For three years during my doctoral studies I made my own reeds from blanks. I enjoyed the control I had over what my reeds felt and sounded like and I learned a lot about the adjustment process. Due to the time commitment of making them, I now play on Rico Reserve Classic reeds. Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned from making my own reeds was that you should never play on a bad reed. Adjustment can turn many bad reeds into great ones. I use sandpaper techniques as well as a reed knife to balance and cure the reed. Through sanding, the pores of the reed close, the back obtains a mirror-like finish, and the reed lasts longer and is more consistent. The reed has a huge impact on how we sound and how we feel while performing. You will learn much through trial and error and the time spent to find great reeds will really pay off.
When you buy a new box of reeds, it is really tempting to find the first good reed in the box and then play it until it dies. The problem with this approach is that the reed won’t last as long as it should. It is better to play through each reed in the box, marking the good ones, and then letting them get conditioned.
What to do when you open a new box of reeds:
- Play each reed for 2 minutes.
- Mark good reeds with a pencil.
- Use a reed case or guard for storage.
- Don’t play on the same reed each day. Alternate them.
- Have at least 4 great reeds to use at all times.
With some simple sanding, many mediocre reeds can be turned into great reeds. The reed affects our confidence and enjoyment in playing the clarinet. There isn’t any reason why students should suffer through playing on a bad reed. With a few easy steps, a good reed is within reach.
- If the reed is too stiff: Using 600 weight wet/dry sandpaper, sand the back of the reed in circles. (25 circles, then rotate 180 degrees, another 25 circles)
- If the reed is unbalanced (when one side is stiffer than the other): Using 320 weight wet/dry sandpaper, sand the front of the reed along the rails, the tip, and right above the bark. Avoid sanding in the heart of the reed.
- If the reed is too soft: Use a reed trimmer to clip the tip.
You’re only as good as your reed!