Q: How do I know if my reed is broken in enough to start the testing process?
A: When a reed is ready the following conditions usually exist:
- There is no longer a “crackling” sound as it dries out.
- The tip opening does not “yawn” excessively and stay open when wetted.
- The pitch of the crow stays at or near your target pitch (between F and G).
- The reed fits onto the bocal the same distance each time its wetted.
- The first wire stays in place when the reed is wetted and the second wire is firmly in place. (The first wire can be loose when dry but stays in place when wetted, but the second wire should never be loose.) If the first wire is too tight when the reed is wetted and you are unable to slip it back at all, the vibration of the reed will be choked by the first wire (the strangulation test).
- The tip opening is symmetrical. Adjustments have been made to balance the channel tapers and blade balance shading.
Q: How do I know what MY normal vibrating length is (from tip to first wire)?
A: Look at your favorite reed(s) and make a note of these key measurements:
- The tip to the front of the first wire. (This is the Vibrating Length or VL). Use a small millimeter ruler to measure this distance. This measurement can range from a minimum length of 26.5mm to a maximum of 31.5mm, depending on the design of the reed. For most bassoonists, the average length is between 28-29mm depending on cane hardness. Harder cane can function at a longer length.
- Measure how far the reed goes on the bocal.
- Check the distance between the 1st and 2nd wires. Is it the same as the distance of your favorite reed?
- Has the first wire slipped toward the second wire, leaving a wider collar than normal.
- The combination of blade length and tip opening size plays comfortably at the desired pitch. This is addressed in detail in Test 1 of the Quick Guide.
Q: Sometimes my reed comes off the bocal. How far should my reed go on the bocal?
A: The absolute minimum that the reed should go on the bocal is 1/4-inch or 6mm. It is more typical for the reed to go on 6–10mm. This is an element of tuning that affects several notes individually and the general pitch, especially open F, C2, and Low G. A reed reamer is a critical tool in every bassoonist’s tool kit. See Basic Tools and Supplies for a budget reamer option. However, a pro quality reamer is well worth the expense.
Q: Why do you recommend a hollow ground knife over a beveled type knife?
A: A steeply beveled blade does not allow the knife to be dropped to a low angle to slice cane at the tip or corners (wings). See Basic Tools and Supplies for examples of knives. Some expensive knifes have a very slight low-angle bevel built in to the blade itself (i.e., Landwell). This type of knife can be recommended. Beveled knives are always designated as right or left handed.
Q: What is the best kind of reed knife?
A: A double hollow ground reed knife is the best. There are two basic types of double hollow ground knives: a thin straight razor type and a thicker wedge type. For bassoonists, the wedge type is recommended. The razor type’s blade is so thin that the blade will bend with pressure in scraping the tip. This can be the case with inexpensive knives that may be recommended for use with oboe reeds (i.e., Philadelphia knife/Herder and Albion). Some knives are a combination of hollow ground and steep bevel. These have the same problem as the standard beveled knife.
Q: What is the proper way to sharpen a double hollow ground reed knife?
A: The blade should have a scraping “burr,” a slight hook at the edge of the blade to help pick up the cane as you slice through, especially at the tip. Establishing this “hook” on the blade is extremely important for successful work at the tip of the reed. Without it, the knife will take chunks out of the tip of the reed, slicing straight through rather than lifting it as the knife tip clicks into the plaque. Typically, a new knife is sharpened to slice, like a kitchen knife, not pick up cane. The extreme edge of the blade comes to a point. This MUST be modified.
The scraping burr is created by drawing the blade across a sharpening stone at a steep angle. <See diagram.> Click here for video.
Many bassoonists have stayed away from the use of a knife, in favor of files. This is because they do not know about creating a scraping burr with their sharpening stone. The use of a knife is a much more efficient method in creating the tip tapers than filing.