The Dreaded Reed Slump

We’ve all been through it. Your reed making is going just fine for weeks, even months, and then one day, it’s all gone. It seems like everything is going wrong – the reeds won’t vibrate, they’ll be out of tune, they will chirp or not respond at all. It’s maddening.

I make a whole lot of reeds, and yes, I recently went through a horrifying reed slump. For me, the reeds all came out hard and flat. I would keep scraping, clipping, and repeating until I ended up with no cane left, and then I’d be super frustrated.

So, how do we deal with it?

First, I always have to remember there is no time machine – I don’t just suddenly revert back to 10 years ago, and neither do you. We don’t lose our abilities overnight.

Next, we have to commit ourselves to getting out of the reed rut. If it takes me 15 reeds to get my mojo back, I would much rather make those reeds all in one day than spread them out with a reed-a-day habit and not have a good reed for 2 weeks. So, commit to making as many reeds as it takes to get back on track.

Now comes the hard part. We have to figure out what the problem is. With as many variables as are in reed making, this can seem like an endless process. Do your best to remember the last time you felt like you had the Midas touch, that every reed was pure gold. Then bust out your measuring devices and ask yourself a million questions.

Is the tip thin enough? Is the spine a usable thickness? Are the channels proportional? Is the tip adequately defined?

Are the reeds symmetrical left to right? Are the reeds identical front to back?

Have I been gouging the cane correctly? Have I been shaping the cane accurately? Is the cane too soft, or too hard? Did I tie too tightly or too loosely?

Is my knife sharp enough? Am I using too much pressure with the knife? Am I using smooth scrapes, or am I making rough patches?

Then comes my most common problem – am I thinking too much?

Have you ever tried to tell yourself how to walk up a flight of stairs? Too much direction in our thinking can easily make a process far too complex to execute. Sometimes for me (as was the case in my latest reed rut), I just need to turn off the part of my brain that breaks everything down into small steps, and look at the bigger picture to simply make a reed.

What kind of reed ruts have you gone through? What helps you get back to normal?