When it comes to picking out reeds, there's a lot of mythology out there. Here are some of the classics:
- The reed needs to make a perfect sound!
- The chanter shouldn't need any tape at all - if it does, the reed is bad!
- The craftsmanship of the reed has to be picture-perfect.
- The blades have to be perfectly aligned.
- It has to be the perfect "inches-of-water" strength in order to become a good reed.
For me, I make double-sure not to pay attention to any of the myths! Over time, I have developed a "sense" for what reeds will turn out to be "crackers," but that's only by a continual process of trial-and-error, or "screening" that I use each and every time I go through a batch of reeds. This screening process insures that I get a great, workable reed every time. What is the screening process? Well, it goes in several steps:
Step 1) Preliminary sort for "vibrancy"
Before I even put any reeds into a chanter, I will screen a batch of them for vibrancy. Reeds should vibrate freely. Once I've added a bit of moisture and let it sit for a minute or so, a reed should produce a nice efficient, vibrant tone on its own (without needing to be put in the chanter).
Step 2) Pop those babies in, balance the reed, check key notes.
Once I've pre-screened, I'll take 'em and make sure key notes and characteristics are in check. Usually, in this order:
- Make sure the High G is vibrant and not too sharp.
- Make sure the C and the F are not "chronically" flat.
- Make sure there's no way the F will collapse.
- Make sure G gracenotes on Low G don't squeak too easily
Step 3) Pick your faves!
So, if you're lucky, steps 1 and 2 yield a few good reeds. Now, which one(s) is your favorite? That's going to be your pick.
It should be noted that most reeds "break in" and become much easier after about 10 hours of play-time. A good reed selector will thus pick reeds a bit harder than their ideal level of comfort so that the reeds aren't too wimpy in the long run.
And, at the end of the day, no "mythology" was needed to pick out these reeds, just a wee objective process to narrow down what the best reeds are.
Check out this class we did back in 2012 for a full view of our process!
Course Name: Technique Development
Class Name: How to Pick Out Chanter Reeds
Class Instructor: Andrew Douglas
Date of Original Live Class: Thursday, June 28th, 2012 at 7:30am
Description: In this class Andrew goes through all you need to know about picking out a great chanter reed. Then, he goes through a box of 50 reeds and explains how and why he picks certain reeds for Oran Mor.
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