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Does a bassoon technician need to play the bassoon?

October 13th, 2022

Does a bassoon technician need to play the bassoon?

Does a bassoon technician need to play the bassoon?

If you walk past a large, late-Victorian house in a leafy suburb of Newport any day of the week, as likely as not you will hear the sonorous tones of a bassoon wafting through the windows, down the drive and across the street.

For us, playing the bassoon is of first importance, and playing every bassoon that passes through our hands is a prerequisite for the way we do things. It is a key part of how we determine what needs doing to bring a bassoon back to perfect playing condition. And without playing it again when finished, how are we to know that we have achieved success? We play bassoons three, four or five times before we are satisfied that we have got them right.

This isn’t the case universally though. It may be a surprise but some of the most renowned woodwind repairers can’t play the instruments they work on, at least not beyond the basics. They are still excellent and skilled technicians though, capable of good work on woodwind instruments, including, for some of them, bassoons.

A nearly-new bassoon from a reputable maker won’t need any specialist interventions and so a woodwind repairer won’t need to be able to play the instrument in order to service or repair it. But in our view the further one departs from that ideal, the more specialist interventions will be needed. In these circumstances the repairer’s ability to play the bassoon becomes increasingly relevant. 

Is playing a bassoon an integral part of servicing or repairing it?

We can only speak from our experience, but we do find that our ability to play the bassoon is invaluable. A great deal of what we do as a bassoon specialist relies on our ability to know how bassoons should sound in considerable detail, and to be able to understand the quirks and complex intonation balance of the bassoon as an instrument.

Playing ability, then, is important, but so too is the experience gained through playing the hundreds of bassoons which have passed through our hands. Of course, not each and every technician needs to be able to play the bassoon, but it is important, we feel, if a particular technician can’t play, to have on hand someone who can to play-test the bassoons and give feedback.

No two bassoons are the same

There are big variations between the different makes of bassoon, between different models within a maker’s range, and between bassoons from different eras too (and, often, between individual examples of the same model from the same era from the same maker).

Each maker has taken a different approach to the various tonal and tuning decisions available to them, in order to make each model perform exactly as they wish. All these factors need to be considered when striving to produce the best outcome for each bassoon.

The insight gained through this broad experience tells us what is normal and what is abnormal for a particular bassoon when we pick it up, and helps us make decisions about what to fix and what to leave alone. And how to fix that which needs fixing.

Our approach is always informed by great respect given to the bassoons we work on, their makers, and also the players who own them - for whom their bassoon is often one of their most prized possessions.  

No two bassoonists are the same

Every bassoonist has an intimate relationship with their bassoon, and understands to some degree how to get the best out of it in terms of intonation, evenness of tone, and so on. The more experienced the bassoonist, the more this applies. For professionals, every aspect of their bassoon and its performance is understood in minute detail.

We see our job as helping fill in the gaps for the less experienced bassoonists, by understanding the set-up which will work best for them. And for professional bassoonists we see our job as understanding what they individually require for their bassoon and then endeavouring to provide it.

Does a service solve all bassoon problems?

Not all problems can be solved by servicing. If intonation issues or notes not sounding properly persist after a service then further investigations are required. These persistent problems often won’t be spotted unless the technician can play the bassoon and bring to bear their intimate knowledge of bassoon voicing and acoustics. 

We have had instances of bassoons having had problems for years, and then eventually the owner brings their bassoon to us and we are able to identify and diagnose it. At that point the owner suddenly realises that it wasn’t a deficiency in their playing technique which caused the problem, but rather the bassoon. It has the potential to be a revelatory experience for the bassoon owner, who has struggled with the instrument for so long.

Take your bassoon playing to the next level

If you are struggling with your bassoon, or looking to take your playing to the next level, we would love to hear from you. Your treasured bassoon will benefit from the careful attention it deserves from our technicians who work quickly and are surprisingly affordable too.

Learn more about our bassoon repair service here.