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The bassoon is a wind instrument that typically uses a double reed. There are many different types of reeds that vary in the sound they produce. While there are pre-made reeds available, bassoonists often make adjustments to produce a specific sound and tone. Many musicians make their own reeds. Synthetic varieties are also available, which perform well no matter the weather or performance space.
The basics to making bassoon reeds start with splitting a piece of tube cane into four pieces. The cane is cut and gouged until the desired thickness is reached. The reed is soaked and then cut into the needed shape. A machine or hand file will create the necessary shape for the playing tip of the reed. A mandrel is used to split the cane end to produce two reeds from the one cane.
The end of the reed is dried and tied with wire. The bottom is then sealed with a liquid adhesive to stop any air leaks. A slight bevel is made at the playing end, which makes the reed playable.
Gouging is used to create a reed that is a specific thickness, sometimes referred to as strength or hardness. Normally a gouging machine is used that shaves down the cane. Double reeds can range from quite soft to very hard. A soft reed is generally associated with dull, woody tones, while a hard reed can produce a very shrill tone.
Other alterations that can be made on bassoon reeds include adjusting the taper from the base of the reed to the tip. As with the thickness, the angle of the taper and rounding of the tip will alter the sound. Adjustments can be made for a reed that constantly plays flat or sharp. Shaving the reed and changing the shape will bring the sound back into the proper pitch.
Music professionals have two options: make their own bassoon reeds or make adjustments on pre-made ones. It can take less time to make adjustments to a pre-made version. This option is also less time consuming and less expensive, as specialized tools are required to make bassoon reeds. Adjustments created by shaving the reed can be made with a sharp knife.
Synthetic bassoon reeds are another option. Some of the advantages of these reeds are that they do not dry out and perform the same in all type of environments, regardless of weather or variations in humidity. The synthetic material used includes epoxy resin, graphite-epoxy sheets and graphite fibers. The combination of these materials produces a reed that has similar properties as cane and other wood.