Synthetic Oboe Reed Review

by | Dec 6, 2022 | Reeds | 6 comments

Important note

5/19/24 – This blog post reviews the earlier version of the Silverstein American Oboe Reed V1. They have since come out with a V2 updated version. I haven’t reviewed this yet, but plan to!

In the early days of synthetic reed production, the reeds used to sound like a kazoo. These first synthetic reeds were meant to provide something “easy” for beginners, but ultimately, they lacked any resistance (making them a poor choice for beginners, or anyone).

The Legere oboe reed was the first to break through the technology barrier and make something that played well and sounded good. They were working on an American scrape reed and English horn reed in 2019, but I’m not sure where they landed with that process.

Now Silverstein has introduced their first American Scrape Ambipoly Oboe Reed. They are off to a nice start and I think there is some potential with this one.

Below I compare the two reeds and talk about the adjustments I made to make them work for my set-up.

A short note on the difference between cane and synthetic

There is a great article on the Hodge Products blog where Anne talks a bit about what synthetic reeds are and how they compare to cane reeds.

Synthetic reeds will probably never have the full range of potential a cane reed can provide. For seasoned artists looking for every possibility, these may fall a little short, even with adjustments. I like light, flexible reeds myself, so neither one was ultimately as flexible as I’d like (for me personally).

After some adjustments I was satisfied with the possibilities of the Legere and have used it off and on for certain situations over the years. However, after some time with the Silverstein, I ultimately wasn’t satisfied enough to use it for any application.

For years I’ve used the Legere as a backup. Here are a few cases where I’ve used synthetic reeds:

  • If I was rushing out of the house to teach and hadn’t had a chance to adjust reeds that day
  • If we had a freak snowstorm and I didn’t want to adjust and then re-adjust everything in my box
  • For playing in student ensemble rehearsals
  • One time in a casual gig where my reed stiffened up from sitting around so I grabbed the Legere and played the last tune on that

Situations where I’m team “cane” all the way:

  • Recording
  • Performing
  • Professional rehearsals
  • Developing extended technique and very specific artistic skills
  • Daily practicing in general

A quick note on my setup

To provide a non-biased review, I want to mention my reed and oboe setup for comparison (since we all have different setups).

I play on American scrape reeds (long scrape reeds) on a Marigaux 901 and 2001. I live at 7,300 feet, so my cane reeds are definitely “high altitude reeds”. I use 45mm Stevens (or Stevens replica) staples for myself and 47mm staples for student reeds.

Product Review: Legere Medium Soft European Scrape Oboe Reed

I bought a Legere Medium Soft European Scrape reed about 8 years ago and have played on it off and on over the years.

Tone
The Legere has a nice dark “smooth” tone. I found it pleasant and acceptable. However, as mentioned above, the reed felt a little stuffy and had minimal color options.

Response
The medium soft European scrape felt responsive right out of the box. The adjustments I did were related to pitch and tone (see more on that below)

Pitch
On my oboe the overall pitch was a little low and the high register sat lower than I was used to. I scraped a little bit out of the tip to free up the crow and clipped it several times for pitch.

That helped a little, but not enough. I ended up using a couple of aggressive diamond files to shave about 1-1.5mm off the bottom. This shortened the overall length and helped raise the pitch and upper register.

Crow
The crow was a little stiff and a little sharp, but all three C’s were present.

Overall thoughts
The main issue I had with the Legere reed for my personal setup was that it was too flat in my oboe and the adjustment options around that were limited.

The European scrape also felt a little different then my American scrape reeds, so it was never a reed I wanted to spend a ton of time practicing on, but I’ve gotten some good use out of it over the years.

Product Review: Ambipoly Silverstein American Scrape Oboe Reed

Tone
Right out of the box the tone was brighter than the Legere. It felt and played like a reed that I “finished yesterday but stiffened up”. It was an acceptable tone, but a little brighter than I wanted it to be. A little light scraping warmed up the tone some.

In the words of one of my students (on a blind test later that week): “it doesn’t sound like an oboe”.

I got a good laugh out of this. I followed the test with the Legere and it was deemed to “sound like an oboe”.

Response
Based on other reviews I had read I was expecting the reed to be heavier than it was. I was pleasantly surprised to find it ok to play on.

However, the response was a little heavy. While I’m sure many would find it playable, I wouldn’t want to have to come in on a pp low note in a rehearsal!

The good news is this reed adjusted well. A little light scraping on the tip immediately improved the response.

Unfortunately, the response never got any better, even with more scraping. It was never responsive enough (for me personally). And, after playing on it for some lessons, I found the reed wanted to collapse unless I put more reed in my mouth (then I normally do). This effect caused even more response issues.

Pitch
One of the things I was really excited about with the Silverstein reed was the option to put it on different staples! Because I had limited pitch options with the Legere, I was curious to see what I could do with this reed. I’d recommend checking out the blog on the Hodge Products website that has more detailed information on some staples that fit and ones that don’t.

As mentioned in that blog, the staple it comes with is a bit narrow. My staples (Stevens or Stevens replicas) are a bit wider. When I put the reed on my 45mm staple, it was the same overall length as a normal 47mm staple/reed because the reed didn’t go down very far on the tube. This was too long for my oboe and longer than the original staple it came with. See the image at the end of this blog for the comparison.

I didn’t have a ton of staple options in my collection to try it with, so I shaved 2mm off of a 45mm Glotin staple with an aggressive diamond file. With a “43mm Glotin staple”, the overall length matched that of my finished reeds and the pitch was about where it needed to be.

Is this ideal? No, probably not. I would recommend finding a staple that allows the reed to come further down. You can read more about what staples do and don’t fit in the Hodge review noted above.

Crow
The crow on my staples were just a squeak to start. After I did some scraping adjustments, I got a decent C# crow with all three crows present. Keep in mind this was on a 43mm staple. I usually aim for a C crow, but it’s not uncommon for my personal reeds to crow a tad high at times due to the shorter 45mm staple.

Overall thoughts
Overall, I much prefer the Legere Medium Soft European Scrape reed. The Silverstein initially felt a little less stuffy and had more adjustment options with the removable staple. However, after about a week of fussing with it I found the Silverstein unreliable and difficult to play on.

A few (personal) cons:

  • It required a bit more “reed in my mouth” to play
  • The tape was in my way (and I didn’t want to remove it because I assume it would leak?).
  • It started to collapse after the 3rd “tip” scraping session—I’m not sure the overall structure is quite right?

Final thoughts

I am thrilled to see advancements in this field. I commend both the Legere and Silverstein companies them on their efforts to produce and incredibly challenging product.

I recommend the Legere Medium Soft as an alternative for American players (until Legere comes out with an American scrape?). However, due to the variety in playing styles, scraping styles, and instruments, it is difficult to presume to know what an individual user’s experience will be.

Hopefully this review will provide another setup to compare your own to and help you decide if a synthetic reed would be a welcomed part of your reed collection.

Feel free to comment below or contact me for more information on the adjustments I made.

Buy Legere Medium-Soft Oboe Reed >>
Buy Silverstein Works Ambipoly American Scrape Oboe Reed >>

A Photo Comparison

Synthetic Oboe Reed Review

Left: The original Silverstein reed on its original staple. The cane measurements matched my own and the overall length was equivalent to an average American scrape reed on a 47mm staple. In the image the Silverstein reed is being compared to my finished reed (on a 45mm Stevens staple).

Middle: The Silverstein reed on a shaved-down 43mm Glotin staple. The overall length now matches my normal finished length (on a 45mm staple).

Right: The Legere medium soft reed after doing adjustments. I clipped it several times and shaved 1-1.5mm off the bottom of the staple to make the overall length similar to that of my normal finished reeds (on 45mm staples).

Silverstein American Oboe Reed, No adjustments

by Khara Wolf | Synthetic Oboe Reed Testing

Silverstein American Oboe Reed, 1st Tip Adjustment

by Khara Wolf | Synthetic Oboe Reed Testing

Silverstein American Oboe Reed, 3rd Tip Adjustment

by Khara Wolf | Synthetic Oboe Reed Testing

Legere Medium-Soft Euro Oboe reed, with adjustments

by Khara Wolf | Synthetic Oboe Reed Testing

Cane Oboe Reed

by Khara Wolf | Synthetic Oboe Reed Testing

6 Comments

  1. Dorothy darlington

    Fatal flaws: wide open on sides of the tip
    Way too hard to blow
    Plastic so dense dulls your knife right away not sure it woukd maje much difference
    Sound is rather nasty
    Too bad
    I was one of the silverstein guinea pigs. I wish them every success they have much to do!!!

    Reply
    • Khara Wolf

      thank you so much for your feedback! Yes, I agree, still much to do, but the advancements are exciting!

      Reply
  2. Margaret

    Thanks so much for doing this comparison! I have been thinking about getting a Legere reed for a while and have been having a hard time finding relatively recent reviews that directly compare cane to synthetic reeds. I appreciate your thoroughness. I think I’m going to bite the bullet and try a Legere medium soft and just see if it works for me. I’ve only ever played on an American scrape, so this will definitely be…experimental.

    Reply
    • Khara Wolf

      I’m so glad this helped you Margaret! I agree, while the Euro scrape on the Legere is a little different than the American scrape, I do think their medium soft is the closest thing on the market to a general American scrape reed. I got a lot of use out of my Legere. Have fun!

      Reply
  3. Michael F

    This is a really great article and the sound clips help a lot. (you sound great, btw). while i agree that you sound better on the legere, i sound (and feel) better on the slverstein that I just got recently (and have only played on a few times admittedly). I was trained in america but live in australia so ive made/played both long/short scrapes and see pros/cons of each. A players flexibility might determine whether either of these solutions work for them?

    id love to see a YT video of how you made those tip alterations to the silverstein. I was never a good reedmaker (hence why i love these advances in tech) so i’m scared to death to potentially ruin a $155 reed.

    I disagree that silverstein has “much to do.” im guessing that the target market they’ve identified is not likely full time pro players who are much more likely to stick to their reedmaking dogma but instead students and doublers (like myself).

    this technology has the possibility of expanding the profile of the instrument, imo. THink of how many people could take up the oboe who would not otherwise have if there was no need for thousands of $ of gear/years of experience/countless hours of trial and error and failure/carpentry.

    Thanks so much for this post.

    Reply
    • Khara Wolf

      Hi Michael, thank you SO much for this comment. This input is absolutely fantastic. I wonder, are you playing on the new Silverstein V2 reed? I know they just came out with a new (and much improved) version and I haven’t had a chance to try it. I love the idea of a YouTube video on edits as well! Best of luck and I’ll try to update this post soon!

      Reply

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