Britannia Reeds

Britannia Reeds St Albans

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Reeds of Quality & Distinction

Bassoon Reeds

I’m a beginner - which reeds should I use?
For an economical beginner reed, the Oxford reed (medium-soft strength) is suitable.  
For a reed with better tone try the
Britannia reed (medium soft strength).

How many reeds should I buy?
You should always have a spare reed in case the one you’re using gets damaged or too old and unresponsive. I normally recommend buying at least 3 reeds so that when the first one is no longer usable, you still have a spare, and you can then order some more.
Of course, we regularly have special offers which gain you extra discounts or free reeds if you buy more than this, so look out for these offers which may be on this website, or sent to you through the post or email.

The tips of my reeds seem to break or split after quite a short time. Why?
If you are a new player this may be because of accidental damage. The tip of the reed is only paper-thin, and very delicate. Just lightly touching the reed can cause damage.
I recommend all players form two habits to help avoid this:
     1. Always keep the reed in your visual field (within eye-sight). Many beginner players often look down at the instrument to see where their fingers are supposed to go. When doing this most people will tilt the instrument towards them and the reed may touch their shoulder (they won’t necessarily feel it happening). So instead, get used to TURNING the instrument TO THE SIDE if you want to look at your fingers - and you should be able to see the reed (at least in the corner of your eye) at all times.
     2. Stick your tongue out.  It’s not rude, it’s just what players do. When you’re putting the reed in your mouth, avoid accidentally hitting your teeth and breaking the reed. Stick you tongue out, lay the reed on your tongue, and then let your tongue bring the reed into your mouth. This way you will never hit your teeth.

How can I best take care of my reeds?
Firstly, keep them in a proper reedcase. Reedcases can seem expensive at first but a reedcase for three reeds only usually costs about the same as a couple of reeds and it can save damaging many reeds. You should never keep them in the plastic tubes that some reeds are supplied in - this doesn’t allow them to dry out and can cause mould to grow on the reed.
If you can, always soak the reed in clean water before playing it. If you always use your saliva alone to soak it whilst warming up, the many chemicals in your saliva will be absorbed into the cane, and the reed will thicken up more quickly.
Again if you can, always rinse the reed in clean water after you’ve finished playing. This can be done by running tap water through it whilst holding it upside down under a tap, or by carefully swishing the cane part in a small pot of water. This helps prevent the build-up of dried saliva which otherwise will occur on the surfaces of the cane.  
If you have to store the reeds for a long time, try to ensure they are not in a humid or wet environment. Normal indoor room air is perfectly suitable within the .

When you first recieve your reeds briefly submerge the blades of the reed in clean water and leave the reed on a flat surface to soak for 2 or 3 minutes before playing.  If the reed is too hard, or the opening at the tip too open, soak the whole reed in warm water for 5 minutes, and  then with  thin-nosed pliers gently squeeze the top wire (the one nearest the lips when playing) so that it slightly flattens the reed blades.   If the tip opening is too closed, or the reed is too free-blowing, soak as above and gently squeeze the top wire in the opposite direction, to open up the tip. Having made these adjustments, you may need to balance the second wire (the one next to the binding). If the tone is too bright or tinny squeeze the second wire from the sides (with pliers at right angles to the blades), thus also slightly closing the aperture.  If the tone is too dark or stuffy, squeeze the second wire in the opposite way (with pliers parallel to the blades) thus also slightly opening the aperture.  Balance the effects of the two wires to suit yourself.  More complex adjustments are best done only if you are experienced in reedmaking.  

The reed doesn’t fit far enough onto the crook:
If the reed doesn’t fit far enough on the crook, use a bassoon reed reamer to increase the diameter of the reed tube. The reed should be DRY when you do this as this helps to get a smoother neater finish to the inside of the hole. After the hole has been reamed you should use a round needle file to remove any remaining fibres from the inside of the reed tube.

Adjusting reeds which are too open
This adjustment is done using both of the two visible wires on the reed.
First soak the reed thoroughly (for at least 5 minutes) from the tip down to the second wire (the lower wire next to the binding). This will make it more flexible and less likely to split. Now using narrow-nosed pliers, squeeze the first wire (top) at the front and back of the reed, watching the tip as you do, to see it closing down. Try blowing the reed to see if its response has improved enough. If not, squeeze the first wire again and test it again.
When you have the response you desire, you may find the reed has also become too bright or resonant in tone. (If  not, you are finished and need do no more). If so, squeeze the second wire in the opposite direction to the way you squeezed the first wire (i.e. squeezing in from the sides of the reed). Try the reed - it should be more mellow in tone. Repeat the procedure until you are happy with the tone.
Note that squeezing the second wire will also slightly close the reed at the tip, and so you may have to re-open the tip with the first wire whilst finalising the tone. This is called “balancing” the wires.

Adjusting reeds which are too closed
This adjustment is done using both of the two visible wires on the reed.
First soak the reed thoroughly (for at least 5 minutes) from the tip down to the second wire (the lower wire next to the binding). This will make it more flexible and less likely to split. Now using narrow-nosed pliers, squeeze the first wire (top) at the sides of the reed, watching the tip as you do, to see it opening up - but be careful as you can split a reed by doing this. Try blowing the reed to see if it has improved. If not, squeeze the first wire again and test it again.
When you have the tip opening you desire, you may find the reed has also become too dark of stuffy in tone, or unresponsive. (If  not, you are finished and need do no more). If so, squeeze the second wire in the opposite direction to the way you squeezed the first wire (i.e. squeezing in from the sides of the front and back). Try the reed - it should now play more freely with more resonance. Repeat the procedure until you are happy with the response and tone.
Note that squeezing the second wire will also slightly open the reed at the tip, and so you may have to re-close the tip with the first wire whilst finalising the response and tone. This is called “balancing” the wires.

My reeds keep closing up. What can I do?
Many players presume they should have a stronger reed, believing that, since the reed cannot cope with the pressures it is being put under, a tougher version is needed. I would not recommend this. This would indeed close up more slowly, but would be harder to blow and to control with the embouchure, so the player would need to work harder generally. It would also encourage a tighter embouchure (when an already tight embouchure may be causing the actual problem).
The root cause of the problem is almost certainly with the breath pressure. But don't worry, it should be easily solved. When breath pressure/support is lower, we instinctively play with the reed held more closed by the lips, because only in this more closed position will the reed speak with low breath pressure. Over time, un-noticed by the player, this becomes a habit, and usually players aren't aware they have developed a slightly tighter embouchure and looser tummy when playing.
The remedy is simpler than most people think. Bear in mind here that human muscle reacts to being stretched, by contracting. So if you take a very full breath down to your tummy, such that you are stretching the tummy muscles, these muscles will automatically contract giving you good pressure without trying. I'd suggest you do the following:
Use a reed which hasn’t closed up yet. Start each playing or practise session with long notes as a warm-up. Any notes will do, but vary them. Take a VERY big breath, start the note and let it settle. Then lower your jaw - keep lowering it, and more and more until air escapes from between reed and mouth. This shows you just how much you can drop the jaw and still get a note.
The next time, BIG breath, long note, and this time lower the jaw only until the pitch drops noticeably. The tone should be better, with the reed resonating more fully. This is approximately the playing position you are aiming for. If you can do 10 - 20 long notes during warm-up concentrating on big breath and loose embouchure (lower jaw), you will gradually build this habit into your playing.
The only bad (?) news is that I would recommend you keep up this method for ever in order to prevent the natural slip back into bad habits that we all suffer from if we don't keep it up.


Hints and Tips on Bassoon Reeds