Topic: purchasing new bassoons

Were one to purchase a new bassoon, recognizing the logistical difficulty of trying more than a very few instruments at any one venue, how reliable/consistent are the same model horn from one to the next?  Short of going to the Fox factory (or similar) no one has more than a few horns of each model in inventory.  For example, if I tried and liked a Fox 660, how likely that I would find another 660 acceptable, or even virtually identical?  Does this logic cross over to different models (i.e are all Renard 240's going to be very similar) and to different manufacturers?

Obviously the situation is very much more complicated when attempting to select a used horn, but starting from new gives a baseline for comparison, I would hope.

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Re: purchasing new bassoons

Brand new bassoons from most of the manufacturers you could reasonably find two of the same model from at any given time (that is, you'll never have this opportunity with Heckel so they're out of the argument) you are probably not going to find too much variation between two of the identical spec model. There will be some of course, since every piece of wood is different. But modern manufacturing tolerances for the best bassoon manufacturers are INSANE. NASA could learn from Fox when it comes to sizing tolerances.

If I were buying a brand new Puchner or Fox, I would feel comfortable ordering a specific instrument special order with no trial from either of those manufacturers, having a solid idea of what those instruments play like. I have felt greater variation in the Moosmann bassoons, but that may be because the different models have more variable design characteristics and I don't know I've had a chance to play two or three otherwise identical of the same exact model and spec Moosmann side by side before. I have had this opportunity with Puchner and Fox.

The Renard bassoons from Fox are just as consistent in my estimation as the professional instruments. The bocals are a greater source of variety. Other people seem to find great variation between them, but I play multiple Renards every week and don't notice that much of a considerable difference.

I generally find a) the way you play the horn during the first few years and b) how the bassoon is broken in and c) how it inherently changes will change the bassoon much more than the variation between any two instruments brand new. In other words, the way two bassoons play brand new is not indicative of how they will play in three years given exactly the same break-in (which they won't have, of course).

Tangent: The question of how an instrument changes over time is interesting. You often hear of certain professionals having "really amazing" bassoons of whatever ilk. In particular I'm thinking of Michel Bettez that has a Moosmann bassoon from the late 1990's, which is apparently a fantastic instrument. I don't think he selected the instrument, he only ordered it. Likewise with many players with various Heckel bassoons. Is it that these professionals got lucky when they bought a new bassoon? Most of the time they are special custom orders and weren't purchased with any kind of trial between 5 or 6 bassoons for them to buy the best one. But years and years later their bassoon happens to be fantastic. I think it really does have to do with how the player plays the instrument. I once heard of a famous teacher (whom I've forgotten the name of) say that if you want a bassoon that plays in tune, buy a bassoon from a player that plays in tune.

Last edited by Trent (2015-04-24 10:31:50)

M.M.A., D.M.A. University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign: B.Mus. Lawrence University
Bassoon professor at University of Wisconsin Eau-Claire
Maker of the Little-Jake electric bassoon pickup and Weasel bassoon reeds

Re: purchasing new bassoons

Can anyone opine on what general trends an instrument might follow during the break in period?  Does the sound become brighter, darker, freer blowing, change in intonation?  If the qualitites of a brand new instrument are not what you will expect to have in a few years, how does anyone ever purchase a new horn without crippling apprehension and misgivings?  It's very expensive to gamble on the final  playing quality of the instrument.   

The whole idea that a player can in effect "train" the horn to be in tune, to have a certain timbre or dynamic responsiveness severely shakes the notion that physics may be involved in some rational way.  I can believe that with more playing, there may be changes in the wood related to moist/dry cycles, and possibly some debris filling tiny chinks at various places.  Possibly finger pressure may change how the pads seat and the clearance of various keys/pads.  I certainly believe that the player can train himself to accommodate to any given horn as regards various playing parameters, but we are talking about a new player getting some benefit from the playing of the horn by a previous player.  I communicated before, several years back, that I am skeptical that the actual air pressure existing throughout the lumen of the horn would be sufficient to alter the configuration of the wood.  I posit that one explanation for an "in tune" player having an "in tune" horn might be that such a player simply will not tolerate an out of tune horn, and will replace it post haste.

Fascinating to think about, daunting to face the prospect of changing horns.  This may be one of the hardest parts of playing an already admittedly difficult instrument.  And I haven't even mentioned the separate but similar ordeals of selecting a bocal!  (as a segue, does anyone have a set of recommended exercises with which to test a new bocal?)

Almost universally, for any topic even remotely similar to these on this forum, after winnowing out all but the top 5 or 6 reliable manufacturers,  the advice is always try as many as possible and see what you like.  I feel a little like Don Quixote!!

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Re: purchasing new bassoons

So, I'll throw a wrench into my own discussion. I have heard some manufacturers of bassoons say that in fact the instrument itself does not change, but the player that changes. So to that extent your thoughts on the player (not) changing the horn hold a good deal of water.

Buying a new bassoon is a gamble, yes, but my general experience with everyone I have spoken with is that nobody likes their instrument less 3 to 4 years after purchase than they did initially. Do you discover flaws in the bassoon? of course, but every bassoon has some flaws. The only people that I have found that didn't like their bassoons were people that custom ordered Heckels and felt they got bad instruments when they were brand new. After tone hole work / oil bath / magic shaman ritual they usually come to like or love the instrument though.

The good news is that aside from Heckel, (or at least within my experience with Fox, Puchner, Wolf, and Moosmann) the major quality manufacturers want you to be happy with their product, and will make adjustments to the bassoon if they are deemed necessary for you to be happy and continue to play on their instrument. The wise manufacturer knows that word of mouth is incredibly important in this industry, and if they have instruments deemed unfavorable by those that are playing them that they could be losing out on the best advertising they could hope for: player recommendations.



side-note tangent on bocal testing. I personally test bocals almost exclusively for response characteristics. My philosophy is that your primary bocal should be what you use for 2nd bassoon on Berlioz Symphonie Phantastique (I use the march to the scaffold excerpt as a bocal test for low register response, also a great reed test) and 1st bassoon on Bolero or the Ravel G major piano concerto. You shouldn't need a special bocal for those. If the bocal can play Bolero, the Berlioz, and has a free-blowing characteristic you like, it's in the running for your bocal choice. That right there should weed out most of the bocals you try. Then it's making sure potentially unstable notes aren't whacky, that you can make slurs greater than a 10th intervals smoothly, and you can play the Scheherzade excerpt with the expression you want.

M.M.A., D.M.A. University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign: B.Mus. Lawrence University
Bassoon professor at University of Wisconsin Eau-Claire
Maker of the Little-Jake electric bassoon pickup and Weasel bassoon reeds

Re: purchasing new bassoons

Like any newly manufactured item that experience physical changes due to expansion and contraction (be it from heat or moisture or both) bassoons experience a "break in" period. It takes time for some materials to settle after the stress of formation. Just like the break in period of a reed, a new bassoon may start off with a tighter more resistant feel and brighter sound that will become more free, open and dark once it reaches a more relaxed state. I have found Fox bassoon to start out with a brighter, more tight sound and gradually open up and become darker once they are broken in. Just like with anything that requires a period of breaking in, there are certain do's and don'ts to keep in mind as some habits may be harmful in the long run. I am reminded of a motorscooter I bought during my undergraduate days and the suggest break in period and habit suggested by the seller and the company (things such as don't exceed a certain speed for the first 250 miles or not hard breaking for the first whatever miles). If changes in atmospheric conditions, such as humidity and temperature, can change how a bassoon feels and plays then it makes sense that a brand new instrument will change slightly over the first bit of time that it is actively played.

I agree with you that the idea of a player being able to "train" a bassoon to play or sound a certain way is a bit absurd. Other than voicing certain tone holes I thing it is more likely that players become familiar with the nuances of a particular instrument they more they play on it. Finding a good crook match, and in my opinion even more important than that, finding the shape and profile for reed that matches a particular instrument is more likely to result in "training" a bassoon and producing a more in tune player.

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Re: purchasing new bassoons

Interesting thread. I also find the theory of "training" one's bassoon absurd-- I'm quite willing to accept responsibility (blame) for quirks in my playing! Of course there will be changes in the sound of a new bassoon as it "breaks in", one reason purchasing an used instrument can provide an almost instant feeling of how the bassoon will play (I play a 56xx Heckel, manufactured in 1921). That being said, I don't think one can go wrong purchasing a brand new Puechner or Fox, as Trent has said. I personally feel it can take about a year or more for one to adjust to a "new" bassoon. The search for the perfect bocal and reed is a whole other matter. I like Trent's quick bocal test...

David Bell
Alexandria, VA
amateur bassoon and contra bassoon

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Re: purchasing new bassoons

Thanks for the several thoughtful and wise responses. I  reel at the magnitude of the task of trying to find the right shape and profile to suit any given horn.  How does one go about this process?  I may have begun this informally by purchasing commercial reeds from a variety or sources, but have never really paid attention to which type of cane they are using, or which shaper.  I don't know that information on particular profiles is even available. 

I always would wish to spend more time perfecting my actual playing and less time fiddling with trying instruments, bocals, or different reed designs.  I'm not intrinsically lazy, just impatient!

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Re: purchasing new bassoons

I always would wish to spend more time perfecting my actual playing and less time fiddling with trying instruments, bocals, or different reed designs.  I'm not intrinsically lazy, just impatient!

Welcome to the eternal frustration of bassooning haha! I think most players share this sentiment. I know that A LOT of younger players and professional players have given up reed making and purchase pre-made reeds.

Finding the appropriate style of reed for a bassoon is dependent on several factors. A players reed will change in shape and design as different musical demands are asked for. Finding the appropriate shape/profile of reed is just like finding an appropriate crook. In broad terms specific bassoon designs will favour certain shape ranges and profiles. Many reed makers are more than willing to share information of what style shaper and what type of profile or the profile thickness they use. You are on the right track with trying many different pre-made reeds. There are also many pamphlets, blogs and booklets available as well as a lot of IDRS articles and a catalogue of shapes and measurements for many prominent player's reeds located in the IDRS forum. 

A good source for trying different shapes of reeds/cane as well as providing measurements for the reeds is Arundo Products http://www.arundoreeds.com/Pages/1_products.htm. The company was started by Mark Eubanks, who sold the company a few years back. However you can still contact him directly and purchase reeds from him at http://arundoresearch.com/. Justin Miller of Miller Marketing also has a large selection of different shapes as well.

I seem to remember Fox having a huge list of the dimensions for different shapers but have been unable to find it. Does anyone know what happened to that resource? It seems like whenever Fox updates their webpage certain links no longer work and some info gets misplaced.

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Re: purchasing new bassoons

Here's an interesting thing I just saw in the Popkin/Glickman Bassoon Reed Making book:

From Will Jansen's "The Bassoon..."

A new bassoon or contrabassoon should be broken-in slowly after the instrument has been allowed to rest in the new climate. The instrument should be played only by an experienced bassoonist for a few minutes a day initially. The new bassoon will settle to its own tuning and the performer must adjust his reeds and manner of blowing accordingly.
Inexperienced bassoonists can blow an instrument severely out of tune. It will take an experienced professional a long time and much effort to blow the instrument back into the right pitch.

I'm not saying this is further evidence of my theory posted above, but rather that my idea certainly isn't new (this was from a 1978 publication).

Last edited by Trent (2015-05-18 14:42:10)

M.M.A., D.M.A. University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign: B.Mus. Lawrence University
Bassoon professor at University of Wisconsin Eau-Claire
Maker of the Little-Jake electric bassoon pickup and Weasel bassoon reeds

Re: purchasing new bassoons

Well, if you go to Glickman-Popkin Bassoon Camp, you can ask Loren about that quote. (Alas, Mark is no longer with us.)

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Re: purchasing new bassoons

I will usually play a new bassoon full time immediately after I get my hands on it.  I don't believe you can make a bassoon play in tune if it is not in tune originally.  You can learn to voice the out of tune notes on the horn but it is really much better to get a bassoon that plays in tune in the first place.  I received a new Heckel in the early 80's that did not have a simple forked Eb on it.  I had a student play on it to "break it in" with no luck and finally took it back to the factory.  Edith Reiter made a insert to lengthen the bore of the wing joint because I was told that some players were complaining about the the horns around that time being too flat so they cut the bottom of the wing joint on that bassoon without changing any of the tone holes to compensate for the change.  This helped the bassoon a great deal but it was never a "favorite" bassoon.  This bassoon is the reason that I switched to playing the Fox 601 that had a much better scale and response compared to this Heckel.

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