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Reeds.... Reeds.... Reeds....!

We're all looking for the secret to the perfect reed..... but I guess until someone finds the solution (if they can put man on Mars surely someone can figure out how to make the perfect oboe reed...) we can but share ideas. My reeds are based on those of my former teacher, Bernd Holz (WDR Sinfonie Orchester, Köln.) They are very light, flexible, but in no way have a thin tone. I found changing to this style of reed solved so many problems, pitch, intonation etc. I play on a Ludwig Frank Oboe but used the same set-up on a Marigaux Oboe and before that a Howarth. All I have had to change is the staple length.

Selecting Cane

It's a bit like "popstars"..... you know most of the cane (applicants) will be completely hopeless, but you have to go through it all systematically (first selection.)
 1) Measure the cane carefully. I use a 10mm bed - and a Michel gouger. I have used other makes of Gouging machine but find the Michel gouges evenly and accurately all the time, and makes the sides thin enough - really important for this style of reed. The cane should be slightly narrower than 10mm when dry as it will swell when soaked.
 2) DON'T expect to get more than 2 cuts from one piece of cane. Select the part of the tube that is exactly the right measurement. It must also be straight and ideally have no marks or colouration to the bark. Look for a golden colour rather than brown and cane that has no visible grain. It should have a smooth surface with a sheen.
 3) DO make sure your cane is clean. Not all suppliers clean it first. Use a scouring pad to rub off dirt.



Look at these three pieces of cane. Which would you use?











I would discard the top and bottom pieces. The bottom one is uneven in colour and shows streaks of brown, the top one is dull and too pale. The middle one is golden brown, straight and,

if you look at it down the middle, has a lovely band of hard cane around the edge:



This is like the "first recall" on Popstars. You can discard quite a lot of cane after pregouging, when it is easier to see if it is too soft.
 I use a " Reeds n stuff " pregouger. It is quick and safe - absolutely impossible to cut your fingers. It also gouges quite thin, so that you'll have less cane to take off with the gouging machine. This will mean your blade will stay sharp for much longer!
 When you have pregouged the cane, check it's flexibility. If it is bendy, with no strength, discard it - it will be too soft. Also discard any cane that doesn't go smoothly through the pre-gouger, that too is an indication of soft cane. If the cane inside is very pale, it is also probably too soft.



The selected cane split and placed in the Reeds n stuff pre-gouger:

safe, efficient and blade saving!





1) Soak cane for 5 minutes and then leave damp in a plastic bag. Why gouge wet?

The theory is that if you gouge dry, the cane will be thicker when wet, and you will therefore

have to scrape more of the good hard cane from above. also, it is less damaging to your

blade. More about that later. Just remember this is only what I do. Other people gouge dry.
 2) Do not press hard down on the blade. The gouging machine should be carefully set up to

gouge to the right thickness with little pressure. You don't want to flatten the fibres, they

will just seem thicker then when dried out and re-soaked. Are you sitting down?

This is the surprising bit. I gouge to .53-.54. Yes .53-.54. That's not a typo.

What is the theory behind this seemingly thin gouge. It's all to do with good cane / bad cane.

Look at a piece of tube cane under a spot light. You can see, on a good piece, a "halo-like"

glow of orange around the edge. This is the hard bark. It indicates a good hard piece of cane.

When you gouge you gouge from underneath, just the soft cane (bad cane), leaving the hard

cane (good cane) for the reed. When you scrape, you take away from the good cane.

Therefore, if you gouge MORE to start with from underneath (soft cane) you don't have to

take so much good cane away from the top therefore maximizing the use of the best cane.

Sort of logical isn't it?
 3) 2nd Recall time.... Look carefully at the shavings you get from gouging. They should be

about 5-6 thick and the width of the cane. If the cane comes off in little pathetic pieces,

the cane is certainly too soft. Don't waste time thinking you can turn a sow's ear into a silk

purse! Better to practice Gillet studies huh?
 4) If the shavings are good and the cane measures .54-.55 (this is the wet thickness,

it will be a little thinner dry), it's looking promising... Do the twist test again. It should have

give but spring back to it's straight form. Yes? OK, then next............

shaping (the Popstars masterclass?)




I have experimented with Reiger and RDG shapers, but I have to confess I am clumsy and

found that a) it's very easy to cut yourself and b) it is hard to get a really accurate shape.

I used to use a wonderful machine by Adolf Hörtnagl (Austrian chappy), using a number

25 for oboe, 20 for D'Amore and a number 60 for Cor Anglais. There are loads of shapes to

try. I have a full list of his shapers, with detailed measurements. I am happy to provide a

copy by email. I now use a reeds n stuff machine, which is similar and has also a huge

range of shapes. The only downside with this machine is that it is a little trickier to swap to a

Cor Anglais template as you have to take out the plastic guards on the template fitting.
Not much more to say. The machine does it all for you. Perfect shaped cane every time!

(Sounds like an advert?)

Want to learn more about gouging and shaping? Why not come for a reed-making consultation at the Oboist Clinic!

Oboe reed cane
Oboe reed cane
Reeds n Stuff pr gouge
Reeds n Stuff shaping machine
Michel gouging machine
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