Question: I’ve found a couple Fox 601 and Fox 660s online for sale used that seem pretty good, I know that the 660 is a short bore and 601 is a long bore, and both are thick wall. Is there a benefit one way or the other?
Answer: This really is a matter of personal preference. The 601 model tends toward a darker/warmer sound with a terrific low register, and the 660 model tends to sing more in the “money” register above the staff. That said, you really don’t sacrifice either way—you can’t go wrong with the pro models made by Fox. I play a 601 and love it, and I’ve recently tried a new 660 and thought is was a wonderful instrument. I don’t think any manufacturer of professional bassoons does a better job with the keywork and the ergonomics. And, the scale—Fox bassoons play in tune! I’ve never had any discomfort playing a Fox bassoon, but I have had trouble with other instruments requiring awkward hand position, etc. Since Fox is so close by, any used Fox bassoon you buy can be serviced and even improved by experts at the factory. To familiarize yourself with the differences between models, I’d suggest a trip to the factory—let them know you’re coming and they’ll make sure there are instruments to try. There is no better way to go than to purchase a Fox bassoon, in my opinion!
Question: I also looked at Yamaha bassoons a little, I’ve never played on one, and I really don’t know too much about them. I’ve read through the IDRS forum and found some people really like them, others had issues with higher notes, but I wasn’t sure if maybe you had some insight on them.
Answer: I tried several different Yamaha pro bassoons a few years ago. I really tried to like them, but I think there were reasons they didn’t quite do it for me. While they are well made, they seem to lack the personality I value in a good bassoon. I do own a high note Superbocal (PN-2) and really like it, though. (I think Douglas Spaniol at Butler is a Yamaha artist, and he would be in a much better position to speak to the pros and cons of the Yamaha bassoons.)
Question: I’ve also noticed that Puchner has a model 4000 that is supposed to be the same as the 6000 just with less keywork. I’ve only ever played on a Puchner for a couple months, it worked fine, but I don’t know much about the newer Puchners. Also, I see a lot of used Puchners online, how would I know how to choose a good used Puchner since they date back so far?
Answer: I know there are a few professionals who absolutely love Puchner bassoons, but I haven’t had much luck with them. I think they are based on a short-bore Heckel (6000 series?) and tend toward a brighter and smaller sound. We had experience with a newer Puchner a few years ago that had serious flaws in the bore. I’d be very wary of the Puchner bassoons for that reason. As with any used instrument, the only way to really evaluate an older bassoon is to play it and test it thoroughly. I’d even take a used bassoon to a qualified repair technician for an assessment. It would be well worth the money. If it were necessary to do the assessment without help, I’d spend time playing all of the major excerpts and solo pieces, I’d extensively check the instrument with a tuner (probably with a variety of reeds and bocals), and I’d have friends/colleagues listen to and try the instrument to see what they think.
There are other bassoons that are attracting attention. Of special note would be modern bassoons by Guntram Wolf (known for historical instruments, but I understand that people love the modern model) and Moosmann (there are some who really love these instruments—I owned one for a while a number of years ago, but went back to Fox). I’ve heard some people have high hopes for the Takeda bassoons, but I tried a mid-range model and was very disappointed. Besides, these other instruments are not made in Indiana! So many new instruments are very expensive, but they don’t compare to the ca. $50,000 price tag of a new custom Heckel!
Update: Here is a detailed response to questions about which bassoon to buy by the bassoon editor of the IDRS Double Reed journal, Ryan Romine: Choosing a Bassoon.pdf