When is it time for a new reed? How can I tell that a reed is dying? Bassoon and oboe reeds are more expensive than clarinet or saxophone reeds – true. Double-reeds take much longer to make and are much more finicky. No one, including me, wants you to see this as a money-grab. Reedmakers are in the business of helping you sound good and enjoy playing, and we want your reeds last as long as possible (well, speaking for myself, anyhow). So, how can you fix a reed to make it last longer, and when is it time to move to a new reed?
For the best results, start out with an excellent handmade reed. Check out Tiger Reeds — they’re not ‘cheap’; they’re excellent value.
Avoid machine-made, mass produced 2×4, buzzy monstrosities — check out the reed options and try one! Visit the Reeds page to purchase.
A few simple signs that your reed will soon shuffle off its mortal coil:
- Chipped tip Depending upon the extent of the damage, this might not actually affect playing much at all, but it might make the reed unplayable. Chips near the center of the tip are slightly worse than chips in the corners. Low notes and high notes disappear first, then nothing plays. The remedy for this shouldn’t be attempted if you’ve never done it before — clipping the tip shorter and re-scraping is the only way to sharpen the tip’s edge.
- Cracks A crack is death. Think about it – your reed is vibrating hundreds of times each second. Only one ‘clap’ of the reed is enough to spread a crack down the reed’s grain. In essence, a crack makes a double reed into a 2.5-reed, or a triple reed, making the blades uneven from each other. Uneven blades don’t vibrate, so the reed suddenly stops making sound. There is no remedy; some advocate using superglue, but the polymers don’t vibrate the same as arundo donax (bamboo), and the chemicals *should*not* be anywhere near your mouth.
- Black mold Blekh. Gross. Yuck. Grody. Yes, it’s the same bacteria from your mouth, so it’s like sucking on a two-week old piece of chewing gum. Your reed has been dissolving and digesting for a long time — you’ve probably been storing it in the same plastic vial it came in, or in a pill bottle, probably wet, and only soaking the reed in your mouth, instead of in water. Reed Tip #2 “Why should I soak my reed in water?” and Reed Tip #3 “Why should I store my reeds dry?” are important for you. As for playability, softer cane collapses easier – your reed keeps closing, certain notes are really flat (like first-finger E on bassoon), and high notes are really hard to play. Your sound becomes mushy and generally bad. You can try cleaning the reed’s fibers by following Reed Tip #1 “How can I bring my reed back to life?”, but your reed won’t live long either way, and you’ll become frustrated much quicker. It’s time for a new reed.
Regardless of any of the above situations, you should already have one or two backup reeds already broken-in. Always, always rotate reeds; never depend on one – if you’ve lost your best reed five minutes before your solo, you’ll understand true panic and you’ll never do this again.
Do you have a puzzling bassoon or oboe reed question? Ask the reedmaker and he’ll make a post about it! For the latest news from Tiger Reeds and the bassoon and oboe world: Follow Tiger Reeds on Twitter – @TigerReeds Like Tiger Reeds on Facebook – Tiger Reeds