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.

Leitzinger Contrabassoon Bocals

This week I had a few Leitzinger Contrabassoon Bocals on trial from Forrests Music. I had a Leitzinger NML2 bassoon bocal  a few years ago when I played on a Fox 601, but I sold it since it didn’t pair so well on my Heckel 10k. What I so appreciated about that bocal was the easy high note response and clarity in the tone. That bassoon had some funny pitch issues (saggy middle E) that the Leitzinger fixed immediately.

I have been using a Heckel C2 that suits the instrument well, so trying new bocals is just out of curiosity. Forrests has a large selection of Leitzinger contra bocals so I got to try each type and plating option, I ended up really liking a F2 Gold plated and an F2 platinum. Now that I have had them at home for a few days I have a sense of what these are able to do.

I notice almost no difference in response, pitch, or tone from the Heckel and the high notes are just as solid. The one improvement I do notice is when I use a light reed and play loud sfz attacks sometimes the pitch can sag with the Heckel, and the Leitzinger is more stable. However I do not like the bend, it angles down much more than I would like which forces me to change the instrument position. And lastly the price point is high. This thing comes in at $2,300 which is much more than a new Heckel bocal, without a huge sound difference. I am impressed by the sound and quality of this bocal but it’s a little too much for me!


A Contrabassoon has entered my life recently and I am very excited to start using it. This instrument was owned by Steve Braunstein. He ordered it from Heckel while he was playing with the Toronto symphony, it was finished 1984. Over the summer I trialled 2 other Heckel contras and this instrument was by far the standout. I am very lucky to be the custodian of this horn for a few years.

I get asked about the Contraforte vs. Contrabassoon and I mostly stay quiet. But I think that the entire repertoire is accessible to either instrument. I would like to experiment with using both instruments this season, choosing the instrument that fits the character of the piece.

Heckel Contrabassoon #1002 For Sale

Heckel Contrabassoon #1002 is up for sale. This contra is owned by Steve Braunstein who is the original owner, and he has kept fantastic care of it! The horn was ordered in 1982 while he was in the Toronto Symphony and he has since been playing it in the San Francisco Symphony. Contact him to arrange a visit and play test.

Stephen Hough: Was mit den Tränen geschieht

     I was sent a video of an awesome performance by Peter Verhoyen, Tobias Knobloch, and Stefan De Scheppe performing Was mit den Tränen geschieht by Stephen Hough. This piece is a great example of the blend possible by the two woodwinds voiced in extreme registers. This video is from Peter Verhoyen’s piccolo chamber recital.