This article is intended as a guide to selecting a Renard bassoon. Only the maple bodied models are discussed here. The plastic models deserve a separate discussion.
Renard bassoons span the range from basic beginner instruments to advanced student quality. Depending on the model, they can be found in use everywhere from middle schools to professional orchestras. In between they are ideal instruments for students in need of a better instrument than their school can provide, or adult amateurs that want a quality instrument at a lower cost than a professional model.
The models under discussion include the Renard model 222, the Renard Artist model 220, and the Renard Artist model 240. Each has its own unique qualities. Each was created to benefit specific market segments and to respond to different needs. Each was uniquely made to optimize its qualities as they benefit each market segment.
The difference between a school instrument and a student instrument.
The difference between bassoons appropriate for schools and bassoons appropriate for students is significant. They each have different needs and demands imposed on them. While there can be a considerable overlap in what they offer, it is the differences beyond that overlap that are important to understand.
School bassoons are used in educational situations where the instrument itself never graduates. For instance, a bassoon ideal for use in a middle school or junior high school would not be used in the high school of the same school system. It was created and selected for the needs of the lower level school and was not intended for use in the higher level school. The needs are different.
Beginning players all have a common problem: They don't know what's wrong when things don't work right. When a note doesn't play the young student cannot know whether the problem originates from the student or the bassoon. Any instrument provided for use by a beginner must be dependable. Durability is essential.
Younger players also share another common problem: Small hands. Bassoons are big instruments. For young players with small hands they can be too big, unless they are made to accommodate small hands. School instruments can be made for that.
Next, a school instrument for younger students should be basic. The student is already sufficiently baffled by the strange instrument. The instrument should not provide any more confusion then necessary. Avoid anything unnecessary. Keep the keywork simple.
As the grade level and the experience level of the players advance these limitations lose importance. Bassoons for use in schools need to be appropriate for the students using them.
Student bassoons have a different problem. Unlike school bassoons, students do advance. As they advance their instruments must not limit the student's development. It must always be more of a bassoon than the student's ability needs, up until an advanced student's abilities justify a professional instrument.
Student bassoons are likely to be owned by the student, rather than by the school. Students should consider owning their own instruments when the instruments offered by the school are not adequate to the students development. This can be because the student is demonstrating outstanding potential, or it might be because the school owned instruments are of poor quality or poorly maintained.
Renard Model 222 Bassoon
This model is the lowest priced of the three models under discussion. It is primarily intended as a school instrument. Adding optional keywork can extend its usefulness into high school. It’s not really intended or ideal as a personal instrument.
The body is made from sugar maple. Schools are hazardous environments for instruments. Sugar maple is the best choice among maples for surviving in this environment. Musically sugar maple is stiff. It does not play with the flexibility that would be essential for a professional quality instrument. However, in a school instrument that stiffness becomes an asset for students who have not yet learned control.
The keywork is basic. It does not include a high D key, which is an available option. It normally comes with a plateau key, which is a significant benefit for young players with small hands. A ring key is available as an option replacing the plateau key. A couple other options worth consideration include the B( guard and a right hand whisper key lock.
In its basic format the 222 is a good instrument for middle school. Players at this level do not need the high D key and the plateau will be better at this age than a ring key. When used in a high school the optional high D key will be desirable.
The 222 is often perceived as a lower cost version of a higher level model. It’s not. The idea that adding the available options would elevate it to a higher level is not valid. Adding options can't do that. It’s the body construction that dominates the difference and that cannot be changed by adding options. The Renard model 222 is better considered as a school instrument than a student instrument.
Renard Artist Model 220 Bassoon
This model bridges the differences between a school instrument and a student instrument. It is a step-up student model while also being a higher quality school bassoon. It can be an excellent choice for a personal instrument for a student seeking a better instrument than the school can provide. It can also be a good choice for a school seeking a high quality bassoon at a moderate price.
The body is made of black maple. (That's the variety of maple, not the color of the finish on the bassoon.) Black maple is a hard maple which provides good durability. It has a richer voice than sugar maple. Black maple is more difficult to obtain than other maples as there is no commercial lumber market in this variety. To use black maple we must seek out the standing timber and have it cut to order for our needs. This same wood is also used for Fox Contrabassoons.
The keywork on a model 220 is ideal for an advanced student. Those features make it an excellent bridge toward a professional bassoon. The high D key and the ring key are standard. For this model the plateau key is available as an optional alternative to the ring key. It also includes a high E key which is normally only found on a professional model. Other standard details include a whisper key lock, a B( guard, rollers for the right thumb B( and F' keys with a raised surface for the low E key to better work with those rollers. Additional features include an artist quality case with cover.
Renard Artist Model 240 Bassoon
To the eye the models 220 and 240 will appear to be identical. Indeed, they are, but only to the eye. Everything that can be said about the keywork and other details of one can be said of the other. The difference between the two models is in the acoustic design and in the body material. That difference is big.
While the model 220 shares the long bore design with the model 222, the model 240 uses the short bore design of the Fox model 201. The subtle differences between the long and short bore designs can make a significant difference to an advancing student. That difference makes the 240 more of a high end student instrument or even a semi-professional instrument rather than a school instrument.
The 240 is made of red maple. This is the lightest weight maple we use in our bassoons. With special processing it is also used in our professional models. It was first used by us in the 240’s and the outstanding tone of this maple encouraged us to try it in the pro models where it has been very successful.
When comparing the 220 and 240 bassoons, both instruments are very nice, but they are different. The long bore design of the 220 combines a rich sound with secure performance. The short bore design of the 240 provides a more resonant sound with greater flexibility. That makes it the preferred model for an advancing student. It also makes it desirable for many amateur or semi-professional players wanting a fine instrument at a cost less that they would pay for a professional model.
For middle schools or junior high schools, the best choice would actually be a polypropylene bassoon. The durability of plastic and its resistance to the neglect that is common at that level makes plastic desirable. However, for schools that insist on wood the best choice would be a Renard model 222. Don’t bother with any options, as a high D key is not needed at that level and the standard plateau would be preferable to the optional ring key.
For high schools, the choice is between a model 222 with the optional high D key, and a model 220. The difference will largely be a budget decision. The 222 will have a lower cost. For schools desiring a nicer instrument the 220 would be the ideal instrument.
Colleges and universities have several different levels of need. Methods classes would be best off with a basic plastic model or a model 222, as these models represent what many music educators will find in beginning band programs. College bands would be better served by either a model 220 or 240. Non-performance majors will do fine with a model 240. Performance majors need serious instruments for which a professional model Fox bassoon would be appropriate.
For students and other individuals:
Students should avoid purchasing a bassoon as long as the school can provide a usable bassoon. The time to consider purchasing a bassoon is when it appears certain that the student will be continuing to play bassoon in college and beyond. The junior year of high school is a good time to do this. By that time the post high school goals of the student are becoming clear and it is worth making the commitment in an instrument.
The ideal model is the model 240, with the model 220 close behind. The 240 is widely recognized for its performance qualities. This model can get a student into any university music program. If professional orchestral performance does not become part of the students future it will serve very well for other future uses as a player in community musical organizations throughout the player's adult life.
Should the student elect to pursue a performance degree as a bassoonist it should become part of the student’s plans to get a professional model bassoon during his university level education. Plan on that happening for the student’s junior year, but the student’s professor will be the primary guide for the best time and the appropriate model.
For Returning Adult players:
For adult players, who have played bassoon in their past and wish to return to playing bassoon again, the choices are similar to those of students, but with more choices.
There are more variables involved with a adult. Some of them include how long it has been since they last played; what kind of playing they hope to do in the future as well as the kind of musical groups they might be playing with; and how much money they are willing to spend to get the kind of instrument they desire.
As with students, the models 240 and 220 are excellent choices. They are widely available both new and used. For a player long out of practice, and not anticipating much serious playing, the 220 would be an excellent choice. For a player that went further in the past, the qualities of the 240 will be very appealing.
The performance level of groups that the player will be performing with can make a difference in the choice of instrument. A group of casual players don’t make the demands on their instruments that a group of serious players that actively seek opportunities to perform in public would make. Be sure that the instrument matches the standards of the group.
Players that have enjoyed the benefits of a professional level bassoon in their past may want to use a similar instrument again. At that point money becomes a consideration. Professional models are more expensive than the Renard models. However, the pride and joy of owning and using such an instrument can be considerable. Also, quality bassoons tend to appreciate in value making them good investments.
Keys, options, and a bit of history
It is a bit ironic that the least of these three models has the most options available. That's because its minimal basic format has the most opportunity to add options. By contrast the Renard Artist Models 220 and 240 have almost no options available. The artist models were created to be already well equipped for the needs of advanced students.
By far the most common option added to the model 222 is the high D key. Adding a ring key to replace the plateau key is a distant second. This is consistent with the model 222's objectives. Adding the high D key makes it more useful in a high school setting. The ring key may be nice but the plateau key will be more useful in a school environment. An overlooked and highly desirable option is the B Guard, which can easily be added at any time. It protects the B from inadvertent interference by the player's leg.
The plateau key needs some extra discussion. The value of this key is to players with small hands. It is used as an alternative to the ring key for the third finger hole of the wing joint. It provides a shorter reach for that finger to close that hole with a pad rather than reaching all the way to the hole.More than that, however, it also allows the player's thumb to reach the high C and high D keys. The benefit to the thumb is not always so obvious. The plateau key is a key that is most often seen on school instruments, because school players often have small hands. That is its only true connection to school instruments. Its purpose is to make a large instrument more comfortable to play, without regard to the environment in which the instrument is being played. It is not unusual for this key to be added to professional models. Indeed, it is a key that can be added to virtually any Heckel System bassoon at any time.
The model 220 was introduced in 1972. At first was just a fancier version of the model 222 that had been introduced one year earlier. To the 222 it added the high D key, a right hand whisper key lock, a B( guard, a metal bell ring, and a case cover.
In 1978 it became something much more than that. It had become obvious that it was not serving its market as well as it needed to. As a result of market research, including a lot of consultation with major players and teachers in top music schools, the modern model 220 was created.
The objective of the new 220 was to provide a more complete package to students who sought an instrument at a moderate price level, and that included all the details their teachers wanted them to have. That's where the high E came in. That is a key that would never have normally been seen on a student instrument before this time. It's the teachers that wanted their students to have it. This is also the time the ring key became standard on a Renard model. Adding the right thumb rollers provided a nice addition.
The model 240 was added in 1994. It was specifically created to provide a short bore version of the model 220. Once again, it was the demands from teachers that brought this about. It's popularity as a privately owned instrument reflects the preferences of those teachers for having their students perform on this model.