Reed Tying guide

or, why some reeds look great but don’t work

We’ve all been there. Maybe you made a few reeds and some of them worked and some of them didn’t even though they all looked the same. Or, perhaps you made a few really great reeds and now nothing seems to work. We’ve all had reed slumps where we make reed after reed but nothing seems to make a difference. Well, there are a few things that could cause this but first thing you should check is your tie. The subject of this guide is tying accurately.

A tie needs to do these 3 things for your reed to play:

The cane is aligned with the staple in all three dimensions.
  • yaw
  • pitch
  • roll
The reed seals at the sides above the thread.
  • a leak right at the ears or the fold is usually okay, this will sort itself when you clip the tip.
The thread does not go over the top of the staple.
  • This is the hardest one to check while you are working and can easily lead to wasting time trying to scrape and overtied reed. An overtied reed will never play. A reed that is a tiny bit overtied might seem like it works for a little while, but will never sound good and will stop working after a few minutes. (Image of measuring thread height)

Once you've got those three essentials taken care of, here are two more things that are good to control:

Total tie length has a huge effect on how the reed plays. If it's too short your reed will spread open at the tip, making it uncontrollable and out of tune. If it's too long your reed will be too closed at the tip or leak air. Frustratingly, the "right" length is going to change depending on your gouge/shape/staple combination and even the hardness of the cane you are using. So it's great to have an accurate way of measuring and controlling this. Even 0.2 mm of change seems to make a difference.

Thread evenness. If there are gaps or bumps in the thread wrap those are potential sources of looseness which, if they work their way up to the crossover could make your reed leaky.

So that’s what you need to do, and how you get there doesn’t really matter. Here are the strategies I use to get consistently good results.

Hack: using a piece of aquarium tubing to hold the cane in place

You can buy expensive cane clips to do this, but aquarium tubing is exactly the right size. I cut it off once my wrap reaches the end of the cane, before I tie my knot.

a piece of aquarium tubing holding the cane for tying a reed

Tip: tying the thread on to something secure

I use a C clamp, clamped on to a heavy schoolteacher’s style desk. Whatever you tie to needs to be heavy enough that it can't shift when you are working.

Tip: wrapping the thread on your own spool

If the spool isn’t wrapped super tightly it might be difficult to pull hard enough on it. If the thread coming off the spool seems to be cutting in to the thread wound on the spool it’s reducing your control over the tension. Worse, once in a while one of those will get tangled or come unraveled or even break apart in your hand. Don’t trust someone else’s winding job. I use an English horn easel because it's the right size but you could just as well use a piece of wooden dowel. Only wrap about 2 reeds worth of thread on the spool at a time.

Hack: using a digital caliber to push the cane into position

Why measure and push separately, when you can do them at the same time. 

Measuring the cane position when reed tying

Tip: measure the top of the thread

I'm using 47 mm staples, so if this goes over 47mm something went wrong and I need to start over. If this is a frequent problem for you, make sure you have a good way of holding the cane in position while you tie. The #1 cause of overtying is cane that shifts around while you are trying to hold the cane, thread, staple and mandrel in position.

Tip: check for cane position after tying

A tied oboe reed blank, checking the rotational alignment

Tip: measure the overall tie length

I measure when I first put the cane on the staple, and then I check my results when the tie is complete.

That's all for this guide. Good luck and happy reed making!