Monday, June 30, 2014

Légère Synthetic Bassoon Reed



On May 22, 2014 I began trialing a Legere synthetic bassoon reed - a reed I have long been interested in. 

I was originally piqued when I discovered youtube videos of the bassoonist with WindSync wind quintet using a Legere reed.  Like many, I assumed the Legere reed would be like the plastic Fox bassoon reeds we all have likely experienced at one time or another - hard, inflexible, unresponsive, and totally without color or finesse. 

I was further piqued when Paul Hanson traveled through Montana to give a few performances (which I was unable to attend) and was informed by colleagues that he was using Legere reeds exclusively. 

http://youtu.be/7s2eF_yaNpM

Checking out his youtube videos, I was impressed with the obvious facility of the reeds.  To that end, myself and five of my Montana bassoon colleagues decided to jump in and give them a try.  Justin Miller was gracious enough to give us a discount since we bought them as a group. 

We had to wait several weeks for the reeds because Legere was making adjustments to the machining.  Justin Miller traveled to Legere to observe the result of those changes and I believe we received some of the first batch with the improvements.  It was very exciting to receive the reed and though it came with instructions for adjustment and maintenance, I popped it on my bocal and played after merely perusing the included reading material.


I was immediately impressed with the tone color and response.  Very dark, lovely sound with easy response throughout all registers.  Most impressive was the strength and stability of the top octave which clearly benefits from the structural strength of the reed.  I played for several minutes in awe of how much better it was than I expected.

What I began to realize though was that the aperture was much more closed than I am accustomed to playing on.  The more I played, the more I realized that with the smaller tip opening, I couldn't play as loud as I wanted to or dig into my bottom octave.  The pitch was on the high side and I was unable to bring it down. 


Though I was immediately impressed, I realized that there were some severe limitations.  I returned to the reading material that was included and attempted to make adjustments to the tip as the directions instructed.  However, the adjustments I made simply did not last.  In addition, the caution against damaging the reed by breaking the sealed sides made me very nervous and conservative with my attempted adjustments. 

With each practice session, I tried the reed and was always initially impressed with various aspects.  The ability to play softly with ease of response.  Not quite as soft (ppp) as my cane reeds but soft enough to enjoy the comparatively little effort it took to illicit soft response.  I also found the whole range of the instrument to be very consistent on the Legere.  Though the pitch was sharp, the pitch was consistent throughout.  The tone was also consistent.  Open F, loud C-#, low F#/A-flat, tenor D - all notes that tend to be unstable on my instrument especially on less than totally perfect reeds - were stable and responded in all dynamic ranges and attacks.  Additionally, though the reed tip was sharp at first, I was able to double tongue easily once I adjusted to the feel of the tip.

I found myself wanting to play the reed because it was very stable and didn't require me to fiddle around - I could just start playing.  The ultimate test for me was running through Bach Cello Suites 1 - 5 and the response, down slurs, and tone were really quite wonderful. 

A few weeks in, one of my colleagues emailed to see how I felt about the reed.  I shared that the aperture was too closed preventing the reed from being free-blowing and made it sharp in pitch.  I told him I wasn't able to make meaningful adjustments to the tip.  He enlightened me to better adjustments:

Regarding a more open aperture, the web site mentions to heat the water to 194 degrees, place the reed in the water for 30 seconds, remove with tweezers, gently insert a plaque and place in cold water for one minute.

I immediately gave it a try but for some reason I misread plaque and instead inserted a forming mandrel into the tube and THEN placed it in the hot water followed by ice water.  The whole reed opened up and was much more vibrant.  It lowered the pitch and was even on the flat side.  It was an improvement in some aspects but it had made the reed "thuddy".  It forced me to "muscle" the reed and caused my jaw to tire very quickly.  However, I could see even greater potential knowing that the reed could withstand adjustments that would last.

A few days later when the reed started to close down a bit more, I attempted the adjustment again.  This time placing a plaque in the tip, into the hot water and then into the ice water. 

THIS WAS THE PERFECT ADJUSTMENT!

Immediately, the read was fully vibrant, right on pitch, capable of full dynamic range - exactly what I wanted.

Though I had already traveled with the reed to Baltimore (sea-level) and Salt Lake City (4,500 feet) I had not had the tip adjusted correctly.  In traveling, I was able to ascertain that the reed is, from what I could discern, completely unaffected by changes in temperature, humidity, and elevation.  This was exciting because in the past season I have performed from sea-level to 4,500 feet and have had to change/ruin a lot of reeds based on my locale at the moment. 

After the highly successful tip-plaque adjustment, I was contracted to perform rehearsals and concerts in Kalispell (2,500 feet) with temperatures between 55'-65' degrees and lots of humidity and rain compared to 3,500 feet and mostly dry here in Great Falls.  I was a little uncertain upon arriving at my first rehearsal but I figured that since it was a Pops Concert and I wasn't in my home orchestra, it was worth the risk.  The first rehearsal went well.  Before the concert the next evening I made the tip-plaque adjustment one more time and was impressed that it improved the reed even more, making it more free-blowing and vibrant. 

An outdoor Pops Concert was the ultimate use for it.  The weather was cold and though our conductor kept talking at length between pieces, I didn't have to worry about the reed drying out, becoming too hard, or going flat with the temperature.  Furthermore, I wasn't ruining a great cane reed on a fluff concert.

The next morning, my hosts asked me to play bassoon for them. I put my bassoon together, pulled out the Legere and without any warm-up or reed soaking I played the Mozart Bassoon Concerto with total ease musically, dynamically, and technically.  I was stunned!  I played the Legere that evening for another outdoor concert and was furthermore impressed as the reed seemed to be even slightly better.  During intermission, I soaked and tried my cane reeds which I discovered were mushy and weak.  At that moment I was SO RELIEVED to have the Legere reed as I realized I would have been miserable playing on my cane reeds in those conditions. 

When I returned home the next day to 3,500 feet, 70' degree weather I pulled the Legere out for a practice session and was completely pleased.  I jumped right into practicing without fiddling with reeds to return them to adjustments befitting my home elevation and climate. 


I am very excited about the Legere reed!  I purchased a medium strength reed.  Though I still have not achieved a complete ppp dynamic worthy of a second bassoon audition (see previous blog posts), I feel very pleased with the dynamic range it offers.  The tone color in all octaves is desirable: focused, projecting, consistent.  I am now able to punch out my bottom octave in a ff dynamic.  I love the projection of the top and mid-range.  It's very easy to push the reed without it becoming harsh or too reed-y.  It has sizzle but not an offensive buzz.  I am still experiencing some muscle fatigue in my jaw after about 2 hours of consistent playing but I think I might be able to eradicate that simply over time as I become conditioned with it or perhaps trying the soft hardness that Legere also makes the reeds in. 

I will keep using it through the summer and I'm looking forward to taking it into both a symphony and Chinook Winds rehearsal in September.  I anticipate a very positive response from my colleagues.

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For a bassoonist who has played professionally in the Intermountain West since 2009, I have come to know the frustration of constantly changing elevations and climate with the accompanying inconvenience of constantly changing reeds.  Especially since the greatest single obstacle I have had to face and overcome with auditions is that EVERY audition I have taken has required me to anticipate huge changes in my reeds.  It has been my dream to change elevation by thousands of feet and not worry about making reeds from scratch in 24 hours. 

Though I have always felt very confident in my reed making skills, it is very frustrating to walk into auditions worrying about sagging E's and C-sharps that were perfect the day before at a higher elevation.  If I can continue to find success with the Legere, it will become my highest recommendation for traveling bassoonists who don't want to make reeds at every elevation.

Furthermore, how exciting to imagine a practice session wherein 20-50% of my time is NOT spent on reeds.  How exciting to imagine NOT having to frantically soak cane and form tubes in between out of town trips.  Finally, how exciting to imagine simply NOT spending money on cane that may or may not turn into the reed you need when you need it.

This year, I started the incredible journey of homeschooling my son.  On top of rehearsals, practice, private teaching, concerts, touring, and life, homeschooling has made my schedule so tight that I am constantly in a battle to triage each activity based on what ABOSLUTELY has to get done vs. what can wait.  The potential of eliminating reed making would be an obvious boon to my schedule.  So, am I *hoping* these reeds will work?  YES!  Is that causing me to paint an overly optimistic picture of the capabilities of these reeds?  NO! 

Try for yourself!

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I was hoping to post videos for this review but in between work trips and a month long vacation, laundry, packing, grocery shopping, teaching and practicing all in ONE DAY took precedence over recording excerpts for yotube.  However, I WILL add some in the future as I continue to track my experience with Leger reeds.

15 comments:

  1. Very useful info, Elizabeth, as I'm considering purchasing a Legere bassoon reed. Thank you!

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    1. Glad I could help! Legere recently when through some manufacturing changes with the bassoon reed. If you have purchased a reed recently or will be purchasing, once it arrives, be sure the sides are sealed to the tip. I received one with sides unsealed and it was a disaster. Fortunately, Legere was happy to replace it and is no longer making the reeds in that manner.

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  2. Hi Elizabeth, I recently did the hot water/cold water adjustment on my Legere reed as it was sitting sharp and had no power in the bottom register. Now I can play very loudly, but the tone has been compromised somewhat. The reed used to produce a reasonably warm sound but now it is far too bright! Do you have any suggestions as to how I could change it? Thanks!

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    1. Hi Kate! Did you adjust the tip using a plaque or the tube using a mandrel? In either case, your best bet is simply to play on it for a while and the reed should settle in. The first time I did a plaque adjustment at the tip, I had the same experience - the reed become really loud and thud-y. I suggest in the future to do a mandrel adjustment before doing a plaque adjustment. Best wishes!

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  3. hi elizabeth! thanks a lot for all this, and your youtube video about tip adjustment is great! i've experimented with the legere reeds off and on for a few years now -- the most recent ones (last 6 months or so) seem much better, but i'm still bugged by the too-closed-tip problem. i'll go experimenting now!... :)

    one thing i'm wondering: have the sides ever separated on your reeds? i have one now that i've only played on two shows, but when i put in a mandrel or plaque, i see that the sides are not glued. don't know if this is how it was when purchased. do you ever re-glue sides? are they always attached, when the reed is new?

    thanks... i'll report back!

    by the way.... i've been checking out the recent videos, when you're on leger reeds; your sound is great, and the low register has the open-ness and punch that i'm missing in the reeds as they ship!

    cheers!
    .pltk.
    (peter lutek)

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    1. Hi Peter! I purchased another Legere this past fall and it arrived with the sides unsealed. It was awful. I worked with it for 6 weeks and finally contacted Legere about it. They no longer manufacture the reeds with the sides unsealed. They even replaced mine at no charge - well, I had to ship the one I had back to them in Canada. If you have a reed that arrived with the sides unsealed, contact them and ask them to replace it. I found that the reed with unsealed sides was absolutely lifeless and would NOT hold any adjusting.

      I'm glad you are enjoying the videos. I have been holding off on a Legere update on here because The Chinook Winds have a PBS show episode premiering On January 28, on which I play the Legere exclusively. Once that airs, I will share the video and do another detailed review.

      Best wishes!

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    2. alrighty!

      i've already done a little scraping, as well as a bunch of reaming to fit my freak chopped-off bocals, with this reed, so i'm gonna stick it out and see how it goes. i did the throat-opening followed by the tip opening, and that combination does seem pretty killer (at least just crowing the reed at home... my horn's at the theatre, so we'll see tonight!).

      i've got a couple more on order, though... we'll see if those are sealed or not!

      thanks for the chat... cheers! :)

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  5. ok... note from the orchestra pit: WOW!

    cool... cheers, and thanks!
    .pltk.

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  6. Thank you for such a useful post! So glad because I'm thinking of getting one. Just wondering, do you think the legere Reed will change in more tropical countries? Back in where I live it's hot humid all year round, and that poses a problem for normal cane reeds.
    Thanks!

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    1. I really think the Legere reeds are impervious to pretty much everything.

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  7. can you pinch the top of the tubing to open the tip? thanks Mark

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    1. No, the tube does not affect the tip opening like a cane reed.

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  8. After reading so many nice things about the Legere bassoon reed, I purchased a "medium". I just received the reed today, and spent about two hours playing on it. Unlike the image, the metal cylinder at the base of my reed looks like stainless steel, not brass. The first thing that struck me is that the reed does not "crow" like a good cane reed. Then, I found it plays like a reed that doesn't crow right: Fork Eb is very unstable and sharp. All notes below low E don't speak well and it's hard to get much volume. Low D is sharp and totally breaks up when pushed to a forte level. High C does not speak easily, and high E will not play. The middle A tends to crack a lot and is difficult to slur up to (I am not a "flicker"). The reed exhibits more resistance than I like in a reed, but it is not excessive. Finally, the reed accumulates moisture quickly and sounds hissy or spitty after just a couple minutes but that could just be me and a result of trying to compensate for its problems. In short, it behaves like a cane reed that is poorly adjusted, too thick at the tip and heart of the reed. On the plus side, the tone is not particularly bright, but it also is not very resonant. I would describe the tone quality as thin and this is particularly evident in the octave above open F. Intonation is best in the heart of the range, but the lowest notes tend to be sharp while the highest octave tends to be flat unless I do a lot of pinching which destroys the tone quality. Overall, I'm disappointed and wondering if I got a dud or maybe an earlier version (I purchased from "Musicians Friend" because Miller Marketing was out of stock.)

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  9. This is a follow-up to my last post. I contacted Legere via email about my reed problems and they suggested that I send it to them for evaluation and provided detailed shipping instructions. (I was very pleased with the customer service.) A bit over a week after I shipped the reed, I received a follow-up email with their findings. The problem was a crack in one of the blades. I had seen a fine line in one blade, but did not know or even suspect it was a crack. So, they sent me a new reed which arrived two days ago.
    Of course, I could not wait to try it although I had only a few minutes at the time. I played a few scales and did some “testing” of problem notes, and came away feeling that the reed was definitely better than the cracked one but I still was not very impressed.
    The following day, I settled into a normal practice session with the new reed. And after about 90 minutes of playing, my impression of the reed improved. I checked all notes from the low Bb up through three octaves, and then up another minor 5th to high E. Intonation was pretty good (except for low D). Tone quality was very nice. The fork Eb was stable and in tune, the G just above the break was nicely in tune, response was good.
    But there were some not so good things. The reed accumulates moisture very quickly causing a sizzling sound and requiring that moisture be blown out every couple of minutes. I find that very annoying and it’s not something I experience with cane reeds. And, as with the previous reed, low D was very sharp and would not allow for a dynamic level above mF no matter how loose an embouchure I used. Trying to get the volume up caused the note to squawk. To a lesser extent, the adjoining C# and D# were also a bit of a problem. Finally, I found it was just not possible to get a big sound over most of the range. It felt like the tip opening was just too small.
    According to Legere, the tip opening is supposed to be in the range of 1.2 – 1.4 mm. When I looked at it, the opening seemed less than that. So, I put the reed on a mandrel, secured the mandrel in my little bench vise, and examined it under magnification with my digital calipers. Sure enough, the opening was slightly less than 1.0 mm. I don’t think it had closed during my playing because I really did not notice much change during my practice session, at least not after the first few minutes.
    Then disaster struck. I reached for something on my reed bench and I accidentally (but lightly) brushed my shirt sleeve over a corner of the reed. I knew immediately from the sound that I had a problem. Back under magnification, I could see five little cracks near the corner of the reed – three in one blade, two in the other! And now the reed is pretty much ruined - it plays like the cracked reed I sent to Legere.
    I don’t know that I am going to buy another one. Maybe. I would have liked to play on this one for a week or so to get really familiar with it, maybe make some adjustments. But at the price, I don’t think it would be worth another try. I may do some experimenting with this damaged reed; maybe I’ll change my mind.

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