Jump to content

Woodwind Materials

Recommended Posts

Hi everybody,

Many woodwind instruments use a single or double reed made of cane (through plastic catches up). They cost some money, double reeds also take much effort, and with luck a reed lasts for two weeks.

I've a strong intuition that the 107 cycles of strong bending weaken the cane. But some people claim that soaking for 2-3 minutes before playing lets double reeds lose some fluids over time and this alters the mechanical properties.

Following that explanation, I propose to keep double reeds longer by soaking them in some mixture or solution that contains the fluids that would be lost. The concentration shall reduce, compensate or reverse the loss of the fluids.

One could try to analyze used soaking water and seek an equilibrium concentration of the several fluids for the magic bath. Or more simply, soak a load of unprocessed cane (waste) for an hour in water, and concentrate the juice until reeds don't lose anything more.

The best commercial form would be granules or concentrated drops that the musician puts in the water before soaking the reed. This might avoid bacterial growth. Perhaps some disinfectant like silver would help. The taste matters.

The budget for double reeds is like 200€/year, and musicians would spare efforts and keep their best reeds longer. If some effect is observed on single reeds, more musicians are interested. A handful of small companies live from reed making.

Marc Schaefer, aka Enthalpy

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 weeks later...
  • Replies 61
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

The company Vibrato markets plastic saxophones, with walls of moderately thin polycarbonate, and even pads of elastomer. Here it there
IruxMK3p_jY Plastic vs metal
vTZzFIt2raw at t=58 Plastic
G5ev6izRxpM Both

The difference is huge. Thin polycarbonate makes a muffled tone and sounds just like plastic. Exactly like a plastic trumpet does, or the clarinet of thin injected plastic I tried years ago. The records can't tell how much the covers and pads contribute.

At the oboe with thick walls and normal covers and pads, polycarbonate didn't behave that poorly as compared with Dalbergia.

Some physicists still claim the material has no influence, essentially because they can't explain it, and because an influential ancestor botched that. Flawed reasoning.

Marc Schaefer, aka Enthalpy

Edited by Enthalpy
Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 1 month later...

I reported palm oil here on January 31
and someone reported success with bag balm on corks
so I tried. The composition varies a lot, I chose the weakest smell at the drugstore, this one contains petroleum (from mineral oil), paraffin (again from mineral oil), and in third position vegetable oils, plus minor things that don't lubricate.

  • Very efficient lubricant too.
  • The consistency makes spreading easier that the solid palm grease.
  • The weak smell is too much for me, so I go back to palm oil. Individual choice of course.

To understand why the oil must be replenished, I impregnated paper with palm oil 2.5 months ago. Despite ~57 C+O atoms per molecule, the paper has significantly dried now. I believe this is evaporation, because palm oil isn't sensitive to oxidation, and the paper feels grainy and looks more opaque again. However, evaporation is too slow to require new oil on the corks after a week. Meanwhile I must clean away oil from around the corks, so it's just swept away by repeated assembly and disassembly.

Edited by Enthalpy
Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 4 months later...

Bassoon balancer v3. The string coming from the boot joint is redirected by a loop that now has its ends parallel to the body, while the ring perpendicular to the body passes straight over the loop. This v3 is much easier to build and to adjust.


Still adhesive tape, about 3 plies. At the loop, two foldings give 90° each, and an added short tape part neutralizes the sticking side.

V3 too provides perfect roll balance and leaves some weight on the left hand, since an attempt with perfect pitch balance was unplayable.

The adhesive tape always separates from the concave portion of the tenor joint, so instead of sticking it there, this time I gave it roughly the loose length left by the spacing to the bass joint.


Marc Schaefer, aka Enthalpy

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 1 month later...

4c definitive version of my bassoon balancer. Easiest to build and adjust. Time will tell if it's the most durable.



4 plies of adhesive tape parallel to the tenor joint hold a ring. I superimposed the 4 plies first, holding the first ply between a desk's edge and my fingers. The tape needs some length to hold on itself near the ring. Several turns of a second tape around the joint holds the first tape against the joint as previously.

Duct tape (Gewebeband, toile adhésive) crept and began to tear at the edges. Surgical tape (Pflaster, sparadrap) crept, and the European tan looks silly on African wood too. Plain office adhesive tape is best up to now.

Duct tape and surgical tape crept at a D-shaped ring until holding at a corner, so a round ring is less bad.

Do use the shoelace that holds at the boot! It saved my instrument a dozen times.

Marc Schaefer, aka Enthalpy

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 weeks later...

I have used a dozen times isopropanol to clean one bassoon reed and to disinfect it from bacteriae and virus.

This reed is very old and it becomes dull and unresponsive when a biofilm develops inside. Isopropanol eases much the mechanical removal of this biofilm (some bassoonists use a pipe scraper), often no mechanical action is needed. I give some drops in the reed at the bocal end over my usual plastic soaking box, then I soak and shake the reed for about 1min in the flown isopropanol.

The cleaned reed becomes responsive again. Could the biofilm be the cause of reed ageing?

Isopropanol, or isopropyl alcohol, is what gives hospitals their odour. It must be concentrated >70% but not pure. Its deadly dose is half that of usual alcohol, so rinse the reed. Concentrated usual alcohol (ethanol, ethyl alcohol) should work identically; I'd stay away from methylated spirits, whose denatonium tastes so badly. I haven't tried vodka &co, normally it's 40% ethanol so its antiseptic action isn't guaranteed.

My bassoon reeds are covered with wax to be airtight. Perhaps the more usual varnish dissolves in isopropanol and ethanol.

Marc Schaefer, aka Enthalpy

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 weeks later...

The 4d version of my bassoon balancer has arrived! The triangular ring shall spare the adhesive tape. The tape hasn't crept to the side after 90min practice. I found only thick big rings.

The adhesive tape showed no wear nor tear after two weeks at the round ring, but I wanted to move the ring sidewise anyway.



Marc Schaefer, aka Enthalpy

Link to post
Share on other sites

To scrape a bassoon reed, a plaque inserted in the thin cane supports it and makes it convex. My plaque is made of bone.


The material offers the proper hardness to be filed or sanded at decent pace and resist accidents when scraping the reed. This seems better than the usual plastic or metal.

Sand paper doesn't let bone dust stink like machine tools do.

My raw material was already a commercial part, so I can't tell what bone of what animal it was. Ask the butcher.

Marc Schaefer, aka Enthalpy

Link to post
Share on other sites

I eventually checked what encompass the LCP polymers I suggested for instrument parts.

LCP (liquid crystal polymer) is a very broad class of polymers that includes varied chemical families and properties, some adequate here, others not. Instrument parts need thick raw material, not just fibres, and they need stiffness, possibly after stretching. Some of the thermoplastic LCP can be injected, say for brass and single-reed mouthpieces, but luthiers use to shape parts by turning and milling rods up to now.

Vectra, from Ticona-Hoechst-Celanese-Kururay-andsoforth, is just one seducing LCP. Vectran is the name as a fibre. A950 is one unloaded Vectra.
tools.celanese filter LCP and Vectra
There are dozens LCP more, some fit the present use, others like aramides exist only as fibre. One list of LCP there
Many exist only with fibre load, which uses to blunt the chipping tools, so I guess stretching the pure polymer for stiffness is better.

Stretching in one direction, say L, expectedly loses stiffness along R and T. So what anisotropy is acceptable? Take a body joint with ID=14mm OD=24mm L=300mm and arbitrary E=10GPa rho=1300kg/m3. The elliptic deformation resonates at 28kHz and bending at 0.76kHz, so EL*37 and (does it?) ET/37 would bring both to pleasant 4.6kHz. Though, A950 fibers near "only" 100GPa, so the cold or lukewarm stretch can be strong if not embrittling along R and T. Work-hardening must also ease the subsequent chip machining, up to some hardness limit.

I got vague hints to the price of Vectra A950 pellets
10-25usd/kg Alibaba
55usd/kg Alibaba
while a fabric is logically more expensive
100€/kg fibermaxcomposites
Hoechst-andsoforth can extrude pellets to bars.

But how expensive is grenadilla Dalbergia melanoxylon? Openly available data is even less accurate: supposedly for lesser quality but for tiny customers
60usd/kg rarewoodsusa

So cornettos, tárogatók and all woodwinds except the lower saxophones can afford equally Dalbergia or Vectra. But there are more elements of comparison

  • Dalbergias cross borders uneasily and get rare, big parts more so.
  • Most LCP are insensitive to moisture, wow.
  • Temperature does little to LCP, not even expand it.
  • Dalbergia needs decade(s) drying in near-net shape at the luthier.
  • Polymers let try new instrument shapes immediately.
  • Some polymers are stiffer than Dalbergia.

Marc Schaefer, aka Enthalpy

Link to post
Share on other sites

Bassoon players, and oboe players supposedly too, use a reed reamer to fit the bore on the end of the conical bocal.

My bocal's end diverges by 1:50 or 1.15°. Reamers sold for that purpose (with a handle on the photo) diverge much more strongly, to fit varied bocal diameters I guess. Consequently, the reed fits only the bocal's tip and is wobbly.

I bought for 22€ a used conical reamer for mechanical workshops. 1:50 is a standard, but 1.5° did the job: the difference is 50µm over 8mm fitting length, which the cane absorbs. The reed doesn't wobble any more. A handle isn't mandatory, but mind your fingers with a new reamer.


My bocals are D=5.20, 5.30 and 5.50mm wide at the tip. The reamer starts with D=5.50mm, its nominal diameter, not 0.2 or 0.3mm narrower as sources claim. The narrower bocals perceptibly hit the bore's end and roll more easily in the reed, so I may try a D=5.00mm reamer. At 1:50 diameter slope, a 0.3mm narrower reamer plunges 15mm deeper in the reed's throat, which must change the sound a lot.

One could also have one reamer per bocal, possibly grinded to the desired diameter, but one reed wouldn't fit all bocals. Or better, all bocals could bear extra thickness at the end, machined to a cone with bigger standard slope and diameter. I have one such bocal.

Marc Schaefer, aka Enthalpy

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Create New...

Important Information

We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.