How many pieces of cane do double reed players sort through?
I recently processed about an 1/8 pound of oboe tube cane and took it upon myself to keep a rough estimate of how many pieces were gouged, and of those pieces, how many acceptable reeds were produced. This 1/8 pound of tube cane, split and measured (see photo below), gave me about 10-12 high quality reeds. How did I get there… lets take a look!
Measuring and Sorting Tube Cane
When sorting through a batch of tube cane, I normally look for pieces with promising qualities such as:
- cane color (golden vs pale- golden color is ideal)
- size (I look for smaller openings to indicate my preferred size of 9.5-10)
- wall thickness (I prefer medium-hard so I look for thick walls)
- texture (are the grains large or tight? tight grains means harder cane)
- straightness (try to avoid pieces that are curved)
For the purpose of this experiment I split and measured every piece in this 1/8 pound of tube cane. I knew most of this would be discarded, but wanted some clear “before and after” images.
The Twist Test
I like to soak my oboe cane for about an hour, or more, before lightly twisting each piece to test for hardness and quality. If the piece feels like it could be twisted without any breaking for fracturing, I toss it. This means the cane is too soft and will produce a reed that is thin, buzzy, and probably too closed. During the twist test, I also re-examine the cane’s general qualities to make sure the twisty cane also has other indications of poor elements such as a pale color, thin walls, or very large grains.
30 pre-gouged pieces & 18 final gouged pieces
After eliminating the soft pieces, I cut and pre-gouged the cane down to 30 pieces.
A few pieces that pass the twist test don’t make it through the gouging process. Occasionally some pieces don’t sit well in my gouger bed and won’t gouge correctly (usually due to a large diameter size or the cane being too curved). Some are still too soft for my gouger blade and don’t gouge at all, and some gouge well, but come out a little too thin or too thick. My personal preference for oboe cane is .57-.59 in the center- I discard anything that is under .57 or more then .59* as I find these pieces don’t work with my choice of hard cane and high altitude scraping (*many oboists prefer a center thickness of about .59-.61 in the center and will discard anything outside their preferred range). I ended up with a total of 18 pieces of gouged cane.
Why don’t all the gouged pieces produce good reeds?
Even after an extensive sorting process, not every piece of gouged cane produces an acceptable reed. Of all the reeds I tied (I estimated around 15), I had a few that cracked while scraping (due to some pieces being very hard). I also had a couple pieces that were scraped down to a finished reed, but never produced what I would consider to be acceptable in terms of of tone, flexibility, and responsiveness. About 80% of the cane I tied gave me some very nice reeds that I sold to my students and/or used myself.
The general ratio of tube cane vs final reeds depends greatly on the quality of cane. It can vary from batch to batch. Overall I didn’t feel this 1/8 pound of tube cane gave me as many quality reeds as I would like, however finding tube cane that produces more desirable reeds can be quite tricky. Ask any double reed player and they will go into a lengthy discussion of the ongoing battle to find, and stock up on, their ideal tube cane!