Evan Tate's SaxTips eZine

Tuesday, March 01, 2005


The (almost) lost art of reed preparation. What is reed preparation? Quite simply it is the way you maintain and process your reeds for further use and eventually for longevity, or one may prepare their reeds in order to make corrections to them, such as the case when a reed has been cut unevenly for example.

I stated for "further use" above due to that reeds are rarely processed before its first use. Processed? What does processing mean here? Processing is just what you do to the reed to change any properties it may have. Even when you simply lay your new reeds into a glass of water in order to "soften" them up, you're processing them. There are other ways to process reeds. You may cut them, sand paper them, burn them, rub them, seal them with bee's wax... whatever! In this article I'll discuss a couple of basic techniques and the overall advantages of preparing your reeds and why this (almost) lost art should be brought back to life.

Why should you work on your reeds? Again, it's quite simple: It saves you cash money! We all know the scenario; you've bought a new box of reeds, you go through them in order to find the "good" ones and wind up throwing away anywhere between 25% to 50% (if not more!) of the reeds you just bought. Just imagine, you spent $15 for 10 reeds, and you've thrown away 5 of them! That $3 per reed now! (It used to be $1.50/reed before you trashed the others!) Now does this make any sense to you? Throwing away $7.50?!(And by the way, creating more garbage!) Well, after developing some decent reed preparation skills, you can keep up to at least 99% of your reeds and throw NONE away! Let's get to the basics!

1. What can you do when a reed is too hard?

You can sand them down with sandpaper on glass or acrylic, reed rush (also called "Dutch Rush"), or use a reed knife. Sandpaper we all know. "Reed rush" and a "Reed knife" may still be foreign words for us (depending on how old you are). Reed rush is a small tubular part of a very young bamboo stem (I believe I'm right - I may be slightly off) where the "bark" is rough like sandpaper. One rubs the outer edges of the reed - left, right or left and right side or in the "heart" of the reed - slightly in order to make the reed thinner at this area. How do you know which side? Hold you reed up to a light and see which side very less light comes through. Play the reed concentrating on one side and noticing the response of the reed. File down this harder side, just a little and then test again. Repeat this process if necessary until it's "perfect".

A "Reed knife" is a small, specially made knife for the cutting of bamboo reeds. You don't "cut" with a reed knife, you use it to file and scrape, very much like sanding. This tool is my personal favorite! Reed rush has the knack of getting crushed in my gig bag and is very brittle. I like to ise the reed knife and I only need to have it sharpened every couple of months. Both of these utensils should be found by your repairman. If not, ask him where to get them. These tools have seemed to fallen out of popularity over the years but - I'm from the "old school" and I'd rather use these. In fact, I have a "left-handed" reed knife! I tried to by another one a few years back and the merchant at the store swore that something like that didn't exist. Until I showed him MY left-handed knife! These tools are worth a try.

2. What do I do if the reed is too soft?

You can use the "still" widely known reed clipper. This handy tool is used to just clip @ 10th of a millimeter off the tip of your reeds. Of course, you CAN clip more off but I wouldn't advise you do that. You can destroy a reed by cutting so much off. And please use a clipper. (I knew a guy once who used a scissor! Ugh!) Again, Clip, test, clip again if necessary, but PLEASE no more than twice!

Another Reed Tip:

Reeds are always packed away in boxes, sealed and store for long periods of time. In order for them to stay "fresh", they are always treated with a carbohydrate as a preservative. Naturally, when this carbohydrate comes in contact with your saliva, it begins to "digest" - or "process", rather. Slowly, small microscopic "plants" will start growing on your reeds (on the flat side of the reed facing the mouthpiece). This growth can and will effect your reeds by the way it plays and its longevity. My advice: every couple of days wipe off this growth simple by taking and reed knife and stroking the back of the reed once or twice to remove these growths.

Last but not least, have a reed case ready to carry up to four reeds in advance.

You can prepare a couple of reeds and rotate them in their use. You may be able to get reeds playing for weeks this way, and maybe you too can one day use ALL the reeds in that box you just bought! :-)

Notes to Reedology – Download it http://www.evantate.de/media/Notes_to_Reedology.pdf

Have fun!

Evan Tate is a freelance musician/instructor and the author of "Way to Mastery: Saxophone". He holds a BM of Music from the Manhattan School of Music under the tutelage of Dr. Joe Allard and has over 20 years of professional playing and teaching experience and has performed at various jazz festivals and radio broadcasts. Since 1993, He is an endorser for Julius Keilwerth saxophones.

http://www.evantate.de/ or mailto:evan@evantate.de


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