Chad’s Bassoon Repair Blog

Stuck bassoon swabs & Swabs in general-What to do & what to look for

Well folks for my first posting I think this is great topic to talk about as it is going to happen to each and every one of us at some given time. Yes, it has even happened to me too!!

A couple weeks ago I had a customer call me asking me if he could make an emergency appointment to come down from Wisconsin as one of his students got his swab stuck in the bassoon. I was already very busy in preparing instruments to take to IDRS but I know this customer had no other options. I willingly agreed to see him and help him out.

Under most circumstances I would normally think a students horn is probably going to be a Renard, a plastic Fox of varying sorts, or a Moosmann. When I opened the case it was an 11,000 series Heckel-protruding watertubes in the fingerholes, the whole nine yards, and there was a silk swab really jammed in the wing. To say i was feeling a little unsettled for multiple reasons is an understatement!! When a stuck swab of this severity comes about, I have to say that there is no really safe way to get them out. It always involves either using a coarse threaded tool of a sort to try and pull it from the bottom or utilizing strongly forced pushing pressure on a rounded tipped rod from the top. With the threaded rod you risk scratching the bore, with a push rod you risk damaging a watertube. Either way the bottom line its either take the risk with either two and have a functioning bassoon, or a bassoon that is simply not usable. I choose the push rod and was able to safely remove the swab with no detriment to the instrument. Upon inspection of the stuck swab, i found a huge knot in the top of the swab itself that caused the swab to bind in the wing bore. My guess is that the player wasn’t paying attention just ran the pull chain down the bore and tried to pull it through. Since silk swabs are considered more “goof proof” he probably figured it was just caught on a tube and continued to try to pull it through even further causing it to jam. Lesson Learned!!

Swabbing a bassoon should be done with just as much care and thought as carrying a very full glass of water-Be thoughtful and thorough  in undertaking the process. Here are some thoughts to consider-

  1. Always make sure when you unravel your swab that the swab itself has no knots in it that it isnt tangled or somewhat raveled up still. This is a surefire recipe for getting a swab stuck.
  2. ALWAYS swab the boot first and only pull the swab through once. By pulling it through the wing or the boot more than once your defeating the purpose of swabbing the boot as the moisture absorbed onto the swab will wich and absorb back into the unlined side of the boot bore and gradually start wood rot to the boot joint.
  3. Silk swabs ARE NOT goof proof. As you have learned they too can get stuck and should be used with just as much care as the linen swabs.
  4. With linen swabs make sure that you do not try to pull the boot swab down the wing. It will get stuck since it is cut thicker and fuller to accomodate the larger bore of the boot joint.
  5. If you feel the swab starting to bind STOP PULLING!! trying to pull harder is only lining yourself up for disaster. Alot of swabs today have a pull cord on the opposing side of the swab your better off pulling it out and double checking your swab. If yours doesn’t, a general music store tech should be able to easily push it out with a dowel rod or gently remove it with a screw swab extractor.
  6. If the swab does get stuck, DO NOT panic and most importantly, DO NOT try to pull it yourself. You can easily damage your bassoon if you make knee-jerk decisions because your panicking, and do something to permanently render your bassoon useless. Chip Owen at Fox told me how a dad went in with a long drill bit on his cordless drill because the child got a swab stuck attempted to extract the swab the bit was pushed off center by a water tube and drilled a huge hole into the bore of the wing!!! The wing had to be completely replaced, cost thousands more dollars to repair than if they would’ve visited a knowledgeable technician and had it removed properly.

As far as swabs I recommend-I have been using the silk bassoon swabs from Ann Hodge for over 20 years as they are cut well, very absorbent, and relatively inexpensive. I generally replace mine every couple years since they do stretch, and get thin. For the cost, longevity and effectiveness, I think they are great.

If we all take a little bit of time and care to effectively swab our horns, and make sure all the little cautious details are dealt with before we do this simple task, we will easily be helping our bassoons last longer, and give us less headaches overall. As Ben Franklin used to say-“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”