Seven Days to Reed Heaven

Excerpted from Woodwind Doubling for Saxophone, Clarinet & Flute

Day 1: Remove the reeds from their container(s) and let them sit belly up (the flat side facing the ceiling) on a flat surface for an hour. Do not play them or wet them. This allows the reeds to become acclimated to the temperature and humidity in which you will play them. Then, store them in a reed pouch with a 49% Boveda Reed Vitalizer pack.

Day 2: When you’re ready to begin the process of preparing the reeds to play, lightly rub the flat side (back end) of each reed in small circular motions on 3M polishing paper of 3000 grit until totally smooth. Be careful to apply light pressure with the 2nd/3rd/4th fingers of your hand above the stock (or bark) of the reed in order to move the reed over the polishing paper. This will help seal the flat side of the reed as well as correct any unevenness so that the reed can vibrate evenly on the mouthpiece table and side rails. The residue of the paper’s fibers fills in the spaces between the fibers of the reed. Put them back in the reed pouch with the 49% humidity pack. Do not play them yet!

Day 3: The next day, submerge the tips of the reeds into luke-warm water, making sure that the entire cut portion of the reed is wet. Be careful not to let the tips of the reeds touch any surface. Leave them in the water for no more than one minute. The reeds that are most porous may show that the water has reached the butt-end of the reed before the minute is up. When that occurs or when the minute is up, remove the reeds from the water and then briefly submerge the back ends of the reeds that had not been wet previously. Remove the reeds from the water and rub the excess moisture into the cut of the reed with your finger or a dull-edged metal object. This burnishing process will help seal the pores of the reeds. Wipe all remaining water from the reeds and lay them on their belly-side while allowing them to dry. After they have dried, repeat the process of rubbing the reeds on 3M polishing paper that you initiated in Day 2, but on 5000 grit this day. Put the reeds back in the reed pouch with the 49% humidity pack.

Day 4: Repeat the procedures of Day #3 but this time play each of the reeds briefly—for no more than 5 minutes—before allowing them to dry. (Always wipe off the excess moisture before allowing the reeds to dry.) Rub the reeds on 7000 grit polishing paper this day and from here onwards. Simple scales and arpeggios utilizing a variety of articulations and dynamics are a good way of analyzing a reed’s playability. Store them in the reed pouch with the humidity pack after allowing the reeds to dry.

Day 5: Repeat the steps from Day #4. Play each reed for 10 minutes this day. Start to separate the reeds that are too hard, too soft, playable, etc. by marking them accordingly before putting them back in the reed pouch.

Day 6: Repeat the wetting, burnishing and sanding processes of Day #5. Now, begin to work on balancing the sides of the reeds, adjusting the tip response, sizing the reed to the mouthpiece table, etc. A micrometer such as the PerfectaReed can be very useful in gaining an understanding of the variances in any reed. Play the reeds that you’ve chosen to concentrate on for 15-20 minutes before allowing them to dry and store.

Day 7: Repeat the steps from Day #6 but play each of the reeds that you have selected for 30 minutes before allowing them to dry and store.

*This one week break-in period does not guarantee that each reed will ultimately be a good one or even that all of the reeds will play. Rather, it enhances the chances that the reeds that show possibilities for performance will last longer and be more consistent during their lifetime.