Reed adjustment checklist

Problems with your clarinet or saxophone reeds?

  1. If you buy into the myth that there are only two or three “good” reeds in a box of ten, you are buying the wrong reeds. There are many, many options available to you. When I’ve got the right brand, cut, and size of reed for my mouthpiece and embouchure, easily eight play respectably well right out of the box. Within 15-20 minutes, I can adjust nine or ten to play quite well, and maybe three or four of those at recital quality. I use the steps below and nothing else.
  2. Um, no.
    Um, no.
    Don’t waste time and cane messing with the topography of the reed’s cut. With all the variation in reeds, the cut is the one thing that is really quite consistent. If you don’t like the cut, shop around some more. If you own a diagram like the one shown here, with elaborate instructions on which tiny sectors of reed you should sand, I recommend that you throw it away.

  3. Make sure the reed is flat. Many aren’t, and one that was flat yesterday may not be flat today. A piece of 600-grit wet-dry sandpaper held against a piece of glass is the perfect tool for this. Concentrate on the part of the reed that contacts the mouthpiece’s table. For $2, I had a local glass shop cut me a 3″×4″ piece of ¼” glass, with the edges ground smooth. You can also use a mirror or window pane. A flattened reed will respond better and squeak less.
  4. Balance the corners. This is the one exception I make for changing the reed’s cut. Well-balanced reeds have a nice clear tone and respond reliably throughout the instrument’s range and at any dynamic level. I find that balancing the corners can correct for much of the asymmetry of a typical reed. Even a reed that already seems pretty good can often be improved. Tom Ridenour’s method is dead simple and strikingly effective—required reading.
  5. If absolutely necessary, clip the tip using a high-quality reed trimmer. I do this to maybe one in twenty reeds. I do it to make a reed feel a little stronger. Clip off the tiniest possible amount at first—a little clip goes a long way. It’s very rare that I clip off more than a tiny bit, and if I do, it rarely works out well.

That’s it!

Duco cement and bassoon reeds

duco cementSince I moved to the lovely and historic Mississippi Delta about two and a half months ago, it has been on my to-do list to find a local source for Duco cement to use in bassoon reedmaking. I used to be able to buy it at a certain notorious chain store, but my local store here doesn’t stock it. One well-known double reed supplier sells it for $3.95 per one-ounce tube, which is four times the price I usually pay for it locally.

The Devcon website makes it hard to find information about retail locations, and in fact you have to head over to another web domain to find it. After an unsuccessful morning driving around looking for Duco, I went home and dug up this link:

http://www.itwconsumer.com/wheretobuy.aspx

Select DUCO® CEMENT, TUBE CARDED and your state. The website doesn’t give retailer addresses, but does provide names. I found a store within a half-mile of me that had it for just under a dollar per tube.

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Doubling reed tip from Lawrie Bloom

Lawrie Bloom, solo bass clarinetist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, starts this video talking about his reed break-in process, but spends some time toward the end (start at about 2:45 to cut to the chase) talking about his strategy for doubling clarinet and bass clarinet in a symphonic setting.

Mr. Bloom recommends using slightly softer reeds than usual to compensate for the fact that the reeds will be somewhat drier than optimal, and using a mouthpiece cap whenever possible.

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Thoughts on plastic reeds

I have been following with interest the discussion on the web of the new synthetic clarinet reeds by Forestone. A few days ago, the distinguished Sherman Friedland posted an absolutely glowing review:

The Forestone reeds marks the beginning of a totally new era in the development of reeds, all reeds. It is a new beginning because these reeds are reeds which totally duplicate the feeling and response of cane. It  surpasses any reed currently being sold which is not made from cane which has been grown, harvested and then cut. It does have a tremendous advantage in consistency in that it does not have to  be warmed up and soaked. . . .

What this means is that it is just a matter of time before cane reeds as such, become obsolete.

In the same post, Mr. Friedland discusses the new Légère “Signature” reeds, which he finds to be an improvement over the standard Légère, but still not as good as the Forestone. [Update: see my review of the Légère Signature Series clarinet reeds.]

I have not yet tried the Forestones myself, but have used the standard Légères at times, especially for contrabass clarinets. For the very large clarinets, I had a great deal of trouble keeping cane reeds from warping, even during the course of a two-hour rehearsal; the plastic reeds have a clear advantage in this department.

Forestone, Legere, and a bad-news cheapie
Forestone, Légère, and a bad-news cheapie

In my high school marching band days, I was required to use an inexpensive, brittle plastic saxophone reed. In my opinion, these are not suitable for professional playing. Neither are the plastic oboe or bassoon reeds currently on the market.

I do think it likely that, within my lifetime, I will see plastic single reeds take over in a big way. I expect there will be a few purists who will insist on cane, despite its obvious shortcomings, claiming that nothing sounds like good, old-fashioned cane. I think this blindfold test from Légère shows that plastic definitely can sound very much like cane, and will likely be indistinguishable very soon.

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Oboe reedmaking resources

One of mine.
One of mine.

There’s no way around it—if you’re going to be a serious oboist, you have to learn to make your own reeds. Even fine handmade reeds purchased from an excellent reedmaker can’t compete with reeds made to your own personal specifications, suited to your highly individual combination of embouchure, instrument, playing style, and performance situation. A reed is in a constant state of change, from initial scraping until eventual retirement, and needs the daily ministrations of a skilled reedmaker to keep it playing at its best.

Woodwind doublers who take up the oboe as a secondary instrument will need to learn at least basic reed adjustment techniques in order to have reeds they can count on in professional situations. But if you’re going to learn the mysteries of fine-tuning “finished” reeds, you’re most of the way toward learning the whole process—consider at least learning to tie blanks from cane that you purchase already gouged and shaped. Starting from tube cane gives you even more control over the finished product, but requires the use of gouging and shaping equipment ($1200+, all told).

There’s no real substitute for learning reedmaking at the feet of a skilled oboe teacher, but here are some of my hand-picked favorite guides and tutorials online. These can serve as a good introduction for a beginner, and more experienced reedmakers may like to cull a few new ideas from the wide variety of opinions and approaches represented here.

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Trade in your old reeds for new Ricos, part II

In March I blogged about this promotion from Rico reeds. I’m pleased to report that, after sending this motley crew of rejects off to Rico…

before

…I got these in the mail, at absolutely no charge.

after

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Trade in your old reeds for new Ricos

This is an interesting promotion from Rico Reeds. Send in 10 of your rejected non-Rico reeds and get 10 Ricos of your choice, either a box of 10 or, it seems, possibly two boxes of 5. I have claimed my mail-in coupon online and will be sending off some reeds shortly. I considered waiting until the deal was done before blogging it, but you have to obtain your coupon by April 6, so I figured it was worth giving the early heads-up.

I haven’t used any Rico products in a while, but I’ve got no shortage of rejects among my current favorite brands, so it seems worthwhile to get some freebies to try out.

free Rico reeds

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