Oboe Reed Measurements
Warning: this post got away from me and I wrote more than I intended, so if you just want to download the PDF with reed making measurements, just scroll to the bottom.
OK, some reed makers like to use some measurements as guidelines, and others really, really don’t. Let me first say, no one cares if your reed is exactly 70mm long. What matters with your reeds is if they allow you play in tune, with a good tone quality, and a controlled response. But here’s the thing, changing the length of your reed will change your pitch. We know that if you clip a reed shorter, it will (most of the time) raise the pitch. If you are consistent with your gouge, cane selection, and shaper tip, you will find that your reeds almost always fall within a certain range of measurements. If most of your reeds are 70mm long and then you make a reed at 73mm long, it will (almost always) be out of tune, especially in the low register. This is why I like to measure certain aspects of the reed to see if it falls within a normal range. These approximate measurements add consistency to my reeds, and that saves time.
I sometimes like to use a micrometer with a plaque to quickly measure the heart, windows, and sometimes the tip of my reeds. I also measure the total length of my reed in millimeters using a ruler, and also where the blend starts. If I’m using a Mack+ shaper tip, with my Innoledy gouging machine, under usual conditions, I know that my reeds are almost always between 69–70mm, and the blend will start at 65mm from the bottom of the staple. For me, the thickness of the heart is about 0.40mm (which is thinner than what some people prefer) and the windows are about 0.30mm. If I were playing at a high altitude, then those measurements are no longer very useful and I would probably gouge my cane thicker and then scrape a lot more out because high altitudes cause reeds to close up and vibrate less.
Also, if you use a wider shaper tip, for example a Gilbert 1, you may make your reeds longer or possibly thicker in some areas. Remember, these measurements are not meant to be strict rules, but rather guidelines, and they are meant to be an approximation. If you see that the heart of your reeds is 0.45mm and you are happy with those reeds, then that’s great! But I would be very surprised if the heart was 0.30mm and the reed wasn’t flat.
Some teachers don’t think it is necessary to use a dial indicator for measuring the heart and windows (and even harmful to the learning process) because they think their students will make reeds according to a specific number instead of learning how to make a reed based off of the crow or how it actually feels and plays (which at the end of the day, is what really matters). I consider rulers and dial indicators to just be a tool to provide a little more information and help you. More information is not inherently a bad thing, but you have to be careful not to draw bad conclusions from more information.
Another inherent problem is that dial indicators are not always consistent with each other. My dial indicator might reed 0.03mm thicker or thinner than yours, so be careful to hold the cane parallel to the plaque, but also be mindful that you might need to get in the habit of adding or subtracting a few micrometers to each measurement. You can try buying a feeler gauge set from a hardware store. It will have small plates of metal that are precisely cut to a particular thickness, like 0.60mm, and then you can put your dial indicator to the test. But, I have to imagine that commercially available dial indicators have improved a lot since the early 1900s and the mid-1900s, which might be why so many oboists do not trust them.
OK, with all that being said, enter your email address below to receive a PDF copy. I think if you have a rough idea of what measurements you’re looking for, you will save you a lot of time—and learning to make reeds is time consuming enough! If you want to read more about how to best use a dial indicator, check out this post here.
Lastly, check your spam folder if you do not see this PDF in your inbox.