Topic: Top of oboe reed will not close

I have been making reeds for about 2 years. However, for about the past 6 months I have been experiencing a recurring problem with every single reed that I make. All of my reeds end up appallingly open at the tip. They will not close no matter how hard I try to squeeze them. Sometimes they are so open that they will not even crow, or they just sound like a goose (only one pitch) when I attempt to crow them. Oftentimes when they do crow, they will have a low crow; I can usually never get them to crow a C. Also, the sides do not close as you look up past the heart of the reed. I will say this another way: the sides of the tip do not touch when looking at the reed from the top-down. If I clip off the portion of the tip that has loose sides in an attempt to cut off the loose sides and fix the problem, the sides of the clipped reed then become loose. As a result, my reeds are basically unplayable, being that they require a great amount of air and are always flat.

Sometimes after I tie the reed, de-bark it and clip the tip, the opening seems normal-sized and the sides seem to close. However, after letting my reeds sit for a few hours, they all seem to go back to that same archetype: horrifyingly open and low-crowing.

It doesn't seem to matter whether I gouge and shape the reeds myself or whether I order the cane pre-gouged and shaped. I have been using the Gilbert gouge and the Lucarelli and Brannen-x shapes. All of my reeds end up looking the same. I do not think it is the staples I have been using because after trying some of my teachers' staples that had previously worked for her, my reeds still had the same problems. I think it could be something that has to do with tying. I have experimented with tying the reeds tightly and loosely, but neither way seemed to make a difference.

If anyone has been through anything like this with oboe reeds, your input would be greatly appreciated! I have been to a few teachers but the problem has pretty much stumped them. Thank you in advance!

Laura

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Re: Top of oboe reed will not close

Hi Laura, I know that problems like this one can be extremely frustrating and mysterious. Work mindfully and remember to isolate only one variable at a time. These are just a few of the variables you might consider:
- the length of time you're soaking the cane before tying;
- the integrity of the fold before shaping, i.e. make sure that the gouged cane is folded on a really straight line and not shredding at what will become the tip of your reed;
- finished length of the blank;
- pulling too hard on the wrap thread while you're tying the blank. I know that there are certain reed-makers who insist on pulling the thread with all their might, but that doesn't work for me.

Unfortunately, I don't believe that there's any way to "scrape out" the traits of a badly tied blank, no matter how good one's knife technique may be. By the way, do you let your blanks dry closed, or do you clip them open before letting them rest? Some people think this makes a big difference.

Good luck, and keep us posted on your progress.

Andrew Nogal
oboe/English horn

Re: Top of oboe reed will not close

Hi Andrew, thanks so much for responding. I soak my cane for about 25 minutes before I tie it. Most of the time, the fold seems to be pretty clean, no shreds. I have been tying the blanks to 73.5 cm.

I clip my reeds open before I let them dry. Do you think that letting them dry overnight before clipping them would make them even more open? I think at this point I would try anything to make the opening smaller.

Laura

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Re: Top of oboe reed will not close

In my experience, letting blanks dry overnight before clipping them usually leads to reeds with more manageable (less huge) openings. I tend to scrape the corners of the tip before setting the blank aside. It seems like this might weaken the opening, too, to give you a fighting chance of having tighter sides.

Andrew Nogal
oboe/English horn

Re: Top of oboe reed will not close

I asked one of my colleagues at work about this, as it's interesting to me, even as someone that only makes bassoon reeds.

My colleague is a seasoned oboist and reed maker. Dealing with many different reeds that different people make that we sell at our store, and with her own reeds, she's noticed that lately everyone seems to have bigger tip openings, even those from reed makers that typically have pretty squashed tip openings are pretty open. We've noticed the quality of pretty much all the European cane (Rigotti, Loree, Pisoni, Alliaud, Glotin) all be pretty bad in the last year.

Might the cane itself (twistyness, hardness, density?) be a contributing factor to your tip opening woes? Just a thought.

Maybe you need to adjust the diameter of cane you're using, move up to 10.5 to 11 range if you're at the 10-10.5 range now. Might put you in a slightly different cane quality level too, changing some other variables. Just a thought, again from someone that doesn't know two things (I would like to think I know at least one) about actually making oboe reeds.

M.M.A., D.M.A. University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign: B.Mus. Lawrence University
Bassoon professor at University of Wisconsin Eau-Claire
Maker of the Little-Jake electric bassoon pickup and Weasel bassoon reeds

Re: Top of oboe reed will not close

Trent, you bring up an interesting point. I know that many, many reeds pass through the shop, so I trust your colleague's generalization. I hadn't encountered consistent trouble with big tip openings until perhaps a year and a half ago. I've adjusted the gouge, changed shaper tips, and experimented with different staples, and yet I end up with big openings much more often than small ones. I hate having to scrape all the "guts" out of a reed just to close down the opening, and I also hate having to clamp down on a reed with my embouchure.

I'm not sure what we can do with this observation. My hypothesis is that very soft cane "balloons" open when tied onto the staple while rigid, hard cane would hold its shape and diameter. When the cane seems soft, I also observe that the size of the opening changes dramatically after the dry reed has been soaked.

Andrew Nogal
oboe/English horn

Re: Top of oboe reed will not close

Hi Laura,

Try tying longer onto the staple to the point where the cane just closes on each side at the last wrap before crossover. I gouge with a Dan Ross gouger & tie my reeds at 75 mm on Stevens pro-brass 47 mm using the David Weber 1B shaper. Also agree with Trent's statement that 10.5 to 11.0 in diameter could help. Shave off the ears with your reed knife, scrape both sides of the tip & clip open. All this should be done immediately after tying. It helps to ensure a good seal at the tip.

Good luck.

Best,

john

Best,

john

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Re: Top of oboe reed will not close

Hi Laura -- This can be maddening and the source of the problem difficult to track down, as you are finding. In order of priority, here is what I would check...

1. Is the cane warped? After you have selected the cane for straightness and chopped it to length, lay the piece bark-side down on a flat surface. If you can see ANY light under the middle of the piece, reject it.
2. Tie length. As John said, tie as long as possible. If you tie too short, the string will pinch the sides of the cane before the metal of the staple picks up the tension. Then, the reed works like a snapdragon--squeeze at the bottom and the top pops open.
3. In one session, shape the cane, tie it, and scrape it until you have clipped the tip open. Then, soak it for five minutes before you put it away. It sounds like you are already doing this. Keep the cane well moistened throughout this process.

If none of this helps at all, have a teacher or other qualified person watch your whole process from beginning to end. Sometimes, these problems can be caused by an accumulation of small errors.
Good luck,
Martin

Martin Schuring
Professor of Oboe, Arizona State University
President, IDRS
http://www.public.asu.edu/~schuring/

Re: Top of oboe reed will not close

Thanks to everyone for the comments! I tied one reed this week that closed very well. I used the same cane that I have been using (Brannen X, Gilbert gouge) and tried tying to between 74 and 74.5 mm (I had been tying to 73 mm previously). I also experimented with letting the blank sit for a little while before clipping it rather than clipping immediately after tying and scraping. It took me about five attempts to make one successful blank. However, since I changed too many variables at once, I wasn't sure how I made the blank.

Then in my lesson I ended up tying a reed, using a music stand as an anchor. My teacher was simultaneously tying a reed using the same music stand. I noticed that her reed-tying was not causing nearly as much disturbance and movement of the music stand as my tying was, so I tried lessening the tension on my string. I tied the reed with MUCH LESS tension than I what I would normally use to tie.

Behold, my best reed in a long time was born, and I sincerely hope that the problem has been solved. Thank you again for all the detailed responses.

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Re: Top of oboe reed will not close

Hi Laura,

Two tools that would really help & speed things along for you: the Incra bent rule in mm & a digital caliper. Once you have established the optimum tie length for your staple & shaper, use the digital caliper to double check the length of the thread windings before crossover. Just keep the caliper set at the staple length. Use the Incra bent rule to mark the length of your shaped cane on one side: for example, if your staple length is 47 mm & your total length of blank is 75 mm, then the mark on the cane goes at 28 mm using the bent rule to measure from the top of the cane fold to the 28 mm mark on the rule. Huge time savers to ensure that you eliminate variables. Place the pencil mark at the top of your staple (oval)/mandrel & wind to just below the mark; the caliper will ensure you don't go over this mark.

Best,

john

Best,

john

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Re: Top of oboe reed will not close

Thanks for the recommendations, John.

Andrew Nogal
oboe/English horn