A Review of the Ambipoly Reed
Toronto-based bassoonist Kristin Day offers some initial thoughts about the latest entry into the field of plastic bassoon reeds.
About a year ago in mid-2022, I saw friend and oboe colleague Ron Cohen Mann’s YouTube review of Silverstein Works’ new synthetic ‘Ambipoly’ oboe reed. I was very excited to see a company that had previously focused on the larger (and more lucrative) single-reed market make a double-reed. Since double reeds are a much smaller niche market, many large companies don’t take a chance on us since it’s a riskier venture. After that video, I’ve hoped very much that Silverstein would take a chance and develop a bassoon reed. To my delight, they did.
For years I’ve been hoping for a good reliable synthetic reed for a few reasons.
I love to teach bassoon. My studio’s focus is teaching beginner, high school and amateur bassoonists. Having a reliable and stable reed is paramount for my students. Especially since COVID, I’m still not comfortable adjusting or playing their reeds to see if they work properly. The idea of a synthetic, plastic reed that could be sterilized, adjusted, then shared with less risk of illness is extremely enticing. Another aspect that makes them attractive is the fact they would last much longer than traditional cane reeds and require minimal (if any) soaking in water.
After seeing Ron’s video, I signed up on the Silverstein website asking to be notified if and when they’ll have a bassoon reed. In February 2023, I was pleasantly surprised to see Silverstein send me an email saying their bassoon reed was ready for purchase. The ‘Ambipoly’ bassoon reed is available in two strengths: ‘medium’ (with red wrapping) and ‘medium-hard’ (with blue wrapping). I bought one of each strength.
When I bought them in February 2023, Silverstein was still beta testing (by the time this review is out they have since finished their beta test) and were actively looking for feedback to improve their product. I was pleased that when I had any questions they were quick and cheerful with answering my questions.
Before playing these reeds, I was instructed to soak them for 30 seconds in water, and then do a 15-minute ‘break-in’ so that the reeds would adjust to my style of playing.
First playing impressions: red medium reed
Very responsive, almost too responsive. First finger E and C# below middle C were very flat. Those notes tell me the reed is too weak and needs adjustment. If it was a cane reed my instinct is to clip the reed a little and/or open the first wire to make the tube more round and build in a bit more resistance.
The sound was very buzzy at first but tempered down a bit into the 15-minute breaking-in period. I think with adjustment the sound would calm down and there’s definitely core to the sound and the material feels more like cane than any other synthetic reeds I’ve played in the past.
Other than the flatness issue and the high register being unresponsive (also due to the reed being weak and flat); it has the potential to be a very usable serviceable reed. I would be able to practice scales and technique on it. I believe if I can adjust the tip opening and clip it a little, there’s potential for a very nice-sounding reed.
First playing impressions: blue medium-hard reed
Much nicer than the red. Still responsive, but less buzzy and the E and C# that were flat in the red reed are more in tune. High registers (high B and above) are a bit weak but workable. I could see some minor adjustments to this reed improving it, but I think I could play this reed in a bit more to get to know it.
Red (medium) reed adjustments
I adjusted this reed as I would have a cane reed. Firstly, I trimmed about 1 mm off the tip in two small cuts using my Rieger tip cutter (as it was far too flat); I used a diamond file to smooth out some bumps; used needle nose pliers to open the tip opening at the first wire.
Now the sound is still buzzy, but the reed plays in tune and is still vibrating freely. I’m going to take it to rehearsal tonight and see how it feels in the context of an orchestra.
Blue (medium-hard) adjustments
I trimmed almost 1 mm off the tip and opened the tip opening with pliers at the first wire. Same general adjustments as red, but not as aggressive. The sound on this reed is quite acceptable! Again, it’s still a little buzzy, but with more core and depth to the sound than the red and certainly any synthetic reed I’ve ever played. Is it better than my best cane reeds? No. Is it better than many mediocre cane reeds? Definitely yes.
I will also take this reed into rehearsal tonight and will take notes.
Notes from orchestra rehearsal
These reeds are very responsive and vibrate very easily. The buzzy sound wasn’t a distraction in tutti passages, but in solos the sound was hollow and they didn’t have the strength for the amount of air I wanted to push through them. However, in the soft dynamics they were very reliable; especially in the low register. I would think this would make a very attractive second bassoon reed.
I’m still getting to know these reeds but I am confident about the following pros and cons:
- Very responsive and vibrant especially in softer dynamics
- Are adjustable similar to cane reeds (full disclosure I haven’t scraped using my knife yet)
- They stay soaked and vibrant for hours
- Attractive looking (looks very similar to cane reeds)
- Silverstein says they would last at least 6 months, at this point, I’d agree seeing how they’re aging.
- Buzzy sound, especially in the upper register
- Needs adjustment in order to have more strength. Both reeds were too flat on my 8000 series Heckel where reeds tend to be sharp.
- Cost. Each reed was $140 USD (approx $190 CAD), you can buy many cane reeds for that price!
I see lots of potential with these reeds, and if I had to choose one I’d go with the blue “Medium-hard” reed. It had more strength and needed fewer adjustments than the “Medium”. Once I play these reeds some more and in more situations I will pop up again here with more thoughts. If you have any questions or comments, please find me at www.bassoonist.ca, shoot me an email at email@example.com, or find me @bassoonday on most social platforms.
Cheers, and happy bassooning,
Kristin Day, M. Mus. is devoted to nurturing bassoonists of all levels. Visit her website for more information.
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