I am puzzled as to the meaning of "intonation" relative to the bassoon.
In relation to Fox bassoons I have read the term "intonation guarantee". Someone has posted that with a Fox he can "fire ... and forget". Catalog ads for Foxes say "Intonation - A-440 plus or minus one cent, covering all notes. (Measured at 72 degrees F.)"
Yet elsewhere I read that certain specified notes have a tendency to be sharp while others have a tendency to be flat. Further I read that bassoonists automatically make adjustments for these tendencies.
I thought that intonation referred to producing tones at the proper pitches (absolutely and in relation to other pitches). Have I been mistaken? Or has improvement in Foxes rendered the other statements obsolete?
A related question: how does the bassoon compare to other woodwinds in regard to intonation? I have read that the bassoon has more intonation problems than any other woodwind. But Fox seems to have solved this problem.
Other than Heckels, which are beyond the budgets of mortal men, Fox is the only brand that seems to be approved by everyone. Is it because of their intonation?
The term intonation has the same two meanings for bassoons as any other instruments - 1.the basic pitch (eg A=440) or 2. discrepancies between notes within the instrument.
Bassons are generally more random with type 2 intonation & there are tendencies on mvarious notes around all the makes - from Heckel down to the cheapest, nastiest of the Chinese monstrosities. The player's embouchure, breath support, reed & bocal all play a part in how well these are overcome - not to mention the sensitivity of the player's ears to any variations.
Fox & Heckel are only two of the best made brands of bassoon with Puchner, Bell, Moosmann, Yamaha & Leitzinger in the same league. Ignoring the prices it's a case of what suits the player best - not every one will automatically choose a Heckel but many actually prefer the sound & response of others. Thye all have their little quirks.
I would add to that very good statement of Contra's above, that intonation problems are not completely solved by a particular instrument being very good or otherwise; it is listening and adjusting to the others in your group to make sure you are exactly in tune. The oboe might be sharp in the quintet today; you need to try to adjust if he can't. You do that on the bassoon with alternate fingerings and embouchure changes.
Thanks, Contra and Drew. With your comments and some more reading and cogitation of my own, I have come to think that the term "intonation" encompasses all of the following: how easy it is to tune the tuning note; the instrument's tendency to deviate from that pitch; tendency to deviate from an even scale (relative intonation); ease or difficulty of varying pitches to blend with the other members of an ensemble; ease or difficulty of varying pitches for reasons of artistic expression.
In the Fox Company's advertising some bassoons and some bocals are described as giving "flexible" intonation, suitable for, say, first-chair performance, while other are described as giving "stable" intonation, suitable for, say, second-chair performance or less-experienced players. I suppose that negative spins on these terms would be, respectively, "unstable" (meaning "requiring more skill to control") and "inflexible" (meaning "requiring more effort to vary on purpose").
(By the way, when I said that only Heckel and Fox seemed to be approved by everyone, I did not mean that all others were universally rejected. I meant that the other brands got mixed reviews. For example, one person says that Selmer makes a fair beginner bassoon, while someone else includes Selmer on his list of junk. One person raves about Takeda, while another is not familiar with it but suspects it is no good. And so on, and so on.)
Back to the subject of intonation... It seems plausible to me that one of the factors contributing to the bassoon's random tendencies is the configuration of the tone holes, that is, their locations, lengths and obliqueness relative to the bore. Why don't bassoon makers take their cue from the saxophones, the larger clarinets and even the larger flutes and place the tone holes where they would make more sense acoustically and cover them with pads controlled with finger keys placed where they would be convenient?
Could it be that 200 years from now the bassoons of today will be considered "early bassoons" as opposed to "modern bassoons"? What do you think about the development of the bassoon? Is it fairly complete or does it have a long way to go?
The bassoon world is a strangely conservative one and innovations are not easily accepted. Having said that, I reckon most other instrument players and makers could say the same thing. Except for maybe saxes!
Most makers keep tinkering with small aspects of the design with varying results - even the top ones come out with ideas that don't work well. One of the German makers decided to move the low D tonehole (closed by the C key) lower down the bass joint to lower the pitch however it was soon moved back as the move adversely affected many higher notes. Everything - tone hole placement & size, pad opening - affects more than the specific prinsipal note it vents. It is all compromise.
Perhaps the most radical experiment has been Giles Brindley's (now he's an interesting guy! Look him up on Wikidepia) logical bassoon from the early 1960s. This was a scheme to simultaneously simplify the fingering & improve the sound of problem notes. It used complex electrical circuitry as an interface between the touchpieces (or spatulas in American) & holes - there were no holes directly closed by the fingers.
Less radical is the Weissberg bassoon which automatically selects which 'flick' key to open. The problems are the extra cost (it adds $$ by a few thousand) & the added complexity of the mechanism which has numerous links between the various joints - very easily damaged.
Why don't bassoon makers take their cue from the saxophones, the larger clarinets and even the larger flutes and place the tone holes where they would make more sense acoustically and cover them with pads controlled with finger keys placed where they would be convenient?
According to Walter Piston's Orchestration, it's because you would inevitably lose all that is distinctive (and valued) about a bassoon's basic timbre.
How about lengthening the tenor joint enough to include the octave vent hole that is now in the bocal? Then the bocal (sans hole) could be pushed in or pulled out for tuning. One maker (Schreiber?) now has an oval pad to cover that hole, which allows for some leeway in inserting the bocal.