“Which Oboe Reed Should I buy?”
I have tried eight of every oboe reed that we sell at Hodge Products in order to give you a good overview of the qualities of each of the types of reeds. Before we start, let me say that every oboe player is different. Their physiology is different. Their instruments are different. Their ideal sound is different. So each player’s ideal setup combination is unique. My physiology includes thin lips which affects how well I can cover a reed thereby affecting the vibrations of the reed. Because of my thin lips, I need a reed that has more of the warm, dark tone built into the reed. A person with thicker lips can play a reed that is brighter and more strident in tone and naturally cover the sound more with the lips (using your lips to dampen or reduce the prominence of the higher overtones) so the overall result is warmer and darker. I play a Lorée FE series oboe with a bell that has been reamed out to match a D series bell which has given me a more stable upper register than I had before.
Each reed is made by a different oboe player with their own different physiologies, instruments, and tone goals. What should be similar is that the reed needs to vibrate evenly. This is the main characteristic that makes a reed worth buying at all. After that, the other qualities are going to be of interest for the individual players and their setups. I will try to summarize the descriptions of each reed to fit various types of players as well as present a chart organizing the reeds into types. But first, what do the words mean that I will be using to describe the tone of the reeds?
- Articulation – How easily notes can be tongued in quick succession.
- Consistency – How consistent all the reeds of a particular maker are compared to each other.
- Crow – The sound the comes out when the reed is blown while the lips are all the way down near the string of the reed. Ideal is a C5 with an octave below note with it. A rattle refers to many other notes with it. The crow gives an indication about the stability and intonation of the reed.
- Hardness – How hard the reed is to blow and get it to vibrate.
- Intonation – This is based on an A being at 440 Hz and refers to how all the notes sit relative to that.
- Opening – How open the tip of the reed is while playing. This can be adjusted by the lip pressure but a more open reed will take significantly more lip pressure than a more closed reed.
- Response – How quickly the reed begins to vibrate when it is blown at a normal rate.
- Tone Color – a full spectrum of harmonics available in the tone which the player can manipulate as desired.
Tone Color Terms
- Bright Tone – The higher harmonics are more prominent. Though this can sometimes sound harsh depending on the different harmonics present, it often penetrates into a concert hall better.
- Buzzy Tone – A distinct buzz is heard in the sound.
- Dark Tone – The opposite of bright, this refers to a sound containing more prominent low harmonics and less high. Depending on what other qualities are in the tone, dark sounds can sometimes get lost in a large hall although it is usually considered highly desirable by oboists.
- Edgy Tone – Select higher overtones are more prominent and lower ones are less.
- Full Tone – Connected to warm tone but perhaps referring to a fuller amount of the harmonic spectrum.
- Honky Tone – The tone is loud and tends to come out in spurts without much of control.
- Round Tone – This term is used when describing a tone produced from a reed with a large opening. It is often missing some harmonics making it sound less full and more hollow.
- Spread Tone – The sound is not focused and clear. Fuzzy is sometimes used to describe this as well.
- Strident Tone – This term applies to a brighter, edgy tone in which there is a clear sense of strength that will cut through all other sounds. It is usually not considered pleasant.
- Warm Tone – Technically, it’s containing more prominent low and midrange harmonics and slightly softened mid and upper harmonics leaving a less sharp attack on the notes. A warm tone is pleasant in all ways.
This chart separates the tone descriptions into what is considered desirable and undesirable. Understand that each of these paired tone descriptions is a spectrum, and good reeds or even the ideal reed is a balance of each spectrum. The reed you prefer will be based on which sound concepts or needs are most important at any given time in your playing life.
Bill Parrish’s reeds are the best reeds I’ve ever tried. I actually tried thirteen reeds in one sitting instead of eight and every one of them was really nice. They typically have a warm, full sound, are well balanced, and dark. I would even add that some of the reeds had an extra richness that was amazing. Bill’s reeds are of a medium strength and usually have a medium opening with good response. They typically started off slightly low in pitch but came up to pitch as they were played. My only concern is that for someone with thicker lips, these reeds may be too covered sounding and the rich, full sound may be lost. These reeds have it all for the person with thin lips.
Bjorklund reeds are overall good quality, consistent reeds. I didn’t find a single one that was not playable or severely lacking. The medium reeds were the most consistent in all areas. These are called student reeds but they could be played by professionals.
Generally the MS reeds had a warm, full, dark sound, were of a more medium hardness but were less open than the reeds labeled as medium. They all had a quick response and good articulation.
The medium reeds almost all played in the medium range of hardness with a good, open tip. They had a round, warm, full, and dark sound, good articulation, and a quick response. They all tended to have a flat crow but that didn’t have a consistently negative effect on the pitch. The pitch varied between being good to being a little flat. This could be easily managed by just closing down the reed a little.
The MH reeds also had a full, open tone with a bit more projection, but these reeds tended to be harder to control. This can be a good thing if you are used to using a lot of lip muscle as you will be able to manage these reeds well while having plenty of flexibility in the reed. They vary a bit in hardness between MH and Hard and you may even find some that feel more like a medium.
Overall EB Pro reeds are very vibrant and open. They have a warm, dark, full sound. They are flexible with a good response.
The medium reeds are quite responsive with a medium to medium soft feel. They all have full openings which require a bit more lip control but also allow them to be flexible.
The MH reeds are a little stiffer but still have the full, dark, warm sound. Some of these also have a bit more edge to the sound which can help with projection. They are less consistent reed to reed than the medium.
Good Tone Guild Rookie reeds are definitely more of a student reed. The MS and medium tend to be very easy to blow and tend toward buzziness. They still have a dark tone though. Overall, they are too open and flat. That can be remedied by squeezing the reed shut and closing it down quite a bit which also helps with stability. The mediums are the most consistent from reed to reed. However, if you’re looking for a very easy beginner reed, you are more likely to find that in the MS. Overall, these reeds have a good tone for a student reed. They just need to be squeezed shut before playing (after soaking) to make the opening smaller.
Légère – European Scrape
Légère has made an amazing reed out of a synthetic material! They have a dark, warm tone. The quick response is extremely consistent. I can play a low C at pianissimo easily on the MS reeds. And I don’t even need to soak it! They are extremely well balanced and require very little lip manipulation. There are only two down sides that I have experienced in using the MS. The upper register tends to be flat if the reeds are played in the normal American fashion. I have found that if I just roll in a little as I go into the upper register, everything sits perfectly in tune. It was not that hard to adjust to this. The other negative is that there is not a lot of tone color variation in these reeds. I miss the color choice but have found that the amazing stability in every other way makes up for that lack, especially as I am not in good enough playing shape to have the endurance to work with less stable but more colorful reeds. The medium reeds are equally stable with a beautiful tone. They are more resistant than the MS. The MH reeds are more resistant still and require more air than most Americans like to give, but if you like a stiff reed, the MH will be a great reed for you.
I’d like to give an update on these reeds. My description above was of one particular reed that was amazing. I have found that as I’ve tried more reeds that everything is true for the first 2 minutes of playing and then sometimes something stops the vibrations so I find myself having to blow way too hard to keep the reed vibrating. I have considered scraping the reed with a ReedGeek, which is the best tool for these reeds, but I haven’t gotten the nerve up yet to start scraping on a European-style reed that costs so much. I will update when I finally do.
The price point of this reed will undoubtedly startle many a player but a few things need to be considered here. As a synthetic reed, it will last much longer than the traditional cane reed. With regular playing, it can last a month without change. Eventually it will be more closed and a little less full sounding but will still play consistently for months more. This may not be acceptable for a professional but a student will probably not be as aware of the subtle changes and can happily play on this reed for months. It only takes the purchase of 6-7 reeds to equal the cost of this and most players go through more than that in a month or two depending on their level of playing and amount of playing.
Magic Reeds are extremely consistent from reed to reed. The medium reeds have a lot of structure and some resistance but still play with a medium hardness. The medium hard reeds are much stiffer and more open, leaving plenty of room to adjust. These reeds are more consistent than the medium.
Pastiche reeds have the most variability in the length of the reed. The tone can be described as warm and dark across the board. The main difference between the medium and MH is in the opening. The mediums are naturally less open and respond more easily and are easier to blow while they still have the same warm, dark, full tone as the MH. He sometimes ends up with a very short reed as he tries to balance everything. This is fine if you don’t have any interest in wanting to make your own adjustments which might require clipping again.
ProReady reeds tend to be a little brighter and strident in tone but yet still very focused. These might be a great reed option for someone with full lips that can cover the brightness and yet still have a vibrant sound. They are fairly consistent with quick response and good articulation.
Sandy Stimson’s reeds have a lot of potential. They are very open and are more of a MH strength at this point. However, they will likely need to be scraped to balance them and make the response more consistent. These are great reeds for teachers who know how to finish reeds for students.
Reed Comparison Chart
Following is a chart showing a comparison of all the characteristics between the reeds being discussed.
|Bill Parrish||Warm, dark, full, round, rich||Mostly very good except some low notes sometimes||Mostly flat C||Medium||Mostly Good, started flat but came up||Medium||Mostly Quick||Consistent|
|Bjorklund Medium Soft||Warm, full, some round||Good||Variable, some with no crow, some flat crow||More medium than soft||Mostly good but some flat||Mostly medium, some open||Quick||Medium|
|Bjorklund Medium||Round, warm, full, dark||Mostly very good||Mostly flat crow||All but one was medium||Mostly good but some flat||All open||All open||More consistent than MS|
|Bjorklund Medium Hard||Dark, full, round||Mostly good||Inconsistent||Varies from M-H||Variable||Mostly open||Mostly quick, some stiff||Less consistent than MS|
|EB Pro Medium||Full, warm, open||Good||Mostly C, some flat C, all crowed||Mostly medium, some MS||Mostly good||Mostly open||Quick||Pretty consistent|
|EB Pro Medium Hard||Warm, dark, full, some edge||Overall good||Mostly low C crow or rattle||Mostly MH||Mostly good, some sharp||Mostly open||Mostly quick but some stiff||Less consistent than M|
|GTG Rookie Medium Soft||Buzzy, dark||Good||Flat||Very easy to MH, mostly easy||Varied||Medium to open||Quick||Consistent response, varied tone and hardness|
|GTG Rookie Medium||Buzzy, dark||Good||Flat||Easy||Mostly flat||Open||Quick||Consistent|
|GTG Rookie Medium Hard||Dark with more edge||Inconsistent||Mostly flat, some sharp||Medium to hard||Varied||Open||Quick to stiff||Inconsistent|
|Légère Medium Soft||Warm, Dark, Full, Lacks color||Very easy, consistent||C, consistent||Easy without the typical buzziness found in soft cane reeds.||Good||Medium||Quick, Easy and consistent||Extremely consistent|
|Légère Medium||Warm, Dark, Full, Lacks color||Easy, consistent||C, consistent||Mildly resistant||Good||Medium||Quick, consistent||Extremely consistent|
|Légère Medium Hard||Warm, Dark, Full, Lacks color||Consistent||C, consistent||Quite resistant in American standards||Good||Open||Requires significant air but very good and consistent once used to it||Extremely consistent|
|Magic Reed Pro Medium||Full, dark, warm||Good||Flat C crow||Medium||Varied Good or Flat||Medium Open||Quick||Consistent|
|Magic Reed Pro Medium Hard||Full, edgy, some bright||Good||Flat C crow||MH||Good||Open||Stiff||Extremely consistent|
|Pastiche Medium||Warm, dark||Good||C crow||Medium||Good||Medium to open||Quick to stiff||Extremely consistent|
|Pastiche Medium Hard||Warm, dark, full||Good||C or C crow||MH||Good||Open||Stiff||Extremely consistent|
|ProReady||A little bright, focused, strident, somewhat warm||Good except some trouble on low C||Mostly C crow, some low. The crow only came when the mouth was placed higher on the reed than normal. Otherwise it was a horrible rattle||Medium with a couple MH||Good||Medium||Quick except the MH were stiff||Pretty consistent|
|Stimson||Bright, strident, honky, unfinished||Not good||C crow but with high rattles often||Medium to MH||Sharp||Open||Stiff||Consistently not finished|
Hardness & Price Chart
This chart may be helpful in seeing what strengths of reeds are available and their price points. For a beginner, the GTG Rookie MS is recommended. For all other young players or older who like a soft reed, the Bjorklund MS makes a good choice. For most student players and professionals who like softer reeds, any of the medium reeds are a good choice. Make sure to have read the descriptions of them to make the right choice for you. If you like a lot of resistance, the most consistent MH reeds are the Légère, Magic Reed, and Pastiche. Make sure to try Sandy Stimson only if you or your teacher knows how to adjust reeds. The chart is ordered by price.
|Reed||Medium Soft||Medium||Medium Hard||Needs Adjustment||Price|
About the Reed Makers
Other factors that affect how a reedmaker makes their reeds are where the maker lives, and the teachers that have influenced them. This chart gives a little more information about the makers for those who understand the meaning of these influences.
|Bill Parrish|| |
Natamatsu #1 Shape
|Bill Parrish||Afton, VA|| |
Robert Bloom, Harry Sargous, John Ferrillo and Elaine Douvas
Carnegie-Mellon University, University of the Arts in Philadelphia,
Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music
Roanoke Symphony Orchestra, Opera Roanoke and Opera on the James
Wintergreen Summer Festival Orchestra
Adjunct Instructor of oboe at Virginia Tech and Radford University
|Keith Bjorklund||Chicago, IL||Charles Veazey, Scott Hostetler||U. of N. Texas,Northwestern U.||Oboe teacher and freelancer|
|EB Pro||Gonzalez cane, Lucarelli shape||Edino Biaggi||California||Alex Klein, Bert Lucarelli||Roosevelt U., Queens College|| |
Reed Maker, Freelancer
|GTG Rookie||Unspecified cane, unspecified shape, originally designed and made by Meg Cassell||Advantage USA||Port Townsend, WA||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Légère||BPA-free polymer, European-style shape||Légère Reeds||Toronto, Canada||Christoph Hartmann ||Munich Musikhochschule||Berlin Philharmonic|
|Magic Reed||House brand, unspecified shape||Kathy Sheinhouse||NYC area||Bert Lucarelli||Juilliard, Oberlin Conservatory||Freelancer|
|Pastiche||Unspecified cane, unspecified shape||Paul James||Seoul, South Korea||Marc Lifschey, Alfred Genovese, and Jay Light||Unknown|| |
Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Mexican National Orchestra, Fort Wayne Philharmonic, and toured as English Horn player with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
|ProReady||Unspecified cane, unspecified shape||David Colborn||San Diego, CA||In the style of John Mack, Nancy King||Unknown||Freelancer|
|Sandy Stimson||Unspecified cane, Joshua +4 shape||Sandy Stimson||Billings, Montana||Richard Killmer, Ronald Roseman, Mark Hill||Ithaca College, Yale||Oboe teacher and principal oboe, Bozeman Symphony|
I hope all of this information helps you understand the many different aspects of oboe reeds and how to determine which reeds might be best for you. Keep in mind that you will evolve in your playing and that you may prefer or need a totally different style of reed within a year or even a few months…and there’s nothing wrong with that! Our job at Hodge Products is to understand your current needs and help you to find the reeds on which you sound best right now. We are always happy to help!