People often pick up attributes from what they love in this life. Newspapermen are said to have printer’s ink in their veins while railroad people become men of steel. For those who develop more than a passing interest in making reeds for musical instruments, keep in mind: Reed cane is a pernicious weed! Once planted, it is hard to eradicate.
Some Other Old Timers
The reed makers I met early in my career are now all past 70. Bob Stevens, who has made more oboe and bassoon reeds than any person I know, is in his middle 70’s. Jack Spratt, who first helped me with a cane and later with tools, has touched the lives of most oboists and bassoonists. Lou Skinner, now retired, taught more bassoonists how to make reeds than most other reedmakers.
The Perennial Weed
Since it grows from rhizomes, reed cane has a perennial root with annual stems and leaves. Botanically it is a monocot (Monocotyledon), a member of the grass family. Arundodonax, (its botanical name) is a species of bamboo widely used in making cane furniture. It makes good fishing poles in addition to reeds for musical instruments. While found around the Mediterranean, much of our cane comes from Southern France. It is prolific in the area known as the Riviera. One of my long-term goals is to buy a piece of land in the south of France. Then I should be able to raise cane on the Riviera myself. Reed cane is also being grown in California. The cane I use for my oboe reeds comes from the Var Provence in Southern France.
I started making reed in large quantities by helping Frank Sturchio in San Antonio, Texas. In the early fifties. In the spring of 1959, I was making oboe reeds for the Gower Reed Company in Boulder, Colorado. Later that year I started Roscoe Reed Manufacturing Co. in Colorado Springs. Since then I have owned or managed several large reed companies. I started making reeds under my Bill Roscoe trademark in 1985.
The Perennial Problem
When I began making reeds for other, I did most of the work by hand. As tennis players know well, wrists and elbows do not appreciate a lot of twisting. In time I was getting a cortisone shot in my right elbow monthly to keep down the pain. I then decided to find better ways to make oboe reeds. The design of my reeds is my own as are many of the tools I use. I create my own tools to help me work better and faster. Yet, the final, and most important work of finishing, testing and grading are done slowly, by hand, one reed at a time. I finish each reed myself.
Bill Roscoe Double Reeds are guaranteed to play. I will replace, free of charge, any which you return to me for any reason.
Three Important Lessons
With five reasons:
- Soak reeds in plain tap water.
- Choose the correct strength.
- Break in new reeds slowly.
Lesson One: Soak reeds in plain tap water
The suggestion that you soak your reeds for five minutes before using is given on the strength label in the bottom of each reed box. Here are the reasons why and some more suggestions.
The Reasons Why!
- Reed cane is cellulose in structure. Like a sponge, it is porous and will absorb water. Always keep this fact in mind when using your reeds. As a sponge doesn’t work well when it is dry, most reeds are of little value before you soak them.
- Soak your reeds in plain tap water before each use. This is preferable to holding them in your mouth to get them wet. There is a lot of protein in reed cane. The enzymes in your saliva will eat away and slowly dissolve the protein, and some essential ingredients in your reed. Your reeds will last longer, and play better when you soak them first in plain tap water, rather than holding them in your mouth, before using them. Once the cell structure is filled with plain tap water, you can keep them wet in your mouth.
More Reasons Why!!
An oboe reed is not just a reed. It is also a mouthpiece. The shape of the inside of the mouthpiece amplifies or dampens each of the overtones which influence the sound the reed will produce. When the reed is dry it contracts. The thick parts can arch while the thin parts can flatten. This distorts the opening inside of the mouthpiece function of the reed. When it is wet, the cane swells and returns to its original shape. If your reed is fully dried out, it takes about five minutes to fully saturate the cane. I take care in making my reeds to insure they play well when wet. Soaking the reed in plain tap water allows the reed to swell to the correct shape for the mouthpiece to function as it should.
Even More Reasons Why!!!
There is a complete difference in the flexibility of wet, as opposed to dry, reed cane. Dry cane is very brittle. Cane does not vibrate well when it is dry. Trying to play on a dry reed will always cause some of the fibers to break and could easily crack the reed. When wet, cane is pliable, alive and vibrates well.