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Reed shaving

23313 Views 50 Replies 21 Participants Last post by  Wailin'
It seems most pro players search for a good reed. From what I've read, shaving what are considered "bad reeds" can make them good. Without reed shaving a box of 10 reeds can easily yield only 2-3 readily playable reeds. We all know that reeds cost an awful lot. How do you shave your reeds? I've read about this process but exactly how's it done? Everyone has their personal preferences.
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without going into a lot of detail, you want the side of the reed that fits against the mouthpiece to be flat. Then, if you hold the reed up to the light and look at it, it should be thicker in the center and taper off on the sides, and the taper should be symmetrical from side to side. Take a look at a reed that plays well and you'll see what I'm talking about.
And I'd further add that you might wanna consult one of the several books on the subject. Exact techniques, tools, philosophies differ from person to person.
It's something you get better and quicker at with practice. It also helps to have a really good reed to use as a model. I thought I was getting halfway decent at adjusting reeds and then yesterday, Boot threw me one of his reeds and the thing was smooth as glass and outplayed all of my reeds. Learn by doing, but for some guidelines on general methods, try these:
This link has several books on reed making and adjusting. The Kalman Opperman book (3rd one down) is the one I used years ago. Back then it was considered the "Bible" of making and adjusting single reeds. I'm not familiar with the newer ones.

I wet a new reed, play it, and then usually need to scrape it down. I keep it on the mouthpiece for stability, and keep the mouthpiece on the neck. If it is a soprano, I keep the neck on the horn. Alto/C-Mel/tenor - I take the neck off the horn.

I lay the back of the mouthpiece on the edge of the kitchen sink, take my sharp pocket knife, and begin scraping small amounts of bark off the reed's vamp by holding the blade's edge perpendicular to the reed. I don't cut, I scrape.

I stay away from the edges and the tip. I scrape a bit, rinse it under the faucet, play it, and repeat until the reed is playing better than it did when new (and they all seem to need this process). It doesn't require removing too much bark, but you will know it when the reed comes in to playing shape.

I did not read books about it (although if you feel the need to read up on it, do it) and I did not buy expensive tools to do this. I taught myself to do it. DAVE
I use an emery board to take off/balance the rails. If more shaving/sanding is required I throw it away because I've never had luck making a extremely strong reed work, or save it in hopes of divine intervention:). Usually if a reed is too strong I've bought the wrong strength, or brand.
I have worked on reeds some in the past, with varying success. I have a question for you guys that work on them pretty regularly. Do you find that after you work on a reed, it wears out quicker? I'm not talking about just sanding the table or polishing the vamp, but when you actually shave parts of the vamp. My teacher has improved several reeds over the past few years for me. Every time she fixes the reed, it plays much better, but then wears out rather quickly, within a matter of a days. I have read accounts of this same problem from some of Joe Allard's students. Is there a certain area of the reed that adjustment will cause to wear out quickly, or what?

I've also seen several interviews (can't remember specifics, but one was in a Selmer magazine) in which artists claim that they never shave reeds, but will clip them. Usually, the only adjustments I will make are using sandpaper to flatten the table or polish the vamp, and clipping reeds that are too soft with a Cordier reed trimmer.
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I have not experienced excessive wear with the reeds I've adjusted. I do the recommended prep (see the text in Vandoren reeds' boxes as an example) in addition to afore-described scraping, and store them in reed-guards in my cases when I am finished playing them.

By the way, I wanted to comment on the smoothness of the vamps - and polishing the vamps. When I scrape my reeds, they do not look smooth to the eye - kinda lumpy or grainy, in a way. But that has never bothered me - I can't feel it and the reeds play great. DAVE
What text in Vandoren boxes are you referring to? All that's in the boxes I buy are advertisements for ligatures or mouthpieces.

On the vamp smoothness: I know what you mean about the lumpiness. That's what they look like when worked on with a reed knife. I agree with you, that's not really noticable when playing. I was referring to lightly sanding the vamp to remove the scratchiness, which also has the effect of sealing the reed, I believe. I don't really do that much any more due to lack of time, but I have a friend who can't stand to play on unpolished reeds because they irritate his lips. Also, I believe the new Rico Reserve reeds come polished/smoothed from the factory.
If you are just getting started with reed adjustment, I'd recommend the Ridenour ATG reed adjistment system. The tools are pretty basic and are included with a detailed guide and a DVD video. It's the video that differentiates this from the other (also very good) books on the subject such as Opperman.

Ridenour actually demonstrates his adjustment techniques as well as his performance testing techniques. Thus you can hear what the problem is, see what he does to correct it, and hear the change afterwards. It's a very pragmatic approach, based on how the reed plays, rather than how it looks or measures.

The only down side at all is that the demos are on clarinet, but the process and effectiveness are exactly the same on sax.
I THOUGHT that Vandoren included some literature about reed-prep . . . seems that I recall finding a folded sheet of paper in Vandoren boxes, but it coulda been Alexander's, too. The point is that reed-prep is fairly common (as opposed to reed adjustments) and reed-prep is probably a necessary process for long-term reed-life (and playing pleasure).

The sanding of the vamps after adjusting them may serve to seal the pores. I rub them with my thumb many times before I put them away. If a lumpy vamp bothers some players, sand them, by all means.

Alan, maybe a video and tools is the way to go for some folks, but I see it as overkill. I think we've all read college texts, published by academics who need to publish-or-perish . . . silly texts that take 400 pages to tell someone how to open a door. In my view, reep prep and adjusting is not rocket science and the methods discussed here on SOTW should suffice - at least enough for even a newbie to teach himself how to do it. I say buy a few boxes and get to work. DAVE
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I agree there's plenty of reed-related info here, though I suspect one would have to wade through a great deal of chaff and even mis-information. Most of the info I have personally noticed was about reed preparation as opposed to reed adjustment.

The ATG stuff, in my opinion, is the most concise, simple, straightforward and pragmatic way to adjust a reed. No voodoo, no light tests or evaluating the way a reed is cut. Just test, sand the area that's a problem like you saw in the video, and test again until it's balanced.

It's 100% based on your play testing the reed, and after all, what else matters?
Yeah - another vote for the ATG method here.

If you are starting off it is simple clear and pragmatic. Reading people like Teal made me more confused than before.
I found this the answer to all my problems: you can download the video for 15 dollars (it plays on iTunes), and it pays for itself within a week or so, as so many more reeds can be made to work.
Wailin' said:
How do you shave your reeds? I've read about this process but exactly how's it done? Everyone has their personal preferences.
The Ridenour ATG system. Its foolproof, really. Dead easy to learn and use, and results in great reeds virtually every time.

Even the ones that are good out of the box can be tweaked a little better with this method.
It's hard to believe that anybody'd pay $64 for a book that tells you how to shave reeds. *tsk*
andrewbowie said:
I found this the answer to all my problems: you can download the video for 15 dollars (it plays on iTunes), and it pays for itself within a week or so, as so many more reeds can be made to work.
I paid to download it, and so far, have nothing (and no contact).

jazzbluescat said:
It's hard to believe that anybody'd pay $64 for a book that tells you how to shave reeds. *tsk*
It was the "*tsk*" that prompts my reply, not your complaint about the price which I also wish were lower, but it isn't.

1) It's a DVD and a book.
2) Wouldn't that be about the rate for a private lesson? Only you couldn't get the private lesson again for "free" any time you felt like a review.
3) How is learning to control one of your most important tools (reeds) any less valuable than learning a new scale, fingering lick, or interpretation, which is what you'd otherwise pay $50/hour or more for from an expert? I think I paid Mark Popkin more than that for a bassoon reed-making lesson (in person) 20 years ago.

I rarely need to tweak a reed, but when I do, this works. At the rate so many others here on SOTW seem to toss reeds ("I only get 2-3 out of a box that play." is a common complaint.) it seems like a slam dunk if it works for them even partially.
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