What to expect from my reeds, breaking in, and adjustment strategies.

I’ve had a number of new customers lately since GoBassoon had to retire from reed making. With new customers comes new questions so I thought I would make a kind of FAQ about my reeds, what they are like, my normal adjustment suggestions, and what my philosophy is regarding how a bassoon reed should function.

First, what are my reeds like? My goal for reeds is to make a vibrant and free blowing reed, that’s especially easy in the low register without compromising the ability to play very high notes. While most players enjoy the volume and power that comes with my design, a few find my reeds overly bright for their tastes or bassoon. You should know that I typically play test the reeds a minimal amount, and they will change as you play on them.

Reeds too soft?

So what should you expect when breaking in the reeds? You may find that at first the reeds might be softer than you are used to from other reeds, especially more commercial and mass produced ones. I have found that most reeds, “off the shelf”, are considerably harder than what I like. I also know that the cane will stiffen up as you play on the reed, the most in the first hour of playtime, but for a few hours more you’ll see a little more change. So if the E3 pitch is sagging for you when you first try the reed, you can probably get it to be stable with less force to the reed, but eventually if you play on it (practice scales or do long tones on it) for a while you’ll notice the E becomes more stable, and the low register will tighten up a bit as well. Slurring across octaves will be easier and the tone color will tamper down a bit.

Sometimes a little softness or flabbiness can be caused by a 2nd wire that got a little loose as the reed settled in. With your pliers (and with a long mandrel in the reed) pull the wire tight and twist counter-clockwise to pull out any slack.

But what if it’s not just the E that sags, but also the C-sharp or D!? Sometimes, depending on how you blow and what your bassoon is like, a reed will arrive too soft even after a break in period. At that point, you’ll see that another advantage of sending reeds that are lighter in the scrape and on the soft side, is that if the reed needs to be adjusted it’s usually by clipping the tip. This is probably the easiest adjustment, after wire adjustments. Trim the reed .5mm and see if it then responds the way you like in the middle of the bassoon range. You can probably go as far as 1.5mm shorter if it’s actually really soft for you, but any more than that and weird things will happen to the resonance of the reed. If I sent reeds that are too hard, you would have to know where and how much to scrape, which is a harder skill to learn.

So to summarize:
1. The reeds will be brighter at first, and will darken over a little break-in period on scales or long tones.
2. Check the tightness of the 2nd wire when the reed is totally soaked up. If you can pull a lot of slack out of it, tighten it up and see if that does the trick.
3. If the reed doesn’t hold the E after a break-in period, trim .5mm at a time until it’s stable, up to 1.5mm total.

Reeds too hard?

If you find the reed is a bit stuffy, especially after a while of breaking it in, you’ll need to do some scraping, probably. You can always start by adjusting the roundness/flatness of the first wire.

Look at the reed with a light shining behind it and see if the back 1/2 of the reed (closest to the wire) is significantly darker than the rest of the reed. If so, lightly sand with 400 grit sand paper or use a file across that entire dark area. Taking off just a tiny little bit! A little will go a long way with this.

If the back 1/2 isn’t significantly different in shade than the “heart” of the reed, you can actually feel safe removing material from the heart. I use a knife for this, but sandpaper or file will remove more broadly but less at a time, so it might be safer.

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