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 Uhl Technik Reed Profiler 'RPM 68'
Author: Joseph LeBlanc 
Date:   2008-05-17 22:51
Attachment:  RPM1.jpg (200k)
Attachment:  RPM2.jpg (143k)
Attachment:  RPM7.jpg (165k)
Attachment:  RPM8.jpg (220k)
Attachment:  IMG_9746.jpg (174k)

I've been fortunate enough to receive one of the first UHL Reed Profiling Machines(RPM 68). I've posted about this a few times on the bboards...It's finally here and I took some pics(photography is a serious hobby of mine) and would like to share my thoughts on the machine.

First a little background on my reed making. I got a reedual and some blank making tools in March of 2007. In the first week I made about 30 reeds...most were terrible but a few turned out great, actually sounding better than any V12 I had at the time. The next week I used one in a chamber concert and was very happy with the result. Since that time I have been hooked. My reedual profiled reeds have been consistently better and longer lasting than V12s but I grew frustrated with the idiosyncrasies of the reedual. I would ruin a percentage of my blanks because of the inconsistencies of the machine. Some of my reeds are visibly flawed when they come off the dual but due to the virtue of great cane they still play much better than commercial reeds. I could not help but think, if this vamp was more perfectly cut this amazing reed would be even better! I began searching for a more accurate profiler.

There are very few options in this country for reed making tools and also only a few 'reed mentors'. I found some information on the web about some German reed tools and profilers and was intrigued. Hermann Uhl posted some pics of a hand profiler he designed 1998. I contacted him and found he no longer made them however he had plans for a new design. I've been looking forward to it's release ever since and as far as I know....I'm his first customer!

First Impressions

This thing is heavy! I was surprised at how heavy the machine is. It's about 7 lbs, which is heavy for something that is 10 by 20cm(yes it's pretty small). The RPM 68 is very solidly built. The arm swings easily and the back and forth motion along the rail is smooth fast and tight.

Some extra parts I got were two plastic reed guides. One is a model of a V12 and the other a model of a Rue Lepic. I also got an extra cutting blade. Also included is a plate to hold a cane model reed and three allen wrenches to replace removable parts and make adjustments to the reed thickness. Many parts are replaceable and removable. Exchanging parts is very simple. Hermann Uhl recommend changing the blade every 600 reeds(the blade is double sided, so it might yield 300 reeds per side).

Basic use

The principles under which this machine operates are very simple. It's very similar to most bassoon profilers.

On the guide side you have a cane model reed or a plastic guide. A bar rolls over the guide reed(or plastic guide) and tracks the guide side and the blade cuts the cane to shape. It operates much like a key copier. To cut the reed you simply move the blade from side to side. The side to side cutting motion is very smooth and tight, no play or wiggle at all. The block that comes down over the reed is quite heavy and the blade is very sharp so you don't need any additional downward pressure to cut the reed. I was surprised at how easily it cuts through the cane. After a few passes side to side you rotate the cutting block on its axis to create the curvature over the width of the reed. A great design feature of this machine is that, the blade axis will not move until you adjust it. This is very important because it allows you to make a few passes at exactly the same angle and then rotate it just a tiny bit and continue. It allows you to be very methodical and not 'miss' any spots. The bar that the cutting arm slides back and forth on has rubber stoppers on either end, there is no guess work on where to start the vamp. A full stroke will yield the proper vamp length(about 35mm).

The clamp that holds the reed down holds the reed down firmly without torquing it out of shape. It is easy to center the reed and does not skew the reed to one side as you tighten it. The blank is placed directly on the base plate. It does not rest on a protective strip to protect the base plate from getting cut, it does not need one. The plastic guide reed has no shaped tip, it extends straight out and is the same length as the base plate, thus ensuring that on the base plate side(where the blank is being cut) the blade hovers safely above the surface of the base plate. If you choose to use cane as a model, no problem. The base plate the cane model rests on has an offset at the tip end that raises up to meet the edges of the tip of the model reed. The elimination of a protective layer beneath the blank may seem like a minor convenience, but when you are trying to be accurate to the hundredth of a millimeter, eliminating those kinds of variable is a big deal.

Thickness adjustment

One of the stunning design features on this machine is the way thickness is regulated. As you can see from the photos there is a bar that tracks the guide reed as you cut. You can raise or lower that bar, adjusting the thickness of the reed with the two adjustment screws on the top. You can adjust either side individually which is nice. What I didn't realize until I got the machine was that when you turn the adjustment screw, it clicks and locks. Each click adjusts by one hundredths of a millimeter. That amount of fine control is a big headache saver! For example, if you like reed tips that are 0.11mm and you are getting 0.15 on the left and 0.16 on the right you would adjust 4 clicks on the left and 5 on the right. With the reedual and reedmachine, the thickness is also adjusted by a screw, but there is no click and lock, so it's difficult to know exactly how much you are changing the thickness. After making many reeds on the RPM68 I can say that the clicks do correspond to real world measurements, and once you have the correct settings there is no need to reset it from reed to reed, or adjust it as you are making a reed.

The Results

In talking to many clarinetists about this machine, many had trouble believing a blade machine could create a reed that is completely smooth. Knowing Hermann Uhl's expertise, and also having seen the wonderful results of some bassoon profilers I had high hopes for this machine.

I'm happy to report that the results are simply amazing. Perfectly smooth reeds...easily mistaken for commercially made reeds. Near the end of the profiling process you are removing just a light dust. When you are done, no more material will come off. If you decide to reduce the thickness even just by 2 hundredth of a millimeter, you will see a tiny amount of dust coming off. I've demoed the RPM 68 to a few of my colleges and it's been fun to see skepticism turn to amazement.

With my reedual my reeds may vary in thickness up to maybe 0.05 of a millimeter from reed to reed(sometimes even more). That may not sound like much, but there is a big difference from a 0.10mm tip(about right) and 0.15mm(too thick, requires a rerun on the dual or some hand finishing). On the UHL, I'm seeing variation of no more than 0.01mm, all of my reed are coming out around 0.10 to 0.11.

I've included some pictures of finished reeds to show how good the results are. What astonished me is how quickly I was able to get these results(those pictures are the forth and fifth reeds I made on the machine). Even my first reed turned out fantastic. I get the best results by removing a little bit of cane(one or two passes), turning the angle of the blade, remove a tiny bit more, turn again etc. This removes a tiny layer at a time from the entire surface of the reed and then you repeat until the reed is done. In the beginning I made the mistake of removing as much material as I could before moving the angle of the blade. This method led to removing wider strips of cane at a time and would tend to rip out small patches. Another mistake I made at first was pressing down while cutting. With this machine it's not necessary to press, the weight of the cutting block is enough to cut smoothly. So keeping those factors in mind, I've been able to get beautiful looking reeds.

But how do the reeds play?

The reeds are fantastic. As good as the best reeds off my reedual...but my percentage of success has gone way up. Also the tips(and rest of the reed) are more even and symmetrical, so they respond better especially in the upper register. They also require less hand work to balance them(keep in mind, even perfectly symmetrical reeds might need some balancing).

If the measurements are accurate to 0.01 is every reed the same strength? No, this is a reed myth. Measure V12s of different strengths, you will find all the tips are around 0.10. Cane density determines strength. I make my reeds with the tip of the blank about 2mm past the tip line, thus making a longer tip. Almost all of these reeds come off feeling a little soft, then I clip to the desired strength. If a reed comes off too hard I generally don't adjust the settings of the machine, I put the blank back on and move it past the tip line a tiny bit more, and rerun. This moves the heart slightly back and makes the tip slightly longer, yielding a softer reed.

Does every reed off of the RPM 68 play the same? No, and some I might never use, but that is the nature of cane. Even if every reed is made to the same exact dimensions they will still all play differently because each piece of cane is different. But having consistent dimensions from reed to reed is a good place to start from. Before the RPM 68 I was compensating for cane variables and measurement variables, so it was hard to know where to start fixing the problem. I would often get a reed that could do almost everything well but was lacking in some area(response, or articulation etc). I feel the RPM 68 consistently yields more versatile reeds that are not lopsided in their strengths and weaknesses.

Final thoughts

This RPM 68 is well thought out in every aspect and is impeccably designed and machined. It exceeded the high expectations I had for it. With other profilers I've used it can take weeks or months to learn the idiosyncrasies of the machine or reverse engineer a model reed to compensate for inaccuracies built into the design of the profiler. You hear a lot of talk from reed makers on how they have their finally have a good 'system' going. The RPM68 eliminates that headache, it simply works the way it should.

My sincere thanks to Hermann Uhl for keeping me updated throughout this process and for designing such a fabulous machine. I believe Uhl's RPM 68 is the new standard in clarinet profilers and will become a valuable tool for any serious clarinet reed maker.



Post Edited (2008-05-18 16:13)

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 Uhl Technik Reed Profiler 'RPM 68'  new
Joseph LeBlanc 2008-05-17 22:51 
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