An automatic Ab/Bb trill mechanism retrofit

About two months ago I had a shower thought of how I could simplify the thumb Ab/Bb trill mechanism on my bassoon. On the standard Heckel system bassoon, the movement from Ab to Bb in the low octave and the overblown octave requires the third and fourth fingers to move up and the thumb to move down (all on the right hand). This makes for a rather awkward movement when an Ab/Bb trill is required. You can get away with trilling the third finger of the right hand on some bassoons, which provides a sort of solid Bb, but it’s pretty weak and that’s a difficult finger to trill all on its own. Or try any of the other fingerings here

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seriously, try this, it’s tricky

So there are several solutions common for an Ab/Bb trill that is not only easier but sounds better. The most common is an additional key for the thumb that opens the Bb pad and a new pad/tone hole. When fingering Ab, you trill this key, and the additional tone hole opening with the Bb tone hole provides a solid and tunable new Bb pitch.

Original Moosmann keywork

Original Moosmann key work (click for high res)

This extra thumb key is sometimes tricky to get to because of where it is relative to the F# and back Ab keys. Some bassoons have it in line with the rest of the thumb keys, either between the F# and Ab (or replacing the Ab all together) or on the far end beyond the Ab key. There are other mechanisms as well, but they usually have trade-offs in what you can do for multiphonics or full fingerings in the upper register. The “Articulated Ab-Bb mechanism” (which forces the Bb pad closed when you press the G key), for instance, does not allow you to play the single most common multiphonic and prevents the “full” fingerings for high Ab and A.

My thought was to link the mechanism of this additional tone hole to the pinky Ab key, so that when both the Ab pinky and Bb thumb keys were pressed, the additional trill tone hole is opened.

This is the Ab/Bb trill tone hole. It's surrounded by a mechanism that connects the thumb Ab key to the Ab tone hole on the front of the bassoon via a push rod.

This is the Ab/Bb trill tone hole. It’s surrounded by a mechanism that connects the thumb Ab key to the Ab tone hole on the front of the bassoon via a push rod.

This would allow for an nAb/Bb trill by playing Ab, and trilling the normal Bb key. Sounds perfect, so what would be the problem? There are only 3 other pitches on the bassoon that have normal fingerings involving both the Ab and Bb keys. High D, Eb, E, and F. Luckily, it’s easy to test how this would affect these notes: play those notes with the Ab/Bb trill key instead of the normal Bb key so both pads are opened. Low and behold those notes are better with the extra tone hole opened!

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Try this high D fingering. Note, this will not work on a Puchner model 6000 Superior because they use a different Ab/Bb trill that just looks the same.

Figuring out how this would work required a bit of thought. But essentially it meant doing three things:

  1. reverse springing the Ab/Bb trill tone hole so that it would be held down by both the Ab and Bb keys
  2. adding two arms: to the Bb pad cup over the trill key lever, and on the back Ab linkage mechanism over the trill key pad
  3. adjusting the springs around the Ab key mechanism to operate the stuff on the back side of the boot when the pinky key is depressed

Luckily for me, I discovered that on my Moosmann 222A, the trill tone hole key was actually already sprung open! I think the reason for this was to allow for a lighter action on the Ab/Bb trill key. At any rate, this meant I wouldn’t have to rebuild the trill key lever to accommodate the arm attached to the Bb pad cup.

DSC01895

The lever here allows the key to open, rather than pushes it open

After coming to all of these conclusions, I discovered one instrument where this was done. It confirmed everything I had determined on my own. Heckel #9980 has this mechanism.

So now came the part about doing the modification. I had Eric Anderson do the work at Midwest Musical Imports. The first step was easy: remove the Ab/Bb key and posts. Get them out of the way. Then the new arms were made and soldered to the existing mechanism. Finally, re-assembly and adjustment of the springs in such a way that the keys were regulated and doing what was intended.

Cutting raw key stock for the little tabs that will control the mechanism.

Cutting raw key stock for the little tabs that will control the mechanism.

Soldering on the tab to the Ab key connection arm.

Soldering on the tab to the Ab key connection arm.

Prepping the Bb pad cup for attaching the arm that will go over the trill key arm.

Prepping the Bb pad cup for attaching the arm that will go over the trill key arm.

Final adjustment of the mechanism involved bending needle springs around, bending key arms, and checking pad sealing to make sure all three keys are regulated together.

Final adjustment of the mechanism involved bending needle springs around, bending key arms, and checking pad sealing to make sure all three keys are regulated together.

Eric tells  me that what make this mechanic difficult to deal with is that you’re regulating what is already the hardest pad to seat on the bassoon (the Bb pad) to another key. So you have to really line up everything right. The option for Heckel 9980 had adjustment screws on both of the new arms, but I trusted Eric to be able to set it up right, so I just had him make solid arms with no adjustment screws. I don’t want to futz with this anyway.

So when it was done, it works!

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I still have to have the soldered bits silver plated yet, so they’ll match better. And I’m awaiting dummy posts that I can screw into the empty post holes. The wood holes are sealed, so it’s functional now, but it’ll look better with silver balls in place of the holes. I didn’t want to try to match wood stain color by plugging them, and I wanted to be able to revert back to the original key if I wanted later, so leaving the post holes seemed like the right option.

I’ll have my bassoon with me at the IDRS conference in NYC in a few weeks. If anyone reading this wants to see it, and meet me and Eric, we’ll be at the Midwest Musical Imports booth the whole time.

Shoutout to Bret Pimentel for his fingering diagram builder.

Update: I got the keys silver plated as a part of a larger keywork upgrade.

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6 Comments

  1. Matthew Harvell

     /  July 22, 2014

    How is the alternate high Ab for slurs down to Eb? That is the same as normal in the left hand but thumb Bb and front Ab on the boot. Does it sound OK still? This is a nice solution.

    Reply
    • I actually only learned of that fingering very recently. It is not a part of my normal technique. I will have to try it to see how it works. It will open the additional tone hole. You can test it with your bassoon I think, by simply substituting the Ab/Bb thumb trill key for the thumb Bb for that fingering.

      Edit:
      I have tried the fingering for Ab with the new mechanic, and it actually improves the pitch of it by bringing it up. While holding the trill tone hole closed this alternate fingering is really quite low. It’s still flat with the additional tone hole open. On my bassoon a much better option for this slur fingering is with the F instead of the Ab key (adding the thumb Bb). That is very similar in pitch and tone color to the regular Ab fingering and makes the slur to Eb with no issues.

      Reply
  2. Very impressive: you have invented an option that was available a long time ago from Heckel. You can see this mechanism on Heckel bassoon 9980 (built in 1956!) on heckelbassoons.info. This bassoon is currently owned by Thomas Schubert in California. I have tried 9980 and this mechanism works extremely well. I was impressed with it enough that I have ordered it from Heckel on a new bassoon I expect to pick up later this year or early next. You might find it interesting that Heckel fitted this mechanism with 2 adjusting screws. Schubert says that keeping them in adjustment is no problem. Regarding your use of Ab-key and Bb-key together to play the high notes; I have found that high D sounds best with both of these keys while omitting the Eb-resonance key. Slurring up to high-D is, in particular, greatly improved.
    Good work!
    Mike Sweeney.

    Reply
  3. I just re-read your original post on your custom-designed Ab+Bb-trill mechanism and saw that I didn’t read far enough before I wrote to you yesterday – you already knew about Heckel 9980! I’m still so impressed that you came up with this on your own. When I saw 9980 some years ago, I had to stare at the jpeg for a minute or two before I could understand what was going on. Once I understood it, I said to myself, “Brilliant!”
    Also, in my comment from yesterday, I should have suggested high-D thus: d-octave O ½ X (no-resonance) / Ab+Bb-trill O O G Ab. When using my normal fingering (d O ½ X Eb / Bb O O G Ab), I find that I often get a “glitch” in the slur from high A to high D when I play the passage from Pulcinella/Gavotta where you have an upward D major arpeggio. For me, switching from the R-thumb Bb-key to the R-thumb Ab+Bb-triller completely eliminates that glitch. Setting the Ab+Bb-trill up as it is on your bassoon and 9980 means that one can always use this new fingering automatically.
    Also, yesterday I missed your decision to not bother with adjusting screws. I’m sure EA’s work setting this up for you was excellent – but when the time comes for you to get one of the pads for these three holes replaced because of damage or age, I believe that you’ll have to have the entire mechanism re-adjusted since no two pads are exactly the same in thickness. Thomas Schubert reported to me that he did not find the adjusting difficult to use at all. I had the impression from him that he actually adjusted the screws only very rarely – after new pads. This is what I’m hoping for on my new instrument.
    So, congratulations again on coming up with a very smart invention! I hope you post other ideas in the future!
    All best wishes,
    Mike Sweeney.

    Reply
    • Thank you for your comments Mike. I’m glad you re-read to catch a few of your first points raised. I will give the high D without the resonance a try, although I feel at this point my pinky will just go there.

      I’m sure that you’re right, when a pad will be replaced I’ll have to have adjustments made. As a part of this procedure I had the Bb pad replaced (it was original, about 12 years old, still good but we had to take it off anyway so why not go fresh?). So far, a few weeks now after the process everything is still in good adjustment. And I see my repair tech almost daily since I work in the shop, so I’m not concerned. 😉

      Reply
  1. Favorite blog posts, July 2014 | Bret Pimentel, woodwinds

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