I’ll answer a question with a question: How easily do you want your reed to respond? That’s how thin your tip should be. A professional, handmade reed’s tip will be paper-thin or thinner.
The #1 most important aspect of your bassoon or oboe reed is its response. It must play easily. Only then can you contemplate pitch (#2), and resonance/tone (a.k.a. notes in the crow, #3).
First of all, 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.
The corners of your reed should finish out at around +/- .05 mm thick depending on the cane’s strength.
But a thin reed tip alone doesn’t make a great reed. Though this aspect is the first mark of a master reedmaker’s knife control, the blend from the tip towards the heart (the thick area directly behind the tip) sets your reed’s character — the ease of response, the pitch, and the resonance in the tone. This blend differs with each piece of cane. This is the master’s domain.
If your reed’s tip appears thick (i.e. not bright) when viewed in front of a bright light or the crow plays only one note, you can thin it a couple of ways:
1. With knife: shortening strokes, steepening angles. Begin with your knife in the heart, halfway between spine and rail. Scrape up past the tip. Next stroke, begin slightly closer to the tip and angle your knife slightly to the corner, and subsequent strokes shorten the distance and angle your knife to the corner until it’s at a 45-degree angle and you’re almost on the corner. This way, you’ll take more out of the tip’s rails than the center. But this is a rather coarse method compared to the finer removal of sandpaper.
2. Sand paper — 400+ grit, wet-dry (the black kind). Place the sandpaper flat on a surface, just at the edge. To set up the stroke, press only the reed tip flat onto the sandpaper, then angle it towards the corner, allowing only the triangle from the corner to the center of the heart to touch the sandpaper. Stroke towards the corner, and manipulate your pressure and placement so as to remove more from the corner than the heart. Alternate strokes are straight forward (more out of center of tip), sideways (more out of rail), circles either clockwise or counter-clockwise (accentuated removal from center or rail), and diagonally (more even removal from blend between tip and heart).
Test your results by placing the soaked reed in your mouth, lips on string (oboe) or the wires (bassoon) and blowing gently at first, gradually accelerating. If the reed responds at a satisfactory point for you, you are done. If not, continue thinning the corners and tip.
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