4 Strategies to Avoid Loose Sided Reeds

Loose sided reeds are one of the major pitfalls to avoid when making reeds.

Reeds with loose sides will cause instability in pitch and response, which will make controlling the oboe while performing very difficult.

Loose sided oboe reeds are very hard to play on...

If the sides of the reed are very loose, you will be able to see them separating starting at the tip and in extreme cases, all the way down past the heart.  Sometimes reeds will have loose sides when they are dry but will actually correct themselves after being soaked in warm water.  I personally still avoid using those reeds because they will still be inconsistent with response and pitch and they will sound blatty or duck-like.

This side of the reed is loose. You can see how the two blades of the reed are opening at the side.  I would throw this out!
This side of the reed looks normal. Both sides of the reed should look like this where the sides stay together.

To see how loose the sides are, you can either look at the sides of the reed (like in the pictures above) or you can stick a plaque in the tip and see if the plaque falls out one side. If you put the plaque in closer to one side (but still through the top opening), you can try to feel where the reed grabs the plaque. Often, you can feel the reed hold on to the plaque once the plaque has been inserted where the heart begins, but the reed will not hold the plaque as far up as the tip.

Make your own choices about what your oboe reed should do for you

You will have to decide if you want your reeds to hold the plaque all the way at the tip or if you don’t mind if the reed doesn’t hold the plaque until it is at the heart. If the tip can hold on to the plaque, the reed will be very stable, but maybe too restricted with tone and dynamics. If the tip and heart do not hold on to the plaque, the reed will feel more free but sometimes lack stability in pitch and tone. I often prefer if the reed does not hold the plaque until the top of the heart because this gives me a little more flexibility in tone.

Here are several reasons why your reeds have loose sides:

  1. Make sure you are selecting cane that has a symmetrical curve so that one half of the curve isn’t flatter than the other side. The curve of your cane should resemble the curve in the radius gauge on both sides of the cane.
Oboe Tube Cane that is symmetrical
At the top of this cane, you can see how the curve of the cane is asymmetrical. This will cause the side measurements of the gouge to be uneven, which can lead to loose sided oboe reeds. I would not use the top portion of this piece of tube cane.
Oboe tube cane that is symmetrical
At the top of this cane, you can see how the curve of the cane is symmetrical. I would use it!

2. Check your side measurements on a gouged piece of cane for consistency.  The sides should have the same measurement or at least within a few hundredths of a millimeter (or between 0.44-0.48mm for most people). You can use a radius gauge like the one seen here to find the side measurements, or after you shape your cane, you can measure the sides underneath the ears exactly where the sides of the tip will be.

Radius Gauge to find side measurements of gouged cane

Dial indicator measuring the sides of the gougedial indicator to measure other side measurement of gouged cane

3. After you are done shaping a piece of cane, remove the ears immediately and go on to tying the reed.  I find leaving shaped cane lay around dried out (especially with the ears on) can lead to loose sides.  This creates a big problem for reed makers who buy their cane pre-shaped because the cane has been left to dry out for at least several days so if you are consistently having loose side problems, consider buying a shaper tip/handle so that you can shape your own cane and tie it immediately.

4. Try not to stick the plaque too far in the reed as you are scraping (especially when the reed is dry) but rather just have the plaque in just far enough the reed to work on it.

Oboe reed with plaque (1)
The plaque is too far in on the reed, and leaving the plaque in like this can cause the sides to separate.
oboe reed with plaque (2)
Only stick the plaque in as far as you need to. This helps avoid loose sided oboe reeds.


Members can see posts about cane selection and scraping which include more diagrams and videos to help make more consistent reeds! Click here for purchase information!

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