After much ado, I have returned to the blogosphere to document a recent reed making experiment inspired by my friends in Blankapalooza 2020 and a series of photographs by my former sectionmate and bassoon whiz, Jacob Darrow. If successful, a very minor change in blank formation could greatly reduce or (*gasp?*) potentially eliminate the need for blade imbalance corrections after the initial scrape. Too good to be true? Let's see.
Uneven blade pressure, even slight, causes one blade to be more peaked than the other, which can lead to a host of issues -
The double blades of bassoon reeds are acted upon by unequal forces and torques based on the method by which we assemble blanks - first and second wires twisted in opposite directions, pulling one blade inward then counteracting with an opposing pull. This is the classic wire placement. But what if the blades were acted upon with force instead to the sides? In theory, this would create balancing forces in a lateral "shifting" manner rather than directly upon the spine in a "squishing" manner. What if we eliminated the doing and undoing of uneven blade pressure during formation?
I thus hypothesized that placing wire twists along the seam of the reed as opposed to the spine can eliminate chronic side slipping, reduce asymmetry, and increase air volume through the throat.
PART ONE - FORMING
For this experiment, I used 14 pieces of cane from the same tube batch order; gouged, shaped, and profiled with the same instruments on the same day; dried and soaked matching times in the same humidor and water container, respectively; and formed in the same one hour sitting with the same tools and measurements. For my formation process, check out the "Resources" and "Documents" tabs in the menu above.
I was surprised in the initial formation that the seam-aligned approach saved me time, roughly four seconds per blank. This makes sense in hindsight, as it takes an extra tug or two for the slack in the standard placement method to make sure the full wire is flush with the newly rounded tube, rather than when pulling parallel to the oblong throat. This seems small, but a few seconds per blank adds up before long.
Forming with my traditional method felt more comfortable but, as seen above, was a hair slower. As you take a look through the comparison photos below, you'll see a few observations:
1. Contrary to my hypothesis, it was easier to over-tighten the seam-aligned wires. I affectionately call these my muffin top reeds.
2. My hypothesis appears incorrect yet again in the constriction of the throat. The extra tug to round the tube fully via the second wire during forming appears to have consistently maintained the inner volume of the throat that fits so well with my beefy 201 and general approach to all things musical.
3. Since I like the vibrant and live-wire experience of a brand new reed, I have no qualms about opening them immediately. You can see a continuation of the throat volume into a wider tip aperture. Score one for the seam-aligned, though, the blanks are more symmetrical across all four tip quadrants than my wild child standard tips. This is the only part of my hypothesis projecting accuracy.
PART TWO - SCRAPING
All 14 blanks were dried overnight again, per my usual process, then I put in the thumbnail and tip, blending uniformly through the channels across the full batch. Regardless of experimentation, I complete identical first scrapes to all reeds, with the goal to be to define the front third of the reed and scrape the tip to within 0.1mm of my final goal thickness. With the profiler settings I use, this requires only a single scrape session and involves taking off less than 50% of the profiled tip thickness.
After the "stock" tip and blending, I rested the blanks overnight in a humidor then gave what I referred to as a "good faith scrape" to tend to what each reed needed to fundamentally clear basic response and intonation variables before setting them aside to dedicate a specialized finishing scrape session to each.
All this began with a crow...
As you might imagine, the flatter shape of the seam-aligned wires yielded an initially low crow and easy response, while my first sounds on the standard-wired system sounded all too familiar. In conclusion, however, both crowed in the realm of acceptable.
Sidebar - it is important for us to not allow either hope for a new method or comfort in an old one to guide our tests. Don't play better on the ones you want to sound good. This is true for reeds you wrap really pretty, too
More on that later, I am sure, but the purpose of that note here is to acknowledge that I dig the idea of something new and immediately responsive helping both my students and myself, so I inserted a few "blind" crows, where I crowed the reed without looking at or touching the wires to have an expectation for their performance. Aside from poking myself on fresh wire clippings, nothing surprising happened, and they performed similarly down the rack and received the same tips.
After two days' rest - happy weekend, everyone - I soaked and only made minor aperture adjustments to test the playability via a few stolen guitar waltzes, and what interesting surprises awaited me...
The two racks now perform... opposite? The standard wire placement reeds have brightened and retained a large portion of their flexibility, and the seam-aligned reeds have completely seized. You can hear that both from the left column are bright, flat, and loud, the typical traits of a less aggressively tapered system that *should* have been set up moreso by the oblong second wires of the seam-aligned process. The right columned reeds are stuffy, sharp, and causing all sorts of neck veins to pop out as I play, which is not only glamorous but also, honestly, very unexpected.
A twist! A cliffhanger! Perhaps all three facets of my hypothesis are wrong!
Stay tuned for the next round, coming soon...
PART THREE - FINISHING
Thoughtful holiday gifts for bassoonists can be tricky! How do you best support your bassoon-crazed loved one and give them a gift they actually want? As much as I have a soft spot in my heart for gifts such as these...
... here is a quick shopping guide for items that your favorite bassoonist would be truly excited to receive. Happy shopping!
On a budget?
Read the following ten books: