Written by Alan Fox
During the 20th Century, the bassoon underwent a steady evolution in performance characteristics, responding to long-term trends in the pitch of orchestras as well as to the demands of larger concert halls and the varying tastes of performers and audiences throughout the world.
In an effort to provide instruments with maximum projection and flexibility, while meeting sophisticated standards for intonation, tone quality and resonance, we have reviewed (and in some cases, resurrected) many of the earlier methods, materials, and acoustical designs that are currently in use in professional orchestras. The results show up in four different woods employed in the manufacture of our instruments, each of which has been combined, experimentally, with most of the acoustical designs, the most interesting ones being offered as options to the appropriate models.
There are currently four acoustical variations in the design of Fox Bassoons. Each has a distinctive tone quality and each presents variations in the compromise between security and flexibility.
The oldest design is the "Long Bore." It is identified by a very warm "round" tone, evenly balanced, with excellent intonation throughout the entire range. It is the most secure design and its tone quality fits well into chamber music, as well as orchestral second bassoon parts. It is currently used to make Fox Models I, II, III and IV and Renard Models 220, 222, 41 and 51.
The most flexible design is the "Short Bore." It is characterized by a tone quality that is more "open" than the long bore. It is voiced to permit the performer to open up and "sing" in solo register and its tone quality lends itself to solo performance. Fox Models 101 and 201 and Renard Model 240 are "Short Bore" bassoons.
The demand for power by modern orchestras has prompted the designs of the two newest models. Both have thicker walls than their earlier counterparts, with longer, larger, more resonant tone holes. Their tone quality is bigger, yet slightly less concentrated than the short or long bore models. They are somewhat more work to play, but they deliver more power when pushed, yet easily handle soft attacks.
The Model 601 is the slightly longer version. It is slightly flatter and has a slightly warmer tone.
The Model 660 is slightly shorter, is pitched slightly higher and is a little more open. Both are designed to accommodate a wide range of mechanical options, with the player being encouraged to select those that are most appealing, including the type of wood.
Complimenting the designs are the four wood types:
- Mountain Maple from Europe is the most popular wood for professional models. It is of intermediate specific gravity and its warm tone quality places it comfortably in the middle of respected bassoon characteristics. Its main weakness is its relatively high cost, which limits its use to more expensive instruments. It is the standard for all of our professional models.
- Black Maple comes from North America, and derives its original reference in bassoon history to the experiments by Karl Almenrader in the early 1800's. It is heavier than Mountain Maple, resulting in stronger projection with slightly less flexibility. When combined with certain reeds and air columns, the tone quality can be quite lovely, and those who prefer it are usually first chair players.
- Red Maple is a cousin to Mountain Maple, having a slightly coarser grain, but similar performance characteristics. This is our newest wood to be used and it is proving to be a preferred wood among professional artists.
- Sugar Maple is the most durable of the woods. It was the primary choice of our earlier professional instruments, and it still is used in models that are popular with schools. Its tone quality is slightly brighter than the other woods, and it combines most favorably with the darker qualities of the long bore design. It has excellent projection but is somewhat less flexible than Mountain Maple.
Because of the many possible variations, and the difficulty in familiarizing oneself with all the options, we have selected specific woods that work well with each model. Where professional instruments are involved, however, we want you to be aware that these variations exist, and that we can usually arrange to have examples available to try at the factory, with some advanced notice.
A crucial part of the instrument, the bocal dominates the response, resistance and tone of the bassoon. It affects the overall pitch of the instrument as well as the relative intonation and it should be selected with the same care that one would use to acquire the instrument itself. Even a mediocre bassoon may have a reasonably good sound and scale if it is properly fitted with a good professional bocal.
The bocal length moderately affects the overall pitch of the instrument. It most strongly influences the middle and upper middle registers because the lower register is relatively fixed by the bore of the instrument, and the extreme upper register is dominated by its own flexibility. Fox bocals are made in lengths of 0, 1, 2, 3, .and 4 with 0 being the sharpest. Fox long and short bore models are normally tuned with a 3 *CTX* bocal. This includes Models I, II, III, IV, 220, 222, 41 and 51 (long) and models 101, 201 and 240 (short). Thick wall models (601 and 660) are normally tuned with a 3 *CTC*. When trying Fox bocals, it is best to start with a No.2. Changing bocal lengths is desirable when minute adjustments are desired for the sake of comfortably blending with other instruments. Changing bocal lengths will not help much when trying to change the pitch from A-442 to A-440. This will require changing reed designs, changing bocal bores, or changing instruments.
It is generally advisable to try a professional bocal on your instrument if it has wild notes in the middle register, or if the intonation or tone is not uniform in the middle or upper registers. It is also advisable to try a Fox bocal just to hear the improvement in the sound and freedom of blowing the instrument.
The C bore stresses resonance and clarity of sound. It is extremely smooth and uniform in tone with excellent slightly-flexible intonation. It has an abundance of middle and upper middle partials in the sound and its smoothness contributes nicely to chamber music and to instruments with non-uniform tone and intonation. It is made in brass with nickel plating.
The CV bore is the C bore with a variable wall thickness at some nodal points to reduce resistance. It is generally preferred by players using very soft reeds.
The *CVX* bore is similar in proportions to the C and CV bores, but it has more substance in the tone, and provides better control of the upper and middle registers. It has slightly less resistance in the high notes than the *CVC*, and is slightly more open in tone quality. It projects well, and particularly fits the design of the long and short bore bassoons.
The *CVC* bore stresses the fundamental tones of the instrument, providing a warmer and heavier tone that the *CVX*. It has slightly more resistance in the upper end, requiring more support when playing in the solo registers, but yields more fullness in the middle and lower registers than the CVX. It fits the design of the thick wall models, and is sometimes helpful in stabilizing wild notes in the older designs.
The introduction of the thinner wall "T" series bocals marks an improvement in flexibility that is very important to the comfort of our instruments when played with a wide variety of reeds. There may be a slight sacrifice in projection when compared to the *CVX* and *CVC* series, but it is usually worth the trade.
We now include *CTX* or *CVX* bocals with Models I, II, III, IV, 101, 201, 240 and 220 models and *CTC* or *CVC* with 601 and 660 models.
In many cases, particularly where harder and more resonant reed styles are employed, the *CTC* series bocals will fit the older models better than the *CTX*'s. The selection of bocals is very personal and we encourage our customers to try each of the bocal types on their Fox and Renard bassoons.
The Contrabassoon bocal is based on the principle of the C bore bassoon bocal. It is individually matched to the instrument with which it is sold.
Both *CVX*'s and *CVC*'s are made of nickel silver, with brass being an available option. Brass tends to soften the tone and increase flexibility at the expense of projection.
Both nickel and silver plating are available on these bocals. Silver plating tends to darken and soften the tone, while nickel plating brightens, increases resonance and adds to projection.