Monday, January 9, 2012

A new shaper!

I have enjoyed using my new shaper, made for me by Paul Deegan of MD Reed Products.  He has expertly copied my old Berdon #6 fold over shaper, making its design in the form of a straight shaper.

This copy is much more exact than the one made earlier for me by the Fox Products Corporation.  The design of this shaper has a little wider throat compared to most other bassoon reed shapes.  This helps mitigate a slight narrowness in sound I notice with my 7000 series Heckel.  I think it helps broaden the sound and even the scale on most bassoons as well.

The flair from throat to tip is moderate.  A large increase in width from throat to tip would (assuming an already-wide throat) make the reed unwieldy and unstable.

There is a decent amount of back flair (the reverse flair from the narrowest point near where the second wire goes to the butt), meaning that a good amount of beveling is helpful for proper tip opening contour.

Cane fits in this shaper with the bark side facing up.  This is opposite from the Fox shapers, so those used to a Fox will have to flip the cane.  It's not easy to see which way the bed is contoured (concave or convex) so it's possible to crack the cane when screwing the shaper parts together if the cane is loaded upside down.

The shaper mates with the MD Profiler by indentations made in the gouged side of the cane near both ends.  The indentations are made by two sharp ferrules set in bottom side of the shaper.  When the two sides are screwed together the indentations are made.  These indentations help the reed maker center the cane on the cane barrel of the profiler for profiling. You can see the identical ferrules on the cane barrel in the photo below.

The shaper is easy to use, however, I noticed that it scratches easily under the knife.  I contacted Paul about this and he will hard anodize the surface of the metal in future batches for greater durability, making them scratch-proof.

Straight vs. fold over shapers

Bassoon reed shapers are made in two different ways:  straight and fold over.

Above is a photo of a Rieger fold over shaper.  The cane is first profiled and folded in half.  Then it is slipped over the metal tongue on the left in the middle.  One side on top, one on bottom of the tongue.  The desired shape of the reed is machined into the tongue.  The two arms are rotated over the cane and clamped down.  The excess cane that hangs over the sides of the tongue is cut away.  This is how the design of the tongue is copied onto a piece of cane.

Here is a photo of a straight shaper, showing the widest point (A), most narrow (B) and butt (C) of the design.  With a straight shaper, you start without profiling, using a gouged piece of cane. I have described how to load the shaper above. The overlapping cane is cut away, much in the same way as it is with a fold over shaper.

I have used a fold over shaper for years and am quite used to it. However, I must say the straight shaper is MUCH easier to use.  Since the cane is unprofiled, you don't have to deal with the very thin, delicate cane near the fold that is normal with a fold over shaper.  Unlike using a fold over shaper, there is no chance the cane is going to slip around the shaper while using it and virtually no chance you will ruin the cane with a slip of the knife and the cane won't come apart at the fold.  All of these are hazards with a fold over shaper.

Here are some tips on how to shape with a fold over shaper.  Scroll down to the "after profiling" section and read steps 3-5.  There is a short video of me shaping (snore!!)

Knife work is easier and somewhat safer with a straight shaper, too.

So why use a fold over shaper?  To begin with, many bassoonists shaped cane by hand, without use of a shaper.  When this technology became available, prominent teachers had machinists design shapers with the dimensions of these shapes in mind.

With a fold over shaper, the taper only needs to be duplicated once (right side and left side must be symmetrical), so that was the easier route for the machinist.  This was the predominate method of shaper manufacture for years.  Indeed, it is much easier to copy a fold over shape and manufacture it than it is to convert a fold over shape into a straight shape.

Conversion requires not only precise copying of the shape, but also must account for any contouring of the shaper surface from left to right.  Some makers leave this area perfectly flat, others contour to match the curvature of a piece of cane.  Any copy needs to take this into consideration.

Also, in making a straight shaper, the tapers of the shape must be reproduced three times (top right, top left, bottom right, bottom left). 

However, with computer programming, this can now be done easily.

A very thorough discussion of the two types of shapers is found on the Herzberg Projects website.  Take note: Herzberg uses the term "flat" when referring to a straight shaper.


  1. Does the MD shaper have a center notch like the fox straight shapers?

  2. No, the MD shaper doesn't. We talked about that and felt it was unnecessary. The profiler cane barrel has a center score line, so scribing the fold can happen at that stage.

    By the way, the shaper is made to accept 120mm length cane. Cane that length fits snugly into the shaper with no looseness whatsoever.