Over the past several decades, much has been written and said on the subject of the bassoon reed. Yet for all of the considerable advancements in the design of reed-making equipment, and the generally high level of understanding of the basics of cane characteristics and reed construction techniques, the reed nevertheless presents itself as the source of endless frustration to some bassoonists, an exasperating mystery to others, and an exercise in the lifelong pursuit of excellence to the rest. Whichever way a bassoonist chooses to look at it, the reed remains the crucial component necessary for his or her art to stand a chance at being carried out.
Many reed makers today rely on commercially available fully processed cane (gouged, shaped and profiled), while others utilize already gouged cane, which they then shape and profile to their liking. However, it seems that relatively few bassoonists begin their reed-making process from the tube.
The reason for this appears to be twofold: on the one hand, one must consider the high cost of reed-making machines and the time, effort and expertise they require to operate. Secondly, commercially available processed cane has come a long way in recent years; not only is it more dependable in terms of the consistency of gouge thickness but it is even possible at the present time to request specific gouge, shape and profile parameters from some cane manufacturers. And yet, it is in fact the physical appearance of the Arundo donax tube itself--which will remain unseen and thus a mystery to those relying on processed cane--that can offer much insight into the future potential of a given reed!
Many bassoonists know that measuring the relative hardness of a gouged piece of cane can greatly improve the reed-maker's success rate through the elimination of inadequate pieces. However, careful observation should also be given to various aspects of the tube/raw cane segment's physical appearance, as these characteristics often affect the cane's capacity for becoming a well-balanced vibrating medium. Conducting such an examination at the earliest possible stage in the reed-making process is an added bonus in terms of saved time and energy later on. Beyond the physical appearance of cane, the complex relationship between its hardness and fiber density and the correspondingly desirable gouge thickness and concentricity must also be carefully taken into account with the goal of achieving the optimal vibrating spectrum of the finished reed even prior to profiling and final scraping.
My own research in the area of reed-making has prompted me to insist on retaining control over tube selection and sorting, and as importantly, over gouge thickness and concentricity, in addition to shaping and profiling of the cane. It has particularly solidified my belief in the need to easily fine-tune the gouge parameters depending on the specific characteristics of the given tube, as observed both prior to and after splitting. These explorations have resulted in my designing and constructing an electric cane gouger, which effortlessly produces an easily adjustable gouge to within very tight tolerances (0.05mm).
If you are interested in hearing more about my research in this area, feel free to contact me directly.