Keywork choices on a bassoon.

I have a lot of bells and whistles on my bassoon. Of course, my bassoon came with a lot of “extra” goodies that are not common on a lot of instruments. Over the years of getting to know my own instrument, carefully researching keys and playing many different bassoons while working for Midwest Musical Imports, I added a few things, although with the bassoon there are more options than any other wind instrument for key customization. Below are some of my keywork choices, things that I wouldn’t mind having, and my rationale for these decisions. (more…)


Dremel tool beveling of the bassoon reed

In my never-ending quest to make my reed making more time efficient, I have switched my beveling technique for my regular reeds. I still let them form on the mandrel and bevel dry, but now instead of using a file for the first step of beveling, I use a Dremel tool with a sandpaper bit.

This removes the bulk of the material that I want to get rid of below the 2nd wire area and does it really fast especially when I have three dozen reeds to do at a time. The cut it leaves is really rough and uneven, but it smooths out really well on the second stage of the beveling where I sand the edge off the entire interior section using a flat block and sand paper.

Bell ring replacement

Almost a year ago I started on the process of replacing my cracked/chipped bell ring. I had selected a piece of exotic Olivewood to replace the original plastic. Unfortunately, the wood decided to warp pretty significantly after the rough cut, so we let the ring age for the better part of a year and stabilize. In the meantime I had a Delrin material ring replacement. It looked OK, but was a bit translucent, and was weird in some kinds of light.


My repair tech Eric Anderson finally was able to finish the wood ring, which took a week for the lacquering process. Here is the final result:

P1010299 P1010305 P1010304 P1010302 P1010301 P1010300

There was a little hole from a worm or something in the part that we selected, impossible to predict it would be there when we started cutting. A little fill was added to make sure it didn’t have a rough edge to snag. It’s a pretty cool selection of wood, with nice character, and the lacquer Eric used really helped the grain pop!

Electric bassoon concerto commission grant

Today we got some wonderful news that a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board was awarded to my dear friend Adam Conrad to write a concerto for me. The concerto will be for electric bassoon and chamber orchestra and will be a large scale work featuring extensive improvisation sections, including full group improvisation in the tradition of the group IMPROVESTRA. The grant is substantial enough that Adam will be able to dedicate some significant time into the writing and production, including some live performances and a professional studio recording. Exact details will follow in the coming months.

Reed Adjustment Suggestions

My reeds generally play very well for most players right out of the box. However, I recognize that everyone likes a little something different, so here are a few “If, then” scenarios for adjusting my reeds. These tips are likely applicable to any reed style.

First: soak my reeds. I play my reeds soaked in warm or room temp water for at least a minute, preferably two. As they break in they need more or less soaking depending on the particular piece of cane.

Adjusting the tip opening for tone color and resistance. The tip opening is your first point of adjustment. Often the tip of a new reed will flare open and collapse a bit as it’s played in. If this happens the first time you try my reed, gently flex the tip closed with your fingers to relax the cane. At this point the reed should play. You shouldn’t have to do this much or at all after a day or two.

If the reed requires too much air pressure to play: The tip and throat area is probably too open for you. First try adjusting the first wire by flattening it with a pliers. A tiny movement will make a big difference in how the reed responds, so make small adjustments. You can add some zing to the sound by flattening both wires. If you want to remove some zing or buzz from the sound, round both wires by squeezing from the sides. The second wire should probably be somewhat less than perfectly round, but a completely round wire is acceptable. My reeds have a fairly dramatic fulcrum effect, so a small adjustment to the wires is likely all you need.

Scraping tips (if wire adjustments aren’t enough):

A) Reduce resistance and increase vibrancy at the expense of stability by scraping a bit out of the middle of the heart/tip area. Basically you want to take the fingernail shape pattern in the scrape and pull it back a bit, making a longer tip area. I use a knife here.

B) Make the sound a bit less zingy and add some resistance to the reed by removing material from the “rails” – the very side edges of the reeds. For the 10mm from the tip back use a bit of fine sand paper, for the back 16-18mm of the blade use a file.

Extended low register fingerings

Using some mulitiphonic based fingerings, you can play to an F (or even E) below the lowest B-flat on the bassoon. Here’s a demonstration:

The fingerings are basically normal notes with a node left open.

Low A: play low F but leave off the third finger of left hand.
Low G#: Play low E but leave off third finger left hand
Low G: Play low Eb but leave off first finger right hand
Low F#: Play low D but leave off first finger right hand
Low F: Play low Db. Slide the second finger of the right hand so that is only pressing the ring key alone, but not actually covering the tone hole.

On notes where it is possible and doesn’t disturb the basic fingering, you can add either the low B-flat key, pinky C-sharp or pinky D-sharp (i.e. low D-flat and E-flat keys) to stabilize the fundamental on some of these pitches. I’ve found them to be quite variable on different makes and models of bassoon, so you might have to experiment a bit to find stable fingerings for your setup. A solid reed that isn’t too soft is also really helpful.

Selling a bocal

I don’t expect this will get much traction here, but might as well try.

I just made the switch to straight bend bocals, so I have this wonderfully lovely Moosmann A1B gold plated “Interpret” series bocal that will go unused unless someone buys it from me. Would like to get $675 for it, but willing to entertain offers. The bocal was my primary orchestra/solo bocal for many years until I started doing the electric thing and was no longer in school playing in orchestras frequently. Very quickly responsive, all the other good things you can say about tone color.

Leave a comment and I’ll contact you by email.

New EP from my band Northern Darling

I joined a band a while ago. Female fronted indie/rock with a splash of jazz. We do a lot of covers of other “indie” flavored pop music, but have a few originals that we recorded to get the ball rolling. Check it out on bandcamp, and if you like it enough, throw a few bucks our way so we have a bit to get in the studio for a more full length album later!

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(more…)

A new straight shaper design

I’ve been using a straight shaper for about two years that I had made for me to my specifications. Due to some unfortunate circumstances the original design was lost, but I have had Chip Owen at Fox measure the cane and re-create the shaper for me. The measurements match my original design specs perfectly, so I am confident this will be an accurate re-creation of this one original.

The shape itself is a unique blade contour. The first 15mm of the blade are similar to a Rieger 1A shape, but the blade stays much fuller through the throat and tube area, with a flare at the end of the tube. I typically place the 2nd wire 40mm from the fold and the 1st wire 32mm from the fold. I usually trim 2mm off of the end of the tube, but it can be left full length, allowing for an even greater bevel.

We’re taking orders for this shaper now at Midwest Musical Imports. I will have some pieces of gouged and shaped Gonzalez cane in this shape at the IDRS conference in New York in a few weeks.