How To Deal with Leaky Tubes in Bassoon Reeds

As fall turns to winter and the air gets dryer, I find students have problems getting proper tubes for their reeds during this season. When I first came here from a more temperate climate, I had to struggle with leaky tubes myself. The winters can be brutal here, and very dry. If there is any weakness in the way you made your reed’s tube, you will have leakage. I’d like to share what I do.

First of all, I recommend you have a good reamer. Do not scrimp on what you get – a cheap reamer won’t do the job. I would suggest a fluted reamer. I’ve been using a Popkin one for many years, and I believe Reiger makes one as well. I spent a small fortune when I was student, on so many reamers that didn’t work!  Some people don’t use reamers, and I tried this for a while. The problem is that you create perturbations of the air column. The reed inserts on the bocal, and the bocal wall causes more resistance inside the tube because it gets suddenly smaller. A good reamer will accommodate your reed to the bocal to prevent this.

I also make sure that my cane is evenly scored from the second wire down to base. This can be done with an Exacto knife. Or you can use this nifty tool I’ve come up with. All you do is to take a thread cutter from a tool and die kit. Insert the cutter in a handle, and presto, you have made your own. It takes some getting used to, but it can cut effective scores very quickly. They don’t even have to be exactly straight to work.

I also make sure that I cut small 1 mm cuts into the butt end of the reed.  I do this after I’ve bound the reed with cotton twine when it’s still dry.

The other process I would suggest is called the “Windsor Mill Process” – it is covered in detail in Jim McKay’s “The Bassoon Reed Manual – Lou Skinner’s Theories and Techniques”. Basically, you scrape a small channel down the center of the tube area.  This frees up the back of your reed. Additionally, it helps to accommodate the tube area to the mandrel when it is inserted, so there are few if any cracks. It will also help your lower register intonation – an added bonus!

I don’t soak my folded blank long, maybe about 10-15 minutes before I form the tube. Warm water is best. I have had few, if any, cracks in my reeds since I’ve been doing this. Best of all, my reeds haven’t leaked for years.

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