The gouge, and different ways to skin a cat.

August 5, 2009

I gave up arguing on the BBoard because frankly speaking, how can you argue about gouging machines with someone who doesn’t know how to manipulate gouging machines and hasn’t ground a gouging blade before? And while any reedmaker can form an opinion on whether they like a gouge or not, not every reed maker can form an opinion on what a gouge can and can not do.

It’s true there are many different gouges out there, and they fit to one person’s scraping technique or another. By taking more off in some places and less in others, its desirable to find a gouge that allows you to take the least amount of cane off but still produce a vibrant sound and healthy response. Taking off less cane allows the cane to stay closer to it’s natural position, thus giving it more strength in the opening and stability. Not to mention it saves time and helps with consistency.

The gouge is the internal bore of the reed, which is an extension of the internal bore of the oboe. By saying that any reedmaker “with superior knife technique” can get the same sound and feel from any gouge just by adjusting your scraping, is like saying you can get the same feel/sound from any oboe. As everyone knows, this is just not so. For example, my body/embouchure/air might adjust to produce the same or similar sound from a Selmer as it does Howarth as it does a Loree, but the feel will never be the same, no matter how good you scrape the reed.

Different gouge curves tend to allow the reed to vibrate in different ways. Some gouge curves, usually the single radius gouge curves with thicker sides, vibrate from the inside out. What this means is that they encourage the reed to vibrate the most in the center of the reed and even down the spine. Its been a long time since I worked on one, (7 years ago?) but the Ross gouge seemed to do this. Other gouge curves encourage the reed to vibrate from the outside in. These are usually the double radius gouge curves which have the internal spine built into them, which gives them more stability from the inside and allows the sides to be set at a thinner setting. Because the sides are thinner, the reed tends to want to begin vibrating from the outside and pull toward the internal spine.

Another way a gouge varies is some blade curves that are more oval produce a less vibrant (sometimes more covered?) sound, and you have try to figure out where to scrape in order to draw out more vibrations. Other gouge curves already want to produce more vibrations (more circular) and therefore as a reedmaker you have to try to figure out where to scrape to leave as much cane there in order to keep it from vibrating too much.

I’ve worked enough with different gouging machines and enough blade curves to know what/how I scrape reeds, and admittedly it’s slightly different from David’s technique, although it does follow the same procedure. In my reedmaking orders, I’ve found that more people have required bigger openings than what I originally sent out. I also found that my professors at University required a somewhat thicker, “woodier” sound than what I was producing, so

  • I begin with my gouge set to have a more open throat area, and produce a lot of vibrations.
  • I usually scrape the tip into a “fine French scrape slope” as Mr. Weber calls it, and scrape the heart so that it vibrates with the tip.
  • Then I crow and clip the tip until I get all of the rattle out of it, and I begin to get octaves. Once the octaves are true, I know the tone is close to being there without needing biting or extreme embouchure manipulation.
  • In order to refine the octaves, I go back to the tip, and define it, making the integration line clearer, plateauing different terraces or layers into my tip. I really refine the tip to 90% at this point. (notice, I haven’t touched the windows).
  • I crow again to make sure the heart is vibrating enough to give me back my true octave crow. I’ll clip if necessary.
  • I go back into the windows and make three different terraces. Depending on the thickness, it usually takes a total of 10-20 scrapes per terrace, going from the a couple millimeters from the bottom of the cane, clear up to the heart, and then start the second terrace up a few millimeters and ending a few millimeters below the previous one, and do a third terrace in the same way.
  • One mistake I was making that Mr. Weber corrected me a few weeks ago was that I was keeping my knife angle too parallel to the floor (assuming the reed is also parallel to the floor). Mr. Weber suggested I use my knife at more of a 30 to 40 degree angle (if you’re looking straight down the stable and imagining the reed axis is at 0 degrees) Once I began doing this, my scrape left more cane around the spine, and gave better stability and support.
  • Usually, this recipe leaves me with a very vibrant reed. Usually too vibrant. Which forces me to go back and mellow the reed, which I have certain spots on the reed that I scrape away in order to do so. Usually these involve certain sections in the tip and rails.

I describe this process not to say that it’s the right way or the only way, but just a way that has worked for me. Mr. Weber has his own system that produces some of the finest results I’ve ever seen, and it fits his setup perfectly. I truly do believe that depending on a person’s oboe, air support, embouchure, teeth structure, knife technique and staples, different gouge curves, shapes, and everything else under the sun might produce superior results for them.

I will say though that I have never heard someone say they felt better or sounded better playing a Selmer than a Loree, and likewise not all gouge curves are alike.

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