Here’s a quick shopping list for the (few) tools needed for beginning reed making/adjusting:
Mandrel. I recommend the forming mandrel #2130 sold by Womble Williams. You can make your own holding mandrel with a mandrel pin and a do-it-yourself handle.
Pliers. I made many reeds with a pair of 6-inch needle-nose pliers I purchased at Ace Hardware in 1970. Just be sure your pliers have a built-in wire cutter.
Wire. #22 soft brass wire is best. Sometimes craft stores carry wire like this, but you may want to check the double reed shops.Plaque. It is important to protect the reed when you are working on it. I like a traditional arrow-head contoured plaque–available at double reed shops.
File. I like my Grobet files, but any 4-inch warding file will do the trick.
Sandpaper. #400 grit wet-or-dry sandpaper is very handy. I use it to sand the reed tip (to improve response) and for fine finishing of the reed blades.
We like to use cotton thread to wrap bassoon reeds. Nylon thread tends to stretch and squeeze the tube closed. Cotton #10 crochet thread is an inexpensive alternative to the various specialty string available for wrapping reeds, and it’s available in many colors!
Duco is probably the most popular glue used to seal and waterproof the thread.
The Popkin-Glickman Bassoon Camp is a great way to focus on all things bassoon for ten days in the beautiful mountains of Little Switzerland, North Carolina. Our friend, James Poe is the reed making expert at the camp. This year’s guest artist is Chris Weait, former professor of bassoon at Ohio State University—a great bassoonist, terrific teacher, and genuinely nice man!
The least invasive procedure for improving your bassoon reed involves adjusting the wires. This is safe because you can always restore the wire configuration to what it was before. Since the wires complement each other, you can open the reed tip by squeezing from the sides of the first wire, or from the top and bottom of the second wire. The trick is to make the adjustment hold. So, the first tool you need is a small pair of pliers. While you can find expensive pliers made especially for reed making, any inexpensive small needle nose or duck bill pliers will do. It’s a good idea to find pliers with a side cutter for trimming wire and string. If the pliers are small enough to fit in the accessory compartment of your bassoon case, you’ll be happy. Just remember you need to be able to use the pliers with one hand!
When you’re ready to move on to working on the reed blades, I suggest you start with fine sandpaper. I use #400 grit wet/dry sandpaper (used for automotive finishing) cut into 3 inch squares. You can sand the reed tip by putting the sandpaper on the edge of a table and holding your reed with your forefinger behind the reed tip for support. Lightly sand both sides of the reed tip to make it thinner and improve articulation response.
For more work on the reed blades, you’ll need a way to hold (a mandrel) the reed and something to protect (a plaque) the reed blade not being sanded. You can make a mandrel with a aluminum or steel mandrel tip (reed making suppliers often sell these for ca. $3/piece) and a handle. For a holding mandrel, you can find your favorite stick (a piece of 3/4″ dowel rod, broomstick, etc. about 5 inches long) and bore a hole in the end to receive the mandrel tip. If the fit is a bit snug, you wouldn’t need to glue the tip in the socket. For a plaque, some people use a heavy duty guitar pick, but I think it’s worth having an arrowhead contoured plaque available from reed making suppliers.
A small file is better than sandpaper when you want to remove cane in a specific area of the reed blade. A 4-inch warding file will do the trick. I love my Swiss Grobet files, but they are expensive. While I wouldn’t use needle files (they’re too small to be very efficient), any small file can work–again, you’ll be using this tool with one hand.
For more, see: Bassoon Reed Making
Abe Weiss has a new reed-making video:
The complete DVD is available here.
Here is the link to a new bassoon reed maker! Dave’s Reeds
He includes a detailed description and instructions on adjusting reeds. We’ve tried his prototypes and really like ’em!
I was a student of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s second bassoonist, Wilbur H. Simpson, from 1968-1975. He was also bassoon professor at Northwestern University and gave me copies of some reed making handouts he used in classes there. In addition, he gave me a sketch for a bassoon cane shaper as designed by J. Walter Guetter (“the Heifetz of the bassoon”) and Vincent Pezzi. Interesting history! Click here to download: WHSimpson_Bassoon Reed Making notes