Studying Reed Making with Louis Skinner, Pt. 2

Earlier this year I posted an article about my experiences with Louis Skinner, the famous reed- making teacher. These days, not many bassoonists have studied with him as he has passed away. I’d like to address the issues I had with his ideas, and some of the solutions I found.

Mr. Skinner had a myriad of different reed designs, and gouges, and he was experimenting with different shapes when I was working with him. He was still using the Knockenhauer shape, which I was using at the time. The biggest problem I was having was the reed just wouldn’t vibrate after I had altered the gouge. He was having me use what he called “Vivaldi” alterations which would take a channel of cane off the centre portion of the gouge. The amount of cane taken off was up to .15 to .20 mm, and the reed would get so hard I had to practically cream the centre to get it to vibrate at all. I was at the point where I wasn’t sure if I could use these different gouges and get closer to a sound that was more what I wanted to get. What I found was a major switch in how I approached reed making in general.

Aside from wanting a reed to vibrate in all registers, I’ve always wanted something that makes it easier to sound the way you want to, and to give you the flexibility to alter the sonority to match the music and the vision you have for the piece you are playing. Some reeds seemed to be better than others in this respect. I remember playing some of Mr. Walt’s reeds, and some of David Carroll’s reeds, and they seemed so easy to play in all registers, and I had a hard time getting that kind of reed. Initially I thought I just had to become a better reed maker, and to some extent that was true, but the other component was the gouge. What I undertook was an experiment, and I started to take off less cane when I altered the gouge to see how much was optimal to getting some change in colour, but not reverting to the old generic and bland characteristics that my old reeds had.

Eventually I found that a simple minimum of .05 to .10 mm removed was best for me. This may be different for other players, but for me this was a revelation. It may be that for some styles less would be appropriate, but generally speaking this worked best. Additionally, I have used the Windsor Mill alteration in the tube. This helps the low register immensely as most bassoons are a little sharp there. Shapes were the last thing for me to change as not much was published about how this affects the reed. I had found the Knockenhauer shape to rigid pitch wise for my late 12000 Heckel, and I started toying with Fox #2, Baer, and eventually a Rieger #2 shape by Chiarugi. All this has made a reed that I’m happy with. This experience has reconfirmed to me that in reed making less can sometimes be more. If anyone has any questions how this might work for them, I would be more than happy to elaborate on this for their particular situation.

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