Evaluating reeds

Photo, chelseagirl

There are three things to consider when evaluating a reed. I consider these same factors for either single or double reeds, and prioritize them in this order.

  1. Response. The overriding concern for me is that the reed responds exactly as I expect it to. A reed that is stiff, sluggish, stuffy, or otherwise unresponsive isn’t a good reed (at least in its current state), even if it “has a good sound” or whatever. Many reed players, I believe, are consistently using reeds that are overly stiff, often in the name of “good” tone.
  2. Stability. This is the flip side of the coin from response; a reed that is too responsive is uncontrollable. (Think of the gas pedal and brake in a car: unresponsive pedals make the car feel lethargic, but overly responsive ones make for a jerky ride.) With an unstable reed, it’s hard to play in tune, hard to control dynamics, and hard to keep the tone consistent.
  3. Tone. Once I’ve selected a reed that has the right balance between response and stability, I evaluate the reed’s contribution to tone quality. Remember that the reed is only one of many factors that affect tone, and that tone is relatively easy to manipulate if the reed is responsive and stable. Resist the temptation to rank your reeds based on their tone alone.

Comments

  1. Robin Tropper

    Great introduction Bret!
    Is this true for singe reeds as well as double? To what extent does the instrument come into play?

    I was very happily surprized when, in January I got the chance to try some really old and new Lorée, Howarth and other oboes, that my 1985 Lorée is part of a (Thank God) lost generation. For us, “instability” means this: as you crescendo/diminuendo some specific notes, they will “wobble” sharp and/or flat… these notes “wolf” like a cello bow that you have just cleaned off the rosin with alcohol.

    For these instruments, reeds are usually better short (danger of playing sharp) and with specific crow characteristics that just can’t be explained in text. But back in the days, it was taken for granted that playing the oboe was synonymous with fighting the instrument for proper tuning and equal projection on all the notes.

    I was very happily surprized that Lorées after the year 2000 (the newer, the better) almost don’t do this at all – and Marigaux has always maintained the reputation of sounding great with any reed.

    Reply

    • Bret Pimentel (Your host)

      Yes, I use these same criteria for both single and double reeds.

      And I always evaluate a reed in terms of the instrument/mouthpiece that I intend to use it on. This is why I have difficulty with the concept of, for example, buying double reeds from a reedmaker through a website or catalog—the reeds might be “good” in some abstract sense, but it’s not good to me unless it’s good on my instrument.

      Reply

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