Reeds by Holly

Trying Your New Reed for the First Time

Trying Your New Reed for the First TimeThe first time you wet a new reed is always a suspenseful moment. If you have ordered the Studio reed, you better have your knife sharpened, because you will need it. The Professional reed will probably play just fine right out of the box.


First, soak the reed either by submerging it up to the thread for 1-2 minutes in warm water, or dip it and let it sit in your reed case for a couple of minutes. Don’t oversoak your reed, because the cane will swell and become unwieldy and the tip will gape open.


Next, check for proper tip opening. It has to be right, or nothing about the reed will be comfortable. If the reed feels a little slow to respond and low in pitch, you may have to close the tip down a bit by pinching the tip for 5 or 10 seconds, but make sure it’s very wet! The tip could split if it’s too dry.

After adjusting the tip opening, play the reed, giving it some time to “limber up.” With the Professional reed, I certainly wouldn’t do much adjusting until you have “played it in” at least a half hour or so.

The Studio reed will need the tip and the blend thinned on the sides and possibly even a little bit of lightening of the plateau to rebalance it to the tip. Only then should you close the tip of a Studio reed with your fingertips.


Note the responsiveness. The quality of response that makes a reed feel “smooth” is greatly affected by how perfectly the tip graduates from thick to thin. It needs to graduate as perfectly as possible, sloping from the plateau to the tip’s edges and from the center of the blend diagonally toward the corners of the tip. Any nicks or ridges will cause tip noises, like chirps or hiss.

If it hesitates at the beginning and quits too soon at the end of notes, but feels comfortable while sustaining the sound, you will either need to soak it until it’s more wet or thin the sides of the tip and lighten the blend behind it. If it responds readily on the attacks and tapers but it exhausts you to sustain your phrases, that’s too much resistance. You will need to lighten the “blend” and possibly also rebalance the plateau to it by making a few very delicate scrapes along the ribs and possibly either side of the center spine.


With the Studio reed, it will feel heavy, resistant, and slow to respond, and the tip may be too open, causing it to play flat. You will feel like you need to bite the tip opening shut. Unless you have a teacher who makes reeds or you are experienced with a knife, I don’t recommend you order these harder Studio reeds or play them as they arrive, unfinished.

See Adjusting Your Reed for More Detailed Information