Topic: Making oboe reeds vibrate properly

Dear all,

I am a senior high school student who has been making reeds for about 1 1/2 years.  Throughout the year I have been encountering the same problems and roadblocks in my reedmaking.  I hope you all experts can help me out.

A little description of my reed-making process:

I use Cote d' Azur #-1 10-10.5mm cane and Rigotti 47mm staples.  I usually tie them at around 73.5mm, no more than 74mm.  My tip starts at 65mm, hump starts at around 60-60.5mm, back starts at around 51mm.  My style is pretty close to the one in the Jay light reedmaking book.  I start scraping the tip, open it and scrap to the point where I get a quiet C or C#.  Then I start the heart (usually this step I start at 56mm) until I get a rattling B.  Honestly that was my goal, but I haven't been having much success with the rattling B.  Then when I try to establish the back, I often end up with a unbalanced crow.  When I try to fine tune them, I always feel my reeds are very hard and often need to squish the opening.  Somehow I feel like I can never get to the point where I feel comfortable. 

I am always scared of 2 things:  1 is having too much out from the hump / heart, then my tone quality will be bright; another one is having to take out too much from the back (trying to close the reed) that the reed collapses.

I am thinking, either is the length of the blank, or the thickness of the hump, or the general relative thickness that cause the unbalanced crow.  I have been trying to modify my reed-making, but it proved to be a complete failure.  Now I am stuck and confused, not knowing how to solve the problem.  Is there a way to achieve a reed with a balanced crow, allowing free flow of air, and has a dark, rich tone?


Thank you for responding to my question!


Cheers*
Nattie Chan

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Re: Making oboe reeds vibrate properly

Nattie,

Start your tip at 66 mm. & order some cane 10.5-11.0 in diameter. Remember, the crow is only one thing to check, among many. Wait until the reed is a little more finished before you crow it. Check out Martin Schuring's website. He has a wealth of information on how to make reeds as well as  a diagram showing what the finished product should resemble. If you don't have a reed dial micrometer mounted on a stand, invest in one. It is invaluable for measuring the thick part of the heart, which should be .50 mm. Also make the tip of the tip no thinner than .10-.12 mm. I would  recommend changing your staples also. Buy Stevens #2 Pro Silver & use a Pisoni flat wooden handled mandrel when tying. Remember, the only way to get good at making reeds is to make many reeds. Minimum one a day. Keep at it. That's the important thing. Everyone who plays the oboe/makes reeds has experienced exactly what you are going through. Just don't give up.

Some additional references & thoughts:

Joe Shalita's book on reedmaking is  excellent. Available on  line or from David Crispin on ebay. Highly recommended.

Cheryl Wefler's book has a great section on how to use the knife. Page 22 Figure 13 also has  the best explanation I have seen on how to shape the tip. It ensures you will  get a spine all the way  to the tip of  the tip. Extremely important. She has a website also.

Invest in the Neilsen wedge knife. Best knife on the market for the price. Go to their website.

Theresa De La Plaine's book My Kingdom For A Reed has wonderful photos on what reeds should look like. Again, highly  recommended.

Try to get a hold of someone's copy of Oboe Reed Styles by David  Ledet. Out  of print. Has many photos of reeds, back lighted.

Cooper Wright's website is excellent. He also has photos on it which show what the finished product should look like. You could order a reed or two from him to  give yourself a benchmark for your own reeds.

Go to Ann Rosendich's website. She & I collaborated on much of the knife sharpening info on that site. It pretty much covers the waterfront inre sharpening methods.

David Weber's Reed Manual is out of print but if you  can find a copy it is most worthy of study. Much invaluable info.

Learn from everyone who makes reeds. What they impart will serve you in good stead for as long as you play the oboe.

Best,

john

Best,

john

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Re: Making oboe reeds vibrate properly

Nattie,

Certainly the best way to solve these problems would be to work one-on-one with a teacher who is using the same cane, staples, and basic measurements.  Much of the advice any of us could give you online will be inapplicable, just because these basic materials vary so much from one reedmaker to another.  However, I would like to toss out one tidbit of advice that I believe is nearly universally applicable.  This or that section of the reed cannot be too thick or too thin in isolation.  What counts are the measurements of the various sections relative to each other.  This is what oboists mean when they talk about a "balanced" reed.  In my experience, the most common mistake of reedmakers of all ages is not finishing the tip.  When you get the tip to a point where you think it's finished, odds are it's actually not.  It could probably be much lighter, could be refined further.  This is especially true of the very corners of the tip.  Since the tip of the reed should become thinner as you approach the very tip and as you approach the sides, the corners should be the thinnest point, with the area immediately in front of the center of the heart left thickest.  Strive to refine the very tip of the tip, especially the corners, further than you think possible, make it thinner than you think you can without tearing it up.  When you do this, you will be able to scrape the heart and back a bit thinner without losing the "balance" of the reed, and you will end up with a reed that is lighter and more comfortable, but that still has the necessary resistance to produce a rich, resonant tone.

Cheers,
Drew

Last edited by kdrew922 (2008-03-14 12:37:10)

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Re: Making oboe reeds vibrate properly

Christopher Brodersen wrote:

Sounds like great advice to me. And I might add that in order to thin the tip properly, your knife HAS to be sharp. Working with a dull knife is an almost certain recipe for tearing.

Absolutely, 100% agreed.  And I'd like to add that it's not enough to just sharpen the knife regularly.  One has to know HOW to sharpen a reed knife.  We're putting a scraping burr on the knife, which is quite different from the kind of edge one might use for cutting.  There's a little booklet by the Landwell people called "Reed Knife Sharpening" that explains this all quite well.  It's also important to use a sharpening stone wide enough that the entire blade remains on the stone for the full length of the stroke.  For example, if you use Norton's aluminum oxide stones, don't go with the 2" wide ones carried by many double reed supply specialists.  Over time, those will give your blade a concave shape, and this will make it most difficult to remove cane exactly where you want to remove it.  Instead, go to a store like sharpeningsupplies.com that carries the 8" x 3" x 1/2" size.  Few reed knives have a blade more than 3" long, so these stones will allow you to keep the entire blade on the stone the full length of the stroke, which will allow you to keep the blade straight even after months of use and hundreds of sharpening sessions.  You might spend a few more dollars up front for the sharpening stones, but in the long run you'll save far more by prolonging the life of your reed knives and destroying fewer pieces of cane.  Not to mention, it's less frustrating when you can take off cane precisely where you want.

Cheers,
Drew

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Re: Making oboe reeds vibrate properly

For edge maintenance, you may want to consider using ceramic crock sticks (mini-sharps sold by Mark Chudnow, Napa California) & a burnisher (sold by Hartville Tool in Ohio or by Raz-r Systems in Minnesota) Such items will shorten your time sharpening & maintain your knife edge for a longer period. Sharpening on stones alone takes off too much steel too fast. Conservation is economical especially if you choose to pay nearly $100 for a knife.

Mark Chudnow: http://yhst-49475438377643.stores.yahoo.net/srp0105.html

Hartville Tool: http://www.hartvilletool.com/product/11018

Raz-R Steel: http://beast.voltztech.com/~razoredge/product_reviews_info.php?products_id=47&reviews_id=18&osCsid=2b1d6b38c239254ffaf72997fd4183ef

Best,

john

Best,

john

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Re: Making oboe reeds vibrate properly

oboejumper wrote:

I am always scared of 2 things:  1 is having too much out from the hump / heart, then my tone quality will be bright; another one is having to take out too much from the back (trying to close the reed) that the reed collapses.

I think this could be the root of the problem. The reed has to have a good internal balance in order to vibrate. That means wood HAS to come out of the heart or it won't do that. Scraping from the heart won't necessarily give a bright sound, it will give a vibrant one. After you have vibration, then you can get to work controlling it. So, my rule of thumb is--whatever I remove from the back, I remove half that much from the heart. I almost never scrape the back without also scraping the heart. Make sure to leave excellent structure (rails, spine, bark at the bottom) and the vibrations will be easy to control.

The second fear is a legitimate one, but it is based on a faulty premise. Scraping the reed seldom does very much to alter the basic opening. If the reed is very springy and open, you can scrape forever and it will still be springy and open (but eventually whiny and flat). So, if the reeds are consistently too open, try a larger diameter of cane, and be very sure that the cane you use isn't too resilient. Before shaping, twist the soaked gouged piece gently to get a sense of its springy-ness. This is a seat-of-the-pants test, so it will take some experience to learn which pieces will give the best results. Obviously, the very soft, limp, pieces should be rejected, but so should the very stiff ones.

And, reedmaking is very hard to diagnose without seeing the reed, hearing the reed, observing knife technique, etc. So, find a good teacher who has lots of experience making the sort of sound you prefer.

Best of luck,
Martin

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