Benefits Of Incremental Oboe Reed Making

  • by Kathy Sheinhouse

Oboe reed making can be both a significant challenge and a source of great satisfaction- often. But, it can be filled with trauma for the learner and expert who depends on great results that are not assured. Well developed reed making skills coupled with the ability to adapt to variables in cane is essential. Once this is established, the most important activity is managing your inventory of materials, processed cane, blanks and partially finished reeds so they are available for finishing and play on demand. This is all about pipeline management and mean planning weeks and even months in advance of your needs.
Oboe cane is an agricultural product that goes through a radical transformation on the way to becoming a finished reed. If we go too quickly, we are more likely to find apertures that either swell open or completely close up; cane that becomes too hard to play; and other changes that present themselves early in the reed scraping process or after it is finished. Rebellious cane often requires "wrangling". Wrangling a reed is usually unsuccessful, and when I experience it in my reed making, I generally dismantle the reed rather than waste time with an uncertain result. However, tweaking a reed can be highly successful, and should be anticipated while breaking in a reed, or just prior to a concert or event when fine-tuning can improve performance.
A strategy of incremental reed making can drastically reduce these irregularities and make the process more productive and even pleasant. I have a certain schedule of steps in my reed making that allows me to identify problems early in the process that will help me make decisions that will avoid wasting time. While you are unlikely to make the 1500+ reeds I make every year, high volume pipeline management strategies are just as important to you.
I recommend splitting cane and pre-gouging a day or two before gouging. This can be done dry. The cane will spread, and it is helpful to have this happen before going to gouge. There are two strategies of getting to blank. The first is to soak, gouge, shape, dry and return the next day. The extra drying cycle often improves the reliability of further reed making actions, starting with the mount, but is not essential. The second strategy is to soak the pre gouged cane and process to mount. This is also fine, but has ramifications in terms of when to clip, which we will address in the next section.
Clipping the tip opens the reed and permits an early offset of the blades. However, in my experience, clipping a blank that has been mounted from a fully soaked pre-gouged slip is disastrous. Some of the apertures explode and I have a higher percentage of reed failures. I am much better off, and have a better behaved reeds, when I just define the tip, expose the back and let it dry. Mounting from a dry shaped slip, allows you to prepare the tip for a clip, and start the scrape in the same session. While shaped cane still has to soak, the thickness requires minutes rather than the hour+ necessary for pre-gouged cane to prepare it for the next step. It is less likely to over soak. Let it dry, even if only a half day before going the next step. How it dries tells you a lot about its possible outcomes because you will be able to assess the state of the open aperture after it dries. At this point you may be in a position to finish in one or two cycles, though you may need to tweak again. You should be able to use your reed making skills without wrangling and have a predictable, and sometimes pleasantly surprising result.
Note: Reed making pace differs from player to player. Slow reed makers might want to soak their cane in batches rather all at once.
This strategy requires more planning by the reed maker. You will need more cane and staples on hand. You would be advised to keep at least 10-15 reeds in process at any time, at least half as blanks. You will be surprised how much this will lessen your anxiety, permit more control over your availability of finished to near finished reeds, improve your results, and allow for last minute successful reed making if you fall a little behind schedule.
As always, these are strategies that have worked for me, and I recommend you experiment with them to see if they work for you.  

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