Introducing the new Legere oboe reed. No water required, just add air
The oboe community has been buzzing lately about the new synthetic Legere oboe reed. I heard some lovely recordings of oboists playing on the reed a few days ago and was impressed that someone finally made a good sounding oboe reed from synthetic materials. I was interested to see how they are made and how they play.
My curiosity finally got the best of me Friday evening and I decided to buy one. A few days later and $150 less in my bank account and I am sitting with the thing in my oboe wondering when my hover board will arrive. I have my thoughts about the reed. I thought it appropriate to share this review of the oboe reed with my readers.
To anyone new to Legere reeds, they are a Canadian company that specializes in make synthetic instrument reeds. The company was founded in 1998 by Dr. Guy Légère and Dr. Mark Kortschot with a mission to bring high-end synthetic reeds to customers.
I have some friends that play the clarinet and saxophone reeds and say good things about them. They have been described to me as “not the best reed in the case, but you can count on them to work”. To have a reed that always worked would mean less hours in the reed room and more in the practice room. I could not wait for the oboe reeds to come out! Assuming they would ever make an oboe reed…
The bassoon reeds were released a few years back, and were fairly well received. My friend purchased one at the International Double Reed Society Convention the year they were released. He said it played well, and could be adjusted slightly to taste by putting it in hot water.
With the release of the bassoon reeds I thought it was only a matter of time before Legere figured out the oboe reed making process. A few years later and here I am, looking at little noise making tube of plastic sticking out of my oboe.
Legere Oboe Reeds
I opened the shipping container and saw a neatly packaged oboe reed sent directly from another planet. I suppose I should be grateful the shipping was not more. I suddenly felt slightly guilty that I don’t have fancy boxes to ship reeds to customers in. I reminded myself that I don’t charge $150 per reed.
I took the reed from its holster and stuck it in the oboe conveniently sitting on my table and played for a bit. It WORKED! I was off to a good start. It was a bit more resistant than the reeds I like to play. The embouchure I needed to use was a bit tighter but it worked. My test would need to be continued later because a student was about to arrive.
The student arrived and wondered about the reed so I let her try it. Actually, I made her try it, she seemed to want nothing to do with it. We shared our thoughts about the reed and moved on to play some duets. She is performing the duets, and asked to play. I swear I was not simply looking for an chance to play with my new toy. I did take the opportunity to use the reed though.
The reed was quite different than what I am accustomed to. My embouchure was working pretty hard to keep the sound stable. I was also working to keep the pitch centered. I was thinking this may be more to do with the European style than some defect in the reed. I also like to play on reeds that are not overly resistant. This was not such a reed I muscled my way through the duets.
My student was laughing at me as she looked over at me. She said I had “oboe face”, apparently I was turning red and panting when I finished playing. I was getting a good workout, trying to find the sweet spot with my embouchure and air.
We finished the duets and shared our thoughts again. We were both impressed with the sound. We were also both slightly worried about my physical well-being. I attributed this in part to my relaxed summer playing and practice schedule. I took a break to make some dinner and regain some strength.
The Big Three and the Legere oboe reed
I came back and spent some time playing the reed and getting my assessment together. I tend to evaluate oboe reeds in terms of resistance, intonation, and response. I call these qualities “The Big Three” and encourage all my oboe and reed making students become familiar with the terms. I wrote about “the big three” at length in a past article which is linked to here. “THE BIG THREE”.
The Legere European style oboe reed is significantly more resistant than the reeds I make and play on. The reed requires much more air pressure and volume of air than what I have grown to like. I know there are plenty of people that play on oboe reeds that are significantly more resistant than what I like to play. I would rate this reed around 7.9 out of 10 on a scale of resistance with my embouchure.
I keep the corners of my mouth fairly tight while playing, and keep the center where the reed touches loose. I want to allow the reed to vibrate as much as possible. I feel the reed may not feel so resistant with a tighter embouchure.
The scale of my instrument was not playing in tune when I played as I would on my reeds. I did experiment with reed placement and found a place where the reed does play fairly well in tune. The reed requires much more embouchure control to stay in tune than I like. Initially, my G and C naturals were horrendously out of tune to the point of laughter. I raised the oboe and changed my embouchure slightly and that did solve the problems to some extent.
I attribute this more to oboe reed style than some sort of defect.
The reed was moderately responsive for me. I like a reed that responds quietly without too much embouchure control. I test this my gently pushing more and more air through the reed and oboe until a sound is produced. The volume of the sound that speaks tells me the response of the reed.
The response will affect how easily notes articulate and also how softly the reed will play without exerting more embouchure pressure.
I found it a little difficult to play the Legere oboe reed softly with control. The extremes of the range were also a bit tough for me. I needed to “lip the reed up” for the high E, or it would not speak.
Hear the Legere oboe reed
I decided to record some noodles and long pitches to give interested oboists an idea of the sound. I was pretty happy with the sound of the reed. It produces a more European sound than I go for, but that is what I expected with a short scrape reed. The sound is pretty well balanced with a lot of embouchure control. Not my ideal sound exactly, but good for a reed made from a synthetic material.
I tried the reed on two different oboes and compared it to one of my reeds that I pulled from the case.
Legere oboe reed on Laubin oboe
A.Lakota Reed on Laubin oboe
Legere oboe reed on Loree oboe
A.Lakota Reed on Loree oboe
Legere oboe reed on Laubin oboe
A.Lakota reed on Laubin oboe
Legere oboe reed on Loree oboe
A.Lakota reed on Loree oboe
Legere oboe reed
I am very impressed that Legere has made a working oboe reed from a synthetic material. I feel the synthetic reeds that Legere makes have the potential to give musicians peace of mind. I look forward to seeing what the American style reed will be like when they are released.
Note: I did go ahead and adjust the Legere oboe reed to be an American style oboe reed. I wrote about it here; Legere oboe reed update.
I am not crazy about the European style Legere oboe reed. While it does work as a reed I find it to be too resistant and requires too much embouchure control for my preference. While I did not love the Legere oboe reed I feel there are likely players that will like it. I will be very interested to hear what European oboists think of the reeds.
I will also be interested to see how the reed changes over time as it is played on more. I feel that I may update this post as the reed gets older, and it gets more broken it. I assume the reed will become slightly different as it is played. Legere does include a small instruction manual that states the reed will “break in” over time. I may use it as a sort of chop busting exercise to get my embouchure in great shape. I might just go at it with a knife and see what I can do…
While synthetic oboe reeds may put us reed makers out of business in the future that is not my fear at this moment. I feel there is still a need for players to stick with what is tried and true. Happy oboe-ing