A Complete Guide: How to Fix a Large Oboe Reed Opening
Whether you are dealing with the largest opening you’ve ever seen, or trying to troubleshoot a reoccurring issue, this guide will walk you through diagnosing large opening issues with oboe and English horn reeds. I’ve included solutions you can use immediately and there is a special section at the end just for baroque oboe reeds too!
What variables can contribute to a large opening?
- Thick gouge
- Narrow diameter cane
- Tied too short
- Wide shape
- Soaked too long
What are the problems or “symptoms” of a large opening?
If you are experiencing any of the issues below, you may want to check and see if your reed looks like it is too open. In general, your opening shouldn’t measure more then about 1mm wide.
- Flat, wild crow (or flat when you play on it)
- Hard crow (it takes a lot of air to get the reed vibrating or takes a lot of “lip” to close it down)
- The blades don’t lay entirely flat on a flat plaque, making it difficult to scrape down
- Visually looks “too open” or “too round”
What variables can contribute to split sides?
It is important to note, a “large opening” is a different issue then when the blades split open at the top, causing the opening to appear large. This is caused by a different set of variables.
- The cane was crooked (not straight)
- The first thread tied is looser then the second, causing pressure on the bottom part of the cane
- The thread is tied past the end of the staple. This will not only cut off vibrations, but without the staple to support the pressure of the thread, the thread will “squeeze” the cane together at the bottom, opening the sides at the top.
What are the symptoms of split sides?
- Flat crow (all one tone, no rattle or vibrations)
- Unstable crow (it changes pitch from low to high, but never really vibrates
- Unstable pitch when playing
- The blades slip around on the plaque, making scraping difficult
- The sides leak
What should I do now?
If you are having a consistent issue with large openings, you will want to take a look at the variables listed above and see if any of them might be an issue in your individual set up.
However, reeds aren’t perfect and I also often have students who don’t have the luxury of experimenting with their reed making variables. Below are a variety of immediate solutions I’ve used to help make a difficult reed more usable.
Actionable Tips to Combat Large Openings and Split Sides
1. Squeeze the reed down
It may seem simple, but sometimes just squeezing the reed gently at the tip will help it “break in”. Always make sure your reed is properly soaked first! A brand new reed might have a larger opening in the beginning, so scraping it a little more and breaking it in over short playing sessions can help as well.
2. Soaking Time
For large openings, it is best not to over-soak your reeds. 1-2 minutes in room temperature water is plenty. If you have been soaking your reeds for longer, let them dry out completely and then only soak them for about a minute or so to see if the opening is more manageable.
For split sides, often just soaking the reed for an extra minute or two will close the sides down. However, I find split sides (even if they are only split in a dry state) will be an issue for two reasons:
- In dry climates the reed is going to dry up while you play and the sides could split back open.
- If the cane is split open but closes when wet, this is still an indicator that something is not as ideal as it could be. If the cane doesn’t vibrate fully against itself, the vibrations will never be quite right.
3. Try a concave plaque
If you are having issues scraping on your open reed, you may want to try a concave plaque. This type of plaque will allow the blades to rest flat on the plaque.
Take note – using a concave plaque on a reed that is too open or splitting at the top may exasperate the problem since it’s keeping the blades open for a prolonged time while scraping. Also, if you are used to using a flat plaque, your knife will feel different scraping on this type of plaque.
See my alternate suggestion next about using wire temporarily to close the blades down for better contact on a flat plaque.
4. Using wire, temporarily
If you use wire as part of your normal reed making process, you may already use it to manipulate the openings.
However, if you don’t, applying some light wire temporarily to the reed while scraping can help close the tip down for better contact on the plaque. This will adjust the opening just enough that the blades will lay flat and you’ll get a more normal scrape while the reed starts to close on it’s own.
Because I don’t like the effects of wire on my reeds, if the opening continues to be an ongoing issue, I’ll usually discard the reed. The only exception is for beginner students because they don’t have the skills to further manipulate the opening. Despite the effects on the vibrations, if it helps make the reed more manageable to play on I will sometimes leave the wire on for them.
How to use the wire:
I suggest a lighter wire such as 28 gauge brass wire. Wrap the wire about 5mm from the thread just like you normally would for an oboe or English horn reed.
Once the wire is wrapped, gently squeeze the wire with your fingers or a needle nose plier to close the opening of the tip.
If wrapping wire on your reed isn’t part of your normal reed making process, it’s important to mention that it will affect the crow. I suggest you remove the wire after you do some scraping to test the crow. I usually remove the wire after I do the initial scraping to see if the opening starts to close up on its own.
5. Make sure your knife is sharp
I find with pieces that are truly too open or two hard, a razor edge becomes even more important because the cane isn’t resting flat on the plaque. It’s just steel vs cane. Make sure your knife is as sharp as possible and scrape in short sessions to give the reed time to close down.
6. Paper clips
I had a lovely oboist recommend using a large paper clip to close the openings overnight. In theory this gives the cane time to further adjust to a different shape.
Take note- it will leave a very small dent, so it’s best to do this in the very beginning as you will be clipping of the top part of the reed anyway.
7. Letting reeds dry out before clipping
There is much debate about clipping your oboe reeds right away, or letting them dry out for a period of time first.
I experimented with both ways and found, with my personal set up, the openings were slightly more manageable if I let them dry out overnight.
The theory is that that cane, like wood, needs time to adjust to it’s new shape.
One of the main concerns of waiting to clip the reed is that it could cause leaking issues or split sides. I haven’t found letting my reeds dry out before clipping has cause either of these issues, but it’s definitely something important to keep in mind.
8. Scraping Options
Another option is to scrape in a couple of places that might help collapse the cane. These suggestions are based on American scrape reeds.
- Scrape the sides, just near the blend area
- Scrape a little closer to the sides, in general
- Scrape a little farther down in the back, eliminating more bark
Baroque Oboe Reeds
Baroque reeds can be a bit different. They require a much smaller opening then a modern oboe reed and the variables are unique. Here are some tips that were given to me from a wonderful baroque oboist, Brandon Labadie. I tested these on my own reeds and had great success!
- Diameter – try using a wider diameter cane
- As a last resort, try scraping down the sides
- Staple shape – try adjusting your staples to have more of a round shape, as opposed to an oval shape (see photo below of where to squeeze)