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Your Search for the Perfect Oboe Reed

By Maryn Leister

This might sound crazy coming from someone that owns a reed making business, but the best reeds for you are the ones you.ll make yourself.

At MKL Reeds and Oboe:Space, we get many questions about finding the ideal reed and what we think the .best. scrape is.

As an oboist, you.ll always be striving to make better reeds. But without sounding too zen. the answer is already in you.

What you need in a reed is unique and depends upon you, your personality and the way you play. There is no .best. or .right. reed for everyone, no matter who you are. Even when you make your own reeds, your own definition of the ideal reed should change and evolve with the musical situation you are in.

There are a few qualities that MUST be present in a reed, no matter whose it is or where you get it, or even what .kind. of scrape it is.

A good, functioning reed of any kind RESPONDS and is STABLE.

When those 2 core qualities are present, the other benefits that come along for the ride are plentiful. In my opinion, having response and stability (most often) takes care of pitch and even results in helping produce a respectable tone because the reed is both easy to play and is holding together properly.

Before I think or do any kind of detailed scraping, however, my reeds must have these core qualities. It must respond when I want it to and it must hold together no matter where in my mouth I put it or how I choose to blow. Getting to this stage of the game in reedmaking takes skill and practice, but is pretty much the same from reed to reed (assuming I continue to use consistent materials, like shape and gouge, and also that your gouge is good and centered).

I don.t know if other reedmakers actually think of reedmaking this way, but I would venture to guess that even without thinking about it, these are the core qualities .everyone. goes for initially.

Thinking about RESPONSE and STABILITY first keeps me focused. I strongle recommend not going for any more .detail. until you have these 2 qualities in your reed. This will make sure that you have a strong foundation for a good, consistent, dependable reed. These are the reeds that we strive to sell to our customers at MKL Reeds.

Now that covered the basics, things can get more personal.

The .best. reed for you enters next, when you start applying your own personal tastes, preferences and habits. Unless you find someone who plays JUST like you do and has exactly the same oral physiology and uses their air the exact same way you do (you will never find that person), then the .best. reed for you is the one that you make for yourself.

It.s that simple.

Commercial reeds satisfy the basic needs of oboe players, but in most cases can.t don.t and shouldn.t go beyond that. I won.t argue that you may find some really great reeds for yourself out there, but I.d still say that even the great reeds you find could be surpassed with your own reedmaking efforts.

So beyond response and stability, what goes into making not just a good, but a really great reed? We.ll save the importance of a good gouge for another time, because that is a big topic. But besides having a great gouge, (which in itself is a quest and an art) you need the shape that works for you.

There are tons of things to consider when choosing a shape, and you.ll only find what.s right for you through experimentation.

The right shape for you will .fit. with your gouge and offer you things in a reed that you might never have thought about. You might discover that what feels really good to YOU is to have a reed that is slightly wider, allowing you to feel slightly .under. at first. Then you find either you like that feeling because your air gets you up to pitch perfectly, or you might make a note of this and use this shape for making the .best. reed for playing with that church organ pitched at 438.

You might find a gouge/shape combo that makes amazingly focused, smallish reeds that are .best. for chamber music. There might be yet another combo that makes the most perfect low-register reeds for that second-oboe audition.

The possibilities are endless, and this is only one aspect of the freedom you have when making the best reed for you. Finding a gouge/shape combo is very individual and specific to you and your tastes.

Other qualities that change from person to person are how large the opening of the reed is and how much is scraped out of different areas of the reed. Of course, this all comes back to the different physical attributes of each person. Think of all the obvious differences you see from one oboist to another, like height, stature, age, etc.

These differences are important when choosing the best reed for you. Not to mention the many difference you can.t see, like the palate, tongue or position of teeth. These are differences that make every oboist sound and play differently.

Another important thing that determines the .best. oboe reeds for you is your instrument. You might think, .an oboe is an oboe,. but it is really a bit more complicated than that.

When people ask what the best reed is for them, you can.t possibly know the age/ quality/type of instrument they are playing on.

I do pretty much stand by my belief that .a good reed is always a good reed,. but there are certain qualities of an oboe that necessitate certain qualities in a reed. You.ll find it rather hard to find any reed that .responds. on an oboe that is really out of adjustment.

Again, who better to make a reed for your oboe than YOU? No one else deals with the trials and tribulations of your oboe everyday, so how could anyone else make the best reeds for it?

Although it is hopefully pretty easy to find and/or make yourself a decent reed, there is so much more opportunity available to you when you start to make your own reeds and experiment with what you need, and what your instrument may require as well.

Reedmaking is truly an art, and like any art, it is up to the artist to mold and shape it.


Oboist and entrepreneur Maryn Leister helps beginner, intermediate and professional oboists become happier oboe players.

She is owner of the oboe learning company MKL Reeds and publisher of the Reed Report and Oboe Success Tips Newsletters. Each newsletter is full of straightforward tips on becoming a better oboe player and on taking control of your oboe reeds.

Get your free subscription to the Reed Report newsletter and start your own journey towards a more rewarding oboe future right away. Sign-Up now and get your FREE Oboe Reed Tips!