I have just started playing the Oboe and need to look at buying better reeds. I have been told (by my teacher) to buy medium-hard reeds...I would appreciate your advice and any information regarding reeds and reed selection.
Your teacher is right to suggest better reeds. You will learn how to make a proper embouchure and to play the oboe more quickly if you use good reeds. At the same time you will avoid developing bad habits inferior reeds often promote.
While reed "strength" is a subjective quality of a reed, a medium strength reed is a good place to start. You can always adjust up or down in strength according to your needs. With professionally-made hand-scraped reeds, strength does not necessarily equate with thickness of cane as it sometimes does with inferior mass-produced reeds. Rather, the strength of a reed relies on the quality of the particular piece of cane from which it was made; hard, dense, soft, fibrous. The amount of air pressure needed to start the reed vibrating as well as the flexibility in the dynamic range of the reed are also components of the strength of a reed. A reedmaker takes into consideration all these variables when determining the strength of a reed. Furthermore, he attempts to bring all into a balance in order to create a superior reed which can be used for a broad range of music.
When looking for high-quality reeds, you will do best to select a reedmaker whose reeds are completely, 100% handmade. Some sources say their reeds are handmade but are really mass-produced reeds that are simply touched up by hand. True quality takes time. The multitude of variables in the performance of a reed which are given attention by a experienced reedmaker are not and indeed cannot be addressed by mass-production. Even if the reeds are claimed to be completely handmade, it isn't a guarantee the quality is very good or the style of reed is suitable to you. You may have to try several different reedmakers before finding one whose style of reed you find best.
Keep in mind that the performance of reeds is greatly affected by weather, season, climate and altitude. Ideally, you would want to find a reedmaker whose reeds are made in a similar altitude and climate as your own. Furthermore, you want the reeds to be made within a few weeks of placing your order to be certain the season in which the reeds were made is the same as when you will be using them. Reeds made to perform well in the summer won't work as well in the winter and vice-versa. This may mean you have to wait a little to receive your reeds since they are being made soon after you place your order instead of being pulled off the inventory shelf after having sat there for six months.
No matter the skill and experience of the reedmaker, every reed is different from the one that came before it. This is simply a fact. The range of difference between reeds will be less pronounced the more experienced the reedmaker. Nevertheless, it is because of the natural variations between reeds that you absolutely would do well to purchase a minimum of three of the same type of reed from any reedmaker. Doing so will give you a good impression of what the reeds from that particular reedmaker are all about.
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