Updated: Mar 4
My students often ask me how reeds are made so hopefully this blog will give you a little more information and show you the processes involved just to make one reed.
It doesn't take long for student oboists to start getting a feel for reeds that feel good and reeds that they just don't like at all. When I was growing up and sorting through a box of reeds one would feel good, I'd pop another in and it would feel dreadful, I would feel that it sounded horrible and I would just not want to play it at all. While doing this my mum who is a musician would say she couldn't hear a difference so sometimes it isn't down to the sound they make, its much more down to how they feel in our mouths, do they vibrate in the right way, are we having to try too hard to make them work etc, etc, etc...... the list of things really could go on and on.
What might be the perfect reed for one player could be an absolute disaster for another, reeds are so personal but we must try to not let ourselves get too bogged down with them. Most of the time we don't have the perfect reed so we do just have to adapt our playing a little to ensure the reed works at its best without them affecting the way we want to play. In the end the way we play should be all about expressing the music and not about being less expressive because we are having to play within the restraints of the reed.
Many oboists make their own reeds but there are also many professionals that buy their reeds. If you find a reed style made by someone else that suits you why would you spend hours a week making your own. I do make my own, I think I'm quite fussy about them and I have found what works for me and I have stuck to it. Even if a reed only lasts one concert I don't mind as long as it behaved itself!
My students often ask about making reeds and so I decided to make some videos of me making my reeds. I don't buy tube cane and gouge my own any more so I start my reed making with gouged hardness tested cane I get from www.oboe-shop.de
Before you watch these please note, this isn't an instruction video, it is how I make reeds but it is not saying it is THE way. I make U scrape reeds but what I do may be quite different to others, but it does work for me. We all find our own way in the end.
Gouged cane is just a stick of straight cane. It has been gouged to a certain thinkness ( I use 0.56-0.57mm gouge) and is now ready for you to soak the cane, fold it and shape it. The video below shows this process.
Once you have your folded and shaped cane you are ready to tie the cane onto your staple. This is where I might measure slightly different things to some others. I soak my cane then measure from the fold 27mm and mark it with a pencil. This is the line I match up to the top of the staple when tying on ensuring that the thread does not go above this line. Then careful lining up of the reed on the staple and off you go, tie on!
Now you have what looks like a reed, minus the hole down from the top! If you haven't seen a reed being made before did you think the reed was made with 2 pieces of cane? A double reed is actually one piece of cane then chopped in half to create the two. The next stage for me is profiling as I have a profiling machine. If you don't all the next stage is hand scraped which is perfectly possible. I have the profiling machine to speed the process up and to help me be a little more consistent with the quality of my reeds as I make quite a lot for me and all my students. So now is the video of chopping the tip off then profiling and finally wiring the reeds.
Now all that's left is to do some hand scraping to finish the reeds off and get them playing exactly as I want them.
If you want to watch these videos at a slightly steadier pace and all combined into one video please take a look at my You Tube channel https://youtu.be/W5sT1rO3qwM
I hope that this helps students understand a little about the process that is used to make the reeds that they play and hopefully helps them understand why we are obsessed about students looking after them carefully. Each reed has a huge amount of work in it and there are no guarantees that it will work after all that work so when you do have one that works, please look after them.
I always end my blogs with a video of some musical inspiration so here is todays!
This is what happens when you accidentally break your reed in a solo! An amazing recovery!
One extra piece for inspiration this time. This is the beautiful trio for Flute, Oboe and Piano performed by Tony Robb on Flute, Jeremy Polmear on oboe and Diana Ambache on Piano. It is a wonderful trio with the most beautiful tune in the 2nd movement.