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Reflections on our 10 year anniversary!

September 13th, 2021

Double Reed Ltd's 10 year anniversary

Double Reed Ltd's 10 year anniversary

Double Reed – Our Essence

In view of our 10 year anniversary on 27th September 2021 we have been spending a bit of time thinking about our essence – what we are all about, what makes us different, what defines our approach to life.

Oliver Ludlow, founder of Double Reed and the driving force behind its development, encapsulates his personal perspective as:

“To me, the sound of the bassoon is unique and life affirming. I have made it my life’s goal to bring the joy of bassoon playing to as many people as possible, and to support bassoonists in every way I can in this most profound endeavour – the mastery of the bassoon.”

Here are a few things we think make Double Reed what it is:

We live and breathe bassoons

That is, we don’t spread our efforts wide to encompass other instruments; instead we aim to cover all types of bassoon in depth. The more we have learnt about the bassoon, the greater our interest has become.  Ever since our inception we have gone steadily deeper into bassoons from their technical, historical and playing perspectives, and will continue to do so in the future.

This deep interest in, and passion for, bassoons guides the way we approach helping our customers when they visit us to select a new bassoon. Oliver comments: 

“We get the whole spectrum of players visiting us and each has their own bassoon life-story and unique bassoon sound reflecting their character as a person. It is fascinating to step back and listen to the sound that our customers make on different bassoons – no two players are ever the same.

“Advice on which bassoon to choose has to be given with careful attention to the player’s individual sound, struggles and bassoon playing aspirations. We do offer a scientific approach (blind sound tests etc.), but we find that overwhelmingly it is the player’s subjective and emotive response to a bassoon which determines the final choice.

“My job is to listen to the player and seek to put the right bassoon, with the right crook and reed, in their hands so that they can experience that emotional response and know they have found ‘the one’. After all, we all become very attached to our bassoons, spending so much time together over often many years, and changing an instrument needs expert help and sensitivity.”  

We supply bassoons to all bassoonists, anywhere

We have always eschewed the bricks and mortar approach with its focus on the local geographical market. From the beginning we set our sights nationally and internationally: our aim has always been to help bassoonists obtain their ideal instrument, set up as well as humanly possible, wherever they live. Oliver observes:

“We have received visitors from as far away as Hong Kong and California, but for customers unable to visit us I strive to offer the same personal service through email, phone and video calls as I supply to customers here.”

We supply no-longer-new bassoons

There are many reasons we focus on second hand rather than new. Not the least of which is that selling something new made by others takes all the fun out of it - someone else has done all the hard work leaving us little to do other than being the intermediary between the manufacturer and the customer. We take great pride in turning a sometimes-neglected but loved instrument into a wonderful instrument suitable for many years more use.

The objective we originally set ourselves ten years ago was to make all the bassoons we sell the best they can possibly be, so that our customers are released to play the best they can possibly play - without having to fight their instrument, or be let down by it at critical moments. Oliver says:

“If I am honest, it took time to achieve our objective of making bassoons the best they can possibly be, and it wasn’t until we started our own repair department some years into our life that we really started to feel satisfied that we were finally meeting our objective.”

We repair bassoons belonging to others

Once we really got on top of bassoon servicing and repair ourselves we felt able to offer our expertise to others, and now have a thriving bassoon servicing and overhaul business, for all bassoons from baroque to present, from student to professional, and from local players to those around the UK and Europe. Our growing reputation is based upon doing the very best we can with each bassoon, paying enormous attention to every detail. Oliver comments: 

“I am obsessive about detail, and play every bassoon which comes through here multiple times, both ones we sell and ones we repair - just to be sure that nothing has been missed and that each one plays as perfectly as it can before the customer sees it.”

Our vision remains the same now as 10 years ago

Oliver started the business while at university because he was passionate about bassoons, and he and we still have that passion to bring bassoon playing to more people.

We stay curious

We never stop wanting to learn about bassoons – how bassoons from the various makers and eras differ, technically how and why they play as they do, and of course what can be done to make them better.

It is sometimes said that the flight of bumble bees is a scientific impossibility; in the same way, making a bassoon play in tune across the scale is very close to a scientific impossibility. This means that overhauling bassoons is a source of never-ending puzzles needing to be solved to bring bassoons back to their best. 

At the most fundamental level, however, the essence of Double Reed Ltd. is delighted customers. There is nothing better than seeing customers’ excitement and delight over their just-acquired bassoons, whatever their age and playing experience. This is what we strive for, what determines how we prepare and present each bassoon, and what dictates how long we spend on every detail. We don’t stop until each bassoon is as perfect as it can possibly be. 

What have we learnt along the way?

During our time in business we have learnt a few things.

  • That the bassoon market is small and buffeted by the constant challenges to music making and teaching experienced by other classical instruments, amplified by the relative cost and rarity of the bassoon. Counter-balanced, of course, by the passion and dedication of bassoonists and bassoon teachers.
  • That trained, expert bassoon repairers are vanishingly rare and getting rarer in the UK as a number of notable ones have retired. It is very important to keep these skills alive, and by training new repairers from scratch we are doing what we can to keep the tradition going.
  • That bassoons are complex. Apart from the pipe organ, the bassoon is arguably the most complex instrument around, made from a huge number of individual components, and having all sorts of strange acoustical properties necessitating a variety of technical workarounds and compromises. This complexity is what gives the challenge when overhauling instruments, and what makes the bassoon’s famous rich sound.
  • That no two bassoons are identical. Not even the same model from the same maker in the same year. Perhaps most fundamentally the reason for this is that each bassoon is made from a different piece of wood. Each tree from which the wood was derived will have been situated differently and exposed to different stresses, leading to each piece having its own unique characteristics. And then each piece of wood will have been treated and stored differently during the ten years or thereabouts from being felled to becoming a bassoon.
  • That bassoonists are as passionate about playing bassoons as we are about overhauling them. Whether professionals or amateurs, young or old, we all share a level of devotion and commitment which never fails to encourage, delight and astonish us. Oliver comments:

“After ten years, we have made many great friends in the bassoon community and are thankful to everyone who has supported us, and look forward to making many more friends in the years to come.”

Where next?

More bassoons, from more eras, brought back to life to inspire more bassoonists around the world is one part of the answer.

Beyond that we have plans, so watch this space!