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What’s that plastic stuff around the base of my reed?

Do your reeds come with a bit of plastic around the thread and base of the reed? If so, please leave that plastic on the reed, it’s important! As I’ll discuss below, that tiny piece of plastic may be an important part of making sound.

What is that plastic stuff on my reed? 

Many low-cost or introductory level oboe reeds come with a bit of plastic around them, like the Forrest Green Label reed in the picture. This is usually plastic wrap (yes, like you’d use on food!) or plumber’s tape. Plumber’s tape is made of teflon and doesn’t have any adhesive - it sticks to the reed or itself through static charge, so it won’t damage the reed and is inexpensively available ($1-2 per roll) at your local hardware store. 

Sometimes when reedmakers tie reeds, we don’t get things lined up precisely. That can result in the reeds leaking a little bit, but with a little bit of plastic to seal it up a reed can play well despite having a tiny leak. 

In the case of the Forrest Green Label reed (a favorite type among less experienced players in my studio) the plastic isn’t always needed to help the reed seal. I’ve seen plenty of unwrapped Green Label reeds that play just fine and don’t leak. So I think some reedmakers use plastic wrap as a precautionary measure. 

What if I took the plastic off? 

I typically recommend leaving any kind of plastic wrap on the reed if it came from the manufacturer that way. I think we have to trust the reedmaker to know whether that reed needs help sealing or not, even in the case of Green Label reeds where they seal most of the time on their own.

If you’ve taken the plastic off the reed, it’s super simple to re-wrap the reed to keep it sealed. You’ll need a roll of plumber’s tape and scissors. Cut a strip of plumber’s tape 1.5-2 inches long and carefully wrap it around the reed. Start with the tape overlapping 1-2 mm of the reed and the rest over the thread, then carefully wrap it around the thread so it descends to cover most of the thread. 

The plumber’s tape will stick to itself, so you may find it awkward to use at first, but with patience you’ll have a nicely sealed reed to use!


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