What Are Double Reed Instruments?

What Are Double Reed Instruments?

If you’ve been browsing the web for an oboe or bassoon for your child, chances are you’ve seen the term “double reed” used to describe them. Unless you play a wind instrument yourself or are very familiar with the instruments, this term is likely foreign to you. Unique within the family of wind instruments, double reed instruments feature reeds with two pieces of cane that vibrate against each other when a musician blows against them. As you’ve probably guessed, single reed instruments use only one piece of cane to produce sound. The term “double reed” also refers to collectively to the class of instruments which use double reeds.

Which Instruments Feature Double Reeds?

Within the family of double reeds are a variety of different instruments, each with their own distinct sound and characteristics. Generally, the instruments that fall into the double reed family include the bassoon, oboe, and English horn. Unless you already know which instrument you’d like to purchase, it’s important to have an idea of what sound or style you’re looking for before you purchase a double reed instrument. The bassoon produces a warm, dark sound while the oboe has a higher pitch and easily stands out in larger ensembles. While the English horn is similar to the oboe, it offers a slightly more dreamy tone.

Fox Renard Model 333 Protege Oboe Standard The Model 333 is Fox’s least expensive oboe. Fox doesn’t make any “cheap” oboes. This instrument is ideal for developing a student through middle school, into and even through high school. It has every key the student will need to develop on the instrument, and sounds and plays at a level that will thrill the student and his or her director. Learn More

How Are Double Reed Instruments Made?

Over time, many variations of design and construction methods for double reed instruments have been developed. Although most musicians prefer purchasing ready-made reeds, some purchase them in various stages of formation, including part-scraped reeds and reed blanks. Still others prefer to purchase the staples and cane separately. Cane is sold in several different forms, including in tubes, gouged, gouged and shaped, or gouged, shaped, and profiled. Although cane from southern France is the traditional choice, cane from several different regions can be used in reed construction. There are also many choices when it comes to staples and shaping equipment, which can have a subtle effect on the tone of the reed.

Fox Renard Model 240 Bassoon Standard The Renard Artist Model 240 Bassoon is the ultimate advanced student bassoon. It features all of the mechanical extras that any advanced student might need, including a high E key, and a whisper key lock. The short bore design provides the tone, flexibility and resonance that would otherwise be found only in professional models. Learn More

Does Construction Material Matter?

A double reed instrument will bring a charmingly distinct sound to any ensemble or orchestra, but the exact sound will vary depending on the material used during construction. Double reed instruments made mostly from plastic are durable and easier to care for, making them an ideal choice for younger children or for those who may be more on the careless side, but don’t produce as warm a sound as double reed instruments constructed from wood. Although wooden double reed instruments produce a sound that’s more representative of the instrument, they require more maintenance than their plastic counterparts. In order to keep your double reed instrument in tip-top shape, proper care and maintenance is required.

Buffet Crampon Model 4052 Intermediate Oboe Standard The BC4052 is the intermediate oboe designed for advanced students to prepare them for the professional models. Made of grenadilla wood, the bore design is based on the professional oboe. It is lined with a luracast coating (an epoxy resin) to resist cracking. Learn More

How is a Double Reed Instrument Maintained?

While you should have your instrument professionally serviced every year or two, depending on how often it’s  used, there are several things you can do to help prolong its life. First, take some time to learn how the instrument works. Speak with your child’s music teacher and learn about what designates an emergency trip to an instrument repair store and which issues can be fixed on your own. If you’d like to add years to your double reed instrument, here are some basic care and maintenance tips:

  • Wipe the keys with a cleaning cloth everyday,
  • Keep the wood (or plastic) free from dust,
  • Check the adjustment on a monthly basis,
  • Oil the mechanism every few months. To do so, take a needle oiler and put a small drop of sewing machine oil at every joint along the mechanism- just be careful to avoid getting any oil on the pads.
  • Take the instrument apart at least twice a year; clean everything, oil it, and put it back together. 
GEM Swabs Silk Double Reed Swabs This 100% silk swab is one of the best swabs available. Very absorbent, this swab features a tapered cut to limit the chance of getting stuck in the instrument. Select from oboe or bassoon swabs. Learn More

Why Are Double Reed Instruments So Expensive?

Even the cheapest double reed instrument will cost well over $1,000. Since oboes, bassoons, and English horns sell much more slowly than guitars or drum sets, even the benefits of mass production are minimized. When you spend more, you get more- but what exactly do you get when you purchase a double reed instrument? Essentially, you’re getting quality construction, additional keywork, and refinement of tone. As previously mentioned, the best double reed instruments are constructed of wood, particularly Grenadilla wood, and popular brands include Yamaha and Buffet Crampon. And, don’t forget the case- since double reed instruments are such an investment, you’ll want to take every precaution to keep it safe from harm.

Yamaha YOB-441 Series Intermediate Oboe An innovative concept in oboe design, the the Yamaha YOB-441P combines the best of features of both other models for an oboe with rich warm granadilla tone, yet which is highly resistant to cracking. The lower joint and bell are of the same select quality grenadilla as the 441, but the upper joint is made of matte finish ABS resin for crack-proof durability. Learn More


Want to learn more? Check out our Beginner’s Guide to Woodwind Instruments.

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