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.


Orchestral Duets for Play Testing and Fun

I occasionally blog for my day job at Midwest Musical Imports. I am pretty proud of this one, as short and simple as it is. (more…)

Reed Making: How I do it 2.0

This video details the process of my reed making as it stands today. Some updated methods and equipment from my group of posts from a few years ago (located here). No high resolution pictures this time, just the video. But there is a link to a sped up version with some jammin’ music if you don’t want to watch me make a bassoon reed for 30 minutes.

Video Description:
This is not a How-To guide for how I make my reeds. There are many resources available for information on how to use a cane processing tools like shapers and profilers, and many guides for dozens of ways to make blanks, and even more guides for testing procedures and reed finishing strategies. I’m not going to really talk about any of that here.

What this is, is a walkthrough of me making a reed, from beginning to end, without any steps left out, and to do it all in real-time. I do this so you can see the process done by an expert reed maker that makes and sells many reeds every month.

I’m happy to answer any questions about any stage of my reed making process.

Key equipment:
Argendonax gouged cane
Custom straight shaper
MD Reeds Profiler
Rieger forming mandrel
22g brass wire
Cotton thread and Duco cement
Rieger drying rack
Rieger spiral and diamond reamers
Rieger rotating tip cutter
Rimpl tip profiler (The “Ultimate” Reed Finishing matchine)
Big beveled knife (made from a multi-purpose tool handle and a jointer knife blade)
Triangular swiss file
Cutting block

Contrabassoon Fingering

I used to play a lot of contrabassoon. Since leaving the university system I don’t really have regular access but I make a good reed and played pretty well at a time.

Contrabassoon has some odd fingering issues. I compiled a fingering chart from Susan Nigro and Roger Soren (who play on very different contras, but they share some consistencies). Hard to find good fingering charts for contra, so I’ll put this one out there. Hopefully my nomenclature is helpful. “a” is the first/lower vent, “d” is the upper vent. Everything else is consistent from bassoon keys.

Contrabassoon Chart


For those of you that don’t know, Nadina Mackie Jackson is a fantastic Toronto based bassoonist. We met for the first time at the IDRS conference this last summer (2013). Unexpectedly she asked to come down to Minneapolis to get an electric bassoon tutorial from me. Flattered, of course I said that I’d be delighted. We arranged for her to come down on a weekend that I was performing with the Cherry Spoon Collective and the Improvistra, so she got to hear me play improvised/amplified/effected bassoon with some of the coolest cats in the Twin Cities.

Hooked her up with a new Little-Jake and preamp and had her Leitzinger F bocal (!!!!) modified for it. Then I set up all my gear for her to hear and try various effects and the qualities of different amps on the bassoon.

She’s having a concerto written for her that the composer wanted some electronic effects on, so I think I got her squared away with enough info to get her on the right track.

I also played on her 15,000 series Heckel bassoon, which surprised me in that I actually liked it an awful lot. She owns probably the only modern Heckel bassoon that I’ve ever played that I have liked.

A memorial

I never met Lori Rausch.

She seems to have left quite an impact on those that she encountered in her life, which was cut short in 2011. Her sister Tenley came to us at Midwest Musical Imports to have her old bassoon, a Polisi Artist model, refurbished and sold from Lori’s estate. The classic song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was apparently quite important to Lori; she used it frequently teaching music classes in South Dakota. The opening motif from the song is on her headstone.


Tenley asked me if I would provide one more memory of Lori for her and her sisters by playing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on Lori’s bassoon for them. I was more than happy to oblige, and took an arrangement by a friend of a friend (thank you Peter) for trombone quartet, edited it for bassoon quartet and recorded this for them. I am playing all four parts to the arrangement on Lori’s bassoon.

Let’s play stump the bassoonist

I sometimes run across bassoons with unusual or rare keywork features. Sometimes I’m amazed at how clever instrument makers are at coming up with solutions to problems with the bassoon fingerings. Sometimes it takes me a while to figure out how the mechanism works and how it’s used. I’m almost never permanently stumped on a key, I can usually figure out the weird things.

This one stumped me.


A small tab inserts into a hole drilled in the B natural lever that locks this little stub in place.


If you flex the arm of the button, you can get the little tab to fit under the B natural lever. This would seem to cause the stub to encounter a bit of cork at the body of the bassoon. At the moment this does not impede the travel of the B natural lever.


The other side of the stub shows the little tab.


You can see the hole the stub locks into on the B natural lever, and clearly see the indent cut into the wood where a bit of cork is.

Anybody know what it’s for? It doesn’t seem to do anything right now, so it’s probably missing cork or something.

I mean, it appears to function to limit how closed the low B key gets, but I can’t figure out a reason why you’d want a mechanism specifically designed for that, especially one that’s so cumbersome to undo.

Quick edit, I found Polisi’s patent through an interesting path in Google searches. It describes the mechanism as such:

The holes are differently from the main body of the instrument When the 315 is engaged in one of the holes the underside of stop member 311 is approximately flush with that of lever 310 and the stop member is inoperative. When pin 315 engages the other hole the stop member projects downward from the lever and prevents the stoppers the B C and D keys from approaching the corresponding tone holes more closely than approximately 1/32 – 1/32 inch and the desired mellow E sound can be produced.

So I was right, it’s meant to mute those keys. Specifically for low E. So, a little button just for the first note of Tchaik 6.

The Cherry Spoon Collective

This week I have the wonderful opportunity to play as one of the original members of a new improvising, new-music, ensemble in Minneapolis called The Cherry Spoon Collective. The “orchestra” consists of mostly traditional band and orchestra instruments: violin, cello, clarinet, bass, trumpet, trombone, saxophone, but also guitar, drum set, spoken word artist (“rapper” isn’t quite the right term in this context), and I play not just bassoon, but electrified bassoon. The members of the group are modular, with no set instrumentation for every performance, and everyone is an improviser at some level. We perform all new music, most of it commissioned for this ensemble. Many of the works are incredibly loose in structure, requiring the musicians to play in contemporary styles of rock, R&B, and hip hop, follow unusual road maps, unusual harmonic structures, solo over chord changes (or over no chord changes). It’s a far cry from Tchaikovsky, but just as listenable!

Cherry Spoon Collective, in rehearsal at Studio Z in St. Paul, MN

You can’t see it in this photo, but I’m using a series of effects pedals to create some extra sounds, as well as provide some basic sound support for my instrument in order to be heard while a drum set is playing. In order to access the effects easier I stand to play.

The Cherry Spoon Collective is performing this Friday, April 26, at Studio Z in St. Paul, MN. We’re performing the same set of music twice, at 7pm and at 9pm. It’s free, and all-ages.

When I Do make reeds…

… this is what it looks like.


Well, I wasn’t making them here, I was just adjusting a half dozen or so. Moving the collar back on a bunch and clipping them shorter. Trying to get my pitch up and improve some response.  Still figuring out the ideal length/shape/dimensions for this reed finisher.  I’m very close.  I think I’ve got the length right, but I’m maybe a hair wide yet.  We’ll see how these break in.