Topic: Speed Reed

I'm looking for ways to speed up the reed-making process from shaping and wrapping through the basic scrapes that make the reed crow freely.  Lately, I've caught myself obsessing over every detail, including the soaking time, the fold, and the way the two blades interact as I tie them onto the staple.  This perfectionism isn't helping me to make better reeds; instead, it's slowed down my process to an unenjoyable, largely unproductive crawl.

I'm especially interested in comments from people who sell their reeds and necessarily produce a large output of working reeds.  How do you avoid wasting time on "duds" while maximizing your number of salable reeds?

Thanks for any comments.

Andrew Nogal
oboe/English horn

Re: Speed Reed

Andy,

If you choose to obsess, let it be over the sharpness or lack thereof, of your knife. Get the Nielsen wedge ("knife"), a wide strop, Roger Miller's AH Rod & move to the Scary Sharp system of succeedingly finer grits of wet/dry sandpaper affixed to plate glass for sharpening.  Use your stones for sharpening razor blades.

Best,

john

Best,

john

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Re: Speed Reed

Thanks for the intriguing suggestion, John.

Andrew Nogal
oboe/English horn

Re: Speed Reed

Andy,

As far as I'm concerned, you are not wasting time by obsessing over the shape/wrap process.  I say "leave time to do it right, or make time to do it over!"  Careful control over the variables that precede the actual scrape is paramount.  Repetition, of course, leads to more speed. 

Once I've become consistent/comfortable with a particular set of variables (i.e. cane source, gouge, shape, staple, tie length, etc.), I tend to rely more on visual input, vs. a constant crow/scrape/crow/play/scrape/etc. approach.  I can usually (usually) get a reed to the practically-finished point within about 5-10 minutes of solid scraping, without a single crow, and then simply clip it to pitch (it will need a quick touch-up the next day, of course).  This would be difficult to achieve if I did not "trust" the blank I am scraping!  I spend much more time on cane selection, gouging, shaping, tying, etc., than I spend scraping the reed.

Sharp knife.  Yes.

I'm not sure if this is the kind of answer you're looking for, but I hope it helps a bit!

Take care,

Jonathan

Jonathan Marzluf
Owner, Marzluf Reeds
SoCal Freelancer/Educator
www.marzlufreeds.com

Re: Speed Reed

Andy,

I suffered from this same issue a few years ago.  I would advise you to listen to John and work to keep the knife really sharp, and get used to just digging into the wood.  Ever since I've started doing this, I can fire off about three, really good, concert reeds in an hour.  Also, it is less painful to spread the process out over a few days.  I would suggest a process like this...
Day 1 Split and pregouge (5-10 min)
Day 2 Gouge (2-3 min...not including time to soak cane)
Day 3 Shape and Tie (10 min...don't work on one for longer than 20 min)
Day 4 Get reed to vibrate really well, just get it very 'tubby' and flat (20 min)
Day 5 Clip reed and finish (20 min)

I know some people like Dick Killmer teach students to make a reed in 5 minutes.  I think John Mack did this too...they said to make the reed right before rehearsal.  The problem with this is the reed might work for that day, but it WILL die the next day, if not in the middle of rehearsal.  Also, if one doesn't get a good reed out of this 5 minutes, then you are screwed!  I wouldn't freak out about the time.  Take as much as you need, but don't become a slave to your reed desk!

Remember...Function first!

Patrick

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Re: Speed Reed

Thanks for your responses! 

Jonathan, I agree with you that the early steps (from cane selection through tying) are the most critical to get right.  I can "undo" most bad scrapes when they happen, but there's no satisfactory way to fix a leaky or otherwise flawed blank.

Patrick, your day-by-day process sounds just like mine.  I like the 20-minute limit on day 3; if it takes longer than that to get a blank to feel right, I would guess it's irreparably flawed so I'd move on to the next piece of cane.  I studied with Mr. Killmer for a summer, and I was floored by his ability to make a really great reed in five minutes (from tying through scraping).  I don't know how long those reeds normally last, but I admire the confidence and control it takes to work in such an instinctual way.

Andrew Nogal
oboe/English horn

Re: Speed Reed

I would respectfully disagree with the concept of digging into the wood. Optimum sharpness of the knife burr & light (no downward pressure) scraping technique should yield curls, much akin to those from a well sharpened plane off the edge of a board. Or to put it closer to the bone, to the curls from the gouger, albeit much narrower, coming off the reed. Indeed, the knife must operate in the manner of a plane with the hand & arm tantamount to the "plane housing", if you will.

An aside: I don't soak until I'm ready to shape cane. I split/guillotine/pre-gouge/gouge dry. Then I soak gouged cane in hot tap water for about 20 minutes, shape, trim ears off, tie, scrape tip on both sides, clip tip open & let the blank dry at least overnight. It may be extreme, but I think there's a case to be made for minimal soaking during the prep stage. The reed gets plenty soaked during its short-lived playing life.

My 2¢

Best,

john

Best,

john

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Re: Speed Reed

I can offer some advice in this realm. First let me say that I am strictly a reed-maker at this point. I realized early on in school that I had more passion for making reeds and playing with the machines that are used to create them then to mess around trying to improve my playing.

I think you can inherently be better at one over the other much like one can make oboes and not be the best oboe player. On the other hand you still need a good foundation in fundamentals to understand how a reed should perform and what tolerances can be adjusted.

So a year ago I set off on an experiment to start ramping up my ebay reed business. Since then no stone is left unturned. I do believe that I am at an advantage right now when it comes to economies of scale.

I think a thorough analysis of your process and some onetime investments in equipment can greatly help.

Specifics I can go into if you wish but as an example:

I realized I was spending roughly a minute per piece to pregouge and then gouge my cane. I really wanted to invest in one of those fancy hand crank pregougers by reeds n stuff but the price was beyond my pocketbook. I did some searching and found a similar device by Rieger. Since then I have cut down the overall time to 20 seconds per piece.

I cannot tell you how satisfying it has been to find these types of solutions.

Most of the other examples involve:
•    Moving my wrapping to a wrapping machine, hand built for under $75
•    Purchasing a Shaping Machine, expensive but reduced my shaping time by 80%
•    Purchasing a cane profiler, getting me start off at the same spot on each reed.
•    Setting up a simple jig to measure cane for wrapping, keeps me from having to measure and re-measure

Sometimes the solution is easier to fix with the right investment but some of my best findings have amounted to just changing the order in which I do things. I have a very strict stop point on each reed for each day of its life. I can usually weed out the faulty reeds quickly by making them have to pass each daily test. I rotate through about 40 reeds at a time.

I do all of my cane processing and tying during the weekends and again since investing in the cane profiler I start off with profiled cane when I tie the reed onto the staple.

The next rundown covers my five day process:

1.    Scrape back of reed while keeping the reed dry, I find I get a smoother feel doing this without soaking
2.    Clip reed open, refine tip and clip down to a single crow, usually a solid B.
      a.    At this point I usually can tell what the cane is doing and if the overall length is going to be good or not.
3.    Adjust to a single crow, balance and refine the overall reed.
4.    Balancing and readjusting is minimal so my focus goes into play testing and working to get the secondary crow to speak.
5.    Quick dip in water and play test to confirm reed is working. Very little to adjust at this point.


Current success rate is more related to splitting of cane and soft cane sneaking into the batch. My next improvements will be to eliminate these more.

Hope some of this helps.

I know I find all of this so exciting. Good thing I have a day job!

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Re: Speed Reed

Everyone does reeds a different way. I think we have all gone through a point when we obsess and get frustrated over every detail. I have to 150% agree with everything Jonathan says. Once you get comfortable with a certain setup it will just happen. That being said, the more you do it the more comfortable you will get. I can also get an almost performance ready reed in about 5-10 minutes. However, this is only from years of experience (and a few bouts of what you are going through) over the years.

I also want to second the Nielsen wedge knife. I moved away from all of the others and have not looked back for 13 years. GREAT knives that hold their edge. As far as sharpening, the razor edge system doesn't work for me, however that doesn't mean it isn't great. I have found a system that works for me and I go with it. I do however LOVE LOVE LOVE Roger Miller's burnishing rods. I can go without sharpening my knives for 3-5 weeks by just touching up the edge with the burnishing steel. Great invention! It puts a "scary sharp" edge on my knives (or so my colleagues have told me).

Keep on Keeping on! :-) Take a break from the process and go to what works for you.

Shawn Reynolds
Professor of Oboe/EH - Youngstown State University
Howland Schools - MS (director of bands); HS (Asst. Dir of Bands, Marching, Symphonic)

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