The bassoon is a woodwind instrument from the double-reed family. The instrument came to be in its modern form in the 1800s. The bassoon is used for music in the bass and tenor ranges. It is often featured in orchestra, band and chamber music.
There are many choices when looking to buy a new bassoon, from a wide range of quality levels and prices. We reviewed bassoons for the professional, intermediate, and beginner.
A big THANK YOU to my local music store, Mehas Music, where I once took lessons myself. Being familiar with this store, I knew that they offered woodwind and other band instruments. They give lessons and provide instruments for music programs in local schools.
Why Choose The Bassoon?
The bassoon is a remarkably versatile instrument. It’s not just for classical music. It has become increasingly popular for jazz and even blues groups. The tone of the bassoon is dark and warm.
It can be described as sounding like a male, baritone voice. It can be used as a solo instrument, to produce bass lines or with a group of other bassoons or instruments.
Even casual music lovers recognize the Bassoon as the “voice,” of the “Grandfather’s Theme,” in “Peter and the Wolf.” The bassoon produces a sound that works well for melodies or comedic staccato effects.
You may have also noticed the bassoon in the “Leave it to Beaver,” theme song or from Smokey Robinson’s “Tears of a Clown.” The bassoon can be both beautiful and quirky.
Choosing the right instrument for you is, of course, a very subjective thing. In the end, you must choose an instrument that speaks to you. Here are a few videos of bassoonists in action. If you are new to the instrument, this will give you an idea of the sound possibilities the bassoon has to offer.
- Three Bassoons
- Solo Performance
The Best Bassoon Brands
Choosing the right brand is the first step in selecting the right bassoon for you. Picking a bassoon from a well-known brand increases your odds of selecting a high-quality instrument. Here are some of the top brands in the industry.
Heckel is a name that is practically synonymous with the bassoon. This German manufacturer is by far the most popular with professional players. As previously discussed, Heckel was founded by Johann Heckel and Carl Almenraede in the 19th century.
They created the modern form of the bassoon and still produce quality instruments to this day. The company uses only the highest-quality materials and makes each instrument by hand. This is as good as it gets, but it does come at a high cost. The high price of Heckel instruments may be cost prohibitive for most musicians.
This company is probably the most well-known in the United States. They also make instruments that are of the highest quality. One thing that makes them more accessible is that they also produce beginner to intermediate-level instruments.
You can purchase a Fox bassoon that is as expensive as a Heckel, or find something for the student at a more reasonable cost. The company was founded in 1919 and is located in Indiana.
The W. Schreiber company is another German manufacturer that actually started in France in 1803. They provide good-quality bassoons in a range of prices for students to advanced players.
This company is a woodwind-instrument manufacturer in the Czech Republic. They have a good reputation for producing fine instruments in a low-to-medium price range. Amati has been in business since the 19th century.
The Conn & Selmer company is an American manufacturer of fine musical instruments. They offer some great beginner bassoons that are affordable and well made.
The current headquarters is in Indiana. The company owns a lot of brands such as Vincent Bach, Emerson, Ludwig and The Steinway Piano Company.
This company is yet another German maker of woodwind instruments. Püchner has been in business since 1897 and makes quality bassoons in a range of prices.
Yamaha is a Japanese company that has been making instruments since 1887. They make almost every type of instrument including keyboards, electric and acoustic guitars, brass, woodwinds, drums and sound equipment.
They only have a couple of bassoon models, but they are great quality instruments.
Allora bassoons are manufactured in China. The quality of materials is not the best and they are mass-produced instruments. They do, however, make very solid instruments for a lower price point. They are a decent budget buy for the new student.
Moosmann bassoons are hand crafted by Bernd Moosmann in Waiblingen, Germany. These bassoons are made from the best woods and are suitable for the professional musician.
Buying a Bassoon
Buying a bassoon is a major purchase. Bassoons are not cheap instruments. Even a student model will cost a few thousand dollars. If you are new to the instrument, chances are you will have a teacher or instructor.
It is always a good idea to get their advice on what model may be best for you. If you can have a teacher or experienced musician go with you to make your purchase, they can help you to make a good choice.
Check with the retailer about their return policies. You will want to make an easy return or exchange if you find something wrong with the instrument after you get it home. This is especially true if you make your purchase online.
The best bassoons are usually made of maple wood. Maple has the right density and properties for a solid instrument with the right tone.
There are budget models that are made with various types of plastic. These will lack the professional-quality tones of a maple bassoon, but they can be very solid instruments. They are perfectly suitable as a first bassoon for the new player.
Bassoons have more key-work variations than other woodwind instruments. Try to keep things simple if this is your first bassoon. There are many functions that will benefit a professional player that are just unnecessary for the beginner.
One exception is a body lock. If you buy a plastic bassoon or beginner model, a body lock is a good feature to have. The lock holds pieces of the bassoon together that otherwise may shift around. This is not necessary for the pricier models, as the tolerances of how the parts fit together are very precise.
If you have smaller hands, you might consider picking a model with a plateau key instead of a ring key at the third finger hole. A plateau key reduces the stretch you will need to accomplish to cover the hole.
Many models come with an extra high D key. This has increasingly become something considered necessary as opposed to being thought of as an extra. Try to select a model with this extra key if possible.
Buying Versus Renting
One of the first questions you should ask yourself is, “should I be buying a bassoon at all?” This may seem like a strange question to ask, but there are other options.
If you are starting to play in a school ensemble, they may very well have bassoons available. As a student, you can certainly take advantage of this while you learn.
Another option is renting a bassoon. If your school does not already have an instrument available, or if you are learning outside of school, this may be your best option. Because of the high cost of bassoons, there are many music stores that have rental programs.
A third option is rent-to-own. If you are an intermediate player, this can be a good deal. It allows you to make payments as you go while still allowing you to use the instrument.
For the advanced player who is maybe playing in college or with a professional ensemble, you will want to own a pro model eventually. This is the time when buying really is the route to take.
Price Versus Value
The price versus value debate is something of a controversy for all musicians, regardless of their instrument of choice. The debate starts with the new musician’s choice. The question is, should you purchase a budget instrument to begin with?
This seems like a good idea at first thought. A cheap instrument makes sense when a player may change their mind or decide that it is not for them after all.
The problem with this line of thought is that many an aspiring musician has become discouraged by trying to learn on a poorly-made instrument. If the instrument sounds bad and is hard to play, this can lead to the student giving up.
I do not personally believe that this debate should affect the aspiring bassoonist as much as it does other musicians. The cost of the bassoon is very high, even for the beginner models.
Consequently, the quality of beginner models is very high for most brands available today. There are even many Chinese manufacturers making quality plastic bassoons for the beginner. Even these are very playable and solidly built.
For the intermediate and advanced players, there is still a question of cost versus value. A model that costs $10,000 more may be a lot better, but is it better enough to justify the difference in cost?
Is the difference so noticeable to the sound or playability that it warrants that much more of your hard-earned money? There is definitely a point where the benefits do not outweigh the increased cost, but this point will be different for every musician.
This is something that we kept in mind when picking the best bassoons for our list. If you are a professional, you very well may need the best that money can buy. It is also worth your time to check out used models. Buying a used instrument can save you a lot of money.
Our Pick For Best Overall Bassoon:
This Professional level model wins the top spot for quality of materials, beautiful fit and finish, great tone and overall value.
The workmanship is top notch and the model comes highly recommended in numerous online reviews. There are a few models that are technically better when it comes to quality. The 601 wins out because it is comparable to those models, but at a much cheaper price. The value is hard to beat.
The wood is select, aged Red Maple from Yugoslavia. The flame patterns of the maple give the instrument a beautiful appearance. This is highlighted by an oil varnish in either light mahogany or ebony.
The quality of the wood is not only for looks. It gives the bassoon it’s great tonal properties. The keys and hinges are all nickel-silver with heavy silver plating. This gives them a sharp look and increases the longevity of these moving parts.
This model was the first offered by Fox with thicker walls and larger tone holes. It also has extra length in the wing and bass joints for greater depth and sound in the lower register. These features create a loud, dark tone that is perfect for solos or orchestral musicians.
The model 601 has the full German system. It also has the optional high D and high E keys for greater musical range.
This model has a right-hand whisper key lock. There are rollers for the left little finger E♭ and D♭, as well as the right little finger F and A♭. The bassoon also comes with a premium case. The case has both shoulder and backpack-styled straps for easy transport.
It also comes with two high-quality reeds, so you are ready to play. Additional items include a care cloth and micro-fiber swabs for the boot and wing.
Runner Up: Heckel Model 41i Bassoon
Making this model the runner up may be a controversial choice. Many advanced players will no doubt wonder why the Heckel is not number one on our list. You are more likely to see world-class, professional musicians using a Heckel than any other type of Bassoon.
It likely is the best-quality bassoon that you can buy. It arguably has the best tone, the highest quality materials and the best craftsmanship. It falls to number two because of cost and availability.
This model can cost $50,000.00 or more depending on the options you choose. This makes it significantly more expensive than our number one choice. It is also hard to obtain one. You can buy the Fox 601 at any music store or online.
To get a Heckel, you must add your name to a waiting list. There is often a two-year wait. I have even heard of musicians waiting up to six years. This takes the Heckel off the table as a viable option for many bassoonists.
These are all custom built by hand and the woods used are aged for optimum tonal properties. The customization is a big sell for the professional musician who knows what he or she wants.
More Choices For the Advanced Player:
This is another thick-walled bassoon that shares a lot of the same features as the Fox 601. The thick walls make for a stable instrument with good volume.
The quality of materials is almost equal to those found on the 601. The 660 offers the full German system with the added high D and E keys for added range. This model is shorter than the 601 and has a more open tonal quality.
The only negatives here are the high cost and the tonal differences, which are unique, but may not be for everyone.
This model is legendary among Fox Bassoons, a modern version of their original model. It also features the same quality woods, build and silver keys. It features the extra high D and E keys as well.
The Model II has rollers on the F, Ab and Db keys. Like most Fox models, it comes with a deluxe carrying case to make transporting the bassoon easy.
Unlike the other Fox models we’ve discussed, this does not have their signature thick walls. This may be thought of as a negative, but some bassoonists actually prefer the more standard thickness.
The Yamaha 812 starts around $20,700.00. There is also a compact version of the same model for just over $26,000.00. The body is made of long-aged maple for a rich tone. The key work is made of nickel-silver with a heavy silver plating.
The bodies are mass produced, but the key work is all done by hand. It features trill keys from F-G and E-F#. It also has the extra high D key and six roller keys. Yamaha took great care with the key placement on this model to make it ergonomic for players with any size hands.
Choices For Intermediate Players:
This model costs just under $9,000.00 and can also be viewed on Musician’s Friend. This is a short-bore model in the key of C. It has the full German system and extra D and E keys for musical versatility.
The bassoon features a body lock to keep all parts firmly in place as the instrument is played. It has a flexible design that can be used as high as A-443. This makes it good for a wide variety of music. It also has Rollers on the F, Ab, Eb, and Db keys.
The S31 costs around $11,300.00. It features rubber tone-hole linings to prevent moisture from getting inside.
This bassoon has a full range of 25 keys including the extra D and E keys. The body is made of alpine maple, and lacks the tonal properties of some of the pricier models.
This model costs around $9,700.00. It can also be viewed on Musician’s Friend. This model is of the same quality level as the S31.
It features the same full German system and 25 keys. The main difference is that this model is tuned for the key of C. This makes it good for intermediate players in a school ensemble, but it lacks the deeper, warm tones of other choices.
For the Beginner:
This beginner bassoon costs around $4,570.00 and is available on Amazon and Musician’s Friend. It features the full German system. It is in the key of C and has a high C key, but lacks the popular high E and D keys of other models.
The body is made out of resonite. This is a type of plastic that is commonly used in cheaper woodwind instruments. It will not sound as good as a maple wood model. It is, however, a sturdy material that will stand up to abuse or accidents.
It features the full Heckel system, a high D note and F# and G# trill keys. It is made of a durable ABS plastic. This provides a solid instrument well-suited for young players.
Fox has great-quality models at every price point. The Model 41 costs around $5,000.00. It can be purchased on Musician’s Friend.
It’s a bit more expensive than the other beginner models, but has a noticeable rise in quality over them. he body is made of polypropylene. This is a sturdy plastic that will resist any damage if dropped.
It has a nice tone that is comparable to intermediate maple instruments. This bassoon is in the key of C and features the full German Heckel system.
A History Of The Bassoon
The bassoon evolved from a 16th century instrument known as a curtal. In Spain, it was known as the bajon. In Italy, it was called the fagotto. The curtal was called a basson in French and a dulcian or fagott in the German tongue. The origins of this forerunner are obscure, but it shares many characteristics with the modern bassoon. Both instruments have a double reed. They both have conical bores that double back on themselves. They each have obliquely drilled tone holes.
In the 17th century, the instrument continued to evolve. It came in five different sizes ranging from 15 inches to just under 5 feet. Eventually, French instrument makers changed the one-piece curtal into a 4-piece instrument. The instrument gained in popularity in the 1600s after an English ban on church organs. In the 18th century, more solo music and orchestra arrangements were written with the instrument in mind. This further increased its popularity.
Somewhere between the 18th to 19th centuries, the bassoon began to take shape in its modern form. Some of the most important developments were made by Carl Almenraede around 1825. This German bassoonist and instrument maker opened a shop with Johann Heckel, another famous creator.
The company they founded is still around today under the name Wilhelm Heckel GmbH. It is still considered the premier maker of bassoons. Wilhelm Heckel GmbH is responsible for the Heckel Bassoon system. This system features 17 keys over 4 octaves. The Heckel system quickly replaced the earlier Buffet or French system.
It is still the most common type of bassoon today, though Buffet bassoons are still made and played. The Buffet system has 22 keys within a similar octave range.As the need for volume became an issue with concert and hall music, the bassoon fit this need and continued to rise in popularity. In modern times, the bassoon has succeeded outside of classical music.
You will still certainly see it in orchestra and band music, but it can be heard in popular music as well. The tones produced by a bassoon make it well-suited for use in jazz. You can even hear the bassoon in numerous jingles, radio hits and TV or movie themes.