- Blank Making
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Cane is the single most important factor when making reeds. If the cane is not good, your reeds will be mediocre at best no matter how well made the reed is. If the cane is fantastic, the reed can have some imperfections and still be tremendous. Different brands of cane will have very unique playing characteristics. For example, Rigotti may work great for one player but be terrible for another. It’s important to try as many different types of cane as you can, they are all very different. If you know a reed maker that has a similar setup and playing style as you do, his/her preferred brand of cane may be a great place to start.
When making your own reeds, you have the luxury of eliminating cane that you know will not yield ideal dimensions. Some factors to consider when selecting cane:
Typical clarinet reed cane has a diameter of about 25 millimeters, though in each batch you receive there will be some amount of variation. A smaller diameter will produce a blank that has thinner rails because there will be more curvature on the bark side of the blank. This means that, the rails of the finished reed will generally be harder because they have come from a part of the tube that was closer to the bark of the reed. A larger diameter will have less curvature and therefore the rails will vibrate more easily because they are further from the the bark. A diameter of cane that is too large(and flat in terms of the curvature) may not sit properly in the holding chamber of the planer, though this depends on the style of planer used. Some cane companies are more specific in their diameter gradations and allow you to specifically buy cane with exact diameter measurements.
Clarinet cane is similar to bassoon cane, but it is thicker walled. The walls are anywhere from 2.5mm to 4.5mm thick, sometimes even thinner or thicker. Any tube that is thinner than your desired blank, must obviously be eliminated.
Cane density is not uniform throughout each piece. The inside of the tube(furthest from the bark) is the least dense and softest part of the cane. As you move closer to the bark the cane becomes harder or more dense. Thus, thinner blanks will generally yield harder reeds because the tip is closer to the bark. The opposite is also true, thicker blanks yield softer reeds because the tip of the reed will be farther away from the bark. In practice however, it’s difficult to predict the resulting strength of a reed based on blank thickness alone because of the variable nature of cane, and standard blank thickness are quite close in measurement(2.9mm on the thin end to 3.2 on the thick end). However these differences in blank thickness do contribute greatly to overall feel and response of the reed but there doesn’t seem to be a hard and fast rule regarding this. The difference of even 0.1mm from one batch to another will result in noticeably different playing characteristics. Ideal measurements can only be achieved through experimentation and must be suited to the cane type and individual playing style.
Most tubes are not perfectly straight or flat. A tube that is not flat will not lie perfectly flat in the chamber of the planer. This will will not allow you to get a uniform thickness from your blank. If the cane is not straight the grain will not run straight down the length of the reed. You can actually see the grain of the reed veer off to one side if the cane has not been carefully selected. In the image to the right you can see the areas that are not straight. The straightest sections have been selected.