Pull-throughs, Water in finger-holes, Cleaning the Crook

Using a Bassoon pull-through (swab) for the tenor joint and butt joint

When you put your instrument away, carefully empty the moisture that might have collected in the U-bend on the butt joint by pouring it out through the narrower bore – not the wider one which is unlined wood and should never be exposed to moisture. The moisture that collects is mostly condensation – not saliva. Pour it out so that it runs down a line or rivulet that misses the tone holes (both the finger holes and the key holes). Then use a pull-through on the tenor and butt joints. These can be bought from woodwind supply shops. Cotton ones are best (silk isn’t as absorbent, but microfibre might be OK) ) and Fox make good ones. If you get one for the butt joint with a short piece of chain to negotiate through the U-bend, try replacing this with a small lead weight called an Arlesley bomb which you can pick up at a fishing tackle shop. Try and get a plastic coated one.

The received wisdom with pull-throughs is that you should start at the narrow end so that it can’t get stuck, but this only means that you’re pulling from the wetter to the drier. I always start at the wider end, but I am careful to tie a length of string to the trailing end so that, when, that one time in a hundred (just before an important concert), the cloth gets a knot in it, you can just pull it back. Horror stories of mishaps are legion.

If you do get your pull-through stuck, the first thing is DON’T PANIC. Don’t keep pulling; just sit down and read an article written by Fox bassoon’s Chip Owen if you can find it. I think the only place you can find this now is http://www.probirt.com/Articles/cat.asp?iCat=627&iChannel=2&nChannel=Articles&offset=20 but you have to log in to read it. Also, look at https://www.idrs.org/forums/topic/i-guess-it-was-finally-my-turn/ and https://www.idrs.org/forums/topic/help-swab-stuck-in-tenor-joint/. Then decide if you need to buy a ‘swab extractor’ (https://www.forrestsmusic.com/swabs.htm and https://www.forrestsmusic.com/images/pdfs/R-08.pdf) or head straight for your nearest repair man.

If, when you bought your instrument, it came with a couple of woolen swabs, throw them away. Wool does not absorb water, so you only end up just spreading the water around. Worse still, loose woolen fibres can get stuck in the grain of the wood and are very difficult to remove.

Water in finger holes (tone holes)

If you are plagued by water in the finger holes of your bassoon, try the following:
After a good long session, when there has been a lot of condensation, pull the tenor and butt joints through very thoroughly several times so that all trace of the rivulets that have formed is removed. Then, next time you play, stop after 20 or 30 minutes, before any rivulets have formed, take the instrument apart and drop the weight at the end of a pull-through down the bore to start a rivulet where it will miss the finger holes. Then, continue playing, being careful not to lay the instrument across your knee when resting. Try to keep it in its normal playing position. At the end of the session, do not clean out the bore, just leave it. Next time you play, with any luck, the rivulet will form in the same place. Then only use your pull-throughs every week or two and, if necessary, form a path for the rivulet as above. After a while, the joints should become ‘trained’ and ruined solos should be a thing of the past.

If the linings of the finger holes on your bassoon are extended into the bore of the instrument by a millimetre or so as they often are, you should not suffer from this problem too much but I do feel the manufacturers should be looking at solutions to this issue. Perhaps the finger hole linings could be coated with a water-repellent (hydrophobic) compound – something like Teflon.

There is a very good (and cheap) quick solution called a Bassoon-a-Ruta. It is simply a cork shaped piece of a soft rubbery substance with which you just block up the end of the bell joint, finger low B flat, suck through the reed and open the troublesome key or finger-hole. Hey Presto! The water is sucked back into the instrument. Problem solved. Everyone should keep one in their case.

These can be bought from Hodge products (https://hodgeproductsinc.com/bassoon-a-ruta/) who also sell them on ebay (search for Bassoon-a-ruta).

Once a year you should clean the finger holes on your bassoon. You can either use damp cotton buds or a special finger hole cleaning brush ( http://www.forrestsmusic.com/swabs.htm ). If you haven’t done this for a long time, I suggest you do one hole at a time and get used to the changes in the way the instrument behaves before moving on to the next hole.

Cleaning the crook

Every week (if you play quite a lot) or, let’s say, every 30 or so hours of playing, use a crook brush to clean out your bassoon crook (bocal). If you leave this job for a long time, the sudden change to the way the instrument plays can be quite off-putting. Use a brush with plastic coating on the wire. Never, ever, ever use a brush that will let metal come into contact with the inside of the crook. Any woodwind shop should have a selection. Be careful not to do any damage where the pin hole for the crook key extends into the bore of the crook. I usually start from the wider end, but do, please, be very careful not to get it stuck. Use it with warm slightly soapy water. Soaps will usually contain lanolins and other additives that might form a coating on the metal so be sure to rinse it very thoroughly. You can also get little silk pull-throughs to do the same job and they work fine. If the silver plating on your crook is looking a bit tarnished, just polish it up with a mild silver polish like ‘Silvo’.