Monday, January 7, 2013

Winterizing Your Bassoon and Reeds

We're having a pretty serious winter here in Northeast Ohio now. It's been hard to run outside in the snow and ice, but I'm trying to get out so I can train for the Miami Half Marathon on January 29th.  I've run this race almost every time we've been in Miami in January now.

Along with physical training, I've been attending to the changes brought on my bassoon and reeds by the extreme dryness that comes from the indoor heating season.  Low humidity robs reeds and bassoons of their moisture and resonance.


Reeds need more time to soak in the winter.  I try to use warm water for soaking. The reed absorbs warm water faster.  Cold water tends to close the tip I've noticed.

To help them vibrate better I often scrape my reeds just a bit thinner in the winter than I normally would.

Many bassoonists take steps to humidify their reed cases.  Here's what I do:

In the winter I use a humidified reed case:

Dampening the sponge puts just enough moisture into the case. 

The gage isn't particularly accurate, but gives you a rough idea of how dry the reeds are.  I try to keep the humidity at between 50-79%.  You don't need a fancy case like this, however.  If you want a less expensive solution, putting your reed case in a freezer bag with a small hole cut in it and adding a few orange peels works well. The hole keeps mold from building up.

The Bassoon

For the case I use a tobacco humidifier.

I don't recommend a string Dampit.  Repair technicians have told me they have found mold in cases sometimes when those are used, particularly if the Dampit is put in the long joint.

Some people put orange peel in the case to humidify the bassoon.  This works well, but I'd be careful if you have an older bassoon that has some finish worn off in places or just a delicate layer left.  The peel is very acidic and could hasten the decaying of the finish. A former colleague of mine has a 50-year old Heckel that has much of the finish either missing or coming off.  He has taken good care of the instrument in general, but has used orange peel in the case for years.  A coincidence?

Keeping the instrument at a constant temperature is sometimes difficult during the winter.  Try to store it at night away from direct heat but not in cold, drafty areas of your house. Having an insulated case cover is helpful as is wrapping it in a warm blanket for long car trips.

Wood and metal on the bassoon expand and contract at different rates.  Exposure to extremes of heat and cold can cause keys to bind or gain excess play.  Cracking can also be a problem if the bassoon is not swabbed properly and then exposed to cold.

I remember a Thanksgiving break during my time at Michigan State in which the power went out all over campus for much of that weekend.  Not much was hurt by it, but the keys on the school's contra bassoon (which was kept in the reed room during the break) bound up badly.  The combination of the drop in temperature during the power outage and the rise in temperature when the heat was cranked back up over that weekend made the posts move closer together binding most of the keys on the instrument!

Help from Those in the Desert and Mountains?

Bassoonists that live the dry climates found at high altitude and the desert use techniques to humidify their reeds and bassoons as a routine.

Who would like to share their techniques with the readers of this blog?

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this blog and your website. I am a "hobbyist" bassoonist who has taken too much time off following dental surgery. I "found you" while searching for information about humidifiers as I've left my instrument closed in its case. I've enjoyed all that I've found on your site. I've never made my own reeds, but who knows?