MUS 215

Bassoon Reeds

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Squeeze 1st wire from sides, and/or
Squeeze 2nd wire from top and bottom
To open "Fuller, darker" Raised slightly
Squeeze 1st wire from top and bottom, and/or Squeeze 2nd wire from sides To close "Thinner, reedier" Lowered slightly

Adjusting the wires

Several important adjustments may be made with the wires.  This means of altering the reed has the advantage of not being irrevocable.  If a mistake is made in scraping the blades, the cane cannot be replaced.  If adjusting the wires fails to achieve the desired result, it is a simple matter to return the wire to its original position.  The chart above illustrates some of the more common adjustments made at the wires.

Adjustments on both wires might also be advisable in certain situations.  Changes in response will vary with the amount of adjustment made at each wire.

To make the tip more open, squeeze the sides of the first wire and/or the top and bottom of the second wire.  To make the tip more closed, squeeze the top and bottom of the first wire and/or the sides of the second wire.

The following illustrations will show the various areas referred to in the instructions on trimming:

Reed too stiff

Check the tip opening.  If this is too large, close the reed with pliers at the first wire.

If the reed remains stiff, trim lightly with the knife in area A.  (Remember to test the reed after each step ... by playing.)

If more trimming seems necessary, trim next in area B.

Trim next in area C.  Always try to follow the general contour of the reed.

Use the file next to thin out area D.

Go over the entire reed lightly with the file, being sure to retain the same proportions from back to front.

If the reed is still too resistant, repeat the whole series, again testing frequently.

Reed too soft

Open the reed slightly at the first wire with the pliers.

Trim areas B and E a bit.  This will change the proportions of the reed so that the center section will be heavier in relation to the sides.

If the reed remains soft, cut the tip back slightly (about 1/32").  This step may be repeated, although there is a limit to shortening the blades before the overall pitch level is affected.

Soak the reed orally and let it dry in the case.  Repeat this for several days.  If the reed remains soft, discard it.

Reed too "bright"

Bright = excessively vibrant, nasal, or "buzzy."

Adjust the wires as indicated on the chart.

Trim the sides of the reed in area E.

Cut back the tip slightly.

Trim back of reed (areas E, C and back portion of D).  If the "crow" is too high in pitch, only the front portion may be vibrating, thereby causing a thin sound.

Reed too "dark"

Dark = lack of vibration, thick, or "tubby."

Adjust wires as shown on chart.

Trim carefully in area D.  Test and re-trim as necessary.  Work out toward the tip.  Stay away from the back center of D as much as possible.

With the knife, trim area C.

File or sand lightly over the entire reed.

Reed too flat in pitch

Adjust wires, as shown on chart.  Squeezing both wires 1 and 2 from the sides may also help.

Cut the tip back.  This may require further scraping over the entire reed for balancing.

Ream the tube of the reed so it will go on the bocal farther.

Narrow the "vee" of the reed by working the sides of the reed lightly with sandpaper.  Exercise great care in this step as it is easy to damage the tip.

Reed too sharp in pitch

Adjust wires as indicated on the chart.

Check the reed for the amount of cane over-all and trim accordingly.  A thick reed will often result in sharpness.

Scrape reed in area D.

In trimming the reed, work for a lower-pitched "crow."


Always soak the reed thoroughly before playing.  If the reed has not been played in some time, soak it 5 to 7 minutes.  If it has been in regular use, 2 to 3 minutes should be sufficient.  It is important not to oversoak the reed, as this will cause the cane to swell abnormally.  Some wrappings are not properly waterproofed, so it might be advisable to soak the reed to the first wire only.

After playing, wipe the reed carefully between the thumb and forefinger.  Be sure that the reed is put where it can dry out between playings.  Many student bassoonists keep their reeds in glass or plastic shipping tubes.  These do not allow enough air to circulate around the reed, and mildew often results.  A reed case may be improvised from a cigarette tin or discarded cuff-link box, or purchased commercially.  It should hold at least three reeds and fit easily into the instrument case.

If you break and old reed apart, the inside of the blades will look coated.  This is a residue of saliva sediment, tiny food particles, and dirt.  While this may seem unappetizing, it is this very substance which makes a reed feel stable and gives it a good solid tone.  It accounts for the difference in feel between a new reed and one that is "broken in."  While desirable to a certain degree, this coating may become too heavy and it will be necessary to clean some out.  Never draw anything through the reed to do this job.  Turn the water tap on full force and allow it to flush the reed out from the inside.  This will remove some of the coating evenly and leave the rest in the reed.

Let the reed rest periodically.  Two or three reeds alternated will last longer than the same number used separately.  This also prevents reliance on any one reed.

Remember that every reed needs to be adjusted to the individual player and instrument.  A little practice at trimming and adjusting should produce good results and will certainly make playing the bassoon a happier experience for your students.

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