February 28, 2021, 05:06:57 AM
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Topic: Save Our Precious Reeds  (Read 806 times)

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Offline Enthalpy

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Save Our Precious Reeds
« on: June 13, 2020, 12:22:43 PM »
Hi everybody,

Many woodwind instruments use a single or double reed made of cane (through plastic catches up). They cost some money, double reeds also take much effort, and with luck a reed lasts for two weeks.

I've a strong intuition that the 107 cycles of strong bending weaken the cane. But some people claim that soaking for 2-3 minutes before playing lets double reeds lose some fluids over time and this alters the mechanical properties.

Following that explanation, I propose to keep double reeds longer by soaking them in some mixture or solution that contains the fluids that would be lost. The concentration shall reduce, compensate or reverse the loss of the fluids.

One could try to analyze used soaking water and seek an equilibrium concentration of the several fluids for the magic bath. Or more simply, soak a load of unprocessed cane (waste) for an hour in water, and concentrate the juice until reeds don't lose anything more.

The best commercial form would be granules or concentrated drops that the musician puts in the water before soaking the reed. This might avoid bacterial growth. Perhaps some disinfectant like silver would help. The taste matters.

The budget for double reeds is like 200€/year, and musicians would spare efforts and keep their best reeds longer. If some effect is observed on single reeds, more musicians are interested. A handful of small companies live from reed making.

Marc Schaefer, aka Enthalpy
« Last Edit: June 13, 2020, 12:38:24 PM by sjb »

Offline marquis

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Re: Save Our Precious Reeds
« Reply #1 on: June 23, 2020, 06:46:10 PM »
Dumb question for you- are these numbers just for europe, or do they also include the US?

In the US, with the large number of high school marching bands, the single reeds are much more common.  I dont know how common plastic reeds are, but the natural ones die  often.  And yes, taste matters.

Very interesting.

Offline Enthalpy

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Re: Save Our Precious Reeds
« Reply #2 on: June 25, 2020, 06:42:26 PM »
This market is global. You find Rico reeds in Europe and Vandoren in the US. These are medium-sized companies, the others are small. Double reeds feed fewer people. So, magic granules said to prolong the life of cane reeds may feed a truly small company, like 3 people I guess, depending on how many customers believe it works, and on whether they buy them for single reeds too.

For single reeds, as a varnish rather? Droplets and granules are good for double reeds, which get soaked and whose inner face is inaccessible.

Plastic reeds are still a minority, with Légère having the lion's share. They aren't magic: plastic reeds live only about 2-3× as long as cane (supposedly from alternate bending) and cost much more than cane. Plus, they still sound a bit dull, despite Légère made much progress.

Offline Enthalpy

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Re: Save Our Precious Reeds
« Reply #3 on: January 18, 2021, 09:08:36 AM »
I have used a dozen times isopropanol to clean one bassoon reed and to disinfect it from bacteriae and virus.

This reed is very old and it becomes dull and unresponsive when a biofilm develops inside. Isopropanol eases much the mechanical removal of this biofilm (some bassoonists use a pipe scraper), often no mechanical action is needed. I give some drops in the reed at the bocal end over my usual plastic soaking box, then I soak and shake the reed for about 1min in the flown isopropanol.

The cleaned reed becomes responsive again. Could the biofilm be the cause of reed ageing?

Isopropanol, or isopropyl alcohol, is what gives hospitals their odour. It must be concentrated >70% but not pure. Its deadly dose is half that of usual alcohol, so rinse the reed. Concentrated usual alcohol (ethanol, ethyl alcohol) should work identically; I'd stay away from methylated spirits, whose denatonium tastes so badly. I haven't tried vodka &co, normally it's 40% ethanol so its antiseptic action isn't guaranteed.

My bassoon reeds are covered with wax to be airtight. Perhaps the more usual varnish dissolves in isopropanol and ethanol.

Marc Schaefer, aka Enthalpy

Offline Corribus

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Re: Save Our Precious Reeds
« Reply #4 on: January 18, 2021, 03:51:33 PM »
I would also be concerned that prolonged exposure to alcohol would also dissolve the natural resins and biopolymers that make up the reed itself, leading to a reduction in performance over time.
What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were like a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?  - Richard P. Feynman

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