The rackett is an instrument that was used in the Renaissance and Baroque eras. The early racketts (used in the late 16th and early 17th centuries) evolved into a slightly different instrument by the early 18th century. The early racketts were often produced in four sizes; Descant, Tenor-alt, Bass, and Great Bass and used a pirouette to partially encase the double reed. By the early baroque era, the pirouette was replaced by a bocal to allow the double reed to be fully exposed. The baroque version was also known as the Wurstfagott, sausage bassoon, or pocket bassoon.
Both renaissance and baroque racketts are shaped like soda cans, but had different configurations for the double reeds. The early (renaissance) rackett had a pirouette that partially encased the double reed. The pirouette is a small cylinder connected to the top of the rackett and had a double reed placed inside, similar to the reed cap of a shawm or crumhorn. The reed cap of the crumhorn fully encased the reed and put it outside the performer's direct control. With the shawm, the performer's lips pressed against the pirouette with the reed vibrating inside the mouth. The pirouette of the rackett, however, allowed the performer's lips to control the reed while being supported to create the loose embouchure needed to play the low pitches. The double reed is fairly wide, about the size of a modern bassoon reed.
The baroque instrument was similar in shape to the canister body of the renaissance rackett, however, the double reed was exposed on the end of a bocal (similar to the modern bassoon, oboe and English horn). The performer vibrates the double reed by placing it between the lips and blowing with the double reed vibrating in the chamber of the mouth.
The renaissance rackett consists of nine parallel cylindrical bores through a single piece of wood or ivory, joined at the top and bottom by the end caps. The end caps join the tubes in an alternating manner, creating one continuous tube. This, in effect, creates an instrument with the inner tube nine times longer than the instrument itself. Eleven (or more) finger holes were drilled through the body to intersect the various bores at the appropriate places and some racketts have tiny brass tubes extending from the instrument's body for the performer's fingers or thumbs. The outlet of the central bore is at the bottom of the instrument and the other end of the central bore connects to a double reed through the top of the instrument's body. The double reed is set inside a pirouette.
The later baroque rackett was built in a similar fashion, but had ten pseudo-conical bores with the reed mounted on a bocal emerging from the central bore. The extra tubing created a lower-pitched instrument. This type of racket bassoon dates from c. 1700, and was built in one size only (bass). Many of the improvements to the rackett are attributed to Johann Christoph Denner (1655–1707).
Because of the length of the tube resulting from the compact, the size of the rackett is amazingly small compared to its low pitch. The two types of rackett (renaissance and baroque) sound quite different from each other. The renaissance rackett, with only nine bores (nine times the length of the instrument) sounds similar to a large crumhorn. The baroque rackett, with 10 bores (ten times the length of the instrument) sounds much deeper and similar to a bassoon. Since the bore diameter is relatively narrow (about 6 mm), the sound of the rackett is very soft, and is close in sound to that of a comb and paper (or kazoo), but can also produce a louder sound that has a buzzing character.
The rackett plays about an octave and a-half (typically a twelfth) on fundamental notes, and can be overblown for higher pitches. The cylindrical bore of the renaissance rackett causes it to overblow at the twelfth, and the baroque rackett overblows at the octave. It also sounds one octave lower than written.
The range of the early racketts varied by size. The range of the Descant was from G to d1; the range of the Tenor-Alt was from C to g; the range of the Bass was F1 to c; and the Gross Bass range was from D1 to A or C1 to G.