Monday, February 25, 2013

Off Label in the Plumbing Department

Let's go the plumbing department! 

There are some really cheap products here that will make your bassoon tune better, fit together better and work more quietly.

Plumber's grease can be had for as little as $1.00 per tube!  It is a terrific, non-corrosive lubricant for quieting and lubricating posts and rods on the key mechanism. You can also use it on rollers and long screws, although most repair technicians prefer a key oil in those places.

Plumber's tape (also called thread tape or teflon tape) also costs about $1.00.  It's really great for wrapping loose tenons.  I find it a much better material than thread because thread compresses cork when wrapped over it, making it necessary to wrap even more thread on top of it.  Better than waxed dental floss, too, for the same reason.  Teflon tape stretches so it has "grab" like plastic wrap.  You can use it on tenons and bocal corks.  It can also be wrapped around the seams of a reed to stop leaking and wrapped on a bocal tip to plug a leak in the butt of the reed.

If you look closely at the juncture between my long joint (left top) and boot, you will see a small pinkish section between the metal of the boot ferrule and the wood of the small end of the long joint. This is a slip joint washer.

This washer has the same diameter as the long joint tenon and fits snugly on it.  Why put a washer here?  2 reasons.
  • The washer extends the long joint, lowering the pitch of all low notes that speak out of tone holes past the last tone hole on the boot (where low F speaks).  This counteracts the some of the usual sharpness of the bassoon's low register. It may be necessary to add some plumber's tape to make up for any looseness in the way the tenon fits in the socket with the washer on.
  • With the washer in place, Bb3 (first note of Mozart Concerto) and some notes around it may gain in power, focus and stability.  Evidently this is because the step in the bore caused by the added space in the socket reinforces a nodal point in the sound wave at these frequencies.
Nearly every bassoon I've come into contact with has been improved through using one of these!
These washers cost about 25 cents each!  I love finding cheap solutions to big problems! You may want to take your bassoon in for a fitting, however, because there are different shapes and sizes.  Be sure to buy rubber ones that fits snugly on the long joint tenon.  Also, avoid ones that are contoured.  Go for the ones that are flat on each face.

To avoid having to buy an assortment pack, try to find an old-fashioned hardware store with loose ones in drawers. The washers also come in black and grey.  If you don't like the color, you can blacken it with a marker.

Here are some more photos so you can see how things look.


  1. Does the washer negatively affect the intonation of notes above low F? I might try this - I'd love my low range to be less sharp!

  2. No, the washer has no effect on those notes because their distance from the reed is not changed by the extension of the long joint. Just make sure the long joint fits tightly in the socket after you put the washer on. You may need to add to the wrapping or cork. See advice about plumber's tape.

  3. This blog is really informative i really had fun reading it.

  4. You can also use it on rollers and long screws, although most repair technicians prefer a key oil in those places. David Havelka of Corpus Christi