Try these 5 steps for flawless reeds:
1. Measure everything. Yes, I mean everything. This includes your gouge before you even begin shaping and profiling.
Keep the same length for your tube and your wire placements. Keep your tip generally the same length also. Limit the number of variables for your reeds and you will increase your consistency ten-fold.
Also, buy a micrometer that will give you accurate readings for your profiled cane before you fold it. You need to measure and keep your profiled blank thickness within certain very specific parameters — I only allow a variation of <.03> mm! Once you determine what those boundaries are, you will have much better reeds before you even clip the tip.
2. Use only the best cane. Okay, this might be more expensive, and sometimes more difficult, depending on availability. But it really makes a difference!
You may also possibly have to gouge your own cane. Gouging your own cane is not fun, but the results are sure worth it. For a long time I had gouge my own. Now there are a number of excellent sources for cane with reasonably consistent gouges.
Sacrificing quality because of cost is a false economy. You will spend more time working on reeds and they will not meet your needs as easily. Your time is valuable. The more time you spend struggling with reeds the less time you have for practice!
3. Hand profile. You don’t necessarily have to do the whole operation by hand, but at least some of the end work needs to be done by hand. This is especially true for the final stages of profiling where you define the back, and refine the tip before folding. Hugh Cooper and others have mentioned they seem to get a better average of good reeds with this method.
With hand profiling, you can adjust the profile for each piece so it looks like the reed profile that you need. Plus, you can control things much more. Even the best profiler cannot accommodate every piece of cane. Hand profiling the final stages guarantees a successful outcome.
4. Use a flat shaper. Using a folding shaper is way too inaccurate. If you have spent the time to find a shape that works for you, you might as well make sure the shape is consistent. Shaping wet cane almost guarantees variations in all dimensions.
Each piece will expand and contract differently. Some reeds will be much larger and others will be smaller, totally defeating using the same shape every time. On a flat shaper the cane is shaped dry. The end result is extremely consistent. There are many shapers available to choose from, so this shouldn’t dissuade you from using a flat shaper.
5. Take your time, and be careful. Don’t just rush through reed making so you can get something that will “work”. Chances are, if you are in a reed drought and need something decent to play, rushing will NOT produce the result you are looking for.
You can mitigate this problem by always having something going in the background. Have a backlog of reeds at various stages of completion. All professional players have undertaken the discipline to get to this point because if they don’t, it is just hell. Don’t wait until you are searching your discards on the floor for something that you can cobble along with.
On a similar note, be patient. Sometimes, I have had reeds that immediately appear to have potential – but not all reeds begin that way. Trying to finish a reed too quickly is not the best way to proceed. Carry your adjustments and fine tuning over at least 3 or 4 days, and you will be gratified at the results.
Having a good reed is not an end in itself, but it sure makes the journey a lot more rewarding. Happy reed making and good luck!!