MUS 215

Oboe Reeds

Return to Home Page

Return to MUS 215 Menu

Oboe Reedmaking



Place a piece of dry gouged, shaped, and folded cane on the staple.  Using an overall length of 71mm, place a pencil mark on the cane at the end of the staple.  (If using profiled cane, the overall length should be 70.5mm.


Soak cane in very warm water until pliable–25 to 30 minutes.


Using two or three half hitches, tie nylon string securely to a hook.  Place staple on mandrel, being careful to align the wide measurement of the oval end of the staple with the corresponding part of the mandrel.  Line up the cane on the staple.  Begin wrap two turns in back of the end of the staple.  Wrap away from the cork, checking to see that the sides are meeting equally.  If not, slacken the string tension and slightly shift the cane on the staple until the sides are closing equally.  After reaching the end of the staple, cross over binding and wrap back toward cork.  At the end of the binding, secure with a half hitch knot, being careful not to slacken the tension of the binding.  Cut the string attached to the hook and tie two more half hitches.  Measure the reed blank to be sure that the binding does not go past the end of the staple.  If it does, the reed will not respond properly.



Start scraping 3mm up from the binding.  Scrape off bark from the reed.  Be careful to leave a very narrow but well defined spine.  Be sure to leave a small amount of bark along the sides of the reed.  This helps to support the tip opening and to prevent leaking.  Next, make a mark at 66mm and begin scraping the tip.  From here to the end of the reed, remove the bark from the sides.  The entire tip must be quite thin, but the sides of the tip are somewhat thinner than the middle.  There is also a slight spine in the tip, but it can only be seen by holding the reed up to a light.  Note that while the tip is quite well defined at 66mm, there is some blending as well.  Be sure to keep the reed moist throughout this process.


Cut off 1/2mm from the tip using the knife and billot.


Insert plaque and finish scraping the tip.  Test crow.  If it sounds above the note C, scrape more from the back until the crow reaches C.  If the crow is lower than C, clips a small amount from the tip until the crow is up to pitch.  After the crow is at C, make marks at 62mm with the knife, and make two or three scrapes in each window of back.  The reed should now only need final adjustments, finishing cutoff, and sealing.


Using the knife and billot, clip 1/2mm more from reed, as needed for pitch and tone quality.


Use fishskin if necessary.  Apply cement, lacquer, or clear fingernail polish.

Final Reed Adjustments

*Before making any adjustments, be sure that the reed is moist.  Also, always insert the plaque before scraping the reed.

REED TOO HARD TO BLOW:  If the reed crows no higher than the note C, remove cane carefully from the corners of the tip, and, if needed, from the window areas of the back.  If the crow is higher than the note C, remove cane lightly from all areas.

REED TOO EASY TO BLOW:  Clip a small amount from the tip.  Depending on the quality of the cane, making a sharper definition between the tip and back and/or thinning the very sides of the tip will sometimes increase resistance.

LOW NOTES UNRESPONSIVE:  If the overall resistance level of the reed seems satisfactory, try slightly bending the tip and heart areas.

HIGH NOTES FLAT:  This is usually caused by the tip opening being too big. Insert plaque and gently squeeze the reed closed for a few minutes.  Clipping a small amount from the tip also helps to bring the high notes up in pitch.

PITCH LEVEL OF THE REED IS HIGH AND QUALITY IS SHALLOW:  If the crow is not too high, remove cane from the windows and lightly from the sides of the heart.

PITCH LEVEL OF THE REED IS LOW:  Clip the tip.  If the reed is very flat, 1mm or more may need to be removed. Closing the tip opening by inserting the plaque and squeezing may also be needed.

REED HAS TOO MUCH RATTLE OR BUZZ:  Thin the very sides of the tip.  Sometimes more definition of the tip (especially at the back corners) is needed.

TONE QUALITY OF THE REED IS TOO DULL:  Blend the tip into the heart area. Lengthen the tip.

REED SOUNDS GOOD BUT PITCH IS UNSTABLE:  Thin the very sides of the tip. Sometimes a reed like this will settle down after some playing, so, if possible, play on it for a few days before adjusting.

Reed Care

MOISTENING:  Moisten the reed for two to five minutes in one-half inch of warm water.  A small glass, plastic cup, 35mm film container, or other vessel will work well for this purpose.  If water is not available, good results can be obtained by filling the reed tip with saliva and laying it on a flat surface, or returning it to its case for 10 to 15 minutes.  After the reed is moistened, blow through the cork end of the reed to remove any water remaining inside the reed.

TEST THE REED:  Lightly moisten the cork and insert it into the bore of the instrument. Look directly into the reed opening and determine if the opening is satisfactory.  If the reed is too open, it will be hard to blow and possibly too flat.  If the opening is too closed, the reed may be too soft, produce a weak flabby tone or the pitch may be too high.  Gently squeeze the reed blades closed if they are too open.  If too closed, open carefully from the sides with the fingers.  Never attempt these steps on a dry reed.


A reed that has been used for some time can be improved by cleaning the inside of it.  Use a very small pigeon-tail feather or a small pipe cleaner.  Great care must be used.  Soaking the reed blades in hydrogen peroxide will work for this purpose as well.

Reeds that are subjected to unusual stress–dropping, unnecessary squeezing, bending of the tip, scraping against clothing–are destined to have a short life. (duh)

Keep a vessel of water handy during playing and reedmaking sessions.

Professional players use a reed case.  This helps prolong reed life by allowing the reed to dry out more slowly between playing sessions, thus helping to prevent warpage and mildew.

Return to Home Page

Return to MUS 215 Menu