Refine or Recycle Your Reed

What is the likelihood that the reed you are currently scraping will become a playable reed?  Should you continue to scrape/refine your reed or should you recycle it (strip the cane off the tube and begin again) before you waste more time in a fruitless effort?  Here is a chart that helps you decide.

John Mack introduced me to the following guide.


Is your reed:

  • sharp and resistant (hard to play)
  • flat and overly vibrant (hard to control / too flexible)
  • sharp and overly vibrant
  • flat and resistant


Continue to scrape and refine

  • If your reed is sharp and too resistant, continuing to scrape and refine will bring the pitch down and make your reed easier to play
  • If your reed is flat and too vibrant,  clipping the tip will bring the pitch up and make the reed a little more resistant and focused.

Recycle and start a new reed!

  • If your reed is sharp and too vibrant, clipping the tip will add some resistance but it will also make your reed even sharper.  Scraping the reed will bring your pitch down but the reed will become even more wild and hard to control.  This is a no win situation and you shouldn’t waste your time hoping that this type of reed will become acceptable.  Start again!
  • If your reed is flat and resistant, scraping more to make it easier will only make the reed flatter.  Clipping to bring the reed up to pitch will only make the reed more resistant. This is a very difficult position to work your way out of.

As a last resort, with this particular type of reed you might be able to over-slip the blades making the reed sharper and more resistant – a position which will allow you to continue scraping.  However, the downside of this action is that it effectively makes your “shape” smaller which in turn reduces the overall depth of tone.

Or, if the reed is clearly the best you’ve made in months and it sits just a little under pitch – you can file the bottom of the tube, a millimeter or two, making sure to remove the resulting metal bur from the inside bottom lip of the tube.  Yes, I’ve been there before!  And, please know this will likely ruin the tube for future use.