Bassoon Care series: Swabs and caring for wood

In the next coming weeks I'll be offering some basic care tips for bassoonists. Following some basic care procedures can greatly enhance the look of your instrument and improve the performance of your bassoon between regular visits to your repair technician.

Swabbing your instrument after every playing session (or within a longer playing session) is the single most important thing you can do to keep your instrument in good playing condition. Excess moisture in the instrument while being stored can lead to water problems while playing, damaged pads, and extensive damage to the wood. Swabbing your instrument isn't a difficult task, but it has to be done properly to ensure the process is doing what it's supposed to do, and doesn't result in inadvertent damage.

You may find in older instruments, and with some lesser brands, that the instruments will have a stick-like swabbing device, sometimes covered in a cloth, sometimes covered in a fuzzy, feather-duster like material. The best use for these swabs is as padding for your trash bin. At best these do a poor job of removing moisture. At worst these, especially the fuzzy ones can leave debris in the bore or in some tone holes, which can cause water to build up in specific places and cause acoustic or maintenance problems. Pull through swabs are available in cotton, silk, or microfiber materials, and in a variety of colors. Whichever kind of swab you choose, be sure to swab your instrument out after every playing session.

After an especially long playing session, or a session in a colder room, I will often need to dump excess water out of my boot joint. Always pour water out of the smaller side of your boot joint. To prevent moisture from getting where it shouldn't get, swab your boot joint from the larger side to the smaller side. On most bassoons the larger side of the boot joint is mostly unlined wood, so you want to keep water away from that part of the boot. The smaller side is going to be lined with plastic or rubber to protect the wood from water. If you use the same swab for both the wing and boot joint, swab the boot joint first so you don't run a wet swab through the unlined side of the boot joint! Swab your wing joint from large side to small side - but always check your swab for knots before swabbing the wing joint. A knotted swab could get stuck, resulting in a costly repair bill.

Never try to pull a stuck swab through your wing joint. See a repair technician immediately!!!

Swabbing a boot joint can be a bit of a trick if you aren't used to it. Here's a video showing how I manage the curve of a boot joint U-tube using one of our most popular swabs.

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