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 Reed Making:General Questions
Author: EricBlack 
Date:   2021-05-06 19:52

So there is a post from 2002 asking about reed making, but it wasn’t particularly well discussed so I am making a new thread. I’ve been making my own reeds off and on for the last 5 or so years. I’ve studied with someone who also makes their own reeds and feel pretty comfortable with the process and many of the subtleties in reed creation. I recently made this video talking about my experience https://youtu.be/m0AN11CExBw.

In the video I talk about how my reed making experience was met mostly with failure. The reeds did not meet my expectations. And perhaps I overstate it a little, as some of the reeds I’ve made were well received by other clarinet players. But for me they just weren’t as good for my setup or sound concept as I had come to expect from premade reeds. In the end, I discovered that the cane I was using was the most likely culprit (duh!) and the reason my reeds didn’t meet expectations

In case anyone is wondering how different types of cane effected the final product, here are some examples: When using Rigotti cane the reeds I made were very lively and responsive. However the sound was quite a bit “lighter” or brighter sounding than I was used to, even when clipped to the appropriate resistance. Alternatively, when I used RGO cane, I found the cane to be naturally much harder than the Rigotti. While the sound had more “depth”, it maybe went too far in the opposite direction, lacking some of the overtones I had come to expect. The reeds also came off the Uhl machine much harder than an equivalent Rigotti. Of course in both of these cases the overall tip thickness, blank thickness and taper can be adjusted to compensate for the natural sound of the cane, but despite changes I would make, they never felt quite quite as good as the best premade, out-of-the-box, reeds I had been used to playing on.

The reeds I have been making recently, have been excellent. They sound just as good as the best reeds out of the box and they check all the right boxes when it comes to resistance, sound, articulation, etc. All it took was a different type of cane!

So I guess I have a few questions for other reed makers! Firstly, what cane do you use and where do you get it from? As every harvest yields different cane, I’m not sure how useful this information is on a practical level, but it can’t hurt. How do you feel that, that cane effects the overall sound you are producing?

Next, why do you make your own reeds and what drove you to it in the first place? For me, I don’t really have problems with premade reeds; for instance 8-9 reeds out of a box of 10 Vandorens are more than useable. But, I was attracted to the idea of having a more customized reed for my setup.

Finally, was there any “eureka” moment where you figured out something that brought your reeds to the next level? The missing piece, the secret sauce? I’d be curious to hear what it was!

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 Re: Reed Making:General Questions
Author: SecondTry 
Date:   2021-05-07 06:06


I enjoyed your post and Youtube content. I must admit to having never made my own reeds and therefore cannot answer your questions.

I'm still though fascinating by, at least today, those people who make their own single reeds, what got them into it, was it worth it, and if successful, their secrets.

As far as I am concerned, cane reeds will always be somewhat of a mystery to me because despite all the controls we can place on the process, and the sense of control we think making reeds ourselves provides: IMHO this sense of control may not be nearly as much as we ascribe to it given the natural vagrancies of Arundo donax, and the player who makes it vibrate.

As you must know, even cane harvested from the same field, in the same season, and properly aged will have diversity, just as nature intended it to. The funny thing about such diversity (need I tell you) is it's nature ways of throwing enough "poop at the wall of life, and seeing what sticks." It's a slow, highly inefficient process (diversity and natural selection,) and can cause the same piece of cane to react differently despite a reed being cut with near perfect symmetry (less than a human hair difference in thickness) in factories.

We already know that, at least in the case of Vandoren, all reeds of a brand are cut the same, and strength comes from mother nature. Given this the case, I offer myself little hope that any home machinery I can buy will produce better results: although there's a skill component too.

Perhaps I appreciate why legendary pedagogues like Opperman made his own reeds. Manufacturing techniques weren't as precise in his day. But in today's world I really have to question whether, generally speaking, players making their own reeds from scratch is wise, given that the alternative need not be simply taking the manufactured reed out of the box and playing it with no adjustment.

To wit, there's "middle ground," the idea that the player can effect some basic maintenance on the factory produced reed to get up to speed faster. Still more, the control that those who make their own reeds seek is really just another way of desiring consistently good reeds. Along these lines, some players have chosen to play synthetics not because they exceed the best cane, but for the tradeoff in better consistency.

The same Opperman who made reeds may have felt differently about this today given the learning curve involved and how he felt that time is a player's most precious asset.

I could see how, as you described in your video, you could be attracted to making your own reeds given another player's belief that it was paradigm changing for them. But since this person was the exception, at least for me, I'd have to question whether I could reproduce such results myself.

That said, I hope you have cracked the code. The motivation to make one's own reeds can be quite temping given all the money we waste on them, but like you, I've found that using techniques like the ATG method finds me enough good reeds in a box that the tradeoff to make my own reeds just isn't worth it, assuming I even could.

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 Re: Reed Making:General Questions
Author: kdk 2017
Date:   2021-05-07 17:02

Some players say that having learned to make their own reeds gave them a better understanding of the mechanics involved and, therefore, of how to adjust commercial reeds more effectively.


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 Re: Reed Making:General Questions
Author: EricBlack 
Date:   2021-05-09 03:30


Perhaps I appreciate why legendary pedagogues like Opperman made his own reeds. Manufacturing techniques weren't as precise in his day. But in today's world I really have to question whether, generally speaking, players making their own reeds from scratch is wise, given that the alternative need not be simply taking the manufactured reed out of the box and playing it with no adjustment.

Ya, I think the general level of consistency that modern, commercial reeds have reached makes them more than suitable for the vast majority of players. However, I will say that one of the primary people I learned reed making from is truly a master of the craft. I've been fortunate enough to play on some of those reeds and they are phenomenal in every respect. However, their knowledge was hard won! I don't think most people have the stomach to spend the amount of time necessary to reach that level of knowledge and skill in regards to their reeds (literally 1000s of hours.)

And to respond to kdk, learning to make my own reeds definitely gave me a better understanding of the underlying mechanics, even if there is still more to learn!

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 Re: Reed Making:General Questions
Author: Simon Aldrich 
Date:   2021-05-09 04:51

>was there any “eureka” moment where you figured out something that >brought your reeds to the next level? The missing piece, the secret sauce?

When I made my own reeds, the scales fell from my eyes when I realized the importance of cane *density*, and how it was often left out of the equation. When I was at Northwestern University, one of the classes I took was reed-making. The accent was on how to accurately copy a model reed. Cane density was not mentioned. However time and time again, an accurate copy with theoretically good measurements would barely produce a sound, while copies with theoretically absurd measurements would play well.
The propensity for the Reedual to produce a copy with wacky measurements lead me to realize that its all about cane density, not ideal measurement duplication.

One summer at National Repertory Orchestra in Colorado I was making my own reeds. This was before I had cottoned on to the importance and consequence of cane density.
One night I produced a reed that was, in theory hopelessly lopsided (8 on the left, 2 on the right). It shouldn't have worked, but it played great. Because the measurements were not kosher (and at that stage in life I was more absorbed by the process than the result) I clipped the tip off to remake the reed, hopefully with "good" measurements this time. The result was a reed with lopsided, "bad" measurements again. The reed's measurements were askew, this time in reverse. The reed was overly thin on the left. I clipped the tip and remade the reed about 5 more times, each time getting cockeyed measurements that should not have worked, all the while ignoring the fact that the reed played and responded well. The reed ended up quite short but I could ignore for only so long the fact that it played well. I played it for all the concerts for the rest of the summer (1st in Galanta, Scheherazade, Beethoven 6, Peter and the Wolf, etc).

I could do almost anything to a blank of good density and it would play. Conversely, you could make a perfect copy of an ideal model and you would have an aneurysm and give yourself a double hernia trying to produce a sound.

About 20 years ago, one of the Vandoren family members was in Montreal and gave a reed presentation. He explained that there is no difference in *thickness* between a 2 1/2 strength reed and a 5 strength reed (a fact one can confirm by measuring the reed on a micrometer like a Perfectareed). He explained that the phenomenon that determines a reed's strength is the cane's density. He described the density gauge Vandoren uses. If you look at the butt of a Vandoren or Rico reed you will see a horizontal band of "teeth marks". These are marks left by a spring gauge that presses into the butt of the reed, measuring the cane's density. The resulting density measurement determines the number strength the reed is assigned.

One of the implications of the cane's density being the most important determining factor in its playability is the questionableness of scraping down hard reeds to a point of playability. One can thin a reed but one can't change that cane's intrinsic density.

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 Re: Reed Making:General Questions
Author: SecondTry 
Date:   2021-05-09 07:19

I've always had misgivings about reed copying devises for the simple paradox that copying a wonderfully playing reed's contours on to another piece of cane is exactly what you DON'T want to do, unless that second piece of cane is identical to the first....

....which it isn't, thank you mother nature.

Sure, reeds made from identical stock may be closer in consistency than a field's stock across years, or two different fields (cultivated/aged at two different times,) but it seems to me that short of measuring instruments that test a reed's strength, which can include anything as simple as one's own testing, to something as complex as controlled bursts of air that measure a reed's flex, not unlike the optometric machinery used to determine ocular pressure (i.e. glaucoma) that I understand Vandoren uses in principle, matching physical profiles is only a starting point.

Eric, that master of the craft you refer to, I am forced to ask myself, "at what cost did the time to learn come at compared to playing ability, if any," and "how much better are his reeds than those he could adjust from the factory?."

I'm no genius at this stuff. I spent an afternoon learning the ATG principles of reed adjustment years ago and went from few to most reeds in a box being acceptable to me. I did not need to learn reed making from scratch and my results have been reported by others as well.

Then again, I've never played this guy's reeds you describe Eric, and your OP isn't about advocating this, so much as just harmlessly comparing notes with others who have done this.  :)

These thoughts are by no means negatively directed at anyone. Who could put a price tag on consistently good reeds when we all value things differently?

But I must say that given better production reeds than those produced for prior generations of players, plus synthetics, plus the value of time of young players putting in the practice hours trying to land their first job, I have to question the time spent on this endeavor, much as I can appreciate (as a woodworker hobbyist) the work of a craftsman at it.

Post Edited (2021-05-09 07:19)

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 Re: Reed Making:General Questions
Author: BobW 
Date:   2021-05-10 06:43

I play clarinet for a hobby. I started making my own reeds about 10-12 years ago.
I started for several reasons
1) I wanted to have more control over reed performance
2) I had read, especially on this board, about how bad commercial reeds where
3) The whole process intrigued me
I purchased about 10 years ago, 1-2 pounds of cane each, from the following suppliers
Muncy Winds, Gonzalez Cane
RDG Woodwinds, RGO Cane
Jeanne, Rigotti Cane
Albert Alphin, unknown cane
I have made reeds from all and have done some comparisons, I really do not notice much difference
The technique I use is mostly from the book " A Book for the Clarinet Reed-Maker" by Ronald Vazquez
I spilt the cane with a chisel
I cut it to length with a plastic miter box and saw from Home Depot
I flatten the blank with the Robert Dilutis Reed Machine planer
I shape the sides of the blank with the Robert Dilutis Reed Machine profiler
I profile the reed using the Reedual
I form the tip with the Robert Dilutis Reed Machine clipper
I adjust the reed using the technique described in the excellent YouTube video
by Earspasm " How to work on Clarinet/Sax Reeds like a Pro"
Overall I am very happy with my results. I make maybe 10-20 blanks at a time
and store them, takes maybe 2-3 hours. Then when I make my final reed it only takes about 30 minutes to get an excellent reed. It really does not take much time. People discuss weather the time making reeds is better used practicing I would argue that most likely I have more time to practice, since I make my own reeds and don't have to waste time messing around with commercial reeds.
I think the more reeds you make the better you get at making reeds
Hope this helps

Post Edited (2021-05-10 06:48)

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