Topic: Unresponsive reed

Hello,
I (try to) make my own reeds, but I am just a beginner and often things happen
to them that I don't really understand :-)
At this moment, I use a reed that becomes unresponsive after some days.
The reed is not new, I use it about 2 months.
When I sand or very lightly scrape the whole surface of the reed, it plays well again,
but after a few days it becomes dull again.
It would like to know if this "behavior" is what can be expected from an "ageing" reed
or if the problem can lie elsewhere and perhaps a more lasting solution exists.
Thanks in advance for your advice and insight,
Willy

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Re: Unresponsive reed

Hi Willy,

Is the reed your primary or only reed? How often do you use this particular reed and for how many days in a row? At first "glance" sounds like the reed is showing signs of age. The cane of the reed will loose strength over time with use. The lose of strength causes the blade to loose structural integrity and results in the arch of the reed collapsing and the tip closing up. The same effect happens if you thin the cane to much via scrapping/sanding. So in this cause the cane removal you are doing is probably just exacerbating the issue.

To increase the life expectancy of reeds you should try and have more than one playable reed and rotate playing on them day to day. If you don't do it already, letting a freshly tip clipped reed settle prior to starting the finishing process will improve the number of quality reeds you produce. Also avoid doing a whole load of adjustments by scrapping/sanding/filing in one go. Spread out your adjusting over one to two weeks (longer the better) and have a set list of steps you are going to do for each adjustment session.

There are a multitude of books and online resources available to help in this endeavour. Barrick Stees has an excellent outline of his reed making and adjustment process. Another that comes to mind is Trent Jacobs.

Just my two cents.

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Re: Unresponsive reed

It is currently the only reed I play with.
I play every day, usual 3 times of about half an hour per day.
I always have a nearly-finished reed in case i need it. I didn't know that
rotating reeds is a good idea, I will start doing so from now!
It is quite possible that I scraped the reed too thin.
I had already decided to do as little adjustments as needed to make a
reed play, but I haven't brought this in practice as yet :-)
From the first reed-to-be I will also bring into practice the other tips you gave.
One more question:
Should I scrape/file/adjust until the reeds plays well, or should I start playing
it as soon as it possible and leave further adjustments until the reed has been
used for a while?
Thanks for the elaborate response,
Willy

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Re: Unresponsive reed

Hi Willy,

You want to avoid adjusting a reed until it plays well on the first go of finishing. It might sound good at the end of the session but the next day you may find that the reed is in terrible shape and beyond fixing. Reeds should be broken in and adjusted gradually over a period so that reed has a chance to settle into the adjustments you are making.

For me the first thing I do after a reed has been clipped and left to settle for two weeks is put it on a reed-tip profiler machine. If you do not have such a device, do some light filing/scrapping in a thumb/crescent shape from the tip of the reed back (see pics 4&5 http://www.steesbassoon.com/reedmaking/ … _reeds.htm and figure A http://jessearead.blogspot.co.uk/2009/0 … reeds.html) until you can get the reed to produce a pitch and crow. Don't be surprised if it doesn't sound particular pleasant at this stage. After the reed has been run through the tip profiler I play the reed for about 10 minutes doing long tones in the low and middle register and some scales and arpeggios, avoiding the high register and fast articulations. I then set the reed aside for 24-48 hours to settle. When I come back to the reed a day or two later I work on a few adjustments, doing enough work until the reed meets the desired results reasonably well and then processed to the next etc etc until I have completed the set of adjustments. Once competed I set the reed aside for another 24 hours and then proceed to do the same tests and necessary adjustments until I get to a day when the reed completes the test criteria with out any adjustments.

If you finish reeds to this point it gives you a stock pile of reeds that you can then do fine tuning and specific fine adjustments to for specific situations and playing requirements. As I mentioned before, Barrick Stees has a step by step method for how he finishes reeds on his website, www.steesbassoon.com. There are many different schools of though on the finishing process and lots of information available online and in books you can buy from double reed suppliers that teach these methods. I follow a methodology laid out by Mark Eubanks, former principle bassoon of the Oregon Symphony. He just released, or is about to release, an updated pamphlet on his method. His website is http://arundoresearch.com/

Good luck!

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Re: Unresponsive reed

Thanks again for taking the time to write such an elaborate answer!
I have printed your tips and will apply them from now on.
Willy

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Re: Unresponsive reed

Here's another thought, on top of the excellent advice already provided.

If I understood you correctly, you wrote that you played on one reed for several hours per day, every day, for two months.

Bassoon reeds don't really last that long. They deaden and eventually go bad.

As the reed changes, you have to make adjustments to the reed, and you have to adjust yourself to the changing reed. It's best to create a more constant playing setup.

How long reeds will last depends on many different factors, but two months is an awfully long time to expect from a reed.

I recommend that you aim for a much shorter playing time per reed. Of course, that also means that you'll have to make more reeds.

Happy reed making!

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Re: Unresponsive reed

I do play several sessions per day, mainly because I can't reach high(er) notes
anymore after a while. but it doesn't add up to several hours, more like 1.5 hours.
I do indeed feel that the reed changes over time and somtimes it helps to adjust it,
mostly sanding or very lightly scraping it over the entire surface. Usualy the result
of this kind of adjustment doen't last very long before it has to be repeated.
I will take into account that reeds die after a few months, I dind't realize that.
To be honest, I don't really know how to diagnose a dying reed :-)
Willy

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Re: Unresponsive reed

Kudos for playing regularly every day.

If you find that it's hard to play high notes after a while, maybe you need to play shorter practice times, more often. Also, what does your teacher say about how to address that?

At 1.5 hours per day, every day, figure on a good reed lasting maybe a few weeks, not months. Any individual reed may last longer or less long; just let it talk to you.

There are also ways to extend reed life. Things I do include:

- brush my teeth before I play;

- rinse my reed after I play;

- from time to time I carefully brush the outside of the reed with a tooth brush, and use a pipe cleaner to clean the inside of the reed;

- periodically I clean the reed in an ultrasonic cleaner.

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Re: Unresponsive reed

Thanks again for the tips!
Although I don't brush my teeth before playing, I do pay attention
to my mouth being clean to keep the inside of the bocal and the bassoon clean.
My teacher does advice to play more often for short periods, but half an hour is
usually gone before I realize it, there always is something more to practice :-)
I have no option but to play every day as often as possible. I only play the
bassoon for about 2 years now and because I was 59 when I started, having
"lost" half a century, I have a lot to catch up with :-)
Willy

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Re: Unresponsive reed

There are some great comments on this subject, I have to endorse geobassoons recommendation of the Eubanks books and reed methods. Mark has so much bassoon information on so many levels, it's always a pleasure to read anything he has to say. I can't wait for his new book and pamphlet. - Steve

Principal bassoonist, Orquesta Sinfonica de Galicia, A Coruña, Spain. Bassoonist, bassoon dad, bassoon husband, bassoon uncle, bassoon brother and bassoon son.