Special Reedmaking Tools

Special Tools Needed for the Making of Bassoon Reeds

The following list is an explanation of the tools and supplies used in the making of bassoon reeds and sources for their acquisition.

 For beginning reed makers I suggest the purchase of cane that has been gouged, profiled and shaped. I recommend Womble/Williams profiled cane that has a current price of $40.00 per ten.  If you have the machinery (and time) to gouge, profile and shape cane you can make reeds for as little as $0.20 per reed.

Brass Wire, 22 gauge: This is used to hold the reed together, to adjust the opening of the reed, and to keep the butt of the reed round. It can be purchased by the ounce, the quarter pound and pound. It can be found at your local hardware store, at double reed specialty shops and jewelers supply stores.  WW sells 1/4th pound spools for $12.50.

Shoestring/Butchers Twine: You use this to wrap around the reed blank prior to forming the reed to keep the cane from excessive cracking. I suggest fairly narrow shoestring because if it gets to wide it is difficult to get enough wraps around the reed to properly support the cane.

Wrapping Thread: Any strong, thick string can be used for wrapping the butt end of the reed. Some people prefer nylon, others cotton string. One thing to remember is that the thicker the string, the quicker it will be to wrap the reed. You can pick the colors you want for the reed of your choice! Costs can be from one dollar for enough string to wrap 100 reeds to $25.00 for Rieger nylon thread. Thread can be purchased anywhere that sells sewing or craft supplies.  Michael's crafts sells crochet thread in a multiple of colors for less then two dollars a roll.  I have switched to using glitter hot glue to wrap my reeds in the past three years.  It seems to work very well, has no odor and is much easier on your hands!

Thread Sealer: I use DUCO Plastic Cement over and under the wrapping of my reed to cement the wrapping to the reed and seal the wrapping thread. This is available at most hardware stores in the area. Other materials for this include nail polish, both clear and colored, enamel paint, and Bee's wax for those who are more organically inclined.

Pliers: I use Rieger reed pliers for forming reeds and a pair of miniature linesman pliers for day to day reed work after the reed has been formed. The local hardware store is the most economical place for the purchase of pliers. It should be remembered that when forming a reed, a great amount of pressure is put on the bark of the reed and the smoother the jaws of the pliers the better. When adjusting the wires of a reed, a pair of pliers with an oval cutout will help keep the wires in proper shape. Pliers sold by double reed specialty shops come at a premium. We sell the Rieger pliers for $50 each and believe they are worth every penny!

Holding Mandrel: This tool is used to hold and support the reed when working on finishing the reed. It has a larger diameter tip then a forming mandrel so that it does not go into the reed as far as the forming mandrel. This allows the plaque to be inserted fully into the reed. Mandrels can only be found at specialty shops and sell for $15.00 and up.  The WW holding mandrel is a copy of the mandrel made by the machinist Fred Pfiefer in the 1960's.  We sell it for $15.

Forming Mandrel: This tool is used in the forming of the bassoon reed. It is narrower than the holding mandrel and comes in many different designs. Some have marks for inserting the mandrel into the reed so that a uniform butt opening can be made. These are also specialty shop items and sell for $20.00 and up. If you use the hot mandrel technique for forming your reeds you will want to be sure that the handle is "heatable" and will not melt or induct heat.  The WW forming mandrel is made from stainless steel with a phenelic handle that can be used with heat.  It sells for $20 and is a copy of a similar mandrel made by Fred Pfeifer.

Alcohol Lamp: This tool is used for heating the forming mandrel when forming reeds. It leaves no carbon residue on the mandrel or in the reed and heats at a low enough temperature as to not scorch the reed if used carefully. These can be found in shops that sell scientific supplies, specialty shops, and good hardware stores.  We sell these for $10 and you must use denatured alcohol found in hardware stores in these lamps.

Plaques: Plaques are used to support the reed from the inside when scraping, filing or sanding the outside of the blade. They come in many shapes. I prefer the arrowhead, thin belly syle. Guitar picks can be used, but they offer no inside support and I don't recommend them.  We sell an excellent metal plaque for $15 and the Rieger plastic plaque for $3.  Both work well.

Rulers: Rulers are necessary to ensure consistency in wire placement, blade length, etc. I prefer stainless steel rulers, 6 inches in length in 64th inch increments. These can be found at your local hardware stores for around $2.00 to $5.00.  We sell a very fine ruler with english measurements one side and metric on the other for $5.

Reed Knives: The knife is the most important tool in your tool box. Knives come in many different styles; beveled, hollow ground, folding, straight, etc., and you can pay from $20.00 to $100.00 for them. My favorite knives are an old straight razor I use for scraping that I bought off my barber when I was 16, and a Victernoix pruning knife that I use for everything but scraping. A good knife can be sharpened and will hold its edge.  We sell straight razors mounted in a wooden handle for $75 and the Victernoix knive for $25.

Sharpening Stone: It's important to be able to sharpen your knife. A good sharpening stone is necessary for this. I use a Norton India stone that is available from good hardware stores and shops specializing in cutting tools. An eight inch by two inch india stone costs around $15.00.

Reed Files: I use a Revlon diamond nail file bought at CVS Drug for $5.00 and a Grobet Swiss pillar file that cost me $20.00 from a jewelry supply store as my day to day files. Files are used to take cane out of the back of the reed and to even out knife cuts.  WW sells diamond  triangle files for $20.

Reamers: Reamers are used to round out a poorly formed reed to seal around the bocal and to allow the reed to fit on the bocal further. They are basically a drill that have the same taper as the bocal. It's hard to find a reamer that cuts with the correct taper cleanly. Reeds should only be reamed when they are completely dry. Fox sells a bassoon reamer for $24.00 while the Reiger and Popkin reamers sell for around $95.00. You usually get what you pay for in a reamer.  WW has both spiral and diamond reamers that are made for us that we believe are the best available for $85 diamond, $95 spiral.

Easel: The easel is used for supporting cane when scoring and hand profiling. it can be as simple as a 6 inch piece of wooden broomstick to a commercial hardwood easel.  I use a 1 1/8" hardwood dowel cut up into 6 1/2" lengths.

Tip Cutter/Cutting Block: There are several ways to cut the end of the reed off when finishing. I have used a flush cutting end nipper for several years that I purchased from a jewelry supply store for around $50.00. These can be purchased for less if you do not need them to be flush cutting. The use of a cutting block and knife is the old fashioned way for cutting the top and the least expensive. Fox sells cutting blocks for $11.95. My wife uses scissors for her oboe/english horn reeds but I have never had good results using them on bassoon reeds. Rieger has come out with a beautiful machine for this that sells for $225.00. The advantage to this tool is that it cuts the reed off straight.

Sandpaper: Sandpaper is used to put a smooth finish on the reed and to free up a nearly finished reed when you are afraid to scrape or file it. It's an equaling tool that takes out file and knife marks and thins the tip of the reed fairly safely. I use 320 and 400 wet or dry paper in small pieces. It can be found at your local hardware store.

Tool Case: If your bassoon case has a box wtih a top that closes well you can keep your tools in it. If you wish you can purchase a tool case for this purpose. Cavallaro makes one that sells for $18.50.

Sanding Easel: WW sells a sanding easel made of plexiglass and sand paper in 20, 40 and 60 micron grits.  This is used for sanding the inside of the cane before the reed is formed and sells for $10.

With the above supplies and tools you should be able to turn a piece of cane that has been gouged, shaped and profiled into a finished reed. How that reed plays is up to you and your reed making skill. Have patience, work slowly and you willl succeed. I would try to not buy the most expensive items unless I was going into music as a profession. Satisfactory results can be had with any of the above mentioned items. Remember it takes time to learn this difficult but rewarding task. Good Luck and Happy Reed Making!

Extra Keys to Expand Your Fingering Potential

I have six extra keys on my Fox 601 Bassoon that are very useful in giving me additional fingering and trill possibilities.

Little Finger Whisper Key:  This key is placed under the Db left little finger key.  It is one of the most useful keys I have on my bassoon.  It frees up your left thumb on passages like the opening of the Marriage of Figaro Overture.  It is also very useful in slurring down to notes not involving the Eb or Db keys, for example a slur from low F to low C and back.  This was the way the whisper key was positioned on the French bassoon so it is sometimes called a “French” whisper key.

Right Hand E-flat Trill Key with alternate C# Position:  The E-flat trill key is very popular on European instruments.  It is usually placed between the second and third fingers of the left hand.  This gives you a very good D to E-flat trill.  You can do the same trill by trilling the thumb C# key.  If the E-flat trill is placed on the top of the boot joint (right hand E-flat trill) it gives you the following trills: D to E-flat, C to D and C# to D in both octaves.  If you have this key it also moves the position of the C# trill key down so it can be used by the second finger right hand.  This makes the high G to A trill much easier if using both the G key and C# trill.

Articulated A-flat to B-flat Trill Key:  The installation of this key involves making a post connection between the right hand third finger “G” key and the thumb B-flat key so that when the G key is depressed it closes the Bb key.  The B-flat key is sprung differently than normal in that the thumb B-flat key mechanism has two springs, a heavy one on the thumb key to close the pad and a much lighter one on the pad that functions to open the pad when the B-flat key is depressed.  There are no additional tone holes bored into the bore with this mechanism but it needs to be well taken care of to function properly.  If the B-flat pad becomes sticky it may not open when the B-flat key is depressed.  This key gives you the following trills and tremolos:  F to B-flat, F# to B-flat, G to B-flat and A-flat to B-flat in both octaves.

I strongly suggest that if you consider adding this key to a new or present bassoon you get it with a clutch mechanism that disengages the key when it is not needed.  Normal fingerings that involve both the right thumb B-flat key and right third finger (G) key will not function with this mechanism engaged.  You also should consider getting extra guards for this key to keep any clothing from touching the Bb key and keep it from opening.  The normal thumb A-flat to B-flat trill key gives you a good Ab/Bb trill in three octaves but not the additional tremolos mentioned above.  This key involves drilling a secondary tone hole in the boot joint and the adjustment of the key is also fairly critical for the bassoon to function properly.

Hi G#/A Ring Key:  This mechanism allows you to finger high G# and A using the F key instead of the usual G key.  This lets you avoid the cross fingering in scale passages from G to A /A-flat to B-flat/B natural and also gives you the following in tune trills:  G to A-flat and A to B-flat.

Alternate Low C# Key or Low C# to D# Trill Key:  Measure 74 of the first movement in Mahler’s Fifth Symphony is a low C# to D# trill.  This is an impossible trill on the bassoon unless the bassoon is equipped with a C# to D# trill key, a mechanism that opens the low C# key and closes the low C key so you can make the trill by opening the low D# key.  This key is available two ways.  The C# touch can be soldiered directly to the C# rod or there can be a separate key that opens the C# key and closes the C key when depressed.  I recommend the latter. This trill can also be achieved with an articulated C#/D# mechanism that is a single key for the left hand little finger that opens the E-flat key unless the low C key is depressed which then opens the low C# key and closes the D# key.  The disadvantage of the articulated C#/D# is that you can not use the C# key on low E and middle G.  If you depress the single key the D# key will open with these notes.  If your bassoon has a Little Finger Whisper Key installed on it you can slur down to low C# using this key without the whisper key coming up.

High F key with Double High E Key:  I have this option on my newest bassoon.  It does give you an easier way to play high F and I have used it when playing the Bernstein “Symphonic Dances from West Side Story”.  I do not like the double high E option that adds an additional spatula over the high Eb key because the key gets in the way when I use the high Eb key for F (above middle C) to G trills.  I have had an additional high E key made that does not have this extra spatula and use that on my bassoon.

A Few More “Extras”


Cork Tenons:  Fox sells its bassoons with string wrapped tenons.  I usually get my tenons wrapped in cork.  I have been told that cork tenons offer more resonance than string wrapped tenons.  String does offer more structural support than cork and can be adjusted by adding of removing string.  You can only sand cork if tight or add string on top of it if the tenons become loose.

Rotary Whisper Key Lock:  The standard lock on a Fox Pro Bassoon is the Pro Type II “Slide” Lock.  I find the Type III Rotary Lock easier to use and quieter.  There is no cost difference for switching locks.

C# Trill Guard:  I don’t use a crutch on my bassoon, instead I have the C# trill guard install over the C# trill key on the boot joint and rest my right forefinger on it when playing.

Bell Choice:  I prefer the white bell ring but that choice is up to the individual.  My newest bassoons have a gold plated metal ring on the bell.

Wood Choice:  Most Fox professional horns are made of Yugoslavian Mountain Maple. I recommend this wood.  Black, Big Leaf and Red Maple are the other choices for a 601.  Fox has recently been making more pro horns in Red Maple that seem to increase the fundamental sound of the bassoon.  

601 vs. 660:  The 660 is pitched slightly higher, A-442 than the 601 at A-440.

Two Piece Bass Joint: This option is getting much more popular now that airlines are getting pickier about the size of carry on luggage they allow on planes.  This option actually helps the action of the low B and Bb keys; the only draw back is that there is almost no space inside the case for reeds, tools and accessories.  This is the only option that I know of that is actually less expensive now that when it first was introduced.

Extra Rollers:  I usually order rollers on my right thumb Bb and F# keys. This is because I find it is easier to slide between the low E key and these two keys with a roller than without.  This is from experience.  Double rollers here will just increase the distance between these two keys and are not recommended.  I ordered a right hand little finger F# wide roller on my last bassoon and found it to be a useless option.  When thinking about rollers remember this fact: adding rollers increases the extraneous noise of your bassoon exponentially with the number of rollers you add.


Plating:  My last three Fox Bassoons have been gold plated.  This sounds very expensive but the amount of gold used is very little and the cost is less that $1000.  Gold plating is a bit “slipperier” than the standard silver plating.  Gold plated keys are silver plated first.  Nickel plating is much harder to replate if it wears through, the keys have to be totally stripped of their remaining nickel plating before they can be re-plated.  My experience with nickel plating has also included skin reactions with the plating when it wears out.  Silver plating is the standard on Fox pro horns.  It lasts a very long time and if the plating does wear through it is very easy to re-plate with silver.