Helping you with your music

Single Reed Adjustment

10th August 2018

Balancing the Tip of the Reed
by Jerry Nowak

Jerry Nowak first visited Australia in 1985 when he was the guest for the Australian National Band and Orchestra Clinic held in Melbourne. He remained a frequent visitor to Australia for more than twenty years.

Jerry Nowak

Jerry was a composer/arranger with more than 700 compositions and arrangements to his credit. They were mainly for wind bands and jazz ensembles. He was also a college lecturer and continued to perform as a professional saxophonist until very late in his life.

In order for the reed to vibrate well and ‘speak’ with an immediate response, the tip of the reed must be the same thickness from edge to edge. Any variations in thickness will inhibit a quick response and it may be stuffy when sustaining.

Adjusting the Reed

The following procedure should be followed during the early stages of adjusting the reed to your preference:

  1. Thoroughly wet the reed.
  2. Fan (bend) the tip of the reed across your index finger feeling for inconsistencies in the thickness of the tip from the edge to about 0.4cms into the body of the reed.
  3. You should test from both sides of the reed (top to bottom). You will feel a ripple during the fanning (bending) if there is a thick or thin spot somewhere in the tip area, which there usually is with most reeds.
  4. If there is a thick spot, use your scraping knife to blend that small area into the thickness on either side of that area. Use very little pressure and take only a very small amount of cane off during any one scrape. See scraping technique below. If the area to be adjusted is on the corner you may need to use a reed rush instead of a knife.
  5. If there is a thin spot, the only thing that you can do is blend the rest of the tip to that thickness. This usually does not work out well because the tip may be too thin after the adjustment as it relates to the rest of the design of the reed.


Purchase the right or left-handed single reed-scraping knife according to your preference. Reverse the following procedure if left-handed.


  • Place the reed on a scraping surface like a small piece of plastic or glass that will fit in the palm of your left hand.
  • Place your left thumb on the reed with the edge of the thumb just below the nail and gently push the knife back against the thumb.
  • Place the knife at the area to be scraped
  • Use the leverage of your left thumb to move the knife forward in a scraping manner while the right hand exerts the vertical downward pressure on the reed.

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Mona Vale NSW 1660

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