Why do I settle for a simple profile that requires more work after forming the blank? Why not use a machine that gets me closer to a finished reed so I have less scraping to do per reed?
I have several answers.
First, if you set one of these expensive machines to profile at finished reed blade dimensions, you get fewer usable, good reeds. Profiling the blades down to finished reed measurements results in lots of the reeds that are too flimsy to use.
Most reeds stiffen as they are played in, thus leaving a little cane on throughout is a good idea.
Thus, most people who use these machines actually set them to profile thick enough to allow for variation in the cane hardness, etc. Then they do nearly as much scraping as I do after forming, etc.
It makes me wonder why you would set such an accurate machine to leave on so much cane, when that's pretty much what I do with my simple, cheap single barrel models. You're not getting your money's worth out of your fancy model!
Above is a chart with my measurements for a profiled blank (New Reed) and a finished reed. These are measurements taken on the spine of the blade.
As you can see, except for the area by the collar and the very tip, I remove very little cane from the spine. Most of my reed work comes in the channels and rails. More about that later.
Second, what you play tends to drive your reed making. My job in the orchestra contains a lot of variety, thus, I need to demand a lot of different things from my reeds. Sometimes, one reed just won't do everything I need it to, so I must rely upon two or three in a concert.
In one concert, I may go from playing first bassoon on the concerto to playing 3rd bassoon on Don Quixote. I would not usually want to use my first bassoon reed (very focused and projecting) for that last page of the Strauss! For that I need a mellow, soft reed with a great low register.
I also play a lot of chamber music.
So, making reeds from blanks that have almost all of the cane removed across the blade tends to result in a smaller number of usable reeds and they tend to have very similar in playing characteristics. Cane that is a little too hard or soft, too vibrant or dark, tends to be winnowed out leaving fewer good choices.
This can be OK if you are looking for a more narrow tone profile for your playing. Many players like the convenience and consistency resulting from this narrow selection.
Above are photos of two reeds I made recently. Each was made from the same cane, using the same shape, same profile, etc. The basic beginning scrape was the same.
However, after initial testing, I noticed each reed had potential, but neither fell under the "Bell curve" of usual acceptable reeds.
The reed on the left (on the right in the middle photo, though), was inherently bright, very resonant, but still with a full sound and lots of core. Since I sensed it had possibilities, I made several adjustments in order to counteract the brightness.
- I filed down the rails all the way to the back of the blade.
- I rounded the second wire (you can see this in the second photo) more than usual. The second wire of this reed is almost oval in the "wrong" direction.
- I moved the second wire closer to the first to dampen some of the vibration and lessen the brightness.
- I sanded the blade near the tip and thinned the "wings" of the blade more than usual.
- I avoided my usual channel scraping with this reed, fearing the brightness would return.
- Scraped the channels thinner and farther back towards the collar than usual.
- Left the second wire oval to help projection and bring out lows in the sound.
I believe that, with a complex, double barrel style profile, cutting to near finished thickness throughout, neither of these reeds would have been available to me.
The bright, resonant reed mellowed nicely while keeping its depth and easy response. It is now going on its 5th week of use!
The other reed maintained its mellowness, but never developed the vibrant sound I was looking for. It was a good low note and "pp" reed, however.
Third, I'm becoming convinced that it may be a good thing to finish profiling the reed AFTER forming. Reeds-N-Stuff and Rimpl are two suppliers that offer a total reed profiler. Initial reviews of these machines have been mixed, but the concept is a good one.
I'll need another couple of blog post to explain fully what I'm after here (stay tuned!), but, in a nut shell, I think it's best to form the reed keeping the internal dimensions of the space inside the reed as consistent as possible. Thus, my rubber bands and fancy forming mandrel tips.
Along with that, I like the idea of taking the initial concave curve of the blade (from left to center to right) and having the luxury to customize how much that curve degenerates into a near letter "S" through scraping and wire shape. Too much profiling at the outset give you an immediate "S" curve.
Here is an example of what I'm talking about.
Too much already missing from the sides and channels for my taste. The sides are already cratering in. See how on about a quarter of the tip's width on each side the blades are nearly parallel? The taper ends at the channels or just the middle 1/2 of the tip width.
A reed tip opening should start this way:
Fourth, very few young bassoon players can afford these expensive machines! Most have just bought an expensive bassoon, will graduate or have graduated with lots of debt, and have little money left for a fancy profiler.
Schools that have these machines give students an upfront advantage by allowing them to produce good reeds pretty easily, but no one really learns how to scrape a tip or why a reed works or doesn't based upon what's been done to it! They graduate and leave the school machine with nothing to replace it and no knowledge of how to compensate!
Also, if they move on to another teacher, grasping a new reed style may be more difficult, because they have no real knowledge of characteristics common to all German style reeds. The machine did it all for them!
I understand these thoughts may be controversial to some, but they are my own and the methods I describe work well for me. I would welcome others' comments about their experiences with profilers.