3D-Printed Reeds?

I am so excited! We are saving the world with bassoon reeds. Two other UT students and I won a Rainwater Grant to produce affordable synthetic reeds for beginning bassoonists. Lots of information to share here, but I guess I will start with the title of the project:

Creating Opportunity with Synthetic Bassoon Reeds.

by Zoelle Wong, Lizette Wong, and Brigit Fitzgerald

Doesn’t that fancy title look nice? Through faculty connections and an amazing mentor, I met Lizette and Zoelle Wong. Together, we are working to increase access to an instrument that is infamous for financial barriers. Here is a breakdown of the monthly cost for a beginning bassoonist:

  • $60-80 instrument rental
  • $45×4 weekly lesson
  • $25 handmade reed

And this doesn’t include sheet music or instrument maintenance materials! This is a an approximation of the various expenses that can inhibit a student from learning to play the bassoon. I strongly believe that music can enrich a young child’s life, teach valuable skills, and can provide opportunities that could otherwise be unavailable. For these reason, a more affordable reed could allow this amazing instrument to impact more people for the better.

5 Reeds that I made!

What is a reed? Instead of a mouthpiece, the bassoon uses two pieces of cane (like bamboo) formed together to make sound. This is where the name “double reed” comes from. Advanced bassoonists will spend hours upon hours making their own reeds. Check out the first video in my media tab to watch me make a reed! Don’t worry. It is time-lapsed, so it is not multiple hours long.

As one might expect, this requirement of time and skill makes the average cost of a reed between $17-$25 dollars. Reeds are fragile, so it is also necessary to have more than one! I usually have about 20 active reeds at a time. The dollar signs are already adding up.

Because reeds are made from a natural material, they change dramatically over time. A good reed will only last about 1 month until it “dies.” This is an important benefit we hope to find with the synthetic reed. By cutting down the time it takes to make a reed and by changing the material to an FDA approved plastic, we plan to make a more affordable product that will last between 1 and 2 years! Imagine the money you could save when you do not have to multiply the cost of a reed by 12.

Right now we have received all of the chemicals necessary to make our product, but we are still in the testing phase. We will be experimenting with hardness, dimensions, and shape until we find a reed that would work well for beginning bassoonists. We have advanced equipment that will enable us to compare the synthetic reeds to cane reeds, with the intention of making as close of a match in sound-quality as possible.

Stay tuned (pun intented) for updated pictures and reports from our project. Can’t wait! Check out the link to the Facebook post below:

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