Caring for your Little-Jake pickup

Over the years I’ve sold a great many Little-Jake pickups to players all around the world. On occasion I find out one of them fails or breaks and I repair them at no cost but the shipping. There are two ways that I typically see the Little-Jakes fail, and there are ways to prevent both from ever happening in most cases. Here are some things I do to prevent damaging my own pickups.


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.

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…)

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

The trouble with metronomes…

Cross-posted from the Midwest Musical Imports Blog

There’s at least a dozen jokes about metronomes, but they can be one of the most helpful tools for a musician to play with technical and rhythmical accuracy. There’s more to using a metronome than just setting the metronome to performance tempo and attempting to keep up. Here are some strategies for using  metronome more effectively.

1. Start way slower than you think you need to. You’ll clean up your fingering and embouchure technique greatly if you practice at VERY slow and controlled speeds. To make sure you’re not speeding up, lock that metronome at a subdivided tempo and stay with it.

2. Increase the tempo gradually. If you’ve practiced slowly you’ve only begun the workout. As in the linked blog post from Bulletproof Musician, don’t just practice slowly and then go full speed. Gradually increment the tempo 4-8 bpm at a time and keep focusing on the clear rhythm and technique.

3. Try some rhythmic shifting. This is a great tactic that works in a lot of musical styles with “simple” time signatures (i.e. 2/4 4/4, but not 6/8). Set the metronome but consider the click to be on the off-beats instead of the strong beat. So in a 2/4 bar, the metronome is not on the quarter value, but the “&” of 1 and 2.    1 & 2 &
You’ll be surprised at how much this locks the time in during the middle of each beat. It’s easy to rush the front half of a beat when running 16th notes, for instance, and having the metronome hit the off-beats in a strong way somehow keeps us better on track. This is actually different than simply setting the metronome to 8th note values. I find this especially helpful in getting a better “feel” or “groove” going in very rhythmic pieces like Bach, Telemann, Vivaldi, and some faster Mozart and Haydn.

4. Make sure you can hear the metronome. This might be silly, but if there’s a chance that you can lose focus and get off-sync from the metronome it’s not going to do you any good. My first thought is to make sure you’re playing soft enough to hear the metronome – practice in a controlled way both rhythmically and dynamically. But in case you simply can’t hear the metronome, get one that has a more solid sound that grabs your attention, or that is simply louder. You can also get a metronome with an earpiece to make sure you don’t lose the sound of it (but please don’t damage your hearing by turning an earbud up too loud).

Reed Making: how I do it, part 3.

Now we have a completed blank, we need to make it fit the mandrel by reaming, make the collar nice, then finally scrape on the blade. You’ll also find out that I’m a big cheater here.


Reed Making: how I do it, part 2.

Picking up where my previous post leaves off, we now have a piece of cane folded over and the tube made round. We still have to seal the tube up and create a fulcrum to maintain the tip opening by beveling and putting on the wires. Then we wrap the turban and seal with Duco cement.


Reed Making: how I do it, part 1.

Thought I’d do a pictorial on how I make bassoon reeds. Here’s part one, which entails the part I do when the cane is wet the first time. The next post will be after the cane is dried the first time. These two steps are my method of forming the tube and how I bevel, wire, and wrap the reed. Working on the blade is a more complicated bit, and I use equipment that most people don’t have. Anyway, that’ll be in another post. We start with Gouged, Shaped, and Profiled cane.

Since there’s really only one way to effectively use any given kind of gouger, shaper, and profiler, it’s silly for me to go through that process. Plus, I don’t do it anyway. I buy cane that’s been processed up to that point by the manufacturer. There are pros and cons to doing it this way. For me, I’d rather pay a little more to not have to do that work, although I wouldn’t mind having more control over the shape. Since I use a tip profiler I don’t care to have control over the profile at all, so that step is irrelevant to me.

So, step one:


Forming the tube without cracking

Originally posted at the IDRS forum.

1.) I score 7 times on each side of the future-tube, so 14 total scores on a reed. My scores only go from the second wire to the butt. I score first two passes with a metal scribe and then a single light pass with a razor blade. This gives each scoring a pronounced “V” shaped crater.
2.) I make sure the cane is saturated before any work prior to the finishing process. Saturated means that the cane sinks in water. If it sinks it’s not going to get any wetter and if it floats that means there are dry pockets that not only lead to cracks but also to unevenness of the cane fibers as you’re working on it. There is no set time limit this takes, as some cane takes water slower than other cane, and some methods of soaking don’t force water into the fibers as fast (vertical in a tall glass tends to help the cane sink faster than laying it horizontally).
3.) Just prior to forming I soak the cane in the hottest water my tap produces. You don’t want to cook the cane, so not boiling, but steaming is OK. I leave the cane in this warm/hot water for about 10 minutes to make sure it gets up to temperature. This further relaxes the cane so it’s more pliable and less likely to crack.
4. I don’t put on the first wire until after I’ve let my formed tube dry. I find that if I do the rest of these steps right and do as Adam recommends with centering the forming mandrel I don’t get cracks that require the first wire to stop from getting worse. Putting the first wire on is another security measure you can take though. I find that tightly wrapping my twine around the ENTIRE tube, just past the collar area, is enough.

If you do it right, your scoring will continue a slight crack in the top layer of bark just a few millimeters beyond where your scoring stopped, but it won’t go as far as where you place the first wire. This will mean you won’t have any peaks in your tube and your reed will have an even curvature from side to side.

Forming the tube consistently without major cracks (and the peaks and angles associated with them) is one of the most important parts of reed making, and too many people just blow by it to get to the scraping-the-blades part.

Little Jake tutorial

Safely screw in the threaded adapter version of the Little Jake bassoon pickup.