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Tuning problems in general

I am always flat in pitch when I am playing.

Mostly this is the problem of the bassoonist himself or herself.
A correct and constant breath support in combination with a proper embouchure can be a problem for the less advanced bassoonist.

Note: Most bassoons have the tendency to play flat on the high notes and play sharp on the low notes.

Other causes can be a weak reed, a poor airtight instrument and excessively loose joints causing air leaks as well. In rare cases of very old bassoons, the bassoon may have been made flat to start with.
What can we do about this?

We all know a short instrument is sharp and a long instrument is flat.
If we shorten the tube this involves the entire instrument.
How can we shorten the tube?

Step 1: Push your bocal completely down to the bottom of the socket in the top of the wing joint. Most bassoons sound at their best when the bocal is fully inserted.
Step 2: Use a shorter bocal.
Step 1 and 2 will solve 90% of being flat in pitch.
Step 3: Use a reamer to enlarge the back of the reed a little bit so it will go ± 2 mm further on the bocal.
Step 4: Make a reed with a shorter shaft. If you make your own reeds use the cane 28-32-32-28 as mentioned above.
Step 5: Includes technical solutions even a repairman should be very reserved about (mostly don’t do it!)

In the next session I mention some ways it is possible to raise the pitch of the bassoon but I must absolutely discourage you. I will write this because I know some repairmen do this and it is not to be encouraged.

It is possible to shorten the bocal.
At the narrow end, you get the problem and a lot of sanding to get a proper fit again with your reed.
At the wide end, it is possible that the nipple on the bocal might not fit the whisper key pad.
Quite apart from the fact that bocals are too valuable to cut off anyway!
A much better way is to look for a good shorter bocal. A number 1 instead of no. 2, or a number 0 instead of a number 1.

Another way is also a “No-no!”

It is possible to deepen the socket for the bocal in the wing joint. This can lead to major problems.
The lining of the wing joint: the socket is usually inserted separately when the bassoon is made and the connection is very vulnerable to wood rot. Repair is costly and it can really damage your bassoon.
Shortening the butt joint by using a thinner cork at the U-bend will have hardly any effect at all. Or the low notes will be sharper, and that is not what we want.
Shortening the bass joint or bell is nonsense, because the low notes tend to be sharp anyway.

I am always sharp in pitch when I am playing.

Just as mentioned above, the phenomenon of playing sharp is mostly due to the player: a stiff reed or a stiff embouchure.
If this is not the case it might be possible that the instrument itself is sharp in relation to the orchestra or other players.
What can we do about that?

Step 1: Pull out the bocal. The nipple must be closeable with the whisper key. But..Pulling out the bocal creates an air chamber in the socket. This causes turbulence and that is the last thing you want to have in your bassoon. Turbulence disturbs a smooth flow of the air. It also disturbs the vibrations and pressure waves we want. Another very common, easy to solve, problem is a sharp edge at the wide end of the bocal.
Smooth this off and you will be surprised by the positive effect.
Step 2. Use a bocal extension. This is a conical tube to be placed on the narrow side of the bocal. The total of reed and bocal is now longer. This extension may influence the intonation in the high register.
Step 3: A longer bocal is the best solution.
Step 4: If your problem is only sharp in the low register, it is possible to have a thicker cork installed on the U-bend – by about 2 or 3 mm. It has hardly any effect on the mid and top register but it helps to flatten the low part of the bassoon.
Step 5: This is a special one and it will surprise you. The side effects are even greater than the original purpose. Pull-out the bass joint by 3 mm. The low notes will get better (read flatter) – also the always sharp low D. Now the surprise. The high register sounds much better! More open and brilliant. It works on one bassoon better than another, but it always works. I have made special rings to have the same position every time again. Keep in mind to have the joints firmly and airtight together.

Ring 3 mm for bass joint € 2.00 (article 3712)

Included postage NL € 3.00, Europe € 3.50, World € 4.00

One more thing!

A very short (000) or very long bocal (4) will change the distance relationships between reed and the various tone holes.
The nodes and antinodes can shift so that other tuning problems can arise.

All the best from The Netherlands



Comment Section

3 thoughts on “Tuning problems in general

By Daniel Evans on 14 July 2017

Hello. I’m having trouble locating a bass section ring. I would very much like to purchase one. Please advise me WHERE to purchase one (e-mail or website). Thank you

By Matt Milford on 11 September 2018

Wouldn’t an appropriately sized rubber O ring from the hardware store work about as well?

By Robert on 21 March 2020

Have a Conn 8r bassoon (circa 1950) plays very nice except the notes low e and down are sharp by at least 20 cents. Our local repairman is stumped. The problem seems to be in the butt joint. Seems over the years someone leaked a little stain & polyurethane into to bore. Could this be the problem ? Have tried many different bocals with no luck.

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