This post is all about clipping an oboe reed. Even though clipping a reed is a relatively simple topic (and many of you already know how to), you'll see some more details and other options in the video below. So, I hope you will read through this even if you are already a seasoned reed maker. Before moving on, please be very careful when handling the razor blade or knife and make sure you use a cutting block on a sturdy surface for control.
The tools you will need are a cutting block, either a razor blade or a knife, and your oboe reed. You will see in the video below how to clip your reed against the cutting block.
What does clipping your reed do?
Well, I would say about 95% of the time, the pitch will go up and the reed might also become less responsive.
Starting with the pitch: the main reason why you would clip your reed is to raise the pitch. Remember to clip off as little as possible since you can't make your reed longer after the fact. Rarely, the pitch will go down when you clip the reed shorter and I think that can be for two reasons: 1. The tip wasn't scraped evenly 2. By clipping the reed, the reed became more open.
The reed may also become less responsive. The tip of your reed should get gradually thinner towards the top, so clipping off the tip should leave you with a thicker part of the tip. After clipping your reed, you might need to re-finish the tip and make it thinner. If your reed is too long and closed at the top, then clipping the reed might help make the opening bigger. Your reed might be too long if you are having problems with the reed closing up at the ends of phrases (which can also happen with a dead reed or a reed that is generally too closed).
Clip at an angle
Most American-style oboe players clip their reed at an angle so that the bottom blade (that goes on your bottom lip) will be just slightly shorter than the top blade. You can experiment with the angle you clip your reeds. The difference in length between the two blades should be very slight, and you should just barely be able to see it. I think having one blade shorter than the other adds a little more subtly to the response of the reed and makes a smoother attack, which helps for lyrical playing. To do this, you can either angle your razor blade or you can angle the reed against the cutting block. If you want to clip your reed at a very steep angle, you can do both.
There are times where I might clip my reeds at an even steeper angle or not clip at an angle at all. Generally, if I am playing a piece that requires long, smooth, and connected phrases, I will clip my reeds at an even steeper angle to make one blade even shorter than the other. For example, when I performed Bach Cantata #82, I wanted smooth attacks on all the notes, so I clipped my reeds at a steeper angle. On the other hand, when I play something by Stravinsky (or any other composer that asks for sharper and more aggressive attacks), I might not clip my reeds at an angle at all and leave the two blades the same exact length. Take a look at the video below to see the difference.
Ideally, when you clip your reed, it will be a little too long, maybe a little buzzy in tone, and a little flat so that when you clip the reed, the buzziness goes away and it is up to pitch. You want to avoid being in a situation where your reeds are both flat and unresponsive because clipping the reed will raise the pitch, but also make the reed even less responsive, which means you will have to scrape more cane out to improve the response, which will make the reed go flat again.
Sometimes I'll have a reed that is up to pitch and I don't want it to be any shorter, but there is a slight buzz to the sound. In that case, I clip it at such a steep angle that only a little bit comes off from just the bottom blade, not the top. This trick can be used for fixing the tone of the reed without changing the pitch or response too much.
What to use
For a long time, I would go to a hardware store and buy razor blades there because they are often cheaper, but the GEM razor blades that you can find at double reed retailers such as Midwest Musical Imports do clip the reed much more easily than other brands of razor blades that I have tried. I have not noticed a difference in tone or response, but because the GEM razor blades are sharper, it gives you more control.
The other thing I have noticed is a difference between clipping a reed with a razor blade or with a knife. Usually, I clip my reeds with a razor blade, but if I have a reed that is particularly stuffy, I sometimes try clipping it with a double-hallow ground knife. I've noticed this really opens up the sound of the reed, though I honestly have no explanation as to why. Give it a try yourself some time and please let me know if you notice a difference! When you clip your reed with a knife, it is harder to clip off a little bit at a time. Still, though, I notice a difference with how the reed responds when I clip a reed with a knife instead of a razor blade.Follow us on social media: