Reed Health

It is prudent to remember, before even opening up an instrument, that the person who last gave attention to it was most likely an experienced person. Any disturbance/dismantling, without appreciating the changes being made, could be damaging. It is felt that minimal disturbance should be aimed at and that the ability to diagnose the fault and rectify it with minimal disturbance makes the difference between an expert and an amateur.

Because a number of reed faults could cause it to be out of tune it is very easy to miss these and try to rectify the fault by drastic surgery. Without having first given attention to these other possible faults any alteration made (by filing etc.) is liable to be a waste of time and could be destructive. Possible faults might come under the following headings:

  1. Reed block fitting/security. (Discussed in Section ‘ReedFixings’)
  2. Valve/leather condition. (Discussed in Section ‘ReedValves’)
  3. Reed shape/tip height. (Discussed in section ‘ReedShaping’)
  4. Reed tongue alignment within its slot
  5. Cleanliness/corrosion
  6. Reed block security, register slides.

Reed Tongue Alignment
Misalignment of the reed within its slot is not uncommon and appears to be the cause of several mal-functions. The alignment can be seen by holding the reed up to a light.

Possible faults arising include the reed not playing at all, playing but being muted, a sluggish attack/slow response and altered tonal qualities. Correction can be made by gently levering the reed in the required direction. After satisfactory adjustment the reed tongue rivet can be given a few light hammer taps to assist in its security.


The conditions in which the instrument has been used will determine the amount of dust/debris accumulation on the reeds. Due to the air flow being from the outside to the inside of a reed the dirt deposits tend to be on its inner surface where a partial vacuum is formed. The dirt is easily removed with light release oil type fluids and individual reeds (with valve in place) can be given attention with cotton wool swabs. For cleaning a full set of reeds the use of an industrial/laboratory type ultra-sonic cleaning bath would seem useful.
Reed corrosion can be removed by brushing or with emery cloth. A brass bristled brush is suitable (it is harder than the corrosion but softer than the reed steel). After removal an application of the release oil fluid on the raw metal seems sensible. Many players have a moisture absorber, such as silica-gel, in their instrument case to combat the build-up of moisture which can be considerable especially when a ‘cold’ instrument is taken into a warm, humid room.

Reed Block Security/Register Slides

The reed block fittings should be checked. They should be secure but not overtight. The fitting of the reed blocks to the base-plate may be likened to an engine cylinder head in some aspects; ie. they are not overtightened and are evenly torqued. The register slides, usually fitted in the reed block base or reed block base plate, should be seen to be fully operational. i.e. capable of being fully opened or closed.