Oboe Reeds – How Long Do They Last?

Reed Pros image of hand crafted oboe reeds back lit to show detail.

Back lit hand crafted oboe reeds

How long does an oboe reed last? While factors like demands of the repertoire, reed performance expectations, and other variables come into play, I’m looking to give advice to the novice oboist or parent regarding longevity. The average consensus is between 15 – 20 hours of playing time or about 1 month, whichever comes first.

No two oboe reeds are exactly alike no matter what steps are taken to ensure they are as much the same as possible. Oboe reeds are made from cane (Arundo Donax) and since it is a living thing, the cane will vary greatly.

So what steps can you take to make sure your reeds are lasting as long as possible?

1. Never buy just one oboe reed.

  • If you are out of reeds and restocking, never buy just one reed. You can’t take the risk of having only one playable reed. Too many reeds have cracked or broken in some way before a lesson, performance, or rehearsal and not having a reed is the same as not having your instrument at all. Always be prepared!

2. Purchase at least 3 oboe reeds at a time.

  • Why? See number 1 and number 3.

3. Rotate the reeds.

  • It is really easy to play on the reed you love the most all of the time and ignore your other reeds. Don’t fall into this trap! It will wear out sooner if you only play on one reed. Save the best reed for your lessons, really important band rehearsals, solos or performances. If you rotate the reeds when you purchase three at a time, they break in evenly and last longer. Play reed “A” Monday, reed “B” Tuesday, reed “C” Wednesday, then back to reed “A” for Thursday. Continue the pattern.

4. Buy hand made reeds from a qualified supplier. (Like www.reedpros.com)

  • Mass produced reeds purchased from most music stores have inferior scraping techniques and a shrill tone quality at best. You’ll have a more mature sound and enjoy playing on hand made reeds.

5. When soaking your reeds up to play, use water in a cup instead of trying to soak them in your mouth.

  • Reeds soaked in your mouth don’t really feel as free blowing as reeds soaked in water. Also – saliva has digestive properties and degrades the reed as you play. Might as well keep the exposure to a minimum if possible.

6. Rinse your mouth with water (or brush your teeth) if you have just eaten before playing. 

  • Food “gunk” is no good for your reeds or your instrument!
  • Sugary drinks also contribute to the shortening of the reed’s lifetime.

7.  Don’t wear chapstick or lipstick while playing the reeds.

  • Both lip balm (Blistex, Carmex, Chapstick, lanolin, or any other moisturizing stuff for lips) and lip stick or lip gloss contain ingredients which clog the pores of the reed. Clogged pores leads to the reed not drying out or taking on water properly, which in turn means a shorter lifetime.

8. Avoid oversoaking the reeds.

  • If you have soaked up multiple reeds for the rehearsal or performance and decide on the reed you like be sure to put the others away. Leaving them soak for extended periods of time causes the fibers to lose their elasticity thus shortening the life of the reed.

Out of oboe reeds? Try hand made reeds by Reed Pros! Visit http://www.reedpros.com and read the descriptions to see which reed is right for you.

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