Oboe Reed Structure: The Relationship Of The Parts

  • by Kathy Sheinhouse

    There is no hard and fast rule about much of anything related to oboe reed making, unless you are a beginner just learning the basics. Cookie cutter approaches and strict templates don't cut it because there are too many variables in cane strength, density, gouge and shape. The truth is that every dimension, material and scrape is part of a dynamic relationship within the parts of the reed. I once asked a prominent oboe player and reed maker to share her oboe reed dimensions.  She refused to do so, as did her elite teacher. To them every action has a reaction, nothing is assured, and the balance of the parts are the important ways to ensure a finished professional oboe reed result.   Here are three examples of relationships to think about:

    1) If managing aperture is an issue, lengthen the blank to close the aperture, and shorten the blank to open it (typically we are talking about millimeter differences between 72 and 73 mm). Also consider cane diameter.  Larger cane diameters promote smaller apertures.  Smaller cane diameters promote larger apertures.

    2) If pitch is a problem, you might have to find a new shaper size. Narrower shapes bring up the pitch, and wider shapes lower it. It is generally safer to narrow the shape (but too much will make tone is bright, which is not my preference). A reed with a shape that is too wide may never give you enough room to execute the scrapes you need for the tone, response and pitch you want. It is really hard to raise the pitch of a reed, short of clipping it, overlapping it, or trimming the sides of the tip.  If low pitch is a chronic problem, also consider a shorter staple (eg. 46 mm).

    3) If response is an issue and you thin the tip, shoulders or rails, the pitch is likely to drop, and you may need to clip the tip to raise it.  If the tip is already short, you will have to find a different solution.

    As you make more and more reeds, you will have the advantage of finely tune muscle memory.  There will be more consistency in your output.  You will get to know where you make your mistakes, and correct them, or adjust for them.  If you have a consistent source of high quality oboe cane, it will maker success more achievable.

    Talk to your teacher about how each of the variables in the oboe reed construction and scrape influence each other, and how little changes can effect the system.  The oboe reed is a complex system of relationships. A flexible approach to reed making can be the ticket to best results.

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