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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000196.txt from 2001/05

From: (William Wright)
Subj: Re: [kl] breaking in reeds
Date: Mon, 7 May 2001 02:59:29 -0400

<><> Jim=A0Lande wrote:
what is the mechanism by which wetting and drying breaks in a reed.

As a starting point, water affects wood. So it makes sense that
exposing cane to cycles of wet and dry is going to have an effect of
some sort.

It makes sense that this effect will be different after a piece of
cane has been cut into the shape of a reed --- that is, the bark has
been cut away and the interior of the cane is exposed directly to
moisture and the dimensions of the cane's cross section (vamp) is no
longer constant across the cane's width and length.

Experience shows that nobody can predict the details of all these
factors, but it makes sense that new stresses will be in effect after
the cane is cut, and the cane will re-adjust in some way to them.
Somebody, either customer or manufacturer, must face up to this physical

Also, most 'break in' regimens include rubbing down as well as
wetting and drying. Cane has pith as well as fibers, and the rubbing
process redistributes the pith and fills in some of the 'pores' between
the fibers. Allegedly, this reduces the magnitude of water absorption
and hence the magnitude of dimensional changes when the reed is exposed
to moisture.

You can see one aspect of pith movement if you lightly scrape
(Larry Guy's book uses the term "dust off") the back of a reed after it
has been wetted and rubbed dry. The 'pith dust' will come off on your
knife. So clearly the wood is changing in this regard at least during
the 'break in' period.

<><> why can't reed makers automate the break in process before we
get the reeds?

It would cost money. You cannot perform cycles of
wet/dry/test/adjust in just a few seconds. I can imagine that a
'broken in' box of reeds could cost $30-50.

Also, there are decisions to be made during the break in process
that involve sanding, scraping, cutting and so forth. Since no two
musicians have identical 'oral cavities' or identical opinions about
which tone sounds best, it probably _is_ better to let each person make
his/her own choices during the break-in.

All of this is IMO and YMMV, of course. My teacher advised me a
couple of years ago (when I began taking lessons) that I should learn to
adjust my own reeds, that I should buy a few tools, and so forth. But
now..... she's using a plastic reed when she doubles professionally in
a pit, and I can see it in her face that she's seriously thinking of
abandoning cane altogether.

I, on the other hand, have tried plastic and I have re-tried it
during the last two weeks, and I still don't like it. I have kept
skimpy records about how long my cane reeds last and which brand works
best for me. I'm convinced that I receive more playing hours if I do a
week or so of 'break in' before I use a reed for serious practice. My
results aren't too meaningful, however, because I began playing and
taking lessons only two years ago --- and I still have a very long way
to go before I can describe myself as a 'clarinetist'. I'm sure that
some of my records say more about my learning curve than about how reeds
behave. Hence IWYYMMV (I warned you YMMV).


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