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Barrick Stees, Bassoon

Making Reeds

REED FINISHING

The following steps are to be taken after cane profiled on a single barrel profiler has been made into blanks. Refer to Reed Diagram for locating blade areas mentioned.

  1. Ream reed with a reamer that reaches into the throat of the blank. I have a custom-designed reamer that does this best.
  2. Cut in collar with razor blade. File area in front of collar for smooth, even thickness.
  3. Diagram 5376 Diagram 5378 Diagram 5379

  4. Soak blank for five minutes.
  5. Cut off tip with razor blade or tip cutter.
  6. Using a medium coarse file or 320 wet/dry sandpaper, rough out area from tip to ¼” back going farther back on the sides of the blade. It is helpful to draw the boundary of this area with a pencil.
  7. Diagram 5381

  8. File or sandpaper rails of blank.
  9. Crow reed by placing lips on first wire and blowing lightly until reed makes a sound. The pitch should be an F or F#. Crescendo to test multiphonic capability of crow. This will tell you how strong or weak the reed is. If the multiphonic lasts longer during the crescendo, the reed is stronger. If the predominate pitch is an F or F# go to step 8. If the crow is stiff and pitched higher, go to step 9.
  10. Do a little work with the reed knife in tip area

    Diagram 5381

    concentrating on the taper from center to sides as well as from ¼” in to the very tip. When working on the blade, always blend work on one area into another so that changes in thickness are gradual. Check your work frequently by playing the reed on the bassoon and measure the results on the dial indicator. Remember that the most important concept in reed finishing is keeping measurements of the blades symmetrical with one another. As you work, the tone should gradually open up and focus, response and dynamic control improve. Early signs of a good reed: A free response, full tone and ease with controlling “pp” and subtones. If so, go to step 10.

  11. Reeds that do not respond well at first crow are either: a) profiled too thick, b) “late bloomers” or c) bad reeds. As familiarity with the profiler grows, fewer thick reeds result. Most “late bloomers” end up being mediocre at best. Indeed, most reeds which have a poor crow (assuming a correct profile) are bad reeds. The bassoonist should always try to find ways to save time and can do so here by throwing out the truly bad reeds and saving the questionable ones for later. However, since we are often in need of practice reeds and “back-up” reeds, work on the reed in the following ways:
    1. Work down the tip area more aggressively than in step 8.
    2. Work the area in front of the collar down more, further blending into heart.
    3. Check all work by playing reed and check measurements on the dial indicator.
    4. If reed is still unresponsive, work in channels and heart in that order, especially if reed is still heavy in these areas.
    5. If reed is still unresponsive and has an undesirable tone, throw it away!
  12. If the reed is playing well after step 8, let it sit for a few days to a week. If, as you are breaking it in, the low register stiffens, becomes sharp and unresponsive, work in the area in front of the collar enough to create a nearly parallel scrape on the back 2/3 of the blades. Do less work here if much high register playing is required. Do an equal amount of work on the sides in the back 2/3 of the blade as well as the center. Check your work with the dial indicator and look for long grains in the cane starting at the collar extending 2/3 the length of the blade. Finish with a light sandpapering with #400 wet/dry sandpaper. If reed is playing well at this stage and hasn’t been set aside for a week of drying, do so now.
  13. Break in the reed playing long tones (see long tone regimens) and slurring broken arpeggios. Avoid the high register for now. Test the reed in the following ways:
    1. Play second octave e (one finger and whisper key) and c# just below that using a forte dynamic and sfz attack. If the attack is unstable and the pitch is flat, the reed is weak and you should do no more work on it. Play on it for five minutes. If the problem persists, tighten the second wire and make sure first wire is exactly 1 inch from the butt end. As a last resort, cut 1 mm from the tip.
    2. Check stability of pitch on forked Eb, slurring from full fingering to left hand alone. If the short fingering is sharp, remove cane from channels then heart in that order until fingerings are in tune.
    3. Check stability of pitch on third octave Bb (opening note, Mozart Concerto) without using speaker key. Compare to baroque fingering (xxx/xox). Scrape channels near the tip until fingering is in tune and attack clears up.
    4. Diagram 5382

    5. Check pitch of low D. If very sharp and harsh sounding, scrape area in front of collar and the back part of the heart and the channels.
    6. Close tip slowly with thumb and forefinger. Tip should close evenly from sides first. If one side closes first, check scrape under a light and scrape the other side until reed closes evenly. If tip closes all at once, like a garage door, scrape sides some more. Tip should be thinner at sides, thicker in the middle.
    7. Diagram 5384 Diagram 5385 Diagram 5386

  14. To get the most out of your reeds, the above process should take about two weeks. Try not to hurry the drying and breaking in stages. When broken in, treat your good reeds as you would a starting pitcher if you were the coach of a major league baseball team. No pitcher can pitch effectively two days in a row. Make enough so you always have three or four good reeds and use them in rotation.

REED ADJUSTMENTS FOR SPECIAL SITUATIONS

    • High register playing. For pieces and excerpts that are pitched exclusively in the high register such as the opening of Le Sacre or the Ravel G major Piano Concerto first movement solo, leave more cane in the back of the reed blade and make the corners of the tip thinner than usual. Wires should be more round than usual. Choose reeds made from harder cane.
    • Soft low register playing. For pieces like Tchaikovsky 6th, Tannhauser Overture, etc., choose reeds made from softer cane (more give to the touch when you close the tip with your fingers) and have an easier response. You can round the wires to darken the sound if needed. Blade length can be slightly longer than usual (26-27mm instead of 25.5) Slip first wire toward second by 1mm.
    • Better control of diminuendos. Make sides of tip and more of channels thinner.
    • Deeper tone, better low notes. Scrape “oboe windows” in back half of blade, avoiding the spine.