The reed is the key to the bassoon. A good quality reed will allow you to get a rich and controlled sound out of your bassoon.
Poor reeds can turn your beautifully crafted instrument into little more than an oversized kazoo! So, getting the right reed is very important.
Whilst many bassoonists like to create their own reeds, commercially available reeds are excellent for beginners or those strapped for time.
When it comes to choosing the right reed, a lot of the decisions you make will be based on personal preference and the kind of sound you want to produce.
We’ll cover all the considerations and choices you’ll need to make in our buyer’s guide. This is our handy ‘how-to’ section that gives you all the information you need to make choosing a reed simple.
Before that, let’s dive in and have a look at some of the best bassoon reeds on the market.
Living life in allegrissimo? Here’s our top pick:
- Available in medium-soft, medium, and medium-hard.
- Pre adjusted.
- Machine-made but hand finished.
- Great price for the quality.
- Hundreds of happy users.
- Easy to use.
- Produces a consistent and clear sound.
OUR TOP PICK
These reeds are from the Jones beginner range. They are specifically designed for new players or younger players. Jones has an excellent reputation in the double reed industry and can be relied upon for quality reeds.
Like the Jones Artist range, these reeds are machined and then finished by hand. They are also pre-adjusted by the professional testers. This means you can play them straight out of the box.
They are cheaper than the Artist range which reflects the fact that the cane is of a lower quality. However, and this is a great big ‘however,’ these are not low-quality reeds.
Jones’ reeds are consistent, durable, and easy to use for beginners. As they aren’t aimed at professional players, the lower grade cane is more than suitable.
Many customers are very happy with these reeds. They find the sound quality to be excellent, the responsiveness more than ideal, and the longevity of the reed to be more than suitable.
If you’re just starting out, you can do a whole lot worse than these reeds!
- Available in 3 strengths.
- Responsive playing.
- Consistent sound.
- Hand-finished, tested, and adjusted.
- Ideal for beginners.
- Not designed for professional playing.
Jones has been making double reeds since 1963 with the aim of creating a reed that every kind of player can use. Their reeds are made with quality cane and hand-finished by the product testers to ensure quality.
The Artist Bassoon range is intended for intermediate and advanced players. They are made from ‘select’ cane which we assume means a higher quality than the standard range.
Available in medium-soft, medium, and medium-hard, these reeds allow you to progress through harder strengths as your playing requires.
The reeds are cut with diamond cutting equipment which allows the gauge to be more precise and accurate. This seems to give a much more consistent sound if the reviews are to be believed.
As we’re talking about reviews, there are a large number of positive comments. It seems that customers find these reeds easy enough to play and are very impressed with the tone and overall sound.
Many customers claim that these are the best store-bought reeds they’ve used. Store-bought, referring to the fact that they weren’t made by hand.
They are more expensive than some of the others on the list but unfortunately quality tends to mean costly.
- Available in 3 strengths.
- Hand-finished and tested.
- Ideal for intermediate or advanced players.
- Long lasting.
- Excellent tones and sounds.
- Used by professionals and hobbyists.
- Slightly more expensive.
- Not suited to beginners.
Singin’ Dog is a fairly big name in the double reed industry. They have a good pedigree and a large number of dedicated customers. They sell reeds, reed making tools, and strips of cane to make your own reeds.
It’s always good to buy from a company that has form. It gives you a bit more peace of mind and assurances when it comes to the quality of the product.
This product is from their beginner range and is specifically crafted for new players or younger players.
You have a choice of strength from medium-soft, medium, and medium-hard. These strengths give a good balance between resistance and responsiveness.
They are also less likely to need adjusting when you first use them. This is always a good thing for beginners.
When we look at the reviews for this product, one thing that comes up time and time again is that the wrapping colors are different from the picture. The picture is an example but doesn’t indicate what the reed you receive will look like.
It’s a bit of a petty complaint as it doesn’t affect the playing of the reed. However, if you are particular about aesthetics, just bear this in mind.
A lot of the reviews are very positive. These reeds seem to work particularly well for teenagers who are taking lessons. They give a decent sound and are easy enough to work with.
Overall, we’d say these are a great choice for students. They balance cost with quality and provide a great playing experience.
The first thing we love about these reeds is that you get three of them! And they have their own individual cases.
Ok, the cases aren’t glamorous but they will help prevent chipping or splintering. We think these are ideal for beginner students taking lessons. They can be tossed in a case or bag and won’t be crushed or ruined.
In terms of the reeds themselves, they are machine-made and hand-finished. According to the manufacturer, they are tested and adjusted prior to shipping. You shouldn’t need to fiddle with them when they arrive.
The fact that you can play these straight out of the box is great for beginners. It means that you can get on with your practice without having to wait for your next lesson to adjust the reed.
The issue we have with these reeds is that they are medium-hard. This is less than ideal for beginners as they will be quite resistant and less responsive. They’ll be good for intermediate or advanced players.
Our major concern is the quality of the product. To get three reeds for this price, something has to give. There are a few reviews that mention the fact that the sound quality is not as great as other reeds they’ve used.
If we’re being honest, it’s what we expected. You’ll need to decide whether quality or quantity is more important. For beginners who are chewing through reeds, these could be a good solution.
For more advanced players who want a more professional sound, look elsewhere.
- Three reeds with individual cases.
- Low cost.
- Hand-finished and adjusted.
- Can be played out of the box.
- Medium-hard strength.
- Lower quality.
- Limited reviews.
- Too hard for beginners.
We’ve included a synthetic reed because we want you to know that you have that option. There aren’t many synthetic reeds on the market, only one well-known reed maker produces them.
For the most part, synthetic reeds are looked down on. The natural tone of a cane reed can’t be matched or beaten with a plastic reed.
However, they are good in certain situations.
Now, the manufacturer’s information is non-existent on this listing so we aren’t able to verify what material is used in the reed.
We were able to get some very detailed feedback from users which is the important thing.
One of the main comments on this synthetic reed is that it is loud. To be honest, it’s what we expect from a synthetic reed as they tend to be stronger and therefore vibrate harder. Also, the synthetic materials don’t absorb so much of the vibrations as cane reeds do.
Now, if you’re playing in an orchestra, being loud might not be ideal. After all, an orchestra plays as one entity not a group of individuals.
This reed may be quite useful if you are in a marching band or are playing outdoors for some other reason. It can boost the rather subdued volume of your bassoon in places with poor acoustics.
The other thing that crops up in the reviews is the fact that the tone is noticeably different from can reeds. Some mention a nasal sound, others find it a bit flat and lacking. This is down to the material. It just doesn’t have the same warmth as a cane reed.
Overall, it seems like this is a good choice for a backup reed or an emergency reed. For beginners, it won’t matter so much but for more experienced players, the difference will be incredibly noticeable.
- More consistent sound throughout the lifetime of the reed.
- Lasts longer than cane reeds.
- Could be good for marching bands or outdoor performances.
- Doesn’t need to be soaked before use.
- Ideal as an emergency reed.
- Excessively loud.
- Flatter sound.
- Difficult to reach higher notes.
- Expensive delivery.
Best Bassoon Reeds Buying Guide
The type of reed you choose will depend on your experience, playing style, and to a large extent, your personal preferences.
Before we take a look at what’s best for different players, let's look at the characteristics of bassoon reeds.
Reeds will be listed by their strength, that is the force that is needed to get a sound out of them. Essentially it denotes how much resistance the reed gives to your blow.
There are generally five strengths offered. However, there isn’t a universal standard so one company’s medium may not be the same as another company’s.
The strengths are:
- Soft - little resistance, highly responsive, produces a lighter tone, may need adjustment.
- Medium-soft - a bit more resistance but still very responsive, warmer mellow tones.
- Medium - gives noticeable resistance, less responsive, produces a deeper tone but still in the midrange.
- Medium-hard - substantial resistance, a darker tone, will need adjusting.
- Hard - lots of resistance, provides a deep, dark tone, requires adjustments.
Bassoon reeds tend to be fairly wide fan shapes however you do have options.
- Wide - These reeds have a wider edge. They are more responsive but play slightly flatter sounds. They are best for getting lower notes out of your bassoon.
- Medium - A happy middle ground. They are less responsive but not overly focused. They are the most common shape.
- Narrow - These reeds are tougher to play and are less responsive. They focus your input and are ideal for higher ranges.
There are two lengths of reeds. The length affects the tonal range of the bassoon.
- Standard - As the name suggests, this is a standard-issue length. It is used by the majority of bassoon players. It gives you a balanced range.
- Long - A longer reed will give you a lower sound. If you are playing deep notes below the stave you might want to consider a longer reed or a longer crook.
Pro or Manufactured
We’ve mentioned before that many experienced bassoonists prefer to make their own reeds. The process is a bit labor-intensive but it does offer total customization.
If you buy premade reeds, you can choose to buy handmade reeds. These are often referred to as pro reeds.
From start to finish, pro reeds are hand-scraped, shaped, and finished. They tend to be more responsive and in tune than manufactured reeds. However, due to the time-consuming nature of their creation, they also tend to be more expensive.
As the name suggests, pro reeds are geared towards professional players who don’t have time to make their own reeds.
Manufactured reeds are usually machine-made and hand-finished. They are usually easier for beginners to play but are also quite popular with intermediate students too.
Manufactured reeds are usually cheaper than pro reeds. They will vary from maker to maker as each will use their own measurements and parameters.
It is usually best to try out a couple of different makers until you find one that suits you and your playing style.
If you’re new to the bassoon, you’ll want a reed that is easy to play right out of the box. This way you can focus on your fingering and technique rather than adjusting your reed.
More experienced bassoonists will begin to develop preferences for different kinds of reeds. They will have the knowledge and understanding of their instrument to be able to adjust and tailor their reeds to suit them.
In most cases, experienced players will make their own reeds just the way they like them. As such, this article is more aimed at beginners who are more likely to purchase a premade reed.
The ideal reed for beginners is one that has lower resistance, greater responsiveness, and access to the mid-range.
For this reason, beginners are better off choosing medium-soft or medium strength reeds. They are responsive and low resistance but they are not so low that they require adjustment.
A medium shape is also recommended for beginners. Again, this is because it gives the best balance between responsiveness and tonal range.
In terms of length, you’ll want to go for a standard length reed. Longer reeds are only really needed for very low pieces.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many reeds does a bassoon have?
A bassoon is what’s known as a double reeded instrument. That name can be a little misleading as it suggests you need two reeds.
The truth is that a bassoon uses one reed but that reed has two bits of cane. The double reed refers to the two bits of cane. It is in comparison to something like a clarinet or saxophone which are single reed instruments.
In a clarinet or saxophone, a single strip of cane is used as a reed. When you blow into the clarinet or saxophone, the air is channeled between the reed and the mouthpiece. The reed vibrates against the mouthpiece making a sound.
In a bassoon, the reed is two strips of cane that are held together at the bottom by wires and binding. When you blow into the bassoon reed, air is channeled between the two bits of cane.
They vibrate against each other creating sound which is then channeled through the body of the instrument.
When you buy a bassoon reed it will come as a single item with the two reeds held together at the base by string or metal bindings.
How long do bassoon reeds last?
Unfortunately, reeds do not last forever. The moisture from your mouth soaks into the reed and causes it to soften over time. It may also chip and splinter through use or accidents.
In general, bassoon reeds tend to last 2 or 3 months. This is highly subjective as it depends on how much you use it, how carefully you look after it.
The good thing is, bassoon reeds tend to last longer than some other reeds as they are thicker.
You can extend the life of your reed by keeping them in a reed case whenever you are not playing them. This will prevent them from chipping or splintering accidentally.
How do you break in a bassoon reed?
All reeds need to be broken in to play at their best. Everyone seems to have an opinion about how best to break in a reed.
In general, the advice is to wet the reed in your mouth or a glass of water. You need to wet the reed to soften it up so that it can vibrate more freely.
For the first few plays, you should only work it lightly. Don’t do anything too technical or anything that needs you to go very low or very high. Try some scales or simple pieces that allow the reed to vibrate and become more supple.
Play for short intervals initially, as short as about 20 minutes before resting the reed. You can usually tell when a new reed needs resting because it starts to buzz or play more brightly than it should.
This process can take up to two weeks when done properly. You are better off having a rotation of reeds on the go. This way you can switch out newer reeds for a rest and not have to stop playing altogether.