HOW TO: Clean a Bocal

When I set out to create my Affordable Instrument Series- I had no idea the challenges I would encounter Trying to find Quality Bassoons to Compare.

It was a stark contrast to my experiences creating the (already posted) Oboe and English Horn Blogs and YouTube Videos. I believe the affordable prices of Oboes and English Horns (compared to Bassoons) made them accessible.

Guest Erica Howard of the Atlanta Ballet with Handfuls of Oboes!

In filming the oboe comparisons Erica and I were lucky- many oboists keep plastic instruments on hand for outdoor concerts. We were able to borrow from a friend’s private collection, allowing for easy filming of sound and visual key comparison pictures. Because the instrument were from a private collection, played regularly, and in adjustment the instruments were in great condition to film.

Unfortunately most bassoonists sell their student model instruments to help finance the much needed upgrades as their careers progress. Private collections of bassoon student model instruments are a rarity.

Don’t get me wrong- Sure, I could find Bassoons! And I was able to borrow them for review.

Friendly band directors at local schools, orchestra programs, etc. made instruments available to me. They are so excited by the series and happy to help in any way I needed.

Over the last month I always had between 7-10 bassoons in my studio. Everyday stepping into my practice space to play felt like Bassoon Gluttony.

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Which instrument in the Bassoon Buffet did I want to play today?

But the quality of repair and upkeep of the bassoons was so low in comparison to the private oboe collection- I didn’t feel comfortable using the instruments as a YouTube demonstration for sound clip examples.

It broke my heart. Tone Holes and Bocals were full of gunk, pads didn’t seal, and/or instruments were cracked. Many of the Bassoons were in such disrepair or neglect that I knew the instrument wouldn’t give a quality comparison.

A bassoon in need of an overhaul- tone holes were full visibly full of gunk and pads were not sealing. Every note I played created a clinking sound as metal hit metal.

I won’t bore you with a lecture regarding personal safety and health concerns from neglected instruments. I am sure we have all read the articles charting the probable health risks from instruments with moisture damage or bacteria growing within the walls or tubes of old instruments.

And I am sure that it’s no surprise to readers that many students often do not take proper care of instruments, regularly cleaning the bocal and swabbing the moisture out of the bassoons. To me this was another indication of a need for Quality Affordable Expendable Bassoons- yet another reason to continue my series.

My blog is and always will be a charting of my current musical adventures. And in searching for Bassoons to Compare- it seemed to me that the bassoon world needs a little help with Instrument Upkeep and links to Bassoon Focused Repair Technicians.

So I’ve added a Bassoon Repair Technician Page to my website to help bassoonists locate quality repair artists in their area.

PSA: Beware of many local music repair shops! Bassoons are delicate and often require a specialist focused on only bassoon for quality servicing.  It can be a challenge to seat a pad correctly-to not leak on a key that covers three tone holes. And many local shops overcharge. Always get an estimate prior to starting any work!

To give you an idea of prices to expect: a general servicing is usually between $200-400. A repad/overhaul by a seasoned bassoon professional is usually in the $500-$700 price range and worth every penny.

I also spent a bit of time thinking about other ways I could help.

Cleaning a bocal is a quick easy way to keep Tone Colors and Resonance in the Instrument- improving intonation. It helps keep Bassoonists Healthy and is an Easy Step in Instrument Upkeep. It is also the Start of a much needed Dialogue about Bassoon Care.

Just in case you thought I was bypassing the Bassoon Comparison…

Never Fear, the Affordable Quality Bassoon Blog is still on the Calendar.

But I was a bit delayed in locating a New Fox Renard 41.

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Nobel PNVB1W

After witnessing the disrepair of local bassoons- I realized I needed a Fair Comparison. I did not want to challenge a partially broken instrument against a new instrument. That just felt silly.

It seemed the only option was to challenge a new instrument (Fox Renard) against a new instrument (Nobel). I reached out to the president of Fox and never heard a response.

So I have taken the liberty to Buy on Trial (with agreement to quickly return) the Fox Renard 41 from a nationwide music store.

At first this felt a bit extreme, but I believe it is the only way to get a true sound comparison between the Polypropylene Plastic Fox Renard VS ABS Plastic Nobel PNVB2A. I also wanted to see how the Wood Composite Nobel PNVB1W compared to the various Plastic Bassoons.

The wood composite felt especially important to compare. I do not believe there is another Wood Composite Bassoon on the market that is made from a mix of Grenadilla and Epoxy. It’s like a ground up oboe disguised as a Bassoon. GASP! 

How would the Wood Composite Grenadilla Bassoon compare to the Bright Plastic ABS or Polypropylene Instruments. Or even better, Maple?

Bassoons are typically made from Maple- a bassoon made out of Grenadilla (even ground up Grenadilla) feels Revolutionary.

All of the instruments meet my price goal. They fall into the $5000 or less price range.

As a music educator and bassoonists, this comparison video felt like my duty. For me- It’s important to have a keen awareness of bassoons on the market and sound comparisons.

Sure! I had tried these bassoons at the International Double Reed Society in a conference hall with thousands of other sounds happening around me.. people trying other instruments and bocals, friends yelling greetings to one another…

But how do these instruments sound without any distractions. And how do they sound in my living room, which does not have the reverb of a concert hall. There is no where to hide.

My goals is to put them to the test in back to back comparisons so the ear can hear with ease the pros and cons of the instruments.

And if I was going to invest the time and money, why not document my trials for my own future reference and share them with you.

Be sure to Subscribe and Follow to not miss out on the Upcoming Affordable Bassoon Comparisons. I’ve already begun work on the Blog. It will be filled with German Key System Explanations, Sound Clips, Discount Codes, and a Discussion of Used Quality Instruments. I hope you will join me in my Continued Adventures in Making Bassoon-ing Accessible for All.

Happy Healthy Bassoon-ing, Everybody!


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