Extending the Life of Your Bassoon Reed

June 11th, 2014 by

Merz-bassoon-reedBassoon reeds are expensive, either in terms of cost of buying a hand-made reed or in your own time for making your own. If you buy hand made reeds you are paying for not just the raw materials, but the years of experience of learning to make a good reed, and the time if takes to make that individual reed. If you make your own, you know how much effort and skill (and a bit of luck) goes into making a good reed. So naturally you want them to last as long as possible. Here are some really simple guidelines for extending the potential playing life of a bassoon reed.

1. Keep your reeds in a reed case
The plastic tube vials or containers that your commercially sold reeds come in are not a good long-term storage device for a reed you are actively playing on. They don’t allow for much ventilation (even if there are holes in the tube) and so the reed will not dry completely. Moisture will hang on the reed longer and break down the fibers of the cane, shortening its life. A dedicated reed case with ventilation holes is a must-have for every bassoon player, regardless of playing ability.

2. Keep a rotation of reeds
The best way to wear out a reed is to use the same one exclusively for many days in a row. A reed that doesn’t have a chance to rest for a day or so between playing sessions will last fewer hours of total playing time than a reed that does. Have several reeds (I personally keep 8-10) that you actively play on in a rotation so that you never play on the same reed two days in a row. If you are playing multiple rehearsals and practice sessions a day, use two different reeds on a single day.

3. Keep your reeds clean
This suggestion is two-fold. The first is that you should know that saliva is acidic; it will naturally break down the fibers of the cane over time. Part of this is desirable because we need to “break in” every reed, and part of that process is due to having it in your mouth. With that in mind, we want to keep this from happening too quickly. The second thing to know is that cane is an organic product, and as such it can be a source of mold and mildew growth. You want to avoid this at all costs. So we suggest you always soak your reed in clean, lukewarm water before you play. Get fresh water every time – you don’t want to encourage the growth of mold or bacterial from using old water that’s been in an enclosed reed cup for several days. Some people have especially acidic saliva as well, so we also suggest a quick rinse of your reed in clean water after you are done playing before storing your reed.

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4. Make or break in the reed slowly
Much like the suggestion in #2, if you make a reed or start playing many hours a day on a reed early in its life, you may shorten the total life expectancy of the reed. Many of my best reeds are the ones that sit as blanks for a few weeks before I finish them (I actually build this into my reed making schedule), and only play on them for shorter periods of time for the first two or three weeks as they break in. Sometimes we need a concert or recital reed and make it so it plays great today and play it into the ground within a week’s time, but if you’re not in that kind of time crunch, ease the cane into the life of being a bassoon reed and it will last much longer.

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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 >