Diagnosing Common Oboe Reed Problems

March 22nd, 2013 by

An oboe reed can make or break an oboe’s usability and sound. A good reed is responsive, balanced, and stable. But too often, reeds are too thick, too long, too open, too closed, too sharp — you name a problem, and it’s a possibility for an oboe reed. So how do you determine the right adjustments for your reed? First, you need to diagnose common oboe reed problems. Start with this guide, then check out our guide to oboe reed adjustments.

Common Flat Reed Issues:

Gouge - using cane that is gouged too thin can result in reeds being flat in pitch.  If you’re gouging your own cane, always keeping an eye on the measurements of your cane is crucial.  If you tend to favor cane that is gouged on the thinner side then adjusting your scrape will be necessary as to not take too much cane out at the beginning stages of reed making.

Tip opening - often times, no matter how well the reed is scraped, a tip opening that is too large can result in flat reeds.  Something to keep in mind, scraping on a reed that is too open to adjust pitch will likely not solve the problem.  If the pitch is already flat to begin with, then removing cane will only lower the pitch further.  In the early stages of the reed’s life you can always attempt to squeeze the tip closed with your thumb and forefinger or you can also squeeze at the bottom of the reed just above the string.  In both these cases you can risk cracking the reed.  Never use anything other than your fingers – avoid pliers or any thing else as you risk damaging the shape of the top of the staple effectively making it unusable again.  After a few days the piece of cane may settle down but if the opening is consistency too large you may need to start a new reed.

Overlap - the overlap can certainly help improve pitch however this is not a permanent fix.  Gently slide the blades to increase the overlap.  This overlap will be different depending if you’re a right-handed or left-handed reed-maker.  If the overlap is incorrect or too much, this pay be a permanent issue that can not be correct by slipping the blades as they will want to return to their original location.

Shape - if your finished reeds are generally good but are just overall riding low in pitch, trying a narrower shape can help improve the pitch. Reeds with a narrower throat and belly will generally sit higher in pitch.

Over-Scraped - a reed that already has too much cane scraped from it may be doomed, especially if you’ve taken too much from the back or the heart.  Always remember, you can’t ever add cane back to a reed once it has been removed. Clipping the tip may help raise the pitch slightly but at this point there isn’t much that can be done to help the vibrancy of the reed (flat reeds tend to be over-vibrant.)

Common Sharp Reed Issues:

Tip Opening - a reed with a small tip opening can often result in reeds sharp in pitch. If the opening is too small there really is not much that can be done to remedy the situation.  Soaking the reed for a longer amount of time (10-15 mins) can help but the reed will usually, with time, want to return to where it wants to be.  Squeezing the reed open can also be a temporary fix but again, the reed will want to return to its original orientation.  Diameter of cane will also effect the opening of the reeds.  If you’re consistently struggling with small openings, perhaps trying a smaller diameter cane to help reduce the chance of having a smaller opening.

Overlap - the overlap can also result in sharp reeds, specifically if the blades are slipped too much in either direction (depending if you’re right or left handed.)  This also ties together with the tip opening as a reed that has too much overlap will likely be more closed.  Slipping the blades back can help but just as mentioned before, this is probably just a temporary fix as the blades will naturally want to return to their original orientation.

Shape - if your finished reeds seem to be doing everything you want them to do but are just high in pitch, trying a wider shape might be worth exploring.  There is a large variety of shapes on the market today ranging from very wide to very narrow.  Experimenting with a shape that has a wider throat or belly will result in reeds that will generally sit lower in pitch.

Under-Scraped - if a reed is too heavy or has too much cane on it, playability will be very resistant and the reed will be sharp in pitch.  Work on the tip of the reed to get the tip vibrating and slowly work your way across the inception point (all referred to as the blend, between the heart and tip) and then into back.  It’s best to do this process slowly to introduce vibrations into all parts of the reed.  As you remove cane, the pitch will begin to drop and you will probably ending up clipping and redefining the tip multiple times.  Be careful not to clip too much as a reed with a very short tip that is short in over-all length is generally a lost cause.  Short, sharp reeds are never a good thing!

About

A native of Dayton, Ohio, Jeff received his Bachelor's degree from Wright State University, his Master's from the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, a Performance Certificate from Carnegie Mellon University, and his DMA from the University of Minnesota. His primary teachers include Dr. Mark Ostoich, Dwight Parry, Cynthia Koledo-DeAlmeida, and John Snow.

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