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How to Adjust Oboe Reeds
Areas of the Reed
- Oboe Mandrel (Optional)
- Reed Making Knife for Scraping
- Craft Knife for Cutting Tip & Cutting Block (or Tip Cutter)
- Oboe Plaque
Less Regularly Needed Tools
This article will help you diagnose, adjust & hopefully fix the following factors with your oboe reeds:
- Resistance (too hard or soft)
- Flexibility (sound and dynamics)
- Pitch (sharp or flat or change depending on note)
- Tone (does it make a nice sound)
- Leaking (air escaping)
With any problems you should start by checking your reed is balanced and symmetrical, the spine should be exactly in the centre and even amounts of cane taken from either side. Both blades of the reed should also be identical. If there are any differences, try to equal them out and this may immediately fix your problem without having to adjust your oboe reed.
Adjusting the Wire (If your reed has one)
Before fixing any problems, start by checking that the reed is not too open of too closed. If the reed has a wire this is easily changed:
Firstly soak the reed briefly then
a) If the reed closes up from playing the reed will then feel thin. To open the reed squeeze the wire, using your fingers, gently from the sides.
b) If it’s too open this can make the reed feel ‘hard’ and difficult to produce a controlled sound, meaning that you may be compelled to scrape the reed to make it easier. Squeeze the wire, using your fingers, from the front and back gently until the tip closed as you like.
How open the tip is, is very much up to personal preference.
I always prefer to have a reed that needs closing up rather than opening.
Leaking Oboe Reed
If the reed is leaking it can make the reed feel hard or stuffy again possibly compelling you to unnecessarily scrape or adjust the reed. To test for leaking, cover the hole at the cork end of the reed with your finger and blow air through the reed as if you were playing if in your oboe, if you can feel air escaping through the sides then you need seal the reed. The easiest way to do this is with clingfilm. Many oboists will carry a cut end of a clingfilm roll with them, or you can just cut off pieces of clingfilm as you need them. Otherwise you can use goldbeater skin.
Oboe Reeds’ Resistance
If your reed is too resistant or stuffy but you want to keep the tone, scrape using a specialist sharp oboe reed knife at the top of the gulley’s towards the edge of the reed & then in the gulley’s from the bottom of the scrape.
If the reed has a wire, you can try lowering this which can help free up the reed
If your reed is not resistant enough, it usually means too much cane has already been taken off which cannot be rectified, but by cutting a tiny amount from the tip of the reed you can gain some resistance.
Once the tip is cut you will need to re-scrape the very edge of the tip – concentrate on the sides of the tip.
Flexibility & Dynamics
If your reed is not flexible enough, you will not get the range of dynamics or ‘free sound’ you need. On the other hand if your reed is too flexible it will be hard to control and may produce an unsatisfying tone. These issues are similar to the resistance of the reed and may be fixed in the same way. If you have already tried adjusting oboe reeds in that manner and the reed is still not flexible enough then you will need to do a general and even scrape all over the reed, starting with the spine and edges of the reed. Remember only take minimal amounts off at a time – you can always take more off but you can never put it back on! If the reed is too flexible and you have already tried cutting the tip, unfortunately there is probably nothing left to do except leave it in the box and try it again in a month or so – reeds often change over time.
Pitch – Generally Sharp or Flat
Pitch and tuning on the oboe is always tricky but it’s not always your fault, sometimes it really is the reed! However, adjusting your oboe reeds to resolve this is not too complex.
If the reed is feeling hard and sharp then this indicates that there is too much cane on the reed, try scraping the gullies first - concentrating of the top edges, and then do a light general scrape. If the problem is still the same, try scraping a small amount from the back of the reed. Be careful when scraping from the back of the reed as this can affect intonation if too much is scraped.
If the reed is flat, first check that the reed is not too open, if it is not the reed may be too long. Cut a small amount from the tip and re-scrape the tip – repeat until at the correct pitch. Be careful as this can affect the intonation of the reed.
Pitch – Sagging Notes
If you find that some of your notes are ‘sagging’ or the intonation is bad, this is usually caused by too much cane being taken from certain areas – usually the back of the reed. If this is the case, you can try equaling out the reed by scraping the rest of the reed to reduce the imbalance; unfortunately this will probably make the reed thinner that you want.
Tone & Sound Quality
Tone is very important in a reed, and to a certain extent you cannot make a reed have a nice sound if it doesn’t want to, however you can affect it.
If the reed has a very direct sound, try scraping towards the back of the reed and thinning the tip slightly. If the tip is long you can try cutting the tip but this will likely affect the pitch of the reed.
If the reed sounds stuffy or muffled then you can lengthen the tip of the reed & this will also mean re-scraping the other parts of the reed to re-balance it which can be tricky. To Lengthen the tip, draw an upside down U, following the original line, slightly below the old tip. Then scrape the area up until the pencil mark.
Be careful as a tip that is too long can affect intonation, especially when playing middle C, making it saggy.
Summary - adjusting oboe reeds
If you are new to scraping, always check with a teacher and try things out on old reeds that you don’t use any more until you are confident to do it on a ‘good’ reed.
Always remember when adjusting oboe reeds, that a stable reed needs a spine, heart, and edges as well as a well-balanced tip. So any adjustments carried out should try to keep these areas intact.
Thanks for reading our guide on adjusting oboe reeds. If you have any thoughts about this guide please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org
Oboe Expert at Crook and Staple