Oboe Reed Making Basics

July 19th, 2012 by

Oboe Reed Making Basics

An integral part of any successful oboists’ life is undoubtedly having a ‘good’ reed (good being a completely subjective adjective). Whether you’re a professional buying supplies for your own reed-making or a student just starting out, Midwest Musical Instruments stocks a wide variety of oboe reed-making supplies that will assist you along your quest for the perfect reed!

For the Beginner:

When it comes time to start reed making, purchasing your necessary supplies can be very confusing and there will most certainly be questions along the way. We hope that we can provide for you a basic list of supplies as well as a definition of them to give you a better understanding. If you’re the parent of a student ordering supplies for the first time, we highly recommend you speak with your child’s private teacher first and get their recommendations as to what to order. As always, our oboe specialists are here to assist you with any questions you may have about our products.

Reed Knife – The most essential part of reed-making is having a sharp, quality oboe knife to work with. Chef Julia Child always said the three key ingredients to great French cooking are 1. butter, 2. butter, and 3. butter,  just as Liang Wang (principal oboist of the New York Philharmonic) says the three key ingredients to reed making are 1. a sharp knife, 2. a sharp knife, and 3. a sharp knife! There are a wide variety of knives on the market and each oboist will develop their own preference over time. Here is a list of the kinds of knife blades that MMI carries:

  • Straight – thin flat blade with a narrow wedge to the scraping edge
  • Double Hollow Ground – heavier wedge blade with concavities on either side to the scraping edge
  • Beveled – slab-type blade with an angled cut down to the scraping edge

Note: Most knives are available in both right and left hand models.

Staples  An oboe staple is a metal tube lined with cork onto which the oboe cane is tied. They range in length from 45 millimeters to 48 millimeters, although the standard for most American oboists is 47mm. Length preference varies from player to player; you’ll want to ask for a teacher recommendation before purchasing very many. Staples are also available in a variety materials such as brass, nickel silver, silver-plated, and even gold-plated. Again, we recommend asking for a teacher’s recommendation before purchasing.

Mandrel – An oboe mandrel is a piece of metal, usually with a wood or plastic bottom half, used to maintain the shape of the staple as the cane is tied onto it. It is usually desired that the staple fit the mandrel as close as possible with the top of the mandrel being flush with the top of the staple.

Ruler Since oboists tend to discuss reed lengths and measurements using the metric system, is usually best to have a ruler in millimeters. Any ruler will work, but there are reed rulers designed for easier measuring.

Plaque – The oboe plaque is a thin piece of metal, usually pointed or rounded on each end, that is used when working on the reed itself. The plaque is slipped between the two blades of the opened reed and used to scrape on each separate blade. Whether the plaque is pointed or rounded, and flat or convex, is a personal preference but again, you can check with an oboe teacher.

Reed Thread – Generally, reed thread is made of nylon (although silk is a possibility as well) and comes in the standard FF gauge. FF is a thicker nylon and has more strength. EE thread also exists but is thinner and is more susceptible to breaking when tying the cane on the staple, as a large amount of tension can be built up in the process.

Cutting Block – The cutting block is nothing more than a cylindrical piece of hardwood which has a flat bottom and slightly rounded top. The cutting block is what is used to clip the tip of the reeds while working on them.

Razor Blades – When working on reeds it’s necessary to clip the tip of the reed. Single-edged razor blades are generally the best way to do this as they are more precise, but some oboists prefer to use a knife to do this part. For the beginner, razor blades may not be necessary at this stage as this kind of work can be done by the teacher.

For the Advanced Reed-Maker:

Once you’ve become accustomed to reed-making and you’ve become more proficient, there are a few additional tools that will become necessary to own as you progress.

Shaper Tip – The shaper tip is used after gouging oboe cane. The shaper tip serves as a template to shape your cane. There are numerous shaper tips on the market today with very different measurements. When selecting a shaper tip we highly recommend you first discuss options with your oboe teacher as to what would be best. Again, you’re always welcome to talk to our Oboe Specialists about our selection of shaper tips.

Shaper Tip Handle The handle serves as the base for the shaper tip and holds the cane in place while shaping.

Knife Sharpening Equipment Knife sharpening is essential to any serious oboist and one should know how to sharpen and maintain his or her knives. The best way to learn how to sharpen knives is usually with your oboe teacher or someone who is proficient in knife sharpening. If you’ve never had hands-on experience with knife sharpening we do NOT recommend trying to learn on your own. There are many options out there for knife sharpening and each player will develop his or her own way of sharpening and maintaining knives. Below is a basic list of options available. As with most double reed supplies, the recommendation of a teacher or professional is strongly encouraged before purchasing your equipment.

  • Stones: sharpening stones are the most basic way to sharpen knives. They exist in a wide variety of materials and grits. Some options include: oil stones (India and Arkansas varieties), ceramic stones, and diamond stones.
  • Ceramic Sticks
  • Sharpening Steels

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Dear Midwest, I just received my oboe and English horn back from you all in the mail, and of course couldn’t wait to get some reeds out and play them. All I can say over and over... read more >