There’s no denying that the bassoon is an expensive instrument to purchase (especially the best bassoon brands!) As with most major investments, it pays to take time to look at several options and work out which is right for your personal requirements. This forms the basis of our Bassoon Buying Guide.
Although it’s one of the less common instruments, there’s still a lot of choice out there when it comes to bassoons, so there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question ‘what is the best bassoon?’
How to buy the right bassoon for you
The instrument that’s best for you will depend on which level you are at with your playing – although the range of models may look very similar at first glance, there are many designs available for everyone from beginner players through to professionals.
Important things you’ll need to consider when buying a new bassoon include its weight, key work, tone and how well it fits in your hands. Many of these are down to individual preference, so take your time and don’t worry if your choice is different to that of other people.
If you’re looking into purchasing a new bassoon, take a read of this bassoon buying guide before you start. Below we’ll cover some of the things you’ll need to think about when you buy a bassoon.
Where is the best place to buy a bassoon?
You may be able to buy beginner bassoons through a local music shop or online retailer such as Gear4Music, but most instruments will be sold through a specialist woodwind instruments or double reed supplier.
These shops are often staffed by many bassoonists or woodwind experts, so they’re always happy to give you top notch advice on buying an instrument or answer any questions, from basic queries to more specific questions.
The days of having to visit a shop to see which are the most strongly recommended bassoons (or indeed anything) are long gone – most woodwind and double reed retailers have online shops and will be able to do everything from offer advice by email to deliver a bassoon by courier.
Things to consider when buying a bassoon
A standard full size bassoon measures about 1.3 metres – although it’s actually about 2.5 metres of tubing doubled back on itself. Most full size bassoons weigh about 3.5kg.
The large size and weight of the bassoon means that players usually have to wait until around the age of 10 or 11 to start playing.
Even at this age it can be tricky for small hands to reach all of the keys on the full sized bassoon, so younger students may be more comfortable with what’s known as a shortreach bassoon.
Short reach instruments have the same tubing size as a full sized bassoon, but they’re often made of lighter wood and have modified key work (such as moving the third finger key higher for the left hand) to make them more manageable. I would recommend the Schreiber S13 shown below – it’s not particularly cheap, but it’s incredibly well made and sounds lovely.
The mini bassoon is a good option for children who are keen to start at an earlier age (from 7 upwards). It has most of the key work of a standard bassoon, but it’s much smaller and lighter.
The sound is not quite as good as that of a full sized bassoon but the mini bassoon helps the student to get used to the keys, the breath control and reading music, and start to play in a band or group from a young age.
Best for the musician with small hands
DESIGN: Redesigned Key Wings for a better feel
INCLUDES: 2 Crooks for Suiting Your Preference
Material – plastic or wood?
Most bassoons are made of wood (usually maple wood that’s been seasoned for 10 years or more) as it has the best tone quality.
However, certain brands make their instruments out of plastic. Although the tone is not so refined, plastic bassoons are more robust and therefore suitable for school instruments or younger students as they require less care to keep them in good condition.
Keywork – what is the ‘German’ system?
The key layout on the modern bassoon is often known as the ‘German system’ – this term dates from the days when players could also opt for the ‘French system’, which is largely obsolete in the 21st century.
When looking for a new bassoon to purchase now, the key work will almost certainly be of the German system, but the number of keys can vary from around 22 to 28 (with student and short reach bassoons having fewer and professional instruments having more).
Every extra key adds cost, weight and complexity to the instrument so it’s worth thinking about what you really need. Trill keys and extra alternative mechanisms are only worth having if you’re likely to want to play more complex music and full orchestral repertoire.
Subtle differences in the wood and design mean that different bassoons will have a different tone quality (even if they’re the same models). Some instruments will have a brighter, more open tone, while others produce a warmer sound.
There’s only one way to find out how any individual bassoon will sound, and that’s to play it! Much comes down to personal taste, but you should always make sure that you’re able to produce the notes easily without blowing too hard.
Best Student bassoon
Howarth mini bassoonBest for young children
Price level: Good value
Perfect for: Getting children aged 8+ started
Student models will have all of the basic keys you need, without any unnecessary additions. Many bassoonists will play their first bassoon for several years and become more advanced players before finding that they need to upgrade. If the Schreiber S13 is too expensive for you, this Howarth is a good second option.
Schreiber S16 bassoonBest for a good-value instrument
Price level: Good value
Perfect for: Ensemble and solo playing.
Once you’ve become an intermediate player, you may find that you require extra keys such as an alternative low C key and a high D vent key (both for the left hand thumb). A crook lock is likely to be useful too, for jumping between low and high notes easily. Becoming a more advanced player may necessitate such parts.
Intermediate bassoons may also have some rollers added to certain keys (such as the little finger keys for both hands, and the right hand thumb keys. These small additions are useful for smooth movement between notes.
This Schreiber S16 is an excellent bassoon – and you really can’t go wrong with it!
Fox Renard 222D
Best for ease of sound production
Price level: Good value
Perfect for: A long-lasting investment
By the time you have progressed from being an intermediate player to a professional level you’ll be aware of what you want and don’t want from your bassoon, and the kind of music you’re likely to play.
For professional players, things like trill keys and a high E vent are likely to become more important, and you may like to add more rollers to aid legato playing. Professional bassoons facilitate these styles of playing.
Such things won’t suit everyone, however – if you’ve got small hands it might be better to keep things simple and not use professional models.
Püchner JubileeBest for warm, dark sound
Price level: High
Perfect for : College students and professionals.
Moosmann model 222Best for lots of projection
Price level: High
Perfect for: Players wanting a big sound
Accessories for the bassoon
However much effort and money you’ve put into buying your instrument, you won’t be able to play a single note if you don’t think about the reeds too! Like the oboe, the bassoon uses a double reed: two pieces of cane that vibrate against each other to produce the sound. Double reeds are unique to the bassoon and oboe, as no other woodwind instruments have them.
Some professional bassoon players make their own reeds, but most people will buy them ready-made. Your teacher may be able to provide you with suitable reeds, but otherwise it’s easy to order and buy them online. I particularly like the Barnes & Mullins Jones reeds.
You’ll probably see that there’s a lot of choice! When starting out it’s best to stick to a medium or medium-soft reed. You can also buy special reeds designed for mini bassoons
Although you can only play one at a time, it’s worth having at least three reeds in case they break or wear out. You should also keep them in a proper reed case to save damage.
A good quality, trustworthy bassoon stand is a MUST. It’s one of those accessories that you think is not that important, until you leave your instrument on a chair and knock it off, or worse, leave it on the floor and tread on it.
The Hercules Stand above is the best on the market, and it’s also reasonably priced.
Bocals (also known as crooks) are another vital part of the instrument and can make a large difference to the tone a player produces. Student bassoons will have just one, but intermediate level instruments often come with two: a shorter number 1 bocal/crook and a slightly longer number 2.
Over time you can change the tone quality and playing resistance of your instrument significantly by changing the crook/bocal for something of a different thickness or metal.
However, when you’re starting out the most important things are to make sure the metal isn’t dented in any way, and that the shape allows you to play comfortably without having to move your head.
Key oil & pads
To take care of your new instrument it’s worth investing in some basic maintenance kit like key oil and replacement pads.
Learning to diagnose and fix problems can save you expensive repair work – most minor faults can now be solved by finding the right YouTube tutorial!
The bassoon is heavy, so you’ll need something to help you hold it up – either a harness that you wear or a seat strap that supports the weight from the bottom end.
Your bassoon will probably be supplied in a case but it may well be heavy and awkward to carry around.
If you’ll be travelling around a lot (to school or band rehearsals perhaps), look out for a lightweight backpack case that will make it easier to carry your bassoon, a bit like this Tom and Will Gig Bag.
Buying vs renting
It’s worth remembering that you don’t have to buy an instrument at all if you don’t want to! Several places offer bassoon rental, which can be a more affordable option if you’re starting out or trying to decide which instrument suits you.
Bassoon Buying Guide
Many things about choosing a bassoon are down to individual preference, and you need to consider various factors to ensure you end up with an instrument that you are totally happy with.
The size is probably the first thing you should decide upon, because ending up with an instrument that’s too big or too small will hinder your progress considerably.
You certainly get what you pay for with bassoons, so make sure you aim for the top end of your price range when choosing an instrument to buy.
Best Children’s Bassoon
Howarth mini bassoon
The Howarth mini bassoon is a great way to introduce children aged 7-10 to the basic skills of playing the bassoon without too much weight.
Best Student Bassoon
For reliable key work and excellent tone quality at a decent price, the Schreiber bassoons are popular choices.
Best Intermediate Bassoon
Instruments by the US maker Fox are known for their ease of sound production. Several models are available so you can pick according to personal preference.
Bought my dream instrument because of this article.
That’s brilliant to hear Gillian. Good luck – and if you need anything else, do let us know.