The Fixed Chamber Reed
All single reed instruments and the oboe have a fixed “chamber” in the bore in the mouthpiece/reed while the bassoon does not. The area of the reed between the tip of the bocal and the second wire can vary in diameter from reed to reed, or shrink. Inserting a section of brass tube when forming a bassoon reed eliminates this problem. A bass oboe staple experiment was unsuccessful, but the tubing insert has given reeds consistent playing as they age.
The photograph on the left shows the area scraped away (using a small radius scraper tool, such as the ProPrep #200 with Pointed Channel scraper blade) to accept the section of tube that will be embedded as the fixed chamber. The reed is formed with a temporary butt wire which is removed and the chamber tube is inserted. The butt wire is replaced and the tube is wrapped with a rubber band to conform to the forming mandrel. The brass tube used is 7/32″ x 0.014 (or could be 5mm) in diameter. The metal tube length is 5-6mm, with the top end placed just below the 2nd wire position.
The lower end of the tube sits just in front of the bocal penetration point (9-10mm). This size tube produces a large fixed throat which gives the reed not only more consistency because the reed tube does not shrink, but also gives the reed more expressive “room” and flexibility in the middle register. Smaller diameter tubing is certainly possible, and a much smaller tube inserted into an existing reed seems to increase response in the extreme high register.
This technique was also recently done on contrabassoon reeds in two different throat sizes with great success. Aluminum tubes were used in this case, and may be the preferred tubing to use vs. brass.
Note: The reed shape should have a fairly wide tube to accommodate the insert and close the gap. Some reed shapes have a slight bulge beyond the second wire by design. With narrower shapes a large chamber can be carved into the gouge as shown below to create a larger chamber. See also the Bulge Chamber reed and mandrel below.
The tubing is available at hobby shops and is also available in brass or aluminum. Note: the second wire (not shown in the fixed or bulge chamber reeds below) is placed just in front of the edge of the bulge in the traditional position.
Steve Harriswangler Reeds
The bulged chamber reed and mandrel:
Bulge chamber mandrel made by Rieger
Bulged mandrel prototype by Steve HarrisWangler
New Methods for Cane Evaluation
In the 1980’s, a cane hardness meter became available which could be used for evaluating single and double reed cane. My company, Arundo Research, became the first to sell cane rated for hardness, something that single reed players had available in purchasing reeds for decades. Most bassoonists (and all other reed players) have found that soft cane is virtually useless unless you are in the fifth grade as a beginning clarinetist. At the IDRS Conference in June of 2016, I proposed this question: How much would you pay for a piece of bassoon cane that you knew would make a good reed? I also stated that we are being ripped off by cane suppliers who don’t grade cane for hardness or mention a particular cane source range of hardness. Why should we spend the time forming reeds from cane that is destined to fail? What this means to you is a reed in many cases that is dead on arrival.
Is there a way to measure a potential reed’s tone color? Some cane produces an overly vibrant harsh tone while another piece is dull and non-vibrant. Reed cane is similar to wine grapes in that the soil and climate produce different qualities and range of hardness and also differences in tone colors. For instance, the general range of hardness from one source can average medium-hard with a bright resonant tone while another source can be medium-hard with a dull, dark tone. Cane that is harvested from a particular micro-climate will display the same general hardness range and tone color from year to year. But cane, like grapes, can have good years and bad years as well as crop failure years. Cane that is collected from multiple growers from different regions (and micro-climates) will be frustratingly inconsistent in tone quality and hardness.
Evaluating hardness is one measure of a reed’s success. As a single reed player a new box of reeds that is rated for hardness may find only a few reeds that are actually usable. What are the other factors that we should be measuring? Is it possible using other techniques to eliminate all D.O.A. cane so that we don’t waste our time and money?
Some other traditional tests for cane selection are the following (answers below):
- The sink test: Which piece of gouged cane sinks first in a vessel of water?
- The twist test: How much twist resistance is desirable?
- The radius test: What is the ideal diameter of a tube of cane?
- Tube cane symmetry test: Is the tube cane symmetrical from the center to the edge of the gouge?
- The density test: How high does your dry cane float vertically in a tube?
- The thickness test: What is the ideal thickness of gouged cane?
- The thumbnail test 1: How much can you indent the bark of the cane with your thumbnail?
- The thumbnail test 2: How much can you indent the interior surface with your thumbnail?
- The transparency test: How translucent is the blade on a piece of profiled cane?
- The flex and recovery test: How much resilience does the cane have?
- The bubble test: How many bubbles can you produce blowing through the butt end of wetted cane?
- The Purple Galaxy test: Is cane that has a colored patch of red to purple on the bark better than other cane?
- The cane color test: Are there colors of the bark or gouged surface that should be avoided?
- The taste test: Is the taste sweet or bitter?
- The rock and roll test: Does the bark side of gouged and shaped cane rotate evenly when pressed down right and left on a hard surface?
Some new tests to consider:
- The soaked vs. dry cane hardness comparison test: What is the best ratio?
- The thoroughly soaked (over days) hardness comparison test.
- The soaked in a solution of (?) evaluation.
- The silica test.
- The vascular bundle count and diameters.
- The inter-cellular spaces.
- Lignification (woodiness) measurement.