Monday, January 1, 2018

Inside of a Reed

Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.
 - Groucho Marx -

Instead of the inside of a dog, I'd like to discuss the inside of a reed in this post!

The taper of the space inside the reed from tip to butt end constitutes a continuation of the taper of the bassoon bore.

Therefore, it stands to reason that any change of the dimensions of this space changes the bore of the bassoon at that point and, thus, changes the way the reed responds and sounds.

Yet, after an initial reaming and adjustment of wire roundness, few bassoonists examine this aspect of the reed.

However, the photos below demonstrate how much change can occur on its own inside the reed during its lifetime.
Reed next to mandrel pin for comparison.

Note that the tip of  the mandrel pin, when inserted, would extend well under the blade. The pin has a collar stop for consistent reaming depth. Forming and drying blanks using a mandrel pin like this ensure a consistent interior taper from tip to butt end from reed to reed.

Reamer with reed.
Using a reamer like this gives a consistent taper to each reed from butt to throat. Many other reamers are shorter and do not size the throat of the reed.

A reed after proper reaming with butt end at collar stop of the mandrel pin.
Mature reed fitted on mandrel pin.    

Note that the reed no longer fits all the way on the pin. During soaking, the cane in the tube area expands inward, taking up some of the space inside.
Change of taper in throat after repeated soaking and drying due to continuous use.

In the two photos above, you can see that the reed's interior dimensions have greatly changed as the reed has been soaked, played on and dried over time. The above is an extreme example, but I have found that this happens to some degree to EVERY reed. 

Aside from the fact that the reed in the above photos doesn't fit on the bocal as far or as securely as when it was reamed new, is there a problem here?

Many have noticed that reeds, as they age and are played in tend to rise in pitch and loose vibrancy. Some of this is due to embouchure pressure and finishing scrapes and adjustments made to the exterior of the reed.

However, I have found that these deleterious effects can be lessened and the reed's performance can be improved and even extended by re-sizing the taper inside the reed.

The two easiest ways to do this are:

1. Re-ream the reed periodically. You must use a reamer that reaches into the throat of the reed, however. Most reamers are shorter and do not address this part of the reed.

2. Push the soaked reed on the mandrel pin to nudge the reed back to original dimensions.

Re-reaming the reed is most effective. However, if the original ream is pretty aggressive, due to bevel and shape (amount of backflair), you may not want to thin the reed at that point by repeated re-reamings. Also, reaming can be messy, with lots of reamed fibers accumulating inside the reed throat.

I usually re-ream a reed just once or twice during its lifespan.

Re-sizing the reed tube and throat with a mandrel pin is quicker and not messy at all. If you need to twist to get the reed tube up to the collar stop, twist as little as possible and twist in both directions.

However, re-sizing this way is temporary. It lasts a short while and then the cane relaxes back to its collapsed position again.

Re-sizing the reed a few times over use is helpful in maintaining the opening dimensions.  Initially, dry the reed out outside of the case by placing it on your drying rack with it fully inserted into the mandrel pin. You can even soak the reed with it on the mandrel pin before playing on it. Doing this a few times is sufficient. After a week or so, the reed will stabilize and no longer shrink in the tube and throat.

I've found that reeds maintained this way preserve resonance and steady pitch longer and are just generally usable longer.

Try these ideas and see what you find!

If you don't have a reamer that shapes the throat as well as the tube (most are shorter than mine), or don't have a mandrel pin that extends past under the first wire of your reeds, check out these products on my website.

If you are concerned about cracking your reeds using these tools, just be sure the first wire is round enough to accept the tips of these tools before inserting. A normal first wire opening works fine for me resulting in about 1mm between blades at tip's widest opening. No problem! 

As usual, most of these ideas are not my original, so I'd like to credit friend and bassoonist, James Roberson for his idea about using the mandrel to re-size the reed's interior.

Also, check out the fixed chamber reed of Mark Eubanks of Arundo Research Corporation.

There is also very interesting research done by British bassoonist, Thomas Palmer. A Study of the Air Gap Between Blades of a Reed.


  1. Isn’t this old news? I bought several Tatman bassoon reeds with a brass staple built in many tears ago. I’m not sure Mr Tatman is still alive.

  2. Freudian slip. many years became many tears.


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