Hello, double reeders! It's your friendly neighborhood oboe player, here to answer all your questions about buying and maintaining your oboe reeds! As I'm sure you all know, oboe reeds can be a hefty investment, as for the cost of one oboe reed, a clarinet or saxophone player can get 10 reeds! Oboe reeds break easily, and it can be a gamble to be sure the one you pick actually plays well. So here are some tips and tricks to make sure you're getting more buzz for your buck!
1. What brand of reed should I buy?
Here at Music and Arts in Anaheim, we sell three different brands of oboe reeds: Jones, Eastman, and Charles. If you hold all three reeds up to the light, you will notice some huge differences in their construction! Jones reeds look all one shade except for the very tip, which is lighter. These are machine-made, mass-produced reeds. Eastman reeds, which are hand-crafted, have slightly darker shading right underneath the tip, referred to as the heart. Charles reeds are also hand-made and have the most definition in the tip and the heart. You will also notice a line going up the middle of the reed, which is called the spine.
So what does all this mean?
The heart and the spine of the reed keep the pitch and tone color more stable. Essentially, the more definition you get, the better you sound! That said, definition also creates resistance. Therefore, for very beginning players, I recommend the Jones reeds, as they are the most easy-blowing. If you have been playing for 1-2 years, you should step up to Eastman reeds. Advanced players will find that Charles reeds are great! (I buy my cane from Charles and I love it!)
2. What strength reed should I buy?
As someone who has taught oboists from very beginners to college-level students, I recommend that NO student play on a soft reed. Theoretically, a soft reed should be the easiest to play on, but what I find more often than not is that these reeds collapse very easily with very little air support. Therefore, even a very beginning player should be playing on at least a medium soft strength. After about 6 months, I recommend that students move up to a medium reed. More seasoned players - those who have been playing more than 2 years - can begin to play on medium hard reeds. It's difficult to convince a student to move up to a more resistant reed, but reeds that are TOO soft discourage proper air support.
FOR STUDENTS SWITCHING FROM ANOTHER WIND INSTRUMENT TO OBOE: Because you know how to use your air, start with at least a medium strength reed! If you try to play on a medium soft or soft reed, you will likely overblow, causing pitch issues.
3. What should I look for when I buy a reed?
Because oboe reeds are so finicky, ask the employee at your local Music and Arts store if you can take the reed out of the case to look at it! Some reeds may have cracked after sitting on the shelf, as they can dry out very easily. So here are some very important things to consider:
-Is the reed cracked? If you hold the reed up to the light, you may be able to tell whether or not the reed has a crack in it. DO NOT try to open or close the reed - dry cane is likely to crack!
-Look at the opening of the tip. If the tip is completely closed, this will not be a good reed for you, even if you soak it long enough. Make sure there is a slight opening. Reeds can also be TOO open. If the reed opening looks closer to a circle than a very slim oval shape, it will be very hard to play.
-Are the sides open? If the sides are open, try to avoid buying this reed. A slight opening in the sides MIGHT close up once the reed has been soaked, but there is no guarantee on that.
4. What is the best way to take care of my reeds?
Even the best oboe reed will not last longer than a couple of weeks if you are playing it 4 or 5 days a week. But if you do not take good care of the reed, you will be lucky if it lasts more than a couple days. Here are some tips to prolong the life of your reeds:
-SOAK THE REED IN A CUP! Do NOT soak the reed in your mouth! This may sound gross, but the enzymes in our saliva breaks down the cane on the reed. Of course we cannot avoid putting the reed in our mouth, but if you always soak the reed in your mouth, the reed will not last as long. Fill up a s small reed-soaker cup or a prescription medicine bottle with warm water and soak a brand new reed for about a minute, and an older reed for about three minutes, before you start playing. Make sure that only the cane part of the reed is getting wet - if the cork is soaked, it will expand and you won't be able to fit it into your instrument! The other advantage of a properly-soaked reed is that it will play a LOT better than one that is only slightly moist from your saliva.
-Keep your reeds in a multi-reed case. Some of the reed cases, especially the plastic tubes, do not allow the reed to dry out appropriately. As a result, you may notice some dark spots on the reed - yes, that is mold. I recommend a case that holds multiple reeds. Here at Music and Arts in Anaheim, we currently stock a 3-reed holder and, for the more advanced players (especially those that have started reed-making), a five-reed Rico case.
-Here's a trick to get your old reeds playing well for a day or two longer! I cannot tell you how many times in my young life I tried to play on a brand new reed on the day of a performance. New reeds can take at least a couple rehearsals or practice sessions to feel really comfortable for the player, so it is NOT in your best interest to play a new reed on a concert! But sometimes, concert day comes around and our reeds are just too old to play the way we like them. So, soak your reed in a cup of one part peroxide or isopropyl alcohol, two parts water. Let the reed soak for about half an hour. This cleans out all the gunk on the inside of the reed, so it will play like new again (but only for a couple days)! WARNING: It can taste pretty bad, so dip it in some Listerine briefly after you have finished soaking it in the alcohol solution!
I hope this is helpful for all our oboe players out there! If you have any other questions, feel free to email me or call us in the store! Bassoon players, don't worry - keep a lookout for a new blog entry just for you in March!