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Staples? Yeah, you've got that.

The metal tube to which shaped cane is tied, and subsequently scraped into a reed, is called a "staple"; sometimes referred to as oboe, English horn, or oboe d'amour "tubes". The most common lengths of oboe staples are 47 and 46 mm. The 47 mm length is generally preferred unless you need the shorter length to achieve a higher overall pitch of your reeds. Oboe staples typically have cork glued around them so they fit snugly into the well of your oboe and prevent air from leaking around their sides. English horn and oboe d'amour reeds fit over top of another metal tube called a "bocal" and do not require cork. Some newer staples forego the cork and use two small rubber gaskets which accomplish the same thing as the cork but without the problems of cork's durability, performance or quality.

Quercus suber

Not all cork is the same. Traditionally, oboe staples were and continue to be made with "natural" cork which is produced in sheets from Quercus suber, a medium-sized evergreen oak of southern Europe and northern Africa having thick corky bark that is periodically stripped to yield commercial cork. There are differing qualities of this kind of cork, the best of which comes from older cork trees and is closer-grained than that from younger trees. Unfortunately the availability of the closer-grained cork has diminished in recent years, causing the price to increase. Some manufacturers accept the coarser-grained cork or even resort to "composite cork" to reduce production costs. This decision by the staple makers does not, however, benefit oboists as both kinds of cork are inferior in quality and performance; deteriorating and compressing quickly, reducing its ability to maintain an airtight seal in the oboe. Staple manufacturers also tend to apply composite cork to the tubes extremely thinly - most likely a cost saving decision. Not only does this decrease the durability of the cork, but also prevents one from adjusting the fit of the cork in the oboe. Natural cork not only tends to be more durable, partly from the better quality of cork and partly from the fact that it is generally thicker, but also has the ability to be adjusted to your oboe. If, for example, you have a staple which fits a little too tightly into your oboe despite the application of cork grease, petroleum jelly or some other lubricant, you can easily take some fine sandpaper and gradually reduce the diameter of the cork. By the same token, if your staple fits too loosely in the oboe and you don't want the bother of wrapping the cork with a strip of cigarette paper (a temporary and stop-gap solution), you can swell natural cork until it fits more snugly. The most reliable method I've found for swelling a cork is with steam or boiling water. I simply take a small cup or shot glass of water and microwave it until it is boiling. With an oven mitt to protect my fingers, I fully and immediately immerse the cork into the boiling water. The water around the cork should bubble vigorously for a few seconds. If it doesn't, chances are you waited too long between when the microwave turned off and when you immersed the cork and thus the water wasn't hot enough. (One could of course simply boil a pan of water on the stovetop, but I find the microwave to be faster and easier.) The result is a cork which has been swelled and should fit more snugly into your oboe. You might have to repeat this procedure if the staple still needs to be tighter, but there is of course a limit to how much the cork can be swelled. This technique will not work with composite cork.

The metal of the staple is another important decision each oboist must make. The majority of oboe, English horn and oboe d'amour staples are made from silver (either solid or plated), nickel-silver (sometimes referred to as "German silver"), bronze or brass. Some oboists have a particular affinity for one kind of metal over the others because of a perceived beneficial quality the metal imparts to the sound. While this most certainly is true with regard to bocals, that has not been my experience with oboe, English horn or oboe d'amour staples. The primary considerations with regard to the metal of your staples are:

1. Is the material and thickness of the metal durable enough to retain its shape during tying and use; and
2. Price

The most malleable and therefore most easily deformable metal is brass. This, along with the fact that staple manufacturers who use brass in their staples also tend to use a very thin tube make brass staples the least sturdy. Brass also will corrode, developing a green patina. This is lovely on the brass dome of a church or cupola, but not so attractive or beneficial for an oboe staple.

An improvement on the brass staple is the bronze staple. Bronze is much stronger and harder than brass and is much more resistant to corrosion as well as deformation. In fact, bronze is stronger and harder than any other common metal alloy except steel. We use Sierra Oboe Staples and English Horn and d'Amour Staples, both of which are made of bronze.

German silver or nickel-silver staples are made from an alloy of copper, zinc and nickel, named for its silver-white color and discovered by a German industrial chemist in the early 19th century. Highly resistant to corrosion, these staples are slightly less easily deformed than bronze staples, depending on the thickness of the tube.

Solid silver staples are beautiful and light-weight but neither of those qualities are required for making a good reed, nor compensate for the fact that they tarnish like all silver and are easily deformed. Being made from a precious metal, they are generally more expensive the other kinds of staples.

Silver-plated staples are nickel-silver tubes with a thin electroplating of silver. They deform and tarnish less easily than solid silver staples. Like solid silver staples, silver-plated staples have an increased cost.

While not as common, staples were once manufactured with a visible "seam" running down their length where two ends of a flat piece of metal were joined to form the tube. This lack of uniformity in the staple would interrupt the vibrations of the reed compared to the more common "seamless" staple. Also, the seam would encourage corrosion and sometimes even start coming apart. Fortunately, the seamless staple is the dominant method of manufacturing oboe staples.

By far the most important aspects of your staples are the aperture or oval at the top of the tube and the shape of the cone. Ideally, the inner dimensions of the staple or "cone" will match and smoothly transition into the cone of the bore of your instrument thus from reed tip to bell, your instrument is one continuous cone. Furthermore, the cone and the oval of the staple must fit closely on your mandrel (see The Right Mandrel for You). While there isn't an absolutely direct correlation, the shape and size of the oval or aperture of the staple will, in large part, determine the shape and size of your blank's opening. The gouge, tying length, shape, diameter and quality of your cane all play roles in your reed opening. The shape of some staple ovals is more pointed, like a football. Some are more rounded like an "O". Extremes in either direction along this shape continuum are to be avoided as your reed openings will not be satisfactory. The size of staple openings is also variable. It is hard to recommend any one shape or size oval as each oboist's individual preferences and reedmaking habits play a large part in determining what works best for him or her. Typically, your private instructor will be your best guide in this matter.

Copyright 2005-2007 David Schast Reed Service & Supply, LLC

David Schast Reed Service & Supply, LLC
213 Church Road, Elkins Park, PA 19027 * (215) 782-CANE

Copyright 2007 David Schast Reed Service & Supply, LLC