds come in different lengths as well as strengths?

No. If you buy from a reed maker who sells them directly to you it’s possible. Some companies will do custom reed work. However, reeds purchased from music stores can’t offer you lengths and apparently don’t really control the strength either.

How should I approach clipping the tip? Is there an easy way to do it?

The easiest way is to buy an expensive reed clipper which are available from double reed supply specialty shops. There are clipping devices and nippers sometimes referred to as precision end cutters. That’s what I use, but the really good jewelers end nippers cost about $75.00. The old fashioned way to cut tips was to purchase a billot made of wood (a cutting block) and take your reed scraping knife or razor blade and cut through the reed tip as it is laid across the billot. A big problem with these though, is that the top of the billot is usually curved, making it difficult to cut a straight tip. Some will file or sand the billot top until it’s flat and wide enough for the tip of the reed. That’s better, but we don’t recommend using a billot and knife.

The poor man’s version of the reed tip clipper can be effective and cheap. Buy a large thick guitar pick with a smooth surface on both sides and a single edge razor blade. Place the guitar pick on a flat surface, lay the reed tip on the guitar pick, align the razor blade with the tip with the amount of tip you want to cut off and press the razor blade straight down into the guitar pick with enough force to cut off the tip. It’s always best to take very small amounts off the tip and test your results. Taking too much off in one shot may leave the reed now too strong, requiring scrapes or sanding of the reed’s blade or additional wire adjustments.

What do I do with a reed that is too hard to blow or plays sharp? Should I pull out the bocal?

A reed that is too hard to blow can cause frustration for a beginning player. Try the following:

  • Try a narrower reed shape, which will blow more easily. These may be hard to find in a music store.
  • Thin the blade by sanding all over until it blows freely and the crow of the reed is lower.
  • If the tip is thick from clipping, sand the area at and behind the tip.
  • Manipulate the wires by flattening the blade arch. Squeeze the first wire from top and bottom to close the tip, followed by squeezing the second wire top/bottom which reopens the tip but makes it easier to blow. The average tip opening measures 1/16″ or 1.5mm in the center.
  • Check that the tip opening aperture is symmetrical and not puckered. The tip opening when squeezed shut should close gradually from the sides to the center. If the reed closes in the center first, it is a sure sign of the problem of unstable E, mentioned above. If the reed closes off center or if the opening itself is not symmetrical, see Preliminary Tuning Q & A.

These will all help lower the pitch, as well as the pitch of the reed’s crow. Pulling out the bocal may help lower the pitch but produces undesirable resistance in what should be a continuous conical bore. If you are playing on a #1 bocal, switch to a lower-pitched bocal (#2 or #3).

How much does the taper of the reed’s blade need to be manipulated?

That depends on your needs. Do the low notes speak, do the middle notes croak, do you tire or play out of tune, are other notes unstable?

At the very least the reed should be stable and the note next to the one finger E, the forked Eb, should not be sharp if fingered with only the first and third finger of the left hand with the whisper key. No added keys in either hand.

If you are having problems you’ll need to know how to fix these things if you want to advance as a bassoonist. Students need to know that it’s more important to know how to adjust a reed than to make one. Rather than waste your time making bad reeds due to inexperience, find a good reed maker whose reed style and reed shape works for you. Check out the Quick Guide to Bassoon Reed Tuning which is available from double reed specialty shops. Good luck with all your reeds!

Harvesting and curing Arundo donax for reed cane

Harvesting of reed cane takes place in the wild in many places in the world.

Here’s some information and advice for a good harvest that I gave to David Richmond.

I did a research project on my own about when to harvest cane after reading in the IDRS that cane is harvested by the moon phase. I did this over several years harvesting cane at different times to see which worked best The interview was with Maurice Allard in the 80’s who didn’t say what moon phase, just that it was very important and a secret. I read during research that timber harvested at a certain phase of the moon had excess pitch oozing out. So, of course, I made assumptions that were wrong. I believed that cane should be harvested like timber when the pitch is down. Wrong.

Harvest cane at the new moon. Pitch is up because the moon is out during the day, and with that excess moisture in there the cane dries out more slowly and discourages shrinkage. But the cane should be harvested when its first year growth leaves are drooping in the dormant stage. Soil temps should be in the 30s for best results. Usually Dec-to early February. After that cane starts up again. Harvest only second year growth, those with branches. First year growth is not woody enough. For bassoon cane select diameters of 24-26 millimeters or approximately 1 inch in diameter. Cane from the bottom 6 feet of the pole is more stable and dense than that from the top. The cane poles can be 18-20 in height.

Cane can be left outdoors to dry out as long as it doesn’t freeze. If it dries quickly in a heated indoor location it could shrink too fast. If left outdoors, it could mildew if the air is too humid though. Chinese cane that is available in the U.S. market apparently is harvested in one location and air dried outdoors in another drier location. The 80 acre Rico Reeds “plantation” I visited in California had tall metal buildings where they stack up the cane and get the air out with exhaust fans. During the summer when things heated up they cooked a bit in there. The final part of the process is heat and sunshine to get the cane to push some of the waxy substance to the surface and tune from greenish to gold. I had good luck with putting the cane in the back window of the car. Works okay up on a roof too. Extra heat seems to help push the wax to the surface.

In France the poles of second year growth are stacked around a pole to create a teepee effect, over them a layer of first year growth of unusable diameters protects them from rain. Air circulation around the harvest poles is essential to prevent mold and mildew. They may or may not put the cane into the sun during the first summer. Poles are stacked but away from direct sunlight. Some sun cure the first summer and stack for more drying into the second summer.

Second choice harvest time is at night when the moon is in the sky. I found a reference to that somewhere later after I had done my tests, but I think the new moon harvest is best.

Now you know more than most bassoonists on how to deal with cane harvesting, except for a few guys in California, like Bob Stevens who took me to the Rico and whose plants I’ve been growing out at the family farm in Yamhill county. Cane in front yard is from him too, and originally brought over from France as cane with the right DNA. Ha. Bob’s cane was better than Ricos because he had a some better ideas on irrigation, etc. You are harvesting cane in Texas. Was it planted there by some Johnny Appleseed like California or is it native to that area? Have you ever heard of Prestini USA in Nogales, AZ? Their cane may have come out of Mexico. Somewhat soft but nice tone color. There are several different techniques for the sun/heat curing depending on the climate. There’s a photo of Prestini with tubes of cane hanging on ropes.

By the way, the cane buyer for Rico Reeds visited my cane field and told me some good stories. He said my cane looked just like VanDoren’s! Little did he know where I got it, and the soils and climate must have made it look they way it does. Just like wine grapes….location, location, location. The best cane I’ve seen growing is in southern Oregon in Ashland. Beautiful looking plants and nice tone color in the finished reed. I supplied the cane for that plot.

<Recently added…>

At this point I don’t know of any other growers of cane for reeds.

I know that Michael O’Donovan who recently retired as the top studio bassoonist in L.A. Harvested bassoon cane in southern California near L.A. He took it from higher elevation where there would be some possibility of lower winter temps.  I don’t see why you couldn’t take oboe diameter cane from the same areas. I’ve seen some really nice looking cane floating in the harbor at Long Beach after some gully washer rain events. Just happened to be in town for a conference.

An oboist who used to live near Sacramento harvested cane in the Sacramento river delta. I was there and saw the cane.  They harvested by boat.  I think it was Niel Tatman who is now in Arizona. Lawrence Rhodes, bassoonist is harvesting cane from the same location these days. He sells reeds to Forrests and is happy with the cane from the delta.

I’ve taken cane as far north as Redding.  I would warn you that growing cane in Oregon can be trouble with the winter chill and freeze knocking out the 2nd year growth.  So I would not recommend trying growing it in Oregon.  While the cane in Ashland is not always available due to crop failure, its quality is good due to the soil with volcanic elements, silica, etc.  And it is very hot in the summer supporting good strong growth.  But even what would seem to be a good location can produce bad cane due to the soil.

Rico Reeds had a huge cane growing operation outside of Healdsburg CA.  I was taken there by reed maker Bob Stevens, La Voz reeds, reeds made for Fox, etc.  The rhizomes came from the Var in France.  They could not get decent cane from that area, probably the soil.  I got some of those rhizomes, as Bob was cleaning out his own cane growing area near his home.
>Rico mixed in this second rate cane into their boxes cheapest clarinet reed offerings, probably the 1 1/2 and 2s.  They were at that point also (and may still) be getting good cane from Mexico but their primo stuff is from Argentina.  They gave up on growing cane near Healdsburg many years ago and now it is logically better planted with grapes.

Oboe cane cane can be harvested in the few years of transplanting before rhizomes and roots are fully developed  or best to find rhizomes that “push” primarily smaller diameter cane.

I hope this helps you find what you are looking to do?  Having grown and tended cane for many years, I can’t recommend it.  It is back breaking work to harvest and clean out your rows and requires LOTS of water if you are farming it.

<Recent Inquiry>

I’ve become interested in the process of growing cane, and I have a few questions about how I might approach doing it myself despite restrictions.

Would it be possible to grow small batches of reed cane from home?

Can it be grown indoors? Do I need to do it outdoors?

Would I need to be in the right climate or could I simulate it myself affordably?

Do you know where I can find directions on the process of growing, harvesting, curing and sorting? I am an oboist so I’m not sure how much of the information on this website applies to oboe cane.

If you live in the proper climate you can grow viable cane.  Where do you live?  If you live in an area where the temperature goes well below freezing in winter you cannot grow cane.  But it is necessary for the soil temperature in winter to drop into the 30 to low 40 degree range to stop first year growth.

The nature of Arundo is to grow large diameter cane, but newly planted cane rhizomes with push up small diameters for a while, and then as the rhizomes mature push larger diameters.  Some select rhizomes will push more smaller diameters even after the rhizomes mature.  The less ground water available stunts the growth of the plant producing small diameters while the natural habitat for the plant is next to or in water.  This habitat will result in the larger diameters needed for bassoon, clarinet and sax 25 millimeters and up while oboe reed diameters run 10-11 millimeters.

I was able to grow cane in my front yard in Portland, OR.  But I often lost the second year growth which is essential to get the woodiness needed prior to harvest in the winter of the second year.  Cane must have a second year where the branches come out.  My cane was lost due to freezing temperatures in my case that often came in April to May or cold dry wind in single digits which zapped the second year growth at the buds for branches in the second year .  Cane I planted in other areas of western Oregon did fine.  The best in southern Oregon where it is hotter in summer.  Cane does well from Redding, CA and south and west of the mountains.  The climate further south does not freeze out the buds.  Cane from the foothills above Los Angeles cools down enough to produce viable reed cane.

I’ve tried growing indoors, and others have thought about doing this in controlled greenhouse environments.  I don’t see it working out.  It would require too much equipment, and vertical space to be commercially viable, but it is possible.  One of the factors in cane and tone wood for instruments is the wood needs to flex from the wind.  A wind machine?.But it would be great to have some uniformity of cane grown under controlled conditions.

I hope this helps with your quest.



Electric Bassoon Power

Subject: Electric Amplified Bassoon Setup

Dear Mr. Eubanks,

I’m sure you’ve gotten this question many times since the release of the second Bassoon Brothers CD, but exactly what kind of setup did you use to produce the electric amplified bassoon effects? I’m really interested in exploring what more can be done with the unique and ultimately verstile instrument (not to mention the laughs it brings when hearing excepts blaring through an amp). Most importantly, I’m interested in trying some to arrange other rock tunes for the bassoon quartet utilizing the instrument.

Thank you.

Michael Harris
Student, Truman State University
Kirksville, Missouri

Dear Michael,

So you probably noticed the slowed down Rite of Spring. But did you hear Bolero backwards? The Tansman Sonatina lick was forwards and backwards too. I think it’s great that you want to pursue the electric bassoon sound. I have been using the same pickup since the 1960’s. One of my college professors played recitals on clarinet that was amplified. He wrote pieces using multiphonics, synthesizer, tape delays, ring modulators, etc. His name is Bill Smith, and he recorded some with Brubeck. What he and I use is a Vox pickup and looks like an ancient hearing aid. In those days these pickups were used on sax, trumpet and whatever. The same pickup. It requires a hole in the bocal. Mine is on the back just above the cork. A ring is soldered on and the pickup fits into this ring with a rubber washer. Read more

Miking the Bassoon

Here’s my question: Do you ever use a PA system? And if so, what do you do about microphones? I’m playing in an electrified band (lots of guitars, full drum set, etc.) At present, I’m amplifying my bassoon with a voice mike on a stand, aimed near the top of the boot joint. Someone told me once, years ago, about a mike that could be dropped down inside the bassoon. So far, I haven’t been able to locate any information on anything of that type. I would be interested in knowing what you use, and any tips on where I might shop for such equipment.

Dyanne Fry Cortez
Folk & Country Bassoonist
Austin, Texas

Dear Dyanne,

I play electric bassoon which you may or may not know. I have a bocal with a Vox pickup. Others like Paul Hanson and Michael Rabinowitz (jazz bassoonists) us a Frap. These are no longer made but are out there used. Neither type sounds like a bassoon. The contact type mikes do not work well as they pick up too much key noise, Barcus Berry types. If you want to play into a P.A. mike, I always used a Shure SM 57 (a very commonly used mike) place at the low C tone hole–the one that closes when you touch low B. This is a great sound. Only problem is when you hit low B or Bb, it doesn’t pick up. Read more

How many reeds?

Dear S,

To answer your question about how many reeds should Daniel have? The reed issue is what our lives as bassoonists is about. The reeds change with the weather and the season and can break if dropped or bumped and crack for no obvious reason. Therefore, one can never have too many reeds. You never know when your favorite might be a “goner”. Usually three to six reeds that are playing can cover it. Some reeds wear out quickly, and others will play for months if kept clean and are dried out thoroughly in between playing sessions. Incidentally, the type of reed case that Daniel has will shorten reed life. Air cannot circulate through the wet reed placed on solid pins. A different/better reed case with good air circulation into and through the reed and case will help. When I was a senior in high school I won the solo concerto competition with the Tacoma Youth Philharmonic. On the evening of the concert my reed cracked nearly down the middle. I had only the one “playable” reed in my case and was forced to play through the biggest bassoon moment of my life with a destroyed reed. It was an embarrassment. Let’s say it wasn’t pretty. Daniel already has experienced the sudden loss of a “friend” when his reed was bumped in Seattle. Fortunately, he had a back up reed that was playable. He should not only have a case full of playable reeds at all times, but a “backup box” of playable reeds in a separate case for emergencies when the reed case is left at home or lost or the current reeds are not working well. (His current reed case could work for that.) The backup box stays in the case at all times. I keep the oldies (but goodies) in my case for emergencies as I have described above and do need to use them occasionally. I actually have several boxes including new reeds that I can finish scraping if needed.

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My Notes Pop Down

Hi. I just recently started playing bassoon this past summer and I have a problem with my notes popping down when I’m not using the whisper key…what’s my problem?


Unstable notes in the second octave is one of the most frustrating problems for beginning bassoonists. Let’s say that is not an easy thing to correct without seeing and hearing what you are doing. It can be the reed, the embouchure, the amount of breath support and air speed as well as problems with the instrument and bocal.

Some of us call this problem “croaking”. It is an inherent problem with the acoustics of the bassoon. The whisper key is not a true octave key, so when you let it off, there is no guarantee that the notes will go up to the desired note or stay there. ( There is a modification to traditional keywork that make a true octave key out of the whisper key if you have an extra $3,000.00 to have it installed. Very few have, but I’m thinking about it.)

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Buying a Bassoon Reed?

A Guide for the Beginning Player, Parents and Band Directors

Warning: Bassoon reeds are fragile, frustrating and expensive.

For anyone contemplating taking up the bassoon be aware that it’s going to be more costly than playing sax or clarinet, and for the majority of you, the reeds will be frustrating. Why? Because if you don’t have a decent performer/teacher of bassoon who makes and adjusts reeds as an advisor, you will be a the mercy of music store bassoon reeds. Many players (and some of my students) are perfectly happy with store bought reeds and unless you come up against technical challenges that hold you back, you won’t seek out the alternatives. My motto has been I’m only as good as my reed allows me to be. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find the perfect reed. And I teach all my students how to evaluate and adjust the reed using my published methods. But in an instant, poof…it might crack and be a goner. Such is the life of a bassoonist. Start the search for the next one BEFORE you need it. Always have several good ones on hand. Since the reed cane itself varies so much in quality it you may find that only 1 in 5 reeds is acceptable and for professional players it may be 1 in 25 or more!

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I went to take my bocal out and it just spun around! The cork has separated from the bocal, and now I can’t get the bocal out!

Your bocal cork is loose. Here’s what to do. Get a good grip on the bocal and twist it out pulling straight up being careful if you have to force it out that you don’t hit the bend on something. The cork will likely crack or break in some fashion and either come out totally or part of it stay in the well. Once the bocal is removed, you can dig out what cork that might be stuck with a thin knife or wooden skewer or something non abrasive. If you had to you could use a needle file, but a nail clipper handle or the file thingy may be just right. You’ll then want to be sure that none of the cork debris is in the bore, so blow it out, wipe it out and swab the wing.

If the bocal has any cork left, remove it. Wrap the bocal with waxed dental floss until you have it built up enough for a good fit. You could use thick cotton thread or reed wrap thread. But dental floss is really easy as it sticks to itself. If use cotton thread you’ll probably want to wax it with candle wax or parafin. This will work as a temporary fix.

You don’t necessarily need to go to a professional bassoon repair person for a cork: any band or woodwind repair shop can do it quickly and inexpensively.