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Copyright 2009 Dale Clark
I’d like to be able to say I’m well acquainted with all the shapes available for bassoon reeds as well as the unique features and benefits of them all but the truth is I have not experimented with that many different shapes. But, I have learned that there are a good many variations that can be made just from one bassoon cane shaper.
In my business I use a facsimile of the Fox #2 and Rieger 1A shapes. That is, along with the automatic shaper I bought from Reedsn’stuff, I have templates that make the two shapes. However, if I place my wires at different points on the reed and the overall length changes then the reed’s shape changes also, especially the width at the tip. I use the Fox #2 for my own reeds because of the following reasons:
1) The width at the butt allows me to assemble the reed and fit it to the bocal without reaming the reed.
2) The throat is large enough for the amount of resistance I desire. This would not be the case if I made the tube smaller and then reamed the reed.
3) The blades are practically straight, with a slight amount of concave curve near the shoulder. Some other shapers produce a convex shape, often called a "wine glass" shape.
4) The medium shape gives me the control I desire in the high register while maintaining a resonant low register.
With the Rieger 1a shape I find that for my own use I often have to narrow the reed or even cut the blade 1 mm shorter to get the ease of response in the highest register.
Many of my students have wanted to experiment with different shapes before they refine their finishing techniques. Generally, I discourage this. I believe that a student will see a more dramatic improvement in their reed’s performance as they learn to implement proper finish techniques. Also, many of these techniques require a good bit of practice and repetition in order to perfect them.
The Knochenhauer shape was the first shape I used when I learned to make reeds. I found that the curve through the throat area was deeper and the change of direction more abrupt than it is in the Fox shaper, which made it harder to shape without developing splits either up the blade or towards the butt. I never found the sound I was looking for with that shaper and I think it may have been with the size of the throat resulting from that dramatic and rather narrow shape.
The rather well-known Herzberg Shaper has a flare at the butt end that allowed him to bevel all four edges of the cane and not narrow his tube too much. On my reeds I place a 30 degree bevel on opposite sides from just inside the first wire to the butt of the reed, starting shallow and getting a little deeper as I approach the butt. My bevel is not intended to narrow the bark surface, only the inside of the cane.
There are two ways to make a reed more resistance and raise the pitch by removing cane. One is to cut the tip and the other is to file the sides of reed, narrowing the shape. When I file the sides of my reed I use a diamond file that is more than 1/8” thick and very sturdy, much more so than a nail file. Some players narrow different areas on the sides of the blades to control pitch in different registers of the bassoon.
To summarize about the quality of wider versus narrow shapes, wider shapes have a larger air chamber and potentially larger sound, bigger low register with better response, lower pitch (that can be mitigated with thicker and shorter blades), and less easily controlled. Smaller shapes have more focus, generally higher pitch, ease of response in high register and can be made with a thinner profile. Of course, going back to the gouge we can control some of the factors mentioned above by changing the gouge.
If you are looking for a particular shape used and designed by a well-known player you should check out the Fox Products website as they carry several of these shapes in the flat shaper style. I use a flat shaper rather than a fold-over partly because I use an automatic shaper. Fold-over shapers work well but you have to be able to hold the knife perfectly perpendicular to the shaper in order to get perfectly shaped cane. The flat shaper I use removes the possibilities of uneven or unsymmetrical cuts.
I like to shape before I profile. Because of guide lines I have machined into my profilers I have no problem lining up cane so the spine is cut into the center of the cane.
I’m sure there are many other ideas on shaping and I welcome any and all comments.