Oboe Reeds – Selecting the Reed that’s Best for You
At the heart of any successful lesson, rehearsal, or concert is a good oboe reed, and no one understands this better than our oboe department. Jeff and Steven are always on the look out for high quality, consistent reed-makers to supply a diverse selection of professional quality reeds. We certainly understand the frustrations of searching for a great reed and we make it our mission to have a reliable source of oboe reeds for our customers. So whether you’re a student new to the oboe, an aspiring reed maker still learning the ropes, a teacher who doesn’t have the time to make reeds for their students, or a seasoned veteran who just needs that one back-up “just -in-case,” we hope this guide will serve you well on your quest to find that ‘perfect’ reed for your next performance!
A Few Thoughts on ‘Reed Strengths’
One of the most common questions we get in the oboe department is “what strength reed would you recommend?” or “we’re looking for a _____ (fill-in-the-blank with anywhere from soft to hard) strength reed, which would you recommend?” We don’t like to qualify our reed selection with strengths simply because we find it to be very subjective. That is to say, what is ‘soft’ to one player could very easily be ‘hard’ to another or vice versa. Since every oboist plays the oboe differently (how we use air, how we use our embouchure etc) we instead like to qualify our reeds by tip-opening and level of resistance. For example, the smaller the tip opening, the less air required to get the tip to vibrate and less embouchure manipulation of the reed. This type of reed would therefore be more conducive for a beginner or less-advanced level player.
That being said, let’s talk about our reeds!
The AB Oboe Reed
The AB oboe reed comes to us from the Chicago area, right smack-dab in the middle of the Midwest. Overall these reeds are consistent from batch to batch and we don’t see much variation, but as with all things reeds, there could be some variation. The length of the finished reeds will generally be between 69-70mm, shorter heavier heart, longer windows, and a proportionally shorter tip with not much room for adjustment. The openings of these reeds will typically be more open creating more resistance and more support to get the reed vibrating. We recommend these reeds for more experienced or advanced players.
The Bailey Oboe Reed
The Bailey oboe reed is a new addition to our reed selection and comes to us from Colorado. The finished length on these reeds is usually between 69-70mm, they have a longer tip, a proportionally longer heart which is blended into the tip leaving some room for adjustments, and a shorter back with shallow windows. These reeds will generally have a smaller tip opening but vibrate freely and are very stable. We recommend the Bailey reed for players of all levels.
The CJ Oboe Reed
The CJ oboe reed comes to us from the central plain states. The CJ is also one of our more popular brands and will come and go rather quickly as this reed maker sends smaller shipments per month. These reeds are generally at a finished length between 70-71mm. Like the Agnew reed, the CJ reeds have a longer heart which is more blended into the tip, shorter windows, and a shorter tip with some room for adjustments. These reeds have a medium tip opening, medium resistance, and vibrate freely but may require some embouchure manipulation. We recommend these reeds to intermediate to advanced players.
The Figaro Reed
The Figaro is also one of newer reed selections and is designed for the beginning student who needs to be on a solid, hand-scraped reed instead of the store bought, machine manufactured reeds. The finished length on the Figaro reed is approximately between 70-71mm, a hear that is between 4-5 mm, and shallow windows. They are scraped to be very free-blowing and vibrant, idyllic for those younger students still working on building embouchure musculature.
The Fox Oboe Reed
The Fox brand oboe reed comes to us from Fox in Indiana. These reeds are machine-made and have no hand-finishing on them. The general characteristics of these reeds are: very vibrant, usually medium-large tip openings, and low resistance. They are geared specifically toward the beginner oboist who has little to no experience on the instrument and needs something that will vibrate quickly and freely. These reeds function excellent as backups and for the beginner it never hurts to have one on hand just in case.
The Gale Oboe Reed
Coming to us from the Chicago area, the Gale reed is one of our newer selections available. The finished length on these reeds is between 69-70 mm, the heart is approximately 3-4 mm in length, shallow windows further back on the reed, and a proportionally shorter well defined tip which does not leave a lot of room for adjustment. These reeds have a medium tip opening and are relatively free-blowing and stable. We recommend the Gale reed for intermediate to advanced level players.
The Galloway Oboe Reed
A local reed-maker, the Galloway oboe reed comes to us from the Twin Cities area. Another of our more popular reeds, the Galloway does come and go quickly but, being a local reed-maker, we can get them back in stock on a regular basis. The finished length on these reeds is between 70-71mm, the heart is approximately 5mm in length, windows proportionate in length, and a longer tip with room for adjustments where necessary. These reeds have a medium tip opening but a slightly thicker tip which does create added resistance. We recommend these reeds for intermediate to advanced level players.
The Harris Oboe Reed
The Harris Oboe Reed comes to us from Illinois, just outside the Chicago area. These reeds are a very popular choice as well, but a decent quantity is usually always on hand and readily available. The finished length for this reed is usually between 69-70mm, a significantly thicker heart which is approximately 6-7mm in length, and shorter windows which are scraped deeper into the cane. These reeds are typically more free-blowing with a somewhat thicker and longer tip, which will allow for some adjustment at the front of the reed. These reeds are more vibrant and require less support to get the reed playing, which is why we recommend the Harris reed for beginner to intermediate level players.
The Jennet Oboe Reed
The Jennet oboe reed comes to us from South Bend, Indiana. These reeds are very popular, but we usually have a full selection on hand in the shop. The finished length of these reeds is typically between 70-71.5mm in length, a heart that is approximately 6 mm in length, a significantly longer tip that is heavier in thickness which adds resistance but has room for adjustment, and a proportionally shorter back with shallow windows. The opening of the Jennet reeds tends to be more closed and can often times arrive to you completely closed, but once the reed is soaked and the fibers are saturated the tip will open. When the opening of the tip on the Jennet reed is smaller there is a higher level of resistance, so we generally recommend these reeds for intermediate to advanced level players.
The Julie Paul Oboe Reed
The Julie Paul oboe reed is by far the most popular and therefore fastest selling reed we stock here at MMI. These reeds come to us from Canada, so there may be additional wait time when they are out of stock. Because of their popularity, we do add a limit of 2 Julie Paul reeds per month. We want to make sure that everyone has a chance to purchase these reeds. It is possible to backorder reeds when they are out of stock. A very consistent reed, the finished length is between 69-70mm, a proportionally shorter, heavier heart, and a longer back with deeper windows. There is some room for adjustment on the Julie Paul reed but not a great deal. We find that this style of reed can cater to a wide variety of players, so we recommend these reeds to all levels.
The MSA Oboe Reed
The MSA oboe reed comes to us from the Cleveland area. The MSA reeds are popular, but we do generally receive a smaller quantity from the reed-maker and they don’t stay in stock for long. We can backorder these reeds, but plan accordingly as the wait time can be considerably longer than most other reeds. The finished reed length on the MSA reed is usually 69-70mm, they are fairly heavy and very resistant across the board. The tips are long and considerably thick; cane can be removed and the tip clipped but these reeds do border on the shorter side. Theses reeds have a larger tip opening and may require some embouchure manipulation (depending on your training and how you play). Based on these factors we recommend these reeds for advanced players only.
The Sandy Oboe Reed
The Sandy oboe reed comes to us from Indiana. These reeds are slowly gaining in popularity and are readily available as we usually have a good supply on hand from the reed-maker. These reeds have a total finished length of 70-71mm, a slightly longer, thinner tip (which does allow for some adjustment), a heavier heart of approximately 5mm in length, and shorter, somewhat shallow windows. These reeds have a moderate tip opening and do have some resistance which is why we would generally recommend these reeds for intermediate to advanced level players.
The Tristan Oboe Reed
The Tristan oboe reed also comes from a local, Twin Cities reed-maker. These reeds also rank among our most popular and we see them go relatively quickly. However, new stock and backorders are typically filled within a few days. These reeds have a finished length of 70-71mm, a shorter, thinner tip which allows for some adjustment, a longer heart of approximately 5mm, and a shorter back with somewhat shallow windows. These reeds will generally have a medium tip opening and vibrate relatively freely, but they do have some resistance built into the reed. For theses reasons we generally recommend the Tristan reed for intermediate to advanced level players.
Some Final Thoughts
We do strive to keep a varied selection of reeds on hand and there are some things to keep in mind when ordering.
- We always recommend trying a couple of different styles the first time you order not only so you find the best reed for you, but also to have a hands-on knowledge of our reed selection. While it is nice to find a high-quality, consistent reed-maker you don’t want to find yourself in a bind should you need to order when we are out of stock. It is wise to have a backup just in case it is a high volume reed sale time and we are running low.
- There are variables that are out of our control such as staples, cane, and thread colors. We leave it to the reed-makers discretion to select their materials. Don’t rely on things like the thread color to identify the reed style as this will more than likely change from batch to batch. Each reed you receive will be clearly labeled, so try to make note of the ones you like and their names.
- Reeds are NOT returnable once they have been opened and played on. In some instances if there is a defect in the reed (such as cracks, sealing, etc) we will be able to do an exchange for the EXACT same style you have (pending stock & availability) but we can’t do returns based on the fact that that particular reed does not work for you or your student’s setup. This is a risk associated with purchasing hand-made reeds and if the descriptions above don’t help, you can always give Jeff or Steven a call in the shop to get further information about the reeds. Once a reed has been opened and played on, we simply can not accept a return due to sanitary and health reasons.
- While we have a wide variety of reed-makers it is inevitable that, through the course of time, this selection can and will change. Sometimes reed-makers come and go and we then begin the process of finding new reed-makers to replace them. This is the inevitable ‘circle of life’ in our oboe reed selection. Jeff and Steven are always in the shop to help you and offer advice if you need it.
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Thank you MMI for all the knowledge, care and wonderful service you have provided for so many of us over the years! You are an invaluable resource for musicians everywhere!