Oboe Reeds: A Beginner's Guide (2023)

Hand-scraped or Machine-made: What's the Difference?

Oboe Reeds: A Beginner's Guide (1)

While a young oboist's primary concern is always, "Where can I find a great reed?", it is equally important that they understand a bit about the construction of the reed, why it works the way it does, and the different things that can influence how a reed plays. In general, hand-scraped oboe reeds are preferred to machine-made oboe reeds.

A hand-scraped oboe reed has been carefully made by an oboist to be responsive, play in tune, and have a beautiful sound when played. The reed has been tested and continuously adjusted by hand throughout the construction process. In general, machine-made reeds are made on a profiling machine and not tested for response, intonation, or tone quality before they are packaged and sold.

If you are a new oboist, or the parent of one, a helpful introductory article about oboe reeds is written by Allison Baker, "The Selection and Care of Oboe Reeds," available on Banddirector.com. It does a great job of explaining the difference between machine-made and hand-scraped oboe reeds, how to store them, and how to take care of them.

Dr. Sarah Hamilton, Oboe Professor at SUNY Fredonia School of Music, has written an excellent article, "Reed Help for Beginners," that details specific information designed to assist in the selection of an oboe reed. This includes what to look for in a reed without playing it, a method for testing reeds, and simple suggestions for fixing reeds. Dr. Hamilton also concisely explains the general problems with machine-made reeds. This article makes it clear why hand-scraped reeds are preferred to machine-made reeds.

To give you the sense of how hand-scraped reeds can have different characteristics, read the blog post, "Oboe Reeds: Selecting the Best Reed For You," from Midwest Musical Imports. This post describes each of the hand-scraped reeds they have available for purchase as well as general information to help in the selection of an oboe reed.

Hodge Products recently published this helpful blog post, "Oboe Reeds: Which Oboe Reed Should I Buy?." While it also pertains specifically to the reeds they sell, I greatly appreciate the list of Reed Characteristics, Tone Color terms, and chart of "Desirable" and "Undesirable" traits.

I always prefer hand-scraped reeds over machine-made reeds, but it often takes a great deal of trial and error before you find a good fit. Frankly, it is the reason why oboists learn how to make their own reeds. When you make your own reed, you can control every aspect of your sound and how the reed feels when playing it.

The Reed Case Is Important

Oboe reeds are expensive ($15-$30). They will last longer if stored in a proper reed case. An oboe reed case that holds the reeds tightly via french ribbon holders or a foam rubber grip holder is ideal (left and middle pic above). Avoid cases with what is known as pop-up mandrels (pic on the right) unless it has extra cushion to hold the reeds tightly on the mandrels when closed. If there is no extra cushion in these cases, the reeds will tend to slide off the mandrels and roll around freely in the case, causing reeds to chip and/or crack.

I recommend that beginners have an inexpensive reed case that holds a minimum of 3-4 reeds. (FYI: You can find reed cases that hold 3 to 50 reeds.) As an oboist advances, so will their tendency to collect reeds, which means they may eventually need a case that holds 5-10 reeds.

There's also a wide variety of materials used to make reed cases, which can greatly influence their price. For many oboists, it's a very personal item. (Just google "oboe reed case" and look at the images. You will see what I mean!)

Oboe reed cases can be found at many online retailers and places that sell oboe reeds.

How many reeds does my oboist really need? How long will one last?

There is no way that I can tell you with utmost certainty how long a reed will last. They are delicate and the cane is scraped very thin in order for it to vibrate. For this reason, they are very fragile and susceptible to climate changes (humidity/dryness), altitude, and temperature. If you live in an area with different seasons, your oboist will feel the change of season in the way their reeds respond and play.

The number of times a reed is soaked and how long it is allowed to sit soaking in the water will also influence a reed's longevity. An oboe reed should never sit in water for more than 2-3 minutes at a time. Chronic over-soaking is the worst thing you can do to a reed! It "tires out" the fibers and they seem to wear down (lose vibration) more quickly.

An oboe reed's fragility also makes it easy to damage (chipping of the tip, cracking, etc.). The best way to prolong the life of any reed is to make sure it is stored in a reed case in which the reed is held tightly and securely.

So, considering all that, my recommendation for young oboists is this: start with at least 3-4 reeds. Write a number on the top part of the cork (near the thread) with a fine point Sharpie on each one. The oboist should then rotate through the reeds, changing each week (or every few days). If things go well, it is entirely possible that the three reeds could last 4-6 weeks, depending on how much they are played (and if they are cared for properly). However, if the oboist is seriously engaged (practicing 5-6 days a week for 30-60 minutes), they may tend to go through reeds more quickly.

As the oboist's embouchure gets stronger and they they start playing for longer periods of time, they might need to increase their reed strength. For example, a typical Medium Soft strength is usually great for beginners, but as soon as they figure out how to truly support their sound, they may blow so much air that the Medium Soft reed just can't handle it. The reed will literally stop vibrating because they are blowing so much air it causes the tip of the reed to collapse. So, if you start hearing a lot of complaints about the sound suddenly stopping when they are playing, it might be time to try a harder reed strength.

How soon can my oboist learn how to make their own reeds?

Short answer: When they have a stable embouchure, great air support, and excellent sense of intonation.

More complete answer: Most young oboists only learn how to make reeds if they are taking lessons with an oboist who can teach them the process. It is best to follow the advice of their oboe teacher, who will know when it is time for your oboist to start learning about reed making (usually when the items mentioned in the aforementioned short answer are well in hand).

Reed making is a serious financial investment. The initial investment for tools, oboe cane, and other supplies will likely run between $130-$150. It is also a serious time commitment. In addition to practice time, the oboist will need to find time in their daily schedule to "practice" reed making. Regular tying, scraping, and crowing is critically important as they begin learning this skill. If your oboist is already involved in more that one or two extra curricular activities outside of playing the oboe, adding reed making to their activities may not be such a great idea.

Most importantly, because oboe reed making is such a complicated process, parents need to understand that it usually takes many years before an oboist can actually make reeds on which they can play in public, particularly if they are not consistently working on their reed making skills . While they are learning, they will likely still need to buy reeds for their big performances.

That being said, there are many opportunities for oboists to "dip their toe" in the reed making process if they do not have a private teacher. Things like the Oboe Reed Making Camp I teach at Central Michigan University, Bocal Majority Camps, and University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Oboe Camp will all include some degree of reed making instruction. I highly recommend that if your oboist is asking about reed making, and they don't have a teacher, that they attend a summer program like one of these. They often provide a great introductory experience.

Links for the Purchase of Oboe Reeds

DISCLAIMER: I am not paid to endorse any particular brand, reed maker, or seller. These suggestions are based only on my personal experience.

There are many variables at play when it comes to oboe reeds. Due to the nature of their construction, they can vary reed to reed even within the brand or reed maker. For example, a reed purchased in January may not be identical to a reed purchased in March.

I look for overall consistency in construction and quality of materials when selecting reeds from a company or reed maker.

Playing comfort is also dependent upon how the embouchure holds the reed and the amount of air support being used. What works for my playing setup and that of my students may not work for you, so please keep that in mind if you try one of these specific reeds.

The HB Student Oboe Reed ($16) is an excellent choice for beginning/intermediate oboists who use a "round" or "straight-line" embouchure. If your oboist's embouchure tends to look like a "smile," this may not be a good reed choice for you.

​I also like the reed style and consistency offered by Rose Reeds. She offers a wide variety of reeds suitable for beginners through more advanced players.

Intermediate to Advanced players may find success using the Jones Artist Oboe Reed (Medium or Medium Hard). I would not recommend the Medium Soft strength as it might be too easy. The Jones Artist Oboe Reed is a recent discovery that I am going to monitor over the next several months. I'd like to get a sense of their consistency, but at first glance, I really like what I see and hear from these reeds.

Other excellent reed makers for Intermediate to Advanced players are:
Oboe Duck Reeds

Another option is to search for oboe reeds on etsy.com. You will find a wide variety of hand-scraped oboe reeds at various price points, strengths, and styles. It may take some trial and error to find a reed maker that you like, but you will be buying from an oboist and will be able to interact with them throughout the purchase process. Many will likely be able to customize the reeds for your oboist, too.

Midwest Musical Imports and Hodge Products are stores that cater to oboists. They both stock a wide variety of reeds and have very helpful staff that could help guide you to a good reed for your oboist.

Midwest Musical Imports

Hodge Products


Oboe Reeds: A Beginner's Guide? ›

For beginner oboists, we would always recommend soft or medium soft reeds, since your embouchure is developing and won't have the strength for harder reeds. A softer, free blowing reed enables flexibility in all registers of the instrument and won't put pressure on your head when blowing hard.

What oboe reed should I use? ›

The Medium-Hard (MH), the original oboe reed, should be reserved for advanced individuals who are used to a stiffer embouchure or prefer a firmer reed. Bassoon reeds come in Medium and Medium-Hard strengths. Most intermediate to advanced players should feel comfortable using the Medium strength reed.

When should I start making oboe reeds? ›

Oboe teachers typically start teaching their students to make reeds in high school. It is not uncommon, however, for an oboist to start learning how to make reeds during their college freshman year as a music major/minor.

How long should you soak an oboe reed for? ›

How long do the reeds soak in water? Oboe reeds are soaked in water before playing so that they have the right level of moisture. They are soaked in lukewarm water for around 2 to 3 minutes.

How often should you replace oboe reeds? ›

Reeds will slowly lose their function over time, and replacing the reed is recommended every 2-3 weeks for intermediate players and every few days for advanced or professional players.

What reed should a beginner use? ›

The thickness of the reed will affect the tone and how easy or difficult the instrument is to play. In general, a thinner reed, say 2 or 2.5, will have a brighter tone. Thinner reeds vibrate more easily, so they are good for beginners.

What is the best strength reed for a beginner oboe? ›

Soft or Medium Soft

The best oboe reeds for beginners are reeds that have less resistance. For the beginner oboist it is often recommend that one select a Soft or Medium Soft Reed. These reeds will be easier to play while the beginner oboe or bassoonist are developing his or hers embouchure.

Are plastic oboe reeds better? ›

Plastic (synthetic) reeds are not better than wood reeds. Although some people may prefer a synthetic reed because it is consistent and long-lasting, most players prefer natural cane reeds because of the warmer sound and feel. It's is all about what each player prefers.

How do you break in a new oboe reed fast? ›

You can speed up the process by practicing a few times a day and letting the reed dry out completely in between sessions. Even just playing for half an hour each time and letting the reed dry for another half our in between sessions can be enough to get the reed broken in in as little as a day.

How often should I oil my oboe? ›

New oboes need to be oiled more often than older oboes. In the first year your oboe might need oiling three times, the second year twice, and the third year only once. NOTE: For Rigoutat oboes, once a month is recommended by the maker for the first six months.

Why does my oboe reed sound bad? ›

If your reed is not flexible enough, you will not get the range of dynamics or 'free sound' you need. On the other hand if your reed is too flexible it will be hard to control and may produce an unsatisfying tone. These issues are similar to the resistance of the reed and may be fixed in the same way.

Do you rinse your reed after playing? ›

When you're finished playing, it's important to remove any excess moisture. You can do this by rinsing the reed thoroughly in water until clean, and then wiping it dry. Finish this process by placing the reed in a “Reed gard” to dry completely.

Why do my oboe reeds keep cracking? ›

Since the reed is so thin it can easily chip or crack from even slight trauma. Rubbing the oboe reed on clothing, getting it tangled in hair, hitting it on a tooth, or storing it improperly in a case can all lead to damage.

How do I know if I need new reeds? ›

If you're noticing that the tip of your saxophone reed is chipped, it may be time for a replacement. In some cases, chipped tips won't affect playing, while in other instances chipped reed tips will make the reed completely unplayable. To verify the extent of the damage, observe where the tip is chipped.

Why does my oboe reed sound airy? ›

A reed that is too far inside will conversely produce a very austere and airy sound. This happens when the reed is too high up, and you're unable to see the mouthpiece's tip behind it. Finally, the cause of an airy tone could be ascribed to the reed being far too low from the mouthpiece.

Are plastic or wood reeds better? ›

Durability. At the end of the day, synthetic reeds are more durable than cane. Some musicians even make the switch from cane to synthetic reeds because they're tired of dealing with the “fragile” nature of cane.

Are Vandoren reeds good for beginners? ›

Vandoren Traditional reeds are another popular choice among beginners and professionals alike due to the depth of sound on offer. However, they offer more resistance than their Rico counterparts, which means you'll find the equivalent strength Rico to be listed as stronger.

How do you know if your reed is too strong? ›

You have trouble playing with a wide dynamic range (very quiet or very loud). Your tone sounds buzzy, honky, or tubby. You have trouble creating a beautiful, refined tone. You have trouble playing in tune (tending flat), especially in the high register.

Why is oboe so expensive? ›

Some oboists of top American orchestras replace their oboe every year. Oboes are expensive for many different reasons, but the most important are the cost of the exotic woods and other materials, and the skill in craftsmanship.

Do stronger reeds sound better? ›

Harder reeds allow for a louder, heavier, darker, or fuller sound, but they require strong support and a developed embouchure (mouth muscles). These reeds allow the performer to project more in upper registers of the saxophone without sacrificing tone texture.

Why is my oboe reed so sharp? ›

For oboe players much of the general pitch level is built into the reed and so therefore a likely cause for playing sharp will be caused by your reed. Here are a few general reasons your reed is playing sharp: You haven't scraped it down to pitch (it's not crowing octave C's at the thread.) Your reed is too closed.

Can you oversoak reed? ›

An oversoaked reed will likely be stiff, too open, and flat. Soak the reed for 1-3 minutes or until the reed is the correct strength – a shorter amount of time if the reed is newer, and longer if the reed is older or more closed.

How do you break in a new oboe? ›

In the beginning, play the instrument for no more than 10-15 minutes at a time. Swab it, return it to its case and keep the lid closed. A few hours later or the next day, you may repeat this procedure. Each week you may add five or ten minutes playing time.

How many oboe reeds should I have? ›

I recommend that beginners have an inexpensive reed case that holds a minimum of 3-4 reeds. (FYI: You can find reed cases that hold 3 to 50 reeds.) As an oboist advances, so will their tendency to collect reeds, which means they may eventually need a case that holds 5-10 reeds.

Do you need to break in synthetic reeds? ›

It will warm up over the first few minutes, and should then be stable for an extended period. Some players have reported that after an hour or more of intense playing, the reed softens a little. This behavior is normal, and the reeds will return to their original feel after they have been rested for a bit.

How much oboe reed should be in mouth? ›

In order for the reed and oboe to respond well, one must place their embouchure on the heart or top of the heart of the reed, with approximately 1/3 of the reed in the mouth. The teeth must remain far apart in order to allow the reed to vibrate, and the lips must be rolled in over the teeth.

Why is playing the oboe hard? ›

Learning the oboe can be extremely difficult because of its often counter-intuitive technique, issues with reeds, and the lack of experienced teachers and materials for the instrument.

Do oboes go out of tune? ›

Nearly all instruments have always been unstable in terms of pitch because of differences in heat, humidity, and the like. Typically, the instruments come with mechanisms that allow performers to tune them. However, because of its structure, the oboe's pitch can only be changed by removing and inserting reeds.

How long does an oboe last? ›

A typical oboe may stay in reasonable playing condition for 20 years, but may only be adequate for use in a professional orchestra for 4-5 years. Serious students should purchase oboes no older than 5-10 years. However, many players prefer certain vintage oboes that are over 20 years old.

How long does it take to get good at oboe? ›


Why is my oboe reed squeaking? ›

Squeaks are often caused by fingers not covering holes in keys or an embouchure that clamps down on the reed instead of cushioning it. If there is a small leak between the finger and the hole on top of the key, it will act like an extra octave vent and may shoot the pitch up an octave, a ninth, or even a twelvth.

How do I stop biting my oboe? ›

Remedy: Check the tip of the reed to see if it is too closed. If so, open the reed by lightly pressing on the sides or adjusting the wire. If the reed is not the problem, re-form the “no oboe” formation of the lips so that the bottom lip is more of a cushion to support the reed, rather than biting.

How do you hit low notes on oboe? ›

Also, think about “rolling out” your lips slightly so that you are playing more towards the tip of the reed. The tip is the most sensitive part of the reed as it is very thinly scraped & vibrates most easily. This can help quite a lot in producing the low notes.

Why does my mouth hurt when I play the oboe? ›

Possible Causes: the student is biting the reed too closed. the reed too far in their mouth. the reed is too stiff and/or closed, possibly too old.

Should I sand my reeds? ›

If your low notes are stuffy, scrape or sand here lightly trying to preserve balance and avoiding the middle of the reed. If the entire reed seems hard, I use a small piece of #400 sandpaper to lightly sand the entire vamp starting at the shoulder and stopping short of the tip.

Should I leave reed on mouthpiece? ›

It is best to remove the Légère reed from the mouthpiece when done playing. Leaving it on the mouthpiece can make it easier to be damaged by accidental brushing against it and chipping or cracking it.

Do you need to break in new reeds? ›

First, it is important to break in new reeds over several days. Reeds absorb the most moisture the first time they are played, which makes it easy to waterlog a new reed. Encourage your students play a new reed for no more than 5-10 minutes during its first use.

How do I know if my oboe reed is good? ›

The blades should be overlapped slightly, usually to the right. Look for too much or too little. Too much, and the amount of reed that can vibrate is small; too little, and there is a good possibility for leaks or loose sides which can cause poor articulation and instability in pitch.

How long to soak oboe cane before gouging? ›

Before using your gouger, the cane needs to be fully soaked. This is important because it preserves the edge of the gouger's blade - using dry cane in the machine will quickly dull the blade because it has to work harder to cut through the cane. It's recommended that you soak your cane for about 1 hour in hot water.

Why is my oboe gurgling? ›

If an oboe gurgles on a particular pitch, or in a particular register, it is likely that there is water in a tone hole or octave vent. To find the water, which is most likely somewhere in the top joint, look at the first open hole below the fingering of the gurgling note.

Do reeds need to be wet? ›

Why do reeds need to be wet in order to play a reed instrument? The moisture prevents cracking and allows the reed to vibrate, which creates a sound. All reeds need moisture before playing and double reeds especially need to be soaked in a cup of water before playing.

How long should you wet a new reed? ›

Used reeds should be soaked for 1 minute before utilized – either with saliva, water, or mouthwash – so that they'll be wet enough to vibrate. Brand new reeds would need to break in, so they should be left to soak for roughly 20 minutes before they're attached to the mouthpiece the first time.

How do I make my oboe sound fuller? ›

Focused, strong, and directed air support is what gives oboe tone its colour and pitch center. Insufficient air support leads to tone that is unfocused or sagging. To focus the tone, imagine blowing through to the bridge of the nose or the front of the face, sending the tone forward in a laser- or spotlight-like beam.

Why wont my oboe reed play low notes? ›

The most common causes of low notes not working are adjustment issues (most commonly the B-C, F#-Ab, or E adjustment screws), fingers not covering the holes in the keys, improper control of the embouchure, reed, and air stream, and finally the quality of the reed itself.

How do I make my oboe reed sound darker? ›

Generally scraping on the sides of the tip will reduce the vibration of the reed, allow it to close more easily, and create focus and stability. A thicker center to the tip keeps the reed darker and flatter. Scraping toward the center of the tip (or heart) will increase vibration and flexibility, and reduce stability.

What is the difference between oboe reeds? ›

There are three types of oboe reeds: handmade, hand-finished and fully machine-made. Handmade are usually the best, but often the most expensive. The best quality for the money is to purchase hand-finished reeds, generally from oboe stores (see Oboe Reeds, Repair, and Supplies).

Are all oboe reeds the same? ›

Not all oboe reeds are the same, not all have the same hardness or the same characteristics, different types of reeds are created so that they can adapt to the needs of each oboist from beginners to professionals.

What is the difference between a medium and medium soft oboe reed? ›

How do the new strengths differ from the current oboe reed? The Medium and Medium-Soft reeds are softer than the Medium-Hard reed thus they require a more relaxed embouchure. They have also benefited from an internal re-design enhancing the tone quality and ease of playing!

What is the difference between jazz and regular reeds? ›

From a construction perspective, how does a jazz reed differ from a classical reed? MF: Compared to reeds designed for classical playing, jazz reeds typically have a slightly thicker tip and thinner heart. This is what allows more of the upper overtones to sneak in giving your sound more edge and projection.

Do harder reeds sound better? ›

Harder reeds allow for a louder, heavier, darker, or fuller sound, but they require strong support and a developed embouchure (mouth muscles). These reeds allow the performer to project more in upper registers of the saxophone without sacrificing tone texture.

What is the hardest reed instrument to play? ›

Oboe. What is this? The Oboe is a reed instrument that requires a very precise mouth position. It is said that mastering the controlled breathing required to learn the oboe may be one of the most difficult aspects of any wind instrument.

Can you soak an oboe reed in your mouth? ›

I recommend soaking reeds for between 1-2 minutes in a small cup or shot glass of water. I do not recommend soaking reeds in your mouth because this promotes bacterial growth which will diminish the life of the reed. I have an article on how to extend the life of your reed which you can find by clicking here.

What is the wire on an oboe reed for? ›

Brass wire is the material of choice for oboists and is used to hold shaped cane together during the tying on process or to stabilise a finished reed.

How do you know if you need a harder reed? ›

Therefore, try to choose a strength that feels slightly hard when you start playing on a new reed, so it will feel just right as you break it in. When you've played on your reed for too long and it starts to feel too soft, it's time to start a new one!

How do you know if a reed is good? ›

Count how many seconds the reed sticks to the mouthpiece. The longer the better, which means that there is a very good seal. If it's very short – only up to 2 seconds – there may be areas of the reed that need adjusting to make a better seal.

What are the best reeds to use? ›

Our #1 Pick!Vandoren V16 ReedsProduces a more brilliant and percussive sound than Vandoren alteratives.
Most versatileRoyal by D'AddarioExtremely versatile, good value for money
Best for funk & bluesD'Addario La VozFree-blowing, played by many top jazz, funk and R&B players
Mar 11, 2023


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