1. Start with gouged bassoon cane. Soak it until it sinks (This will take at least several hours. I am comfortable leaving it in the water for several days if I’m working on reeds during that time. Change the water every day to keep it clean. It will get gross if you don’t.)
2. Sand the inside of the cane with fine grit wet-dry sandpaper. Sand in the direction of the grain. (The part that is going to be the inside of the reed. You want this to be smooth and you won’t be able to adjust it once you form the blank.)
3. Shape the cane. (I use a Fox #3 straight shaper, which is one of the wider shapes available on the market). Be careful to always cut from largest to smallest width in the shape. Cut away cane until the edge feels smooth and like a continuation of the shaper edge.
a. Completely shape one side before doing the other side so that if you make a mistake, you can still make an attempt to save the piece of cane by shifting it over slightly and reshaping to remove the mistake.
4. Profile the cane on a profiling machine.
a. Be sure the cane is centered both left and right and up and down.
b. Take off only what the weight of the machine will take naturally. Do not press down as you slide the blade.
c. Flip the cane over regularly as you go. Take off just one more layer each time (don’t do one side completely and then the other).
d. Do not pull fibers off that stick up. File or sand them off.
e. Regularly clean the blade with a dry paintbrush to keep it clear of debris.
f. Be sure the blade is dry and clean before you store the machine.
5. Fold the cane over in the middle.
a. Measure and mark to be sure that you know where the center really is. Use an easel to mark this.
b. Fold over a straight edge. Use a knife or ruler to start the fold so that it is nice and straight. Then remove the guide and fold the cane the rest of the way.
6. Sand the edges of the cane while folded over. (many bassoonists bevel the butt end of the cane at this point. I do not.)
7. Make note of where the second wire will be applied from the end (17mm)
a. I like to keep a finished reed that I know I like next to me as I’m working on reeds. Even though I measure and mark each step, I like to double check those marking against a finished reed to be sure I haven’t made a mistake.
8. Cut slits in the cane from this point down to the butt end.
a. I use an xacto knife and cutting block for this step.
b. Hold the butt end of the cane, while folded over, firmly on the cutting block (sticking straight up).
c. Stab the xacto knife into the cane at the point where the second wire will go.
d. Cut down through the cane to the butt end. (yes, cut all the way through!)
e. Make 5 to 8 cuts on each side.
9. Attach the first wire 26mm from the end.
a. It is important for your wires to be neat and tight.
b. Start by centering the piece of wire on the cane on the side where you want the twist to be.
c. Wrap it around each side and cross the right side over the left side so that when you bring it all back around to the front you can twist the wire together clockwise to tighten it (keeping with the lefty-loosey-righty-tightey concept).
d. Shift the wire into position so that your measurement for the wires is the line between the two wires.
e. When you tighten the wire, you need to pull slack out while supporting the reed near the wire, and then twisting gently. Repeat.
f. Tighten this first wire until it crimps the edges of the cane slightly and absolutely no space shows at any point under the wire, especially where the twist is (this is the point where most people get a crack when forming the tube if they have not tightened enough).
10. Attach the second wire 17mm from the end.
a. Make sure the twist is on the side opposite the twist of the first wire.
b. Do not tighten this as much as the first wire. It should be very snug, but not pinching the cane.
11. Attach the third wire near the end (distance isn’t important at this point).
a. Tighten it only by hand. It will be loose.
b. Wrap it 3 times rather than just 2.
c. It does not matter which side the twist is on. When you are done forming the tube, this wire will be perfectly round and will be able to be rotated into position.
12. Some people wrap the reed with a wet shoestring or rubber bands at this point. I find that if I have applied the first wire tightly enough that I do not need to do so. If in doubt, wrap the reed with a wet shoestring at this point. We don’t want any cracks creeping up into the blade.
13. Insert the mandrel into the end of the reed. Gently push and twist as far in as you comfortably can using just your fingers.
14. Use pliers to gently squeeze the reed open at the sides of the second wire as well as slightly at the first wire.
15. Insert the mandrel further.
16. Repeat until you have inserted the mandrel to the mark you have made that indicates how far in it needs to be (you will need to do some experimentation as you learn to make reeds to figure out how far on your mandrel the reed should go. When you know where that point is, use a file to mark your mandrel. I use a fox forming mandrel and take the reed down to a mark I made that is 44mm from the tip)
17. Massage and mash the cane from the second wire down with your pliers.
a. Let the third wire be free and move it up and down to get it out of the way so that you can work all of the area from the second wire down.
b. Use lots of strength against the mandrel and really mash the cane up. You are taking something that was flat and you are making it round!
18. Tighten the third wire at the point where you want it for your wrap.
a. The butt should be perfectly round when you take it off of the mandrel. If it isn’t, you need to put it back on and mash it more with your pliers until it is.
b. Location will depend upon what type of wrap you intend to use. I place it slightly higher when I’m going to use a traditional turban wrap and lower when I intend to use electrical shrink wrap.
c. Don’t tighten it so much that you can’t get the reed off of the mandrel easily.
19. Snugly place the reed on a drying rack and allow it to dry for at least a day.
20. Take the dry reed off of the rack, put the reed on your mandrel, and gently tighten the wires so that the reed is held together with no space on the sides (the reed will shrink and wires will become loose during the drying).
21. Clip the wires so that they are the length you will want for the finished reed.
22. Use clear nail polish and seal the sides of the reed between the first and second wires and paint all of the reed from the second wire down, including the butt end.
23. Wrap the reed. It is fine (and actually a little easier) to apply a turban wrap while the nail polish is still a little wet. If you are going to use shrink wrap and apply heat, wait until the nail polish is dry so that it does not catch on fire.
a. If you use a string turban wrap, you need to coat the string with nail polish or a glue such as duco cement and allowing it to dry before going on to the next step.
b. At this point, I allow my reeds to sit for six months to several years before finishing them. The longer the blank rests, the better. You will not have this luxury as you start your reed-making process, but eventually make enough reed blanks ahead of time so that they can sit and stabilize over a long period of time.
24. Soak the reed for a few minutes.
25. Score the cane with an xacto knife or edge of a small file above the first wire. The score mark should be parallel with the wire and as far above the wire as is the width of the wires themselves (the shoulder should end up being about 28.5mm from the butt end). Do one side and then flip the reed over and make sure the other side lines up with each edge of your score mark.
26. Place your thumbnail in the score mark and cut towards it with the xacto knife to make a neat ledge. Do this for the whole length of the score mark on both sides. You want to make a nice 90 degree ledge/shoulder. The cut should follow the contour of the cane so that it is continuous and smooth.
27. Mark the tip of the reed 55 mm from the butt end.
28. Clip the reed a smidge longer than this mark.
a. I usually end up clipping again as I go back and forth between thinning and balancing the tip.
29. Crow the reed. It should sound even though it is thick. It is now time to finish the blades.
30. Rewet the reed, sharpen your knife and let’s finish the tip.
31. Insert a plaque (guitar pick) into the tip and using your thumbnail as a guide, so that you don’t drift away from the very tip, sand a ledge across the tip of the reed with a sanding stick, taking the very tip down to a think ledge that is about 1mm wide and very thin.
a. You can take this REALLY thin, since you clipped the tip a little bit on the long side and thus have wiggle room to clip again if you make a mistake.
32. Take your knife and blend the thumbnail regions of the reed into this very thin edge.
a. Use a fanning motion.
b. Keep the knife sharp. Don’t gouge out holes or catch and tear the cane.
c. Scoop and drag cane off, don’t push cane off.
33. Use your knife to smooth the channels, take excessive cane from the heart and spine and balance the reed as needed. This is an art form that takes practice to learn. See the attached guide for areas of adjustment.
a. When you look at the reed from the side, no part of the profile should be bumpy (if there is a bump in the spine, do remove it…though you do want to maintain a spine and be careful to not cut too much out of it).
b. If any part of the sides of the reed look thick and then suddenly thin, they need to be blended. The thickness should be a smooth, continuous taper on the sides.
c. The more difference you have between the channels and the spine, the darker your sound will be.
d. If the thinness of the tip goes back too far, your E and C# will sink and be unstable and flat. Be careful that you do not thin the tip back too far in the center. If you do, you will need to clip the tip to maintain balance.
e. We often leave too much cane in the back of the reed, which hampers response in the low register. I often find I need to take cane out of the back, especially on the sides.
This reed making procedure is a combination of styles from Dr. Peterson’s teachers and her own experience. These teachers include:
- Mary Beth Minnis (Central Michigan University: studied with Robert Barris)
- Marc Goldberg (Hartt School of Music, Julliard: studied with Harold Goltzer)
- Michael Burns (University of North Carolina at Greensboro: studied with William Winstead and Leonard Sharrow)