The Anatomy of a Reed: Materials

To the un-initiated, oboe reeds are mysterious, tiny, delicate pieces of wood that squeak when blown through. To the oboist, they are fickle tools which sometimes don’t cooperate and sometimes make the most beautiful music.

Let’s break down the main parts of a reed, starting with the materials we use to make them!

 

cane

From Left to Right: Tube cane, gouged cane, gouged/shaped/folded cane

1. Arundo Donax aka “cane”
Arundo Donax, or cane is the woody material used to make the mouthpiece part of a reed. It’s a type of grass which grows in the wild all over the world, and used for all woodwind instrument reeds (clarinet, saxophone, bassoon, oboe). Cane is cultivated commercially in France, China, the US, Argentina, Spain, and probably other places too.

In order to use this big grass for a reed, we go through an extensive selection and finishing process until the cane has been cut down to size, made thinner, folded in half and shaped appropriately.

 

staples

From left to right: RDG Type 2 46mm silver staples, unknown brass staple 46mm, Chudnow S and E brass staples 47mm, Pisoni brass staples 47mm.

2. Staples aka Tubes aka Corks
Staples come in different metals, with different openings, different cork material, and different lengths. Oboists typically have one or two brands which they are loyal to. I’ve used a bunch of different ones based on the recommendations of different teachers or colleagues. Whether it’s brass or silver, natural or synthetic cork, we pick one particular brand of staple in the hopes that if we are consistent with a few variables things will go well more often.

 

 

thread

Luminous blue is one of my favorite reed colors!

3. Nylon or silk thread
I prefer to use nylon thread because it breaks less easily and it doesn’t slip as much as silk when you work with it. This isn’t your average nylon thread either, this is specialty stuff with a strong twist and thin diameter.

 

 

4. Beeswax
Beeswax is an integral part of learning how to make an oboe reed as a beginner. Without it, your cane slides all over the place and you come up with a reed that’s too long or too short. Beginners, take my advice and save yourself a headache: always wax your thread!

 

5. Specialized tools
There are many different tools that we use for making reeds, here are my most frequently used tools:

reed tools

Hollow ground knife, fine grit ceramic sharpening sticks, a ruler, thread,a mandrel, staples, a fine-tipped Sharpie, a cutting block, a fancy and very fine grit nail file, a straight razor blade, a plaque. Also a C-clamp and a desk lamp.

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Ferling #27

This etude from the Ferling book was one of the required pieces for the ILMEA Senior Division auditions this year!

Watch it here on my YouTube channel!

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Care and Maintenance!

I found this blog about oboe Care and Maintenance while searching the web for help oiling my oboe’s bore last summer. I hadn’t done so for over a year, and it’s one of those things that you just don’t want to mess up, you have to find the goldilocks point for your oboe – not too much and not too little oil.

The most unusual (and helpful!) tip that I found here was “protect all of the pads underneath the key work […] by using some kitchen tin foil and slipping it under any and all keywork that might be in the way of the oil”

I’ve not seen that method of protecting pads from oil suggested anywhere else, and it was AMAZING! The only difficult part was trying to keep the foil over the pads as you pick up the instrument. I put it under the pads which normally rest closed (a and c resonance keys, trill keys, c, c# pads, etc.). As long as I didn’t push down the keys to open the a and c resonance keys it worked like a charm!

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