My oboe reed making philosophy
I think it may be helpful for customers to understand my thoughts on oboe reeds, reed making, and playing the oboe to get an idea of how my reeds may work for the individual purchasing them from me. I hope you may find your way to AaronLakota.com where I have more information about oboe reed making, oboe and the teaching, but here I will provide you with an overview of what you may expect from my reeds. One of my goals as a reed maker and teacher is to give people more access to the joy that music can bring, and help them to express their inner artist. I think if you read this and know you are looking for something totally different than the reeds I describe here, you may wish to try my “Custom Oboe Reeds” or a different reed maker, though I am happy to answer further questions you may have. I do offer professional quality reeds in different strengths, at the request of customers.
Oboe Reed Hardness levels.
Hard reeds you should expect to adjust the reeds with a knife for personal preference. Some people do prefer my hard reeds “out of the box”. My suggestion when trying my reeds for the first time is to start with Medium hardness if you have experience with other professional quality reeds. Soft reeds are also professional quality, I make them to be very responsive and a bit easier to blow than what I play since oboist come in different shapes and sizes. I enjoy talking shop about reeds and the oboe so please do feel free to email me or text me, and I will do my best to write you back in timely manner. Aalakota@gmail.com (413)695-7896. You may also call and leave a message, please leave an email address to reply to. I like to respond late in the evening or early in the morning when I have time.
Resistance of oboe reeds and tension
I feel people can learn to Be Happy Obo(e)ing if they take some of the physical and mental stress away from playing the instrument. The physical stress comes from reeds and trying to blow too much air down a tiny little opening. The tension created from that “back pressure” creates stress throughout the entire body system, the shoulders, face, arms, hands and throat. The mental stress comes from never knowing if the reeds are going to work today or not, whether it will articulate that low C, or the high E clearly and in tune or leave us feeling frustrated.
The body and mind are linked and if one cog within the system is broken the cycle of tension and stress will continue. Decreasing stress within the body/mind system is the pathway to effortless playing in my perspective. I cannot say I have truly reached this point within my own playing, but it is my goal. I feel the biggest problems in creating conflict within the system in my experience are the oboe reeds we make, or the reeds we buy. The reeds we choose to use as oboists are the first variable in creating or relieving stress within the system. Finding a reed that works well for the individual player is very important, but unfortunately reed making can take a lifetime to master, and purchased reeds are expensive and often inconsistent due to many factors which are out of the control of even the reedmaker.
There are many oboe reed makers selling their reeds, which I think is wonderful because there are opportunities for people to find a product that really works for them, however finding the right reed can take a lot of time, money and energy. I do not believe that my reeds are the holy grail, and will be a good fit for everyone but they work very well for people that like them. The only way to know is to buy a few and try them out. I suggest people buy three (3) reeds in their first order to get a sense of consistency and what to expect. I strive for consistency as an oboe reed maker, but every reed will be slightly different due to the nature of cane and scraping by hand with a knife. Every one of the new Legere synthetic oboe reeds is slightly different as well, showing that even when you control for the material inconsistencies are to be expected.
What is a good oboe reed for me?
I have roots in the Philadelphia style of reed making , however, most of how I learned to make reeds was through my own stubborn trial and error, and research. One of my mentors is now a customer of mine and cannot believe the shift he has seen in my reeds over the past few years. We were recently reminiscing about when we first met and where I was then with playing and reed making. When I first came to him as a student I was already making my own reeds and self-sufficient as an oboist but the reeds I made were very resistant, very flat, and something I shudder to think about playing on now. I feel my reeds get closer to the Philadelphia style as I mature as a player, reed maker and person because the style requires less work as a player, which creates greater peace of mind, but perhaps more refinement as a reed maker. The Philadelphia style reed has the total function of the reed built into it and as a result requires little embouchure or lip pressure to play once broken in and the reed is played very close to the tip.
The reeds are built to crow at a C natural with not too much rattle. I do make reeds crow slightly flat ( 5-10 cents flat) intentionally because as a reed is played the internal dimensions of the reed get smaller and the pitch raises. This also gives a little flexibility in adjusting the reeds for people wanting to do that. The reed will play very well in tune after a few hours of playing assuming we use similar air and embouchure. Please see the “Simple Reed Adjustment Page” from my blog for some help with reeds that are too flat out of the box.
I feel a reed should be played with ample support of the abdominal region of the oboist’s body, but without trying to push too much air through the reed (overblowing). The quality of the air used is much more important than the quantity. I write about my ideas about support in an article “breath support for oboists”. I describe the correct air as “high pressure, low volume”, which brings the idea of an air compressor to my mind . The abdomen support creates the pressure in the lungs that propels a high pressure stream of air through the reed. I feel that much of the tension that is created within the body is the result of improper support and air volume. A reed should be made to function to the players level of support which is why I offer several different hardness levels and two different shapes. I try to be consistent in the way I rate the hardness levels of the reeds, though there are variables that can change the resistance of a reed from day to day. I soak and adjust reeds an average of 5 times between when they are tied and sent to customers, but in my opinion, a reed must be played on and adjusted for several hours to be truly finished. The Wider reeds are slighly more expensive because they tend to take slightly my sittings to be stable, which takes more of my time.
The oboe reeds I evaluate to be medium may feel harder or softer the next day. I sort and adjust reed hardness just before they are being sent out for shipping. I feel the hardness ratings give customers a better idea of what side of my own evaluation may be preferred, but I have not devised a scientific method to it so some inconsistency should be expected and tolerated. I truly wish I could spend hours refining each reed I sell, unfortunately, this would result in either very expensive reeds, or a very poor business model. Please do let me know if you are unsatisfied with the hardness of the reed you have received, I will attempt to make the situation right for you.
How long will an oboe reed last?
I feel the life of a reed can be expected last between 7-12 hours of playing, if it is taken care of, and given time to sit between playing. I feel the “sweet spot” within the life of a reed is around 4-8 hours of playing, obviously dependent on the quality of the cane, how well the reed has been cared for, oboe reed soaking rituals as well as other factors. I feel at this point in the life of a reed it should be able to played with a loose embouchure/ no biting, have great dynamic range, great range of expression in tone color and intensity, and be stable in pitch throughout the full range of the instrument. If you buy one reed at a time the reed will likely last closer to 7 hours of playing since it will be overworked. Buying more and rotating them is advisable and will make them all last longer. Different reeds will act differently on different days depending on the humidity and atmospheric pressure. I suggest purchasing at least 3 reeds at a time and always having 3 working reeds in the oboe reed case. Your favorite reed may not work as well on a rainy day.
I feel the main point of an oboe reed is to vibrate well and resonate. I search for a lot of resonance in my own oboe playing and make reeds to resonate. I strive for complexity within the sound and make reeds that allow me to make a complex and balanced tone (as I hear it). I do not describe my reeds as creating a bright or dark tone, since I am not sure I understand what those terms mean, or that anyone truly agrees on what those terms objectively mean. I feel people often use the term “dark” to describe a tone they like, and “bright” to describe a tone they do not like. Most oboe reed makers seem to advertise their reeds as creating a “dark” tone. I am sure the reed makers all sound lovely on the reeds they play and are able to create the sound they desire which they may describe as “dark”.
Here is what I strive for in terms of my own concept of sound.
The Complexity of overtones within the sound. I want there to be a lot of “sound within the sound”. Sing a pitch with your mouth singing “ah”, open the mouth as much as possible and sing, now close it and sing. I strive for a sound that is more open and to my ears resonant.
The Balance of overtones– I do not strive to favor only lower overtones within the sound or only upper overtones. I want as much presence of overtones as possible but they must be balanced. I think of the sound as a circle and the core within the sound should be the most prominent with overtones gradually decreasing away from that. I do not want a reed to favor only the upper overtones or lower overtones within the sound.
Lack of nasal quality– I do not like reeds to create too much of a nasal quality. I describe this as favoring the upper overtones and having a prominent core to the sound with not much in between. Sing a pitch on the word “knee”, now shift to “knaw” and listen to the sound change, I strive for something closer to “knaw”.
Here are a couple recent clips with a tone quality that is somewhat close to what I shoot for. It is not yet the sound I have within my mind, but it gets closer as I get better at oboe playing and reed making. I hope this gives you an idea of whether we have similar concepts in sound quality.