For places to buy supplies/tools and more info on making bassoon reeds, go to my Resources Page.
Click below to download my PDF tutorial (adapted from Eryn Oft and Crook & Staple) on making bassoon reeds. There is also an excellent tutorial by Dr. Trent Jacobs here. For more info on making bassoon reeds, go to my Resources Page.
I generally start students at the end of middle school if they can pay good attention to detail and have the patience/perseverance for it. It can take a few years to develop reed-making skills - it is more of a "trade" than a craft. I once had a teacher tell me "once you have made a laundry basket full of reeds, you'll know how to make reeds." Most universities have reed-making tools available to students while enrolled. Even if students are not majoring in music in college, it is convenient to be able to make/adjust one's own reeds.
Is making reeds cheaper than buying them?
In the long run, yes. However, in the short term, making reeds can be an expensive investment (the tool kits are $75-$200, reed blanks are $7-10 a piece). Do not expect to stop purchasing reeds while you are learning. For most students, this is a skill that takes years to master. I still purchase most of my reeds to save time. :)
How do you teach reed-making?
For bassoon students, I start by teaching basic reed adjustment: how to use sandpaper, how to use pliers to adjust the wires, clipping the reed, etc. Then, I teach making the blank itself from gouged, shaped, and profiled (GSP) cane. This means the cane has already been split into pieces, the inner pulp has ben scraped out, and the cane has been cut to its tapered shape already. Professional bassoonists often do all these steps themselves, but it is time-consuming. It takes much longer to create a bassoon reed blank than oboe blank (longer soaking/drying times and extra steps), but the scraping/sanding finishing part is much easier for students in my opinion. Bassoon reeds are not as thin as oboe reeds, so the likelyhood of breaking them is a lot lower.
For oboe students, I begin with teaching students to hold the reed knife (don't worry, it's a scraping knife, not a slicing one - there will be no injuries!). We practice with pieces of cane until the student can evenly scrape a marked area. When beginning to make an actual reed, I recommend learning to scrape a pre-tied reed "blank." Because every piece of cane acts differently, there is no formula for making the perfect reed...only general guidelines. All reeds have the following sections that have a relative thickness to them. Some oboists tie pre-shaped cane onto the metal staples using thread and beeswax. Most college oboist students are taught to gouge (scraping out the inner pulp) and shape cane. The ambitious oboist may purchase bamboo in tube form, split it into pieces, and then begin the reed-making process.
Tools for a beginner oboe reed-maker:
Double hollow-ground reed knife
Sharpening rod - Any ceramic sharpening stick with a handle will work (check kitchen sites). Sharpening stones are fine to use as well. Try to find one that does not need oil, which can be messy (some only need water or nothing at all).
Plaque - a thin, guitar pick-like tool that is inserted into the reed for scraping the tip safely.
Cutting Block - a small, round wooden block used for clipping the reed tip.
Razor Blades - Home Depot should have these for cheap. They are used to clip the reed open.
Mandrel - a metal rod with a handle used to hold the reed securely while scraping.
Ruler - a 6-inch one is fine. Make sure it accurately shows millimeters.
Lamp - for looking at light shining through the reed to assess thickness.
Pencil - used to mark sections of the reed for scraping.
Journal - for venting your frustration
Reed blanks - a tied oboe reed that has not been scraped or clipped open. Check with me on specifics before ordering (some places have more measurement options).
Tools for a beginner bassoon reed-maker:
GSP cane (I use Rieger 1a shape cane but there are lots to choose from)
Forming mandrel (for making the blank)
Holding mandrel (for adjusting the reed after it is finished)
Drying rack, if making more than one reed at a time.
22 gauge brass wire
Bassoon reed pliers (special kind!)
Bassoon reed reamer - digs out the cane on the inside to make it smooth and help it fit the bocal)
Reed cutters or nippers
Reed easel or wine cork
Small diamond files - rat tail files are good, and the Vandoren reed stick is cool
Ruler with accurate mm
Small dog or cat - for moral support
Eryn Oft gives excellent YouTube tutorials and describes the supplies needed.
I just made my first reed! Now what?
Though it's "finished," it will change. As a new reed dries and rests in each stage of creation, its structure, shape, and strength changes. A finished reed may be easy to play and sounds great, but could become very resistant 24 hours later. This is why reeds (especially new ones) need continuous adjustment in order to work well. However, be careful to not over-adjust your reed...scraping cane is not a substitute for a proper "breaking in" process done through regular practice.