Reed Care and Cleaning

1. Reed care
2. Fixing and cleaning reeds without tools
3. Resources

1. Reed care

  1. Soaking the reed.

Cooler water, usually not cooler than room temperature, soaks most reeds effectively. Hotter water (but not boiling) tends to make the reed stronger and harder than cooler water, and is particularly good for older reeds. An oversoaked reed will likely be stiff, too open, and flat.

Soak the reed for 1-3 minutes or until the reed is the correct strength – a shorter amount of time if the reed is newer, and longer if the reed is older or more closed. If the reed becomes too hard, the next time try soaking it for a shorter amount of time or in cooler water. Squishing the back of the reed more closed will make it easier and sharper if it has soaked too much.

Saliva has a destructive influence on cane and will degrade the reed more quickly; it can also take longer than with water to soak the reed in the mouth.

  1. Keep the reed dry after playing.

Always wipe saliva off the reed and suck it out of the reed before putting it away. There should not be much saliva on the reed in the first place because playing should be on the dry part of the lip, but this is not always true for younger players.

  1. Store the reed in a sturdy, well-ventilated case.
french style
“French” style case

A French style “ribbon” reed case, or one that uses mandrels, are

mandrel style
Mandrel style case

the best for protecting and ventilating the reed.

If a plastic tube style case is the only option, poke a few holes in the end to allow air to circulate around the reed, or it may mold.

Some oboists humidify their reeds when not playing them, either by keeping them in plastic bags, or by using a Humidifier reed case.

  1. Rotate reeds for longer reed life and greater embouchure flexibility.

Don’t play your best reed all the time, especially when in a rehearsal that does not involve much exposed playing. Rotating reeds encourages more embouchure flexibility to handle a variety of reeds, as well as extending each reed’s life. For rehearsals, only soak one or two reeds; for concerts, soak two or three reeds so there is a back-up ready if a reed cracks. Rotation and minimal soaking will help reeds last longer. Ideally, it’s best to have at least 3-5 working reeds at all times.

  1. Keep lipstick and food off and out of the reed.

These foreign elements will inhibit vibrations and speed up the decay process. For cleaning suggestions, see the section below.      

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2. Fixing and cleaning reeds without tools

If the reed is too closed or sharp:

  1. Open the tip of a soaked reed by squishing the sides of the reed gently, being careful not to pinch too hard or it might crack. This is very temporary, but it can sometimes help the reed last through a rehearsal or concert if done continually.
  2. Soak the reed in hotter water for a longer period of time. This should help strengthen the reed, but may also stiffen it.
  3. Clean the reed out with a pipe cleaner. Brush extra fluff off the pipe cleaner, then wet and push through the reed tube end first. This is particularly effective with older reeds that have collected foreign matter inside.
  4. Use fine grain sandpaper (preferably 600 wet/dry) to lightly sand the whole reed. This should scrape off any residue (including lipstick) as well as loosen the reed a little, and it may lower the pitch of a sharp reed. It is always better to take too little off than too much. Set the sandpaper on a table and gently draw the reed along the sandpaper while holding the paper to keep it from moving. Never push the reed along the sandpaper tip first.

If the reed is too open or flat:

  1. Squish the back of the reed when soaked. If the reed is squished too much, see the section above. If the back does not feel like it can squish without cracking the reed, there is probably too much cane on it, and it needs to be adjusted with a knife.

If the reed leaks:

  1. If the reed leaks near the thread, it is possible to apply fish skin by wetting it and wrapping just once around. Plumber’s tape sticks on the reed even better and does not need to be moistened. If the reed leaks farther up, and the embouchure does not cover it, it is best to not use that reed.
  2. Try soaking the reed longer in hot water, and as the cane swells, the leak may reduce or vanish.

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3. Resources

Reed care and adjusting

What is a good oboe reed?

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