Legere oboe reed review update
I have played around with the Legere oboe reed I purchased a couple of weeks ago. I have also heard from some colleagues around the world about their experiences with the synthetic oboe reeds. Please see my post “Legere oboe reed review” if you are new to the topic, or how I initially evaluated the reed. Many European oboists are really liking the Legere oboe reeds, and I have heard a couple professional American oboists playing them with success.
While the Legere oboe reed is very different than what I would normally choose to play I feel it does have a lot of good qualities. I was pretty happy with the tone quality of the reed, though it was more of an “open” European sound than what I tend to shoot for in my own tone. That is not a criticism so much as a difference in taste. I happen to love the sound of many European oboists, I simply have a different tonal concept of what I sound like on the oboe.
I did find it slightly too resistant for my air and embouchure initially and thought the response left something to be desired. The pitch was also flatter than what I like. I once again see these qualities as a matter of taste in some ways, so I am not condemning the reed so much as sharing a personal perspective.
Adjusting the Legere oboe reed.
My curiosity once again got the best of me and I decided to go about hacking away at the reed to see if I could make it a little more to my liking. I purchased the Legere oboe reed due to my curiosity, and I did not anticipate ever loving the reed as it was out of the box. I figured it would be better to know if I could make it into a long scrap reed and destroy it, than have a $150 oboe reed I would never touch again.
The natural solution was to go about adjusting it as I would any other reed. I pulled out my micrometers and measured the internal dimensions of the reed. The center of the heart was a bit thinner than where my own reeds tend to end, so this gave me enough intuition that the resistance I was feeling in the oboe reed was from the tip and back and not the heart. I did not scrape anything from the heart for the whole process. The reed was also a bit flatter than what I like with my embouchure, so again this told me that I should stay away from the heart.
The reed knife
I found the way I usually sharpen my knife did not work so well on the synthetic material. It got “caught” in the material and would not remove cane but just stop. I found that by using a slightly more surgical edge with the burr straight up and down, as if for slicing, it worked better than the pushing burr we oboe reed makers tend to use. I found a heavier beveled knife worked well for the back of the reed, and a sharper double hollow ground knife worked well for the very tip and sides of the tip.
My process of adjusting the Legere oboe reed
I began by making some windows in the back. Next time I would not go here right away because I really work the tip before moving back. I usually scrape the backs fairly early in my own reed making process and define them later. Perhaps on this style of reed, with the already thin heart, the back may help to keep the pitch up, though the pitch was not right for me from the start. I don’t regret scraping the windows, but I would like to know where the reed would sit in terms of intonation without scraping this area and only adjusting the tip. I know myself and would have dug the windows out even if the reed was “perfect”. The reed was destined to be a long scrape reed, I would have kept wondering “what if”, if I left it alone.
Scraping the windows did loosen the reed’s vibrations in the lower overtones. It dropped the pitch slightly which made me somewhat wary that I may end up with a “flarpy” ( my own word, meaning flat and dull) oboe reed.
After scraping what I assumed were windows (it is very difficult to see what you are doing on a clear reed), I moved to the very tip of the reed to help with the oboe reed response and oboe reed resistance. The links are to articles I have written on the topics.
I focussed my attention on the very tip and sides of the tip. I took a lot of cane from the tip and progressively worked my way back slightly never moving into the heart. The oboe reed really loosened up and the resistance decreased by focusing on the tip and sides of the tip.
The tip was pretty thick when I first put the plaque into the Legere oboe reed. I like to finish my own reeds without too much of a “click” from moving off the tip of the oboe reed to the plaque, so I knew I would be working a lot in this area.
The reed didn’t drop too much in pitch from working on the tip, which was a comforting sign. I clipped the reed to a “C”. The response was still not so great so I continued to thin the very tip and sides of the tip. Clipping and thinning over and over.
Eventually, the reed got to a pretty nice feeling place for me. The only downside was the pitch really did not want to “sit up” and required some embouchure manipulation to play in tune, even while crowing a “C”. Some people like this quality, I am lazy (I like to think I am efficient) and prefer an oboe reed that works for me and does not need too much help in terms of embouchure manipulation.
I concluded that I was not going to get the reed to play exactly as I like due to the intonation, but it was close. The solution would have been pretty simple on a cane reed, simply squeeze the back directly above the thread slightly. This would have raised the settled pitch of the reed. my finished Legere oboe reed with adjustments is 68.5mm. I know from my experience that if I attempt to get the pitch right it is going to be a never ending spiral of clipping and thinning. A smaller opening of the staple area could easily compensate for this deficiency if Legere goes ahead with the American style oboe reeds.
I am tempted to take a lighter to that part of the reed in trying to manipulate it slightly, but I have someone interested in buying my adjusted Legere oboe reed, so it may wait until I buy a new one…. or loose interest.
The pros and cons of the synthetic material
- Pros. Once I figured out how to sharpen my knife to work on the reed it was actually pretty easy to adjust. The plastic came off pretty smoothly and did not fray or come apart. The plastic felt like a very dense and smooth piece of cane. Like buttah.. I would love to get my hands some of the plastic in a tube form and attempt to make a reed in the traditional way. Not sure it would work, but It would be interesting to try.
- Cons .The cane did get a little ummm “hairy” as one oboist mentioned in the comments of my previous post. This was really only an issue for me directly behind the heart where I developed a slight “catch”. The reed was tricky to work on because it is clear. It was difficult to see symmetry or know how much cane was taken off the different sections. I was tempted to get a marker out and color the surface but just went ahead without doing it.
Final thoughts on the Legere oboe reed after adjustments.
I love that the reed does not need any preparation to play. Sometimes I find myself just wanting to pick up my oboe and play something without soaking a few reeds, waiting to see how they will act today and choosing one. The synthetic reed basically plays the same way every time I pick it up. As other musicians have said about Legere reeds, “They are not the best reeds in the case but they work”. I find myself playing scales on it in between other daily responsibilities. Improvisation on the oboe has interested me for the past couple years and find myself jamming along with music I hear on the stereo. I can pick the oboe up and play for five minutes and not feel I need to be committed due to the soaking ritual involved.
Synthetic reeds are not likely to replace traditional handmade oboe reeds in the near future, so I am not worried they will put me out of business as a professional oboe reed maker. I welcome high-quality synthetic oboe reeds into the market and look forward to seeing where they go.
Ultimately I feel Legere is not too far off from making an American style synthetic oboe reed in concept. I am sure the micro details are somewhat difficult with CNC machines. Their reed making process involves engineering and computers, I used knives and cutting blocks, we are in completely different industries. I think they will need to compensate pitch somewhere, my suggestion would be in the staple opening. The tip needs to be a bit thinner, the heart every so slightly thicker to compensate for the cane being taken from the back.
I think they will need to compensate pitch somewhere, my suggestion would be in the staple opening. The tip needs to be a bit thinner, the heart every so slightly thicker to compensate for the cane being taken from the back. That is just one person’s 2 cents though.
Here are some sound clips of me “getting my oboe geek out” messing around with the adjusted Legere oboe reed.
adjusted Legere oboe reed crow
adjusted Legere oboe reed long tone
adjusted Legere oboe reed noodles