All You Want to Know About Different Types of Oboe Reeds

by Madonna

The oboe is a complex and expressive instrument, renowned for its distinctive sound. Central to this sound are the reeds, which play a crucial role in determining the instrument’s tone, response, and overall playability. Understanding the different types of oboe reeds and their characteristics is essential for oboists at all levels. This comprehensive guide explores handmade and machine-made reeds, the various strength levels, and tips for maximizing reed lifespan and care.

Types of Oboe Reeds

Oboe reeds can be broadly categorized into two types: handmade reeds and machine-made reeds. Each type has distinct advantages and is suitable for different situations and players.


1. Handmade Reeds

Handmade oboe reeds are meticulously crafted by skilled oboists or professional reed makers. These reeds are valued for their responsiveness, good tuning, and beautiful sound.


Craftsmanship: Handmade reeds are created through a labor-intensive process that involves selecting high-quality cane, shaping, gouging, profiling, and tying the cane to the staple. The final steps include scraping and fine-tuning the reed to achieve the desired sound and response.


Customization: One of the significant advantages of handmade reeds is their level of customization. Reed makers can adjust various parameters such as the thickness of the cane, the shape of the scrape, and the overall length to suit individual player preferences and requirements.

Performance: Because they are tailored to the player’s needs, handmade reeds offer superior tuning, flexibility, and tone quality. These reeds are often preferred by advanced players and professionals who require precise control over their sound.

2. Machine-Made Reeds

Machine-made oboe reeds are typically mass-produced and found in music stores. While they may lack the customization and finesse of handmade reeds, they offer a convenient and cost-effective option for beginners and casual players.

Production: Machine-made reeds are produced using automated processes that ensure consistency in dimensions and shape. This mass production helps lower the cost and makes these reeds widely available.

Availability: Machine-made reeds are easily accessible and can be purchased in bulk. They provide a practical solution for students and beginners who may need multiple reeds without a significant financial investment.

Quality: While generally not as refined as handmade reeds, machine-made reeds have improved in quality over the years. They offer a good starting point for novice oboists, providing a reasonably good sound and response for practice and initial learning.

Strength Levels

Oboe reeds come in various hardness levels, ranging from soft to hard. The appropriate reed strength depends on the player’s experience, embouchure development, and breath support.

1. Soft Reeds

Soft reeds are the most pliable and are generally recommended for beginners. They require less breath pressure to produce a sound, making them ideal for young players or those new to the oboe.

Advantages: Easy to play and produce sound, less demanding on breath support and embouchure strength, and suitable for developing initial playing techniques.

Disadvantages: May lack stability and consistency in pitch and tone compared to harder reeds, and can wear out more quickly due to their softer nature.

2. Medium Soft Reeds

Medium soft reeds offer a balance between ease of play and improved tonal quality. They are a good transitional option for players who have developed some basic skills and are ready to progress.

Advantages: Easier to control than soft reeds, better pitch stability, and more versatile for different playing styles.

Disadvantages: Slightly more demanding on breath support and embouchure strength, may still lack the projection and fullness of harder reeds.

3. Medium Reeds

Medium reeds are a popular choice among intermediate players. They provide a good balance of response, tone quality, and control.

Advantages: Good tonal quality and projection, suitable for a wide range of playing situations, and offer more resistance for developing breath support and embouchure strength.

Disadvantages: Require more developed playing techniques, and may be challenging for beginners.

4. Medium Hard Reeds

Medium hard reeds are suitable for advanced players who have developed strong breath support and embouchure control. These reeds provide excellent tonal quality and projection.

Advantages: Rich, full sound with excellent projection, more stable pitch and tone, and greater dynamic range.

Disadvantages: Require significant breath support and embouchure strength, may be too demanding for less experienced players.

5. Hard Reeds

Hard reeds are the stiffest and most resistant. They are typically used by professional oboists who need maximum control and projection in demanding performance settings.

Advantages: Superior tonal quality and stability, optimal for professional performance, and capable of producing a powerful, resonant sound.

Disadvantages: Very demanding on breath support and embouchure strength, and can be challenging to play for extended periods.

SEE ALSO: 3 Instruments Similar to the Oboe

Lifespan and Care

The lifespan of an oboe reed can vary significantly based on factors such as quality, usage, and care. Proper maintenance and handling are essential to extend the reed’s usability and performance.

1. Quality and Usage

Quality: Higher quality reeds, particularly handmade ones, tend to have a longer lifespan due to better materials and craftsmanship. Machine-made reeds, while convenient, may not last as long due to the less precise manufacturing process.

Usage: The more frequently a reed is played, the quicker it will wear out. Oboists should rotate between multiple reeds to avoid overusing any single reed, which can help prolong their overall lifespan.

2. Environmental Factors

Oboe reeds are highly sensitive to environmental conditions such as temperature, humidity, and wetness. Proper storage and handling can mitigate some of these effects.

Temperature and Humidity: Reeds should be stored in a stable environment, avoiding extreme temperatures and humidity levels. Sudden changes can cause the reed to crack or warp, affecting its performance.

Wetness and Dryness: Reeds should not be soaked for extended periods. A brief soak of 2-3 minutes in room temperature water is sufficient to prepare the reed for playing. Prolonged soaking can weaken the cane fibers and reduce the reed’s lifespan.

3. Care and Maintenance

Proper care and maintenance can significantly extend the life of an oboe reed. Here are some best practices:

Cleaning: After playing, reeds should be thoroughly dried and stored in a ventilated reed case to prevent mold growth and maintain their shape.

Storage: Use a reed case that allows air circulation to prevent the reeds from becoming too dry or retaining moisture. Cases with individual slots for each reed can help maintain their shape and prevent damage.

Rotation: Regularly rotate between multiple reeds to avoid overuse. This practice helps distribute wear and tear, allowing each reed to last longer.

Inspection and Adjustments: Periodically inspect reeds for signs of wear, such as cracks or fraying. Minor adjustments can be made to extend the reed’s usability, such as gently clipping the tip or adjusting the scrape.


Understanding the different types of oboe reeds, their strengths, and how to care for them is crucial for oboists at all levels. Handmade reeds offer unparalleled customization and performance, making them the preferred choice for advanced players and professionals. Machine-made reeds, on the other hand, provide a cost-effective and accessible option for beginners.

Choosing the appropriate reed strength is essential for developing proper playing techniques. Beginners should start with softer reeds to build their breath support and embouchure strength, gradually moving to harder reeds as they progress. Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned professional, understanding the nuances of oboe reeds can significantly enhance your playing experience and overall enjoyment of this beautiful instrument.


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