Custom Contrabassoon Reeds

I am now offering custom contrabassoon reeds on my reed website for people who have a preference of shapes. The standard shape for all of the contrabassoon reeds is the Rieger K1, this is a versatile shape that is free blowing on most instruments.

I personally use a Heckel Contrabassoon shape, which was found and reproduced in a small batch by Arlen Fast through Fox Products. I play a mid 1980’s Heckel contra and I have been finding that this shape suits the instrument.

The shapes available for contrabassoon reeds are:

Rieger K1, K2, K3, Heckel, Skinner-Braunstein, Greg Henegar,  Rhodes R1

It’s hard to describe each shape and dissect the playing qualities since so much of what makes a good reed has to do with cane and the scrape. But if I can ramble a bit, I’ve spent time with these shapes and made each of them my primary shape at one point in time so there are patterns I have noticed.

K1 is all around great. I have used this on Fox contras, Mollenhauers and Heckels and I think it makes a balanced middle of the road reed. I’d say that it sounds a little plain and can be buzzy in the first few days.

K2 is a shape that I basically never use or recommend. If it’s your thing I can make that shape for you, but this has. always been a buzzy mess for my on my instrument. I’ve tried to change wire placement, gouge, and reed lengths and I continue to not like this. It is a wide goblet/tulip shape.

K3 has some interesting qualities because it is pretty narrow and has a shallow curve from the tip to the throat. This had the effect on me like trying a Herzberg reed for the first time, with a narrow shape the scrape can be thinner and more free blowing without sagging or loss of the high register response. It has a sweeter tone than the K1 and be easier to blend with a section.

I traced the following shapers onto a piece of paper so that you can get a sense of what a reed with these shapes might look like.

The Heckel shape is a goblet/tulip shape like the K2 but much narrower. I’ve been putting a very thin tip on this and leaving a moderate amount of spine. It gives me a fast response and dark tone. I have used this on about 10 of my reeds so far this year and all of them have a wobbly middle F. It hasn’t been a bad note on this instrument before, and its a drawback that I can manage.

Rhodes R1 is basically the Fox Products straight shaper version of the K1. It is great for all instruments and needs some break in time.

Greg Henegar’s shape is a Knochenhauer shape. I haven’t studied with Greg (yet!)?) so I’m sure that he has a specific way of making reeds. Like all Knochenhauer style reeds, there is a big flare at the end of the tube, so the amount you bevel has a big impact on the tip opening. These reeds have a rich tone and really responsive high register, I notice that these will want to go a little sharp unless the reed is scraped pretty thin. This shaper was made in a small batch by Bell Bassoons in Canada, but they might still be available as a custom order.

Skinner-Braunstein shaped reeds are a wide heavier style reed. This shape is great for softer pieces of cane and gets a big round sound. Reeds made from this shape seem to last a long time as well. There is some confusion for reed makers about SKB1 and SKB2. In Skinner’s reed making method excess cane is trimmed off of the end of the tube, in most reed making now we like to trim the excess from the tip with a tip cutter. If you follow his method, you would need the SKB1, which appears narrower but is the same shape. And if you don’t trim the butt of the reed, you would buy the SKB2. Steve Braunstein makes both SKB reeds and the RR1 reeds, so I would contact him to buy them.

Shapers

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One of the defining aspects of creating tone on the bassoon is the shape of the reed. Shapers are made by many different companies, and each company offer different dimensions. These design differences correlate to players’ theories about reed dimensions. Some top players even have their own shapes manufactured to unify their own reed style.

Shapers are made of shaper handles and shaper tips. The shaper tips are the pieces with varying dimensions, and many shaper tips can fit into the same shaper handle to process cane. Straight shapers do not require shaper handles and are usually cheaper. For shaping with regular shapers the cane is folded in half and so only two sides need attention. The set back of the straight shaper is that the cane is not folded over and so four individual side of cane need to be cut evenly.

I own three shapers myself; a Fox 2 straight shaper, Rieger 1A, and a Rieger 13. Oddly enough all of these shapes create a 15.5mm tip and play respond best with a blade length of about 27mm.

I would say that a Fox 2 straight shaper is a great shape for people new to reed making. A Straight shaper (black shaper pictured above) is easier to work with because there are no adjustment screws in the way of you knife, and you can shape before or after profiling. This is a thinner shape with narrow throat and tube. This is my go-to shape for high note reeds, however low notes are usually quite sharp.

The Rieger 1A is a very popular shape, and I haven’t met a bassoonist who doesn’t own this shape. Its a great shape for bassoonists who are looking for an all around balanced reed with high notes and low notes. In my experience, this shape can be a bit too bright with a *CVX* bocal. A bright shape with a bright bocal can create a thin sound which lacks much depth.

The Rieger 13 is new to me, it is a copy of the shaper created by the famous American bassoonist K. David Van Hoesen. Many of my favorite bassoonists today studied with Van Hoesen and carry on some of his reed ideas. It has a wide throat and tube which is great for keeping pitch down for most reeds. The shape of the finished blade itself is slightly rounded near the tip. So far I have noticed that this shape has a sweet sound and ages well.

below are three blanks shaped on different shapers.

Fox 2          Rieger 1A        Rieger 13

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