How to make an oboe reed; German method

1. Gouching

I use cane tubes of 10 mm diameter. The gouching machine has a blade with 11 mm diameter. So you get thinner sides and a stronger middle part. The gouching machine is made by Kunibert Michel, Hanover, Germany. These machines are of high quality and ensure very consistent results. The thickness of the middle can vary between 55 - 60 1/100 mm. I use 56. The cane should not be soft and green but well dried, stored for years and have a nice yellow brown colour. You can test the hardness of a gouched piece of cane by twisting it gently a little bit and then release. If it jumps back to its original straight position the cane seems to be OK. Very soft cane stays bent and would not brake even if you twist more.

2. Shape

Soak the cane in water for approximately 20 min. If the cane sinks to the ground it is ready for shaping. The German shape has been quite thick in the past years but there is a trend to thinner shapes now. I use a Michel shape with 7,1 mm wide on the top. Use a very sharp knife and cut clean edges. It is crucial to do a good job on the shaping.

3. Binding ( hot method )

I use the hot method of binding. Therefore you need a mandrill of exactly the same manufacturer and size of your staple. I use Klopfer copies made by Siegler. 46mm length, Type D10. This is a quite narrow staple on the top. You have to push the high notes a bit up but I like the clear and warm sound in the higher register. Also the "short" notes like c, b, a are more stable and equal out in sound to the "long" notes.
Make a double clamp with brass wire (0,3 mm thick) at the bottom side of the mandrill. Put the clamp around the folded shape (soaked). The clamp should be at a position 28mm from the top. Take a candle and heat the top of the mandrill for a minute or so. Don't hold the mandrill into the flame; it gets black and smoky. Then put the hot mandrill into the shape. Pull the clamp with a pair of pliers until the sides close together. If you can't close the sides, pull out gradually. If the sides tend to overlap push in. Take the "puppet" and put it onto the staple. The position of the clamp must corespondent with the end of the staple. In case measure out 46 mm (or whatever length of staple you use). Cut the ends of the cane thin; not more than 2 mm. Then start binding towards the clamp, then downwards towards the cork. Make good knots or use the loop technique.

4. Scraping

The bound reeds I leave for at least one month to settle and dry. Don't cut and scrape immediately after binding.
Cut to a length of 71mm. Then I use the scraping machine from Michel. This saves a lot of time and work. This machine makes an exact copy of the brass master which has been made from one of my reeds. Here is the manual method:
Measure down 10mm from the tip and make a half round cut into the bark. Then remove the bark towards the tip. Cut at an angle of 45 degrees and a length of 1mm to mark the tip. Scrape the tip thinner and also start scraping round triangles to the sides. Thin out the area after the tip. Work out the sides but avoid scraping them too thin. Also scrape in small triangles at the back side. Always check the measurements with a sophisticated measuring device. The very middle point of the scrape must never be thinner as 40/100 mm. The other measurements can vary from type to type. If the reed is still too hard thin out the two areas between the sides and the middle. Thin out the very back but thickness must steady decline from back to tip. If playable practice on it for a while and adjust carefully. Don't scrape too thin at once. Rather leave the reed again for a few days and work on it again.

I don't know of more secrets. Remember to work carefully and check out all the measurements from gouching to scraping. It is not the scraping alone which makes the reed. All factors have to be correct. Then you still have to have the luck of a good piece of cane.

Have fun playing the German way.

See also Reedmaking, a matter of coincidence?

Reedmaking, matter of coincidence?

There has been written a lot about oboe reed making. Also when oboe players meet each other, there is lot of discussion about ways of reedmaking, good cane sources an so on. I came to the conclusion that professional players always depend on their own made reed with their special parameters, biased on their playing. After finishing my oboe studies at the Konservatorium I developed a good working system in reedmaking which still works reliable. This I want to describe here.

This article does not describe the basics of reedmaking. The reader should know the all the steps of how to build oboe reeds, from gouching to scraping.
The subjective (biased on the individual player) quality of a finished oboe reed depends on the following factors. These are the factors which are mostly discussed amongst oboists.
-cane quality
-staple length
-staple shape
-length of the "puppet"
-length of the whole reed
-length of the scrape

This list could surely be extended but for me these are the main factors who determine the quality of the individual reed.

If you have a mathematical look on this and take it as given that each factor can only be changed once you already have 2047 different reed types. However each factor has more than one variety this figure multiplies astronomically. I am not a mathematician but want to demonstrate how many different types of oboe reeds are possible.

Back to the factors. Only one of these factors we cannot influence. The first one: cane quality. There is lot of talk about it and players have different ways of determining the cane quality. In the end it remains a gamble and you can only improve your luck a little bit by selecting cane after various indicators. All the other factors can be influenced by careful workmanship and measuring. Good tools are essential too. I found, that oboist, moaning about their bad reeds know little about how they actual made the reed (measurements). Often their reed all look different as well and they scrape and scrape until it works somehow. This is not what I call the right way of doing.

First you must over a longer period determine the exact plan of how your reed must be made. This could be found quick but could also take a few months.
I made a list which shows all the abovementioned factors. Everytime I made reeds I noted the values of these factors. Never make single or few reeds. Always make serials of 10 or 20 reeds. This is necessary to exclude the factor bad cane quality as good as possible. The first serial will also be made in the so far used manner. Important is to build all reeds 100% the same way. Only one type of staple, same lengths and measurements etc. Therefore you need sophisticated measure tools for length (1/10 mm units) and thickness (1/100 mm units). Also exact working gouching machines for internal and external gouching are essential.

Here is what I do to find the right position on the mandrill to push the "puppet" on. As the mandrill is conical you might have problems closing the sides when pushing the facon to far down. And sides overlap if you have it to high up. Also this you should not give up for luck. Measure the flat side on the tip of the staple and find the position which matches on the mandrill. Best is to use mandrills of the manufacturer of your staples to have the same shape. The correct position I measure out from the handle end of the mandrill and write it down. So I always find the right position for the facon and pull the clamp to close the sides.

Now you have your serial of bound reeds. Leave them for a week to dry. Then you scrape them all to certain thickness; all of them the same way; until the first notes can be played. Don't keep on working on a special reed which might be symphatic to you. One of my teachers often said: "Don't have a love affair with an oboe reed". Finish the basic scrape on all the reeds. Leave them again for a while. Then you soak them and sort in 1.choice=works already nicely, 2.choice=tough but could be good,3.choice=sounds like a chain saw and can be thrown away because of too soft and green cane.

Then I finish the 1.choice reeds first. If there aren't any the whole cane lot might be very bad or one of your factors is way out to suit your requirements. If you have a few nice reeds play them in and check out intonation, sound, tension etc. Now you can determine if there is a certain problem occurring on each reed. Note all your findings on your list so that next time you remember the problem. Then, with the next serial you change one factor which might be responsible for the fault like intonation = change staple length etc. Note on your list which problem you have detected as well as the change you made at the next serial. Remember to only change one factor per serial to draw reliable conclusions. After a few serials you should have found your personal way of reedmaking. Then stick to all your measurements and don't change anything as long as no serious problems accure. Keep on making large serials of reeds and filter the good ones to play on them. You will gain confidence in your way of reedmaking and you should resist all the good hints from colleagues. "Here try this staple, here try this shape and so on". It might work for them for any reason or by coincidence. Stick to your way.
One more...
Do the reeds binding while you still have some working reeds. So you don't get under pressure to be successful in short time. I use a few hours of free time 2-3 times a year and make a 20 reed serial, listing to a good CD or watching some sports besides. Then I leave the bound reeds until I need new ones.
Finally I want to remark that I have not specified how changes on the certain factors effect the reed. I trust in your experience as professional oboe player.
I wish you happy reedmaking and hope that some players draw something positive out of this article. Feel free to contact me under the homepage address.

basic reedmaking => How to make an oboe reed

M√ľnchen, 07.08.1999
Copyright 1999 Christian Lombardi