I tried an experiment last week involving a Green Reed for Contraforte. I just harvested some cane in early January and decided to try to immediately make a reed out of it instead of letting it dry. And this is what turned out! I regular reed that sounded and acted like any other reed but it was fresh green cane and didnt need to be soaked in water before I played on it. The texture was similar to a very hard piece of cane so I had to make this thinner than I would normally. After a few days it started to dry out and warp and is now is playing very sharp. Next I’m going to try this on regular bassoon.
I would suggest trying it to all of the cane harvesters out there!
Probably the least important part of reed making is reed thread. This is the most visual and artistic aspect of the process but serves little purpose. There are a few shapes that require wrapping to seal properly (Hertzberg) but outside of that, good shaping and Duco cement will suffice. Threads are available at double reed supply stores. I have been looking for other sources of reed thread (for cheaper) but have come up short. I know people who prefer cotton thread, and for those people “Aunt Lydia’s” thread is availabe at many stores. I don’t personally like how Duco cement works with cotton. Nylon size FF thread or 138 can be found at many online retailers. I have been using OMEGA thread. Its a nice nylon thread but its thicker than FF so maybe it isn’t usable for oboe/english horn. It comes in 90 different colors and its very cheap. This is great for bassoon and contra reeds and it doesn’t take as much thread to create a turban. I have a friend who buys all of her thread off of the thread exchange. They sell larger spools and in many colors. And of course all of the double reed supply stores have thread. Most of my thread is from RDG Forrests and Charles
This is a post that I have dreaded doing for a long time. I debated whether this was necessary and useful to people, or if it would just be obnoxious. I realized that when I myself was buying reed tools there was very little information on a consumer level about how these machines stacked up against each other. If I was starting all over again in buying reed machines, I would have liked to have seen more information about them. So that’s the basis of including this aspect of my reed desk equipment.
Reiger Bassoon Gouger
This gouger was a recent acquisition, it was a graduation gift from my uncle. Outside of this gouger I have only used the Reeds ‘n Stuff gouger, and I do really prefer the Reiger. The guillotine (which is included, and a big reason for choosing this machine) is very easy to use and cuts to a perfect fit to the cane bed. Once the cane is at that 120mm length, it fits right into the cane bed and never slips out. I have had some problems with other gougers where the cane jumps off of the machine once you use a little strength.
Berdon Bassoon Profile
This machine is an ANTIQUE! It is very old and I found it on eBay from an oboe player who had it in his closet for a few decades. This machine represents a very simple single barrel profiler with two basic adjustment screws, a removable blade, and no measurement systems whatsoever. There are many simple machines like this still being done by a few companies. What I like is that it is very easy to use, easy to remove the blade to sharpen myself and easy to adjust. I don’t like that when I adjust the profile I have to waste a few pieces of cane on trial and error experiments with no way of knowing what my current settings are. I found this for $300 and it works great, if you can find a cheap simple profiler you can probably get a good blade fit to it and get it working. Otherwise I would suggest finding something newer and more sophisticated.
Reeds ‘n Stuff Tip Profiler
This tip profiler I also found used. This is the only thing that I own by Reeds ‘n Stuff and I’m quite sure that he now makes a fancier version of this. However this is very similar to the Reiger tip profiler and it makes all reed finishing a dream. Every tip is the same every time. I cannot enough stress how much this machine changed my reed making and my consistency of sound. I know that they also make oboe tip profilers, that is most of what I hear oboe reed makers complain about is creating an even tip. I have also had some luck using this with contrabassoon reeds without even having to adjust it. If I just put the reed on and keep it a few millimeters shy of the guideline, I get a great tip.
Reeds & Tools gouger
These Reeds & Tools machines are my newest additions, just over a month old. They represent the fanciest machines with flexibility and technology and controlled results. The gouger I currently have set up for processing contraforte cane, this means that I am using a 160mm long 30mm diameter cane bed with a 30mm diameter blade. The cane beds on this machine are interchangeable, so I also have a contrabassoon length bed (150mm) that I can slide use. I also have a 28mm diameter blade and carriage If I want to have eccentrically gouged cane instead of concentric. This machine can also fit a bassoon cane bed, so for doublers who only want one machine to process both instruments’ cane this may be a good choice. Again the guillotine has been great and the bed hold cane firmly.
This is an example of the gouge from this machine.
Reeds & Tools Profiler
This machine is a blast to use! So easy and fast. I have two scoring blades so I can score the collar and the center line of the cane. Chris van O’s was also nice enough to include a spare blade and a dial indicator for adjustments. Unlike my bassoon profiler, this machine has it all. I can accurately change my profile by hundredths of a millimeter by using the attachable micrometer…
This pair of machines make cane processing fast and accurate, and I would recommend them. So far Reeds & Tools is the only company making equipment for contraforte. The machines that I have are for cane up to 160mm in length but he is also making machines at 170mm and 180mm for contraforte player who want to experiment with longer tubes or blades.
The next few entries that I would like to post have to do with my reed desk. I firmly believe that the quality and reliability of someone’s reeds is directly affected by the quality of their reed tools. Generally I have found that people who have great reeds on a daily basis without any “reed panic” days tend to have great reed tools that are sharp and in adjustment.
I would like to post a few entires on a consumer level giving detailed reviews of some of my machines and products. This will be bassoon, contrabassoon, contraforte, or general purpose double reed equipment. I have no affiliation with any company but have chosen my equipment based on reviews, function and the recommendation of my teachers.
Timing in reed making is essential in creating bassoon tone. Allowing rest between stages prevents the fibers of the cane from becoming stressed. It also seems in my experience that the longer the cane can rest, or the slower it is processed into a reed; the longer the reed lasts.This is especially true of reed blanks. Blanks are fully formed reeds that are still closed at the tip and have not been finished (above right).
So my process is something like this… Self harvested cane needs at least 6-8 months to fully dry out and stabilize. I put it in a big plastic storage bin without the lid and put it in the sun on sunny days.
Store bought tube cane that you split yourself should soak for at least 2 hours. Most people I know soak it over night, but it really just depends on how thick the cane is from that harvest. Just think that the water has to soak in to the very center of the cane so that the gouger doesn’t need to work so hard.
After gouging and profiling cane, I give it a few days to rest. This is the first big step for the cane and it has basically gone from a shoot of plant to a finely measured material. Depending on when I want to have new reeds I plan on letting this cane sit for 7 days, but if I am in a rush more like 4.
Gouged cane or gouged and profiled cane needs an hour to soak before working with it. Then I shape it, score it, fold it over, add a wire, and put it on a pressure peg. These pegs (pictured left) are removable and paired with a handle. Reeds are put on here and wrapped with rubber bands creating continuous pressure to form the tube. This rests for a full day (if you listen close you can hear the snap crackle pop)
Turning this into a blank is just adding two more wires, wrapping, reaming, and sealing. Blanks get better with time and for me I notice a big difference after 5 days of resting. This stabilizes the cane fibers and gives the blank time to acclimate. Also important in making reeds last longer is having multiple reeds to play in turns. Working with a batch of reeds in this way allows reeds to last for weeks instead of a few days.
There are some different techniques that I have read about in curing cane. I read an article in IDRS a few years ago from a bassoonist in texas. He soaks all of his cane in very strong tea. When cane is soaked the water becomes cloudy. These are little particle being stripped off of the fibers and released into the water. His theory was that by already having water fully saturated that it wouldn’t take so much out of the cane.
This is a great article from IDRS that touches a bit more on the preparation of cane in the early stages