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 Is breaking in reeds actually more about hydration than playing?
Author: nellsonic 
Date:   2024-01-10 12:54

Over the past few years I've found my reeds lasting much longer. I've gone from having a reed typically last a few months to having them last pretty consistently for a couple of years!

The only significant variable I can come up with is that I've been breaking in reeds VERY slowly, but also in a very lazy way. Once I've briefly played a reed four times it can go into my regular rotation. However, it often takes several months or even a year for me to do this. Once I play a reed for the first time it will usually sit in a humidity controlled case (72%) for a long time before I get around to playing it again. Because I retire reeds so rarely I've always have a bunch of them waiting their turn.

Other factors that I believe help: I use Steuer Exclusive reeds (very good consistent cane), have a relatively low-resistance set-up (no biting required), rotate reeds after about 30-60 minutes of playing, and carefully and quickly balance and rebalance (and flatten) each reed as needed.

I only have 8 reeds on my A-team at a time and I play for several hours most days, so the reeds get plenty of play each week.

All of this has been consistent for much longer than just the last couple of years, and I am picky about my reeds - they get tossed as soon as they loose any color, response, or hold.

I'm curious if anyone else has found that long hydration, rather than many short playing sessions, might be the key to a great break-in process.


Post Edited (2024-01-10 14:46)

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 Re: Is breaking in reeds actually more about hydration than playing?
Author: Paul Aviles 
Date:   2024-01-10 23:52

Just addressing the question, I'd say that is right on the money. When reeds are played for extended periods right out of the box you can get a greenish color, or dark line right down the center and they just refuse to play right after that. Giving a reed short "play time" over the course of several days (or even weeks depending on how you do it) seems to get reeds "prepared" to play correctly under performance/rehearsal conditions. So yes, hydration seems to be the key part of this process however it is done.

I am missing some of what you are talking about. Do you say that you can play constantly on a reed (say once or twice a week) over the course of a year of playing?


Are you saying that you can hold on to a reed for a year or more AND THEN play on it fine for however long it is actively in your rotation (more like a month or so)?

I ask because I can't really imagine a cane reed lasting more than a month or two at most in a "power rotation" with LOTS of hours per day/week of rehearsal/performances happening. For me reeds just get brittle sounding, loosing their elasticity (I assume) and loosing the warmer aspects of their sound.

.............Paul Aviles

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 Re: Is breaking in reeds actually more about hydration than playing?
Author: nellsonic 
Date:   2024-01-11 06:21

Hi Paul,

Thanks for your response. To answer your questions: yes AND yes. Very long (lazy) break in seems to equal very long playing life, for me.

Robert Marcellus apparently played reeds for years after a very long break in process as well - the difference is that he played them many many times in the process and that wetting and drying them many times was part of the formula.

My real question is whether the frequent drying and playing is crucial to getting the benefits of a long break in - if you store your reeds wet. Perhaps just letting them sit wet with very little play for a long time allows them an extraordinarily long life as well without all the extra attention.

One other factor that probably works to my advantage is that I live in a Mediterranean climate.

Here is my source on Marcellus's process. It's an interesting recent video that you may not have seen yet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XmTL_AOEOiQ

I should note after just having watched it again (at double speed - the pacing is leisurely), that it seems to imply that Marcellus rotated between MANY reeds, but it is also mentioned that some of the reeds he played on were many years old.

I do think this is a very interesting video for players who still use cane.


Post Edited (2024-01-11 10:22)

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 Re: Is breaking in reeds actually more about hydration than playing?
Author: Julian ibiza 
Date:   2024-01-11 12:42

To me it stands to reason that maintaining the reed at a moisture content level similar to that under which it performs properly makes sense, because if it is repeatedly moistened and then dries out, it will be cycling dimensionally and also in its elasticity. Rehydrating it from dry will tend to return it to its previous performance state..... but maybe not quite, because it's being brought back there, rather than not really having left in the first place.

Wood based things are generally ok cycling between certain parameters of humidity content, but if these are extreme then permanent deformities and fiber tearing occurs. This is more obvious with larger wooden things but no doubt the same issues will affect a reed however invisibly to the naked eye.

Julian Griffiths
Tel. 34 696 798 853

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