There is NO need for the key noise from your bassoon to distract an audience from the melody you are playing!  Learning how to oil your own bassoon’s keys will make your instrument quiet.  Like a car, with metal parts, oiling makes everything run smoother.  Like with many things for the bassoon, there is a lot of contradictory information about how often the keys should be oiled.  Do your own research, talk to your repairman, to decide how often to oil your keys.  I own a beautiful old Heckel with old keywork; I found that oiling the keys every 3 months with a heavy oil seems to work best for my bassoon.

To oil the keys properly, requires taking off all of the keys to lubricating them. By removing all they keys for the oiling process you also have the added benefit of time to inspect the pads and clean out the tone holes.  This allows you to learn your instrument well enough to anticipate any possible problems. It isn’t as hard as it seems, once you do it a few times it will become easy and go quicker.  Being knowledgeable about your specific instrument and how it goes together can be an asset in a backstage emergency.

Tools needed: Flat screw drivers the sizes required for your bassoon, a spring hook, toothless pliers, a cloth for polishing the keys, key oil (I use two types: a pivot screw grease and a lighter liquid oil for the rods) and tone hold cleaners (I use cotton swabs, toothpicks with paper towel wrapped on the ends, and reed making wire for the wing joint venting holes.  Some bassoonists recommend pipe cleaners, I do not, be VERY careful that whatever you use does not scratch the instrument!!!!)

The number one rule – make sure you put EVERYTHING back EXACTLY where you took it off!!!  Every screw wears for the location it is in and the function it performs so do not mix things up.

The step-by-step guide below will help make sure this goes smoothly:

This is an advanced maintenance technique. Consult with a bassoon teacher or bassoon repair specialist before attempting this yourself.
  1. Work on a large flat surface.  I always take my bassoon apart on the floor and sit on the floor when putting it back together so if I drop anything, it can’t roll far and I will most likely find it again.
  2. Only work on ONE joint at a time!!!  Until you get really confident with your ability to reassemble the instrument, only work on one joint (and one side of the joint for the boot joint) at a time.
  3. Start taking off keys and putting them to the left of your flat surface.  The keys will come off in a logical order.  If you can’t get a key off without removing another key, remove the blocking one first, put it to the left, then take off the next one and put it next in line.  Remove all the screws and rods too.  It is important to keep straight what goes where.  So I:
    1. My floor workspace has a grid idea.  I can work left to right or right to left and bottom to top or top to bottom.  For me, the top is the top of the joint I’m working on.  The bottom is the bottom of the joint I’m working on.  The left is the first key that came off and the last to go back on.  The right is the last key to come off and the first key to go back on.
    2. ALWAYS work from left to right.  The first key I take off goes the farthest to the left.  The second key, just right of the first, etc.  That way when I put the keys back on, I start at the right side of my key row and work left.  The keys need to go back on in the opposite order they came off: the first off is the last on.
    3. Pivot screws are position on my workspace in relation to where they are on the bassoon.  The pivot screw on a key that is closest to the top of the bassoon will be up above that key at the top of my work area.  The screw that is closest to the bottom of the bassoon is put at the bottom of its key, closest to me.
  4. After you have all they keys off of the joint, wipe all the excess oil from the keys and from the posts with a cloth.  Note that used oil has turned a dark color.  Wipe old oil from the screws and rods too.
  5. Clean each of the tone holes on the joint.  Make sure there is no fuzz or debris in them.  This is especially important for the vent holes on the wing joint.
  6. Polish the keys with a cloth made for silver.
  7. To reassemble, start with the key furthest to the right, the last key taken off.  Find where it goes on the bassoon.  Use pivot screw grease on each of the posts, where the screw will go in, at the top of the post.
  8. Put grease on both ends of the key.
  9. Try and place the spring for the key in the correct place (there is a lip on the key indicating the direction of the spring) when placing the key between the posts.
  10. Put the key on the bassoon.  ALWAYS turn a quarter in the opposite direction until the tread of the screw catches!!!!!  Then, once the thread of the screw is in align with the tread on the post, screw it in.  Do NOT force things to go in if they are resisting!!!  If you have the correct key for the correct place on the bassoon, the key should go in easily.
  11. If the spring has not stayed in place while putting the key back on, use the spring hook to gently move the spring to the correct place on the key.
  12. Continue on with the next key in the same fashion until the bassoon is assembled.

IMPORTANT NOTE!!!!  When taking all the keys off the boot joint you will notice that there are three rods that go through the bassoon.  It is imperative that you do not mix up these rods, they are all slightly different lengths.  Keeping them in the bassoon as you work on it is a BAD idea as you will most likely rotate the instrument at some point to get a better angle and the rods will fall out.  A better solution is to take the rods out and place them in marked plastic bags: “top” “middle” “bottom”.  Then only when you are finishing the second side of the boot joint and a rod is warranted for the key you are putting back on do you take the rod out of the bag, put the light liquid oil on it, and put it back in the bassoon.