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What happens to a reed during the break-in process?

734 Views 6 Replies 5 Participants Last post by  bandmommy
Hey friends,

I was wondering if any of the more techy people on here had any idea of what physically is happening to a reed during the break-in process.

Even when a reed is the right strength for me out of the box, I'll notice that new reeds tend to have a darker, less focused sound with a more dull articulation. I don't think it's as simple as them being a little hard. Usually after some time (Could be a few days, could be a week) I feel like they get used to vibrating and all of a sudden pick up more overtones in the sound and articulate much more cleanly. Does this have something to do with the pores on the reed closing?

Not that I anticipate this knowledge making much of a difference in my process, but often I am unsure when to start sanding a duller sounding reed or when to simply keep playing it in hopes that it'll break in. I'll notice that to the touch newer reeds definitely feel stiffer and less pliable.

Thanks for any insight you can provide!
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My experience is that breaking reeds in is a waste of time. I adjust my reeds as soon as I take them out of the box. I check the side to side balance, and sand one side or the other depending on which is harder. If the reed is overall too hard I sand both sides. Then I put it in my case and play it.

I used to break reeds in gently before working on them. But there were many years where I was performing a dozen or more times a week, and I would occasionally be in a situation where I needed a reed right now. So I would get a reed working and hope it didn’t crap out before the end of the gig. After a while I noticed that those reeds lasted just as long and played just as well as the reeds I carefully broke in. So I stopped doing that.

I suspect that breaking reeds in is actually just forcing them to play according to my mouthpiece and embouchure. I also suspect that this stresses the reed fibers, weakening them, because almost every single reed is a little bit unbalanced, and none of them are perfectly matched to my embouchure and mouthpiece. So I make them vibrate the best they can right away, and avoid stressing the reed by making it vibrate in a non-symmetrical way.

As a side benefit, I get almost every reed to play well, the only duds are those with obvious defects.


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