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Philosophy Of Oboe Reed Making

Successful Professional Oboe Reed Making Starts With A Philosophy Of How To Put It All Together

The Quest For A More Perfect Oboe Reed

Every oboe reed maker is on the quest for the holy grail of oboe reeds. That includes me.  I work hard to make great reeds for players that play like me, and for others who do not. There are always obstacles to getting it right. Oboe reeds are fickle. Oboe cane is sensitive and variable. Oboe reed tips are hair thin with lots of opportunities for forced and unforced errors even under the knives of skilled reed makers. What I know for sure is that every reed will always have its own personality, that no one reed is right for everyone, but that there is the just right home for most reeds I make. 

The feedback I receive from customers has been very positive. They report that my reeds simply perform better, last longer, and rarely require more than a light adjustment, which saves valuable lesson time and reduces stress before important  musical events. Magic Reed customers play their concerts with more assurance that their fresh oboe reeds will play great, make it to the last note, with plenty left over for more play.

Approach To Oboe Reed Making

My approach to oboe reed making starts with an understanding of how oboists blow either by developmental stage or by personal preference. There is a range of production (blowing) styles, tonal preferences, and even schools of reed making from top professionals designed to support these preferences. I, too, have my own production style, and personal preference toward a beefier reed.  Players generally need at least a year of experience and a teacher to benefit from what makes my reeds special.  That being said, while my signature Magic Reed scrape is present in all of my reeds, each benefits from customized construction and nuanced scraping to achieve specific outcomes by model, including a lighter response.

I specialize in high end reeds, and I believe that experienced players deserve well structured oboe reeds with the beef and nuance to fully take advantage of their playing capabilities. I have studied/tested many options on the market, and realized that the market lacked highly nuanced reeds made from harder and denser oboe cane. For me, harder cane permits much more nuance than softer cane, and for me, more consistent and superior results.  High volume reed makers avoid harder cane because it is more difficult to work with, produces lower yields because of possible cracking, and is generally more time intensive. 

Oboe Cane Management

Our process starts with outstanding oboe tube cane that is precision processed, edited for quality and conformation, and drawn for use based on its ability to satisfy my objective for the reed to which it is assigned.  I now pair cane with brand to focus my cane selection and create a more consistent experience for my customers.  I know every corner of my inventory, which is truly exceptional. That being said, even the best of cane is fickle and never truly uniform throughout a batch for the properties I care about. Further, cane does not behave the same in every season. This is why I regularly test my cane, and make production decisions that include adjusting for diameter, strength and density to meet objectives. I generally keep cane selection to under three harvests per brand for the purpose of maintaining a consistent playing experience across orders.

Oboe Staple Management

Professional quality staples are very important to achieving the results I seek.  I use professional Chiarugi staples with natural cork for all reeds, including student models. They are expensive, with retail values over $4.00 ea. There are those who save money with staples with synthetic corks and irregularities in construction. I don't go down that route because, for me, it leads to inferior results (and greater fail rates) even for student reeds. I value my time, and I want a fighting chance of achieving the results I seek. You get a better reed. I get more time to take my dog to the park. We both win. I select from 46 or 47 mm lengths, and #2 or #2+ sizes.  The right combination improves tone, helps manage aperture, and promotes a more customized result by grade.

Aperture Management

Aperture management, in my view, is a critical factor to achieving personalized results for Magic Reed customers. It is addressed through cane diameter, staple size, blank construction and scrape. Generally, my apertures get larger from student to professional grades because players can handle a larger size opening as they develop their production skills. 

My original Magic Reed brand features a robust in scrape and somewhat larger aperture than others on the market. I have many loyal customers who love this structure and sound their best. Some players, however,  prefer a high end reed with lots of nuance with a smaller aperture for a more free blowing experience. Now, I offer a First Chair (Slimline) and Reed Monkey (Streamline) brands to accommodate these and other preferences. My free blowing oboe reeds combine medium strength cane in a larger diameter resulting in a smaller aperture. I also use a specialized professional staple to assist with the effort. 

Smaller apertures rely less on a strong or covered embouchure. Players will still need enough air speed and pressure to open the reed, and fibrate the fibers- but for most, it is less strenuous. Players have an opportunity to manage aperture size prior to play with the reed prep (soaking) strategies. Suggestions are included in packages. The downside of highly responsive reeds with smaller apertures is a shorter lifespan. This should be considered when planning for monthly needs. 

When I make an oboe reed I have you in mind. When I test a reed, I test it with an approximation of the embouchure and support system I think you have, based on the information you have given me. Reeds are adjusted accordingly.  It seems to work. 

Incremental Reed Making

The best oboe reeds are made in multiple sessions.  This begins with cane processing which I do in stages.  This gives the cane time to settle between steps and it helps me manage my piipeline.  I have lots of cane, each capable of different results. I need just enough of each batch in ready to go form.

My next step is mounting the reed.  I always expose the bark and take down the tip.  But I make a choice whether to clip the tip depending on what is presented.  I clip when I need the cane to expand, and I don't clip when I am trying to restrain the tip from becoming oversized.  The semi-profiled blanks sit some more. I try to keep plenty of blanks and hand profiled reeds on hand with all brands to be able to deliver the best quality reed to my customer in the least amount of time.

The strength of the cane dictates whether I can finish a reed in one, two or three drying cycles.  Harder, denser cane usually takes  more cycles, but it also has unique capabilities for great reeds.  

Scrape Management

I employ the American long scrape in my oboe reeds, which is used almost exclusively in the USA. The reed is structured with a somewhat defined tip with an inverted soft V.  The tip has a medium to somewhat shorter length, defined heart and back (with windows). The definition between the back and the heart is pronounced, except for student reeds. My heart has a thickness @ .4 (where we all measure it) with blending over the shoulders. This is not a one size fits all system. I never sacrifice tone and pitch in pursuit of the response needed by grade. Extra drying/finishing cycles promote a better and more reliable reeds for you. 

Business Management

I have chosen a business model that keeps my work highly focused, hands-on and relationship driven. Every reed I make goes through many tests and dozens of micro adjustments in pursuit of a finished reed made to work best for players in terms of experience level and personal preference. I know that this is a winning formula for my customers because I plan for quality and service above all else. I focus on products that are supported by core competences, and that are truly differentiated in the market. This is what I do. I don't have other jobs/obligations that compete for my time, so I can dedicate as much time as I need to meet schedules on time. I don't think it is reasonable for buyers to wait 4-6 weeks for an oboe reed order to arrive. Imagine being left without a serviceable reed the day before a concert. As I have said, I plan ahead so you do not have to so much. Best of all, reed orders typically ship in 3-5 days, and include multiple drying cycles. This is the service I would want if I were on the market for handmade oboe reeds.