It is often said from some of the best oboe teachers that once your reed is tied on it is 75% (or some similar figure) finished. However, newer reed makers tend to be a little more obsessed with the scraping, adjusting, and other parts of the reed. In fact, tying on a good blank (a reed that is tied on only but not scraped yet) can often be overlooked by many professionals!!
With my students, I usually don’t let them start scraping until they can make a decent blank. I make them tie it over and over. I am mean.
I really hated it when my teachers did that to me. 🙂
So what all goes into a good blank, and why is it so important? There are four big things that will affect your reeds.
(I also have a free checklist included at the bottom of this post so keep reading!)
1. The cane.
The first thing to discuss is the cane. There are two aspects that go into this. First of all there’s quality to consider. Oboe cane, or Arundo Donax, is a weed that grows in a warm and dry climate with mild winters. It grows well in similar climates to vineyards so most oboe cane comes from….. you guessed it. France! Ah…. France.
As you can imagine, how well it’s grown, how long it’s aged, weather patterns, drought, rain, the quality of the soil and all sorts of things affect this little weed that determines so much of our happiness! Cane needs to age approximately five years for it to be mature, so if there is a shortage of supply (as I think there is now) double reed suppliers can end up receiving a lot of green cane. Green cane produces not so lovely reeds.
The other side of this is the selection process. Double reed suppliers will not do a lot of sorting for you. So you will end up with a mixed bag (literally) of cane when you receive an order. That means you have to sort it!
Some of the things that are sorted out include, the color of the cane, the texture, how thick the walls of the cane are, its straightness, and more. All of these things will absolutely affect your reed in some way or another. For example, cane with too much gray or ridges will lead to reeds that are too soft, flat and have little vibrancy. Each oboe player will have a varying degree in how important each of these things are, and to what extent each variable matters. I am pretty picky about this but when cane is in high demand there are some things I’ll relax my standards on a little.
Each oboe player will have a varying degree in how important each of these things are, and to what extent each variable matters.
So as you can imagine, a lot goes into determining that kind of cane you’re using! Relying on another person to do it for you may be fine for awhile but an element of how your reeds play is out of your control.
2. The gouge.
Next we have the gouge. So much of the reed is determined by how it is gouged. It can’t all be contained in one blog post! Professional oboists will spend their entire careers experimenting and puzzling out what effects the gouge has on their reeds. It can be kind of fun! Kind of….
Again we have a few different things that we have to consider when we talk about how reeds are affected by the gouge. One being the maker of the gouge, the other being the quality of the machine and its upkeep; dull blades can lead to lots of problems like loose sides and flat reeds. Another variable that affects the gouge is the measurements and how you gouge your cane. Gouging measurements make a huge difference in the reed, and those measurements can vary by season, the type of cane, the altitude you live in, and of course your own preference.
Can you see how the type of reed you’re going to have is already being determined?
3. The shape.
Once your cane is selected and gouged, it’s time to shape it! There are many types of shaper tips out there so its important to find the right one that fits your comfort level, your oboe, and has the right balance between pitch, stability and tone.
In my reed making video course I mention that shaping your cane is actually pretty easy. BUT! It is also really easy to ruin your reed if it’s done incorrectly! If you’ve shaped your cane badly, you will likely have leaks, loose sides, or crooked reeds at best!
So again we have several things that are important in the shape of the cane; the type of shaper tip you use and how well it has been shaped.
There are many types of shaper tips out there so its important to find the right one that fits your comfort level, your oboe, and has the right balance between pitch, stability and tone.
4. How it is tied on.
If you buy gouged and shaped cane this is where you just start to have some control, but alas! you haven’t had a lot of control over the process up until now. This is why most oboists who are serious about studying the oboe should move into cane processing after a two-four years of reed making experience.
Even so, there are still many other variables that affect the outcome of your reeds in regards to how it has been tied on. In fact, some of these things are more easily noticed when they are done incorrectly; if it’s tied over the staple, if the overall length is correct, and more.
When I tie on my reeds there are six things I am really careful to check before I clip it open.
When I tie on my reeds there are six things I am really careful to check before I clip it open. Unfortunately, if something is not right with your blank, once it’s clipped open there isn’t a lot you can do to fix it. So it’s best to be really sure you’ve got it right!
So with that being said, here is the free checklist for checking your blanks I mentioned earlier in the post! Now go make some blanks!