The Causes of Loose Sides and Why It Matters

Are you struggling to keep the pitch up in your upper octaves but playing sharp all the time? How about having a lot of fatigue or struggling to keep your sound focused as you play? If this sounds like you, you might be a victim of having reeds with loose sides!! ACK!!!

Ok, so what’s the big deal with loose sides?

Loose sides are detrimental to your reeds. They can cause your reeds to be unstable and flat, causing you to bite. That of course will cause all kinds of problems such as playing sharp, inability to control pitch, lack of depth in your tone and having flat upper octaves. Many times we oboists aren’t even fully aware that our reeds have loose sides because we’ve trained ourselves to control the reed. I know I’ve been a victim of that! It’s a problem that can easily sneak into your reed making if you’re not diligent about checking for it.

Checking For Loose Sides

A great way to check for loose sides is to see if you can hold your reed up by the plaque while it’s still on your mandrel for a second or so. If so, the sides of your reeds are closed enough. Another less catastrophic way to check is to just see how difficult it is to insert your plaque into your reed. There needs to be a little resistance.

Unfortunately, since you can’t actually perform these tests until after the reed is clipped open it will be too late to correct the reed if the sides are indeed loose. The best way to solve loose sides is to prevent them from happening in the first place.

A Few Causes of Loose Sides

1. Poor cane selection.

One major cause is using cane that is curved in the wrong direction. The cane you use should be completely flat or curved symmetrically into the shape of a tiny smile when the cane is lying on a flat surface. It’s also wise to avoid twisted cane or cane that does not have the same radius throughout the entire section you plan to use. Avoid using cane that is in the shape of a frown as shown in the picture. 

2. Letting your reeds dry with gaps in the sides.


Some reed makers insist on letting their reeds dry either clipped open or left closed.  Both of these ways have been fine for me. However, if the cane has gaps on the side when folded over you should scrape and clip it open so that the sides will close down. A good rule of thumb is to let the reed dry in the same shape you want it to end up.

3. Your reed was tied on badly.

Most oboe players are in agreement that how your reed is tied on largely determines what kind of reed it will become. Many decisions have already been made up to this point. If your reed was tied on too short, the blades weren’t properly lined up, or the staple is twisted in a weird way then you might have loose sides. 

4. Using a dull knife.

A dull knife causes lots of problems because you end up pressing too hard on the reed while scraping. This can cause your blades to slip more than you intend. Make sure to maintain a really sharp knife at all times!

5. Using a convex plaque.

This is a more controversial point. Many oboists love using convex plaques because they make scraping the tip a little easier, leaving a little more thickness in the center of the tip and allowing easier access to the sides. However, this kind of plaque causes the blades to be held open for a prolonged period of time, which can contribute to weakening the sides. So it’s probably best to just get used to using a flat metal plaque. Allowing your reed to dry with any kind of plaque in it can also aggravate the issue.

These are just a few reasons why you have loose sides but I am sure there are others out there! If you are having this problem a lot, the best way to solve it is to scrutinize every detail of your reed making as much as possible and try to eliminate potential factors that could be causing it. Good luck!

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