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Review of an Illuminated Plaque
for Oboe or Bassoon Reeds

I have long wished for a method of lighting a reed from the inside so that the contours of each blade could be easily visible. Holding up a reed with the tip down against a light source has been the classic way to assess the scrape but it is only a very rough and ready method as both blades are illuminated and viewed simultaneously. It is tricky to decide which blade needs a scrape to achieve a balance of the blades so we resort to other methods of judging the contours. For instance by reflected light, examining under a magnifier or resorting to the good old dial gauge and feeler. With the dial gauge method we have a measure of the cane thickness but also the depression of the springing of the touch piece. When measurements are made and the scrape is uneven through our poor knife work sometimes the feeler blade is not on a flat place so giving a spurious result.

I think the best way to judge the blades is to illuminate them individually as the eye is remarkably good at determining small variations of light and dark. This little invention by Antti Pakkanen enables just that. It is made out of a strong polycarbonate with a metal clad moulding which holds a tiny powerful LED light. The light intensity is adjustable by squeezing between finger and thumb from very bright to dim so one can choose the brightness appropriate to the density of the cane. The plaque fits between the reed blades as normal and the light shows up the darker areas where the cane is thickest and the bright areas where the cane is thinnest and all the gradations between.

I found in use that the reed must not be too wet or the water droplets show very dark in the scheme of things. After many weeks of use I can thoroughly recommend this plaque. I had to change my way of working from scraping under an illuminated magnifying lamp, which of course ruins the effect of the interior light, to using the plaque exclusively for all my final attempts to balance the reed blades. I now use the magnifier without the light. It is far easier to balance the blades with this method providing that the scraping knife is sharp!

Are there any disadvantages? Well a couple or so.
There is a hot spot at the tip of the transparent sculptured plaque, which can be distracting, but as it is way down the back of the reed it is not a problem except for very long scrapes. It is also quite a lot heavier than the normal wood or metal plaque and the balance feels strange at first. Also I did find the adjustment of the intensity of the light a little difficult until I became accustomed to the operation of the pressure switch. However a major disadvantage for some may probably be the price. It costs around $120 not including shipping, from American suppliers and direct from Antti Pakkanen, the maker in Finland, €98 with free shipping at the time of writing. That is about £85 in our money! My sample was sent in a neat wooden case with several excellent plastic oboe plaques as a bonus.

The light source is a Photon Freedom LED Torch sourced from America. The battery is easily changed when required. This tiny torch can be removed and used in many different and unusual ways! See Photon’s website.

Contact details are:

AP Double Reed
Antti Pakkanen
Itätullinkatu 26 A 28100 Pori, Finland
+358 2 633 0239
+358 44 522 3107