A few months ago I worked on a project that required a romantic era contrabassoon! The basis of the project was to track the development of the contra over time and play some of the music written for each instrument.

Here in the Bay Area we are very lucky to have David Granger who is a period bassoon expert. And he was generous enough to let me use one of his period contras for this project.

Romantic Contrabassoon

Although I ended up getting in a few practice sessions on it; I found that I’m not a great period player, and this instrument has much more potential than what I could perform. I was able to play some Beethoven and Brahms on it but I never was able to get a high Ab which is in Brahms’ 3rd Symphony.

Romantic Contrabassoon Bocal

Both of David’s period contrabassoons were made by Wolf in the style of the Viennese contras. This is a unique instrument because it can be tuned to A=415 or 440 with the use of two different lengths of bocals. The bocal looks similar to a bassoon bocal but has a drain and is upside down when assembled with the crook.

Romantic Contrabassoon Bocal

When I practiced different instruments in the same practice session I was getting frustrated with the Romantic instrument. I liked it on its own, but if I played a modern instrument and switched back to romantic then it seemed so unstable and difficult to play. Period bassoons in general have a less focused sound, and so I’ve never gotten into performing on them.

Bassoon Contraforte Contrabassoon Romantic Contrabassoon

The reeds here are supplied by Wolf and were made by Stefan Pantzier I tried my hand at making a few and they turned out okay. The shape is similar in dimensions to the Contraforte C2 shape but with a shorter tube. The thing I didn’t try was adjusting the gouge to something more appropriate to the era. In the time before gouging machines people gouged by hand and purposefully gouged the center thinner. This meant less work had to be done in profiling and finishing a blank.

Romantic Contrabassoon Reeds

Contrabassoon Contraforte Romantic Contrabassoon

Ortwein Balance Hanger

Back when I played on my Fox 601 I relied on my Fox balance hanger to take some of the stress off of my left forearm. But the Fox balance hanger only fits Fox bassoons, and so now on my Heckel my old one doesn’t fit.

I just found a balance hanger made by Mark Ortwein which fits Heckel bassoons. I’ve been using it for two weeks now and it has made my bassoon lighter on my left hand. This bassoon is heavier than my last one so that’s really a big help.

These can be found at ortweinwoodwinds.com

The Vonk

The Vonk is a bassoon support system created by Maarten Vonk. The system is designed to be used in place of a seat strap, leg hook, or floor peg and is unique because of it’s design and weight distribution. Essentially there is no weight put on the player’s hands when using the Vonk as long as you adjust it to the correct height. I have been using the Vonk for many years now and really enjoy it. They were popular in the Los Angeles area in the mid 2000s and I know many people who swear by them. I primarily use a seat strap for daily playing, but I bring the Vonk out for days with over 5 hours of playing. For some opera productions there will be a morning service/run through, lunch, and another run through. This is too much playing for me on top of my regular practice, so this system saves my hands.

The Vonk

The Vonk has two metal bars that attach to the base tripod. At the other end is a nob used to tighten the boot cap into the clamp. Depending on your bassoon, the boot cap might come loose, so test this area of the bassoon to make sure that you bassoon will stay up. If the boot cap comes loose, the bassoon fill fall off. The clamp tightens at a moderate pressure, too tight might dent the boot cap and too loose might cause the bassoon to slip. I have never had a problem with this. I play on a Fox 601 and it is very sturdy, however I can see how this could be a problem for some bassoons.

The Vonk

The real piece of engineering that sets this system apart is the tight ball in socket joint. This joint is the counterbalance for the weight of the bassoon. With the gold section engaged the Vonk becomes a bassoon stand. It disengages the ball in socket joint and so the bassoon stands vertical (see top photo)

The Vonk

When the gold section is brought down, the joint it engaged. This gives a large range of motion and is adjustable. Not only is the position and angle of bassoon changeable but also the height, so it is usable with most chair heights. When the system in engaged and in position, the bassoon just floats in front of you. The Vonk is available online at Bassoon.com

The Vonk

This is mostly only going to interest me, I just got a contraforte gig bag. The case that the CF came in is a large aluminum travel case and I have been trying to get a gig bag for  a few months. I tried to do some research into this gig bag; not only are there no pictures anywhere, it is not listed on the Wolf website. I was lucky enough to buy this through Midwest Musical Imports, who is the only Wolf distributor in the U.S. So here are the two cases..

The aluminum travel case is similar to what Maurice Rouillard makes at rouillardcases.com in Canada. However this case has rotating closures and wheels. The firm foam holds the CF in place, there are interior pouches for bocals and small accessories. This has been a great case but it is very large and heavy, I don’t need it for everyday use.

contraforte case

contraforte case

contraforte case

contraforte case

contraforte case

I just received the contraforte gig bag this week and so far it has been very easy to commute with. It has very thick interior padding and is lined with felt. The exterior has a music pouch, accessories pouch and backpack straps. The case does not have interior bocal storage so I’ve been keeping the bocal in an extra Fox bocal box in the front.

contraforte gig bag

contraforte gig bag

contraforte gig bag

contraforte gig bag




This year was my first IDRS conference yet and it was amazing! I met so many legendary players and nice people. There was an entire room of vendors and instruments to try as well as a room full of music provided by trevco. The bassoon selection was impressive and included:







and oboes were brought by





It was odd that even though there were Loree oboes and Heckel bassoon at the conference. Loree and Heckel were not there only their used instruments were sold through other sellers.

Legère reeds were there and many more bassoons were hooked onto some synthetic reeds. Other innovations were brought by Guntram Wolf. They brought a Lupophon and the Contraforte.

Now this is particularly interesting to me because I have been seriously getting into contrabassoon and I feel a strong pull towards the contraforte. I am now raising funds to buy a contraforte to take auditions with. I have a list of repertoire to perform and record on it and was a great treat to get to play another one this week. If you ever get a chence to get your hands on a contraforte, test it! the dynamics, range, note connection is all much easier.









One thing that sets the bassoon apart from other members of the orchestra and even the woodwind family is the price of the instrument. I don’t know a single bassoonist who bought their own first professional instrument. It seems like bassoons are also becoming more expensive, I remember when i was in high school looking at a new Renard 240. 7 years ago they retailed for a little under $6,000, and now nearly $9,000.

I usually thought it was either market inflation or just greedy business owners, but now after having additions done to my own bassoon I can see the amount of work involved. I found a series of videos on youtube about the manufacturing of fox bassoons. This was a video put out by fox a few years ago and posted over a series of videos by someone online. Im sure if anyone had an interest they would already have found these anyways but here they are.

Bocal Collection

Like many players, I am always on the hunt for another bocal. When I was first getting good at the bassoon I was very happy with my sound and then i tried a new bocal and my sound was all of the sudden SO much better. I think that experience created new way of thinking, that there is always a richer more vibrant sound that i can achieve.

So now I have a bit of a bocal collection going. I really only use one bocal everyday and then I have some specialty bocals. I have: Fox *CVX*R2, *CVX*2, CVC2, CVC3, C and then a few no name bocals that came with my student instruments. I am not a very big fan of Fox bocals but when i try a batch of them i usually find a good match in there. Fox bocals have also in my experience been the most consistent. I have had a few used Heckel bocals sent to me on consignment and there is a drastic different between two bocals of the same model.

I purchased a Fox *CVX* R2 last spring and so far it has been the best bocal I have paired with my Fox 601. It has very little resistance and great pitch control for low notes. The high notes are a little harder to get out than on my *CVX*2 which is the only reason i have a *CVX*2. My two CVC bocals came with my current bassoon and for me they aren’t as vibrant as i would like them to be, they tend to be a little muffled and don’t have the high notes.

I am VERY lucky to work down the street from Forrests Music. After work or on lunch breaks I often go over to test used instruments and bocals. I have gotten the chance to try out the Paraschos bocals and the Leitzinger bocals.  The Paraschos bocal comes in two forms, one as basically solid wood and the other lined with metal. In my experience the Paraschos lined with metal seems to be more resonant and the solid wood version muffles my sound. These bocals are also new so I’m not sure how long their live expectancy is (cracks etc.) Now the Leitzinger bocal is another recent addition or at least in the last few years. There are so many different specifications for these bocals; alloys, length, bend, plating and taper. I haven’t gotten to try all of the different options by far but for the few bocals I tried they seem to be very open and vibrant. Easy playing in all ranges but again i think certain models are better suited for the highest playing. Id seriously consider a Leitzinger as my next new bocal.

Last week I tried the Leitzinger bassoon as well, it seemed to me like more of a gimmick. Like they have great bocals and now they made a “bassoon to match.” It’s priced “competitively” at $24,000. I only got a few minutes with one, and I know that we are all used to our own instruments but the pitch and projection wasn’t even as good as a Fox 240. The f# and g# keys also must have been drilled incorrectly because anything involving those two keys was uncontrollably sharp and had far too much resistance.

These bocals can be found new or used (on consignment):







Recently I have been teaching my students lessons that have been based around their own interests. A few of my students have been interested in contra and so I’ve brought in the contra for them and some of my student have been interested in reed making so I taught them about reed adjustment.

I think that it is important to break up the gloom and doom of regular lessons, etudes, and scales with something that really pique students’ interests. Most bassoonists think its very fun to try new equipment, and playing contrabassoon is a useful skill for learning bassoonists.