Have you ever wondered how your KGe Reeds were made? Why oboe and bassoon reeds are so expensive? Or what does an oboe making factory look like? Well I went to visit the KGe Reed & Oboe factory in Shanghai, China and this is what I discovered.
PART 1 - REEDS
A Visit to the KGe Reed & Oboe factory in Shanghai
My taxi stopped outside an unassuming building in an industrial part of Shanghai about a half hour drive from the centre of the city. Is this it? I thought. There was no shopfront and no sign announcing I had arrived. But I was met by Kexun Ge the founder and managing director of KGe Reeds so I knew I was in the right place.
KGe Reeds employ approximately 60 workers who are highly skilled in the precise & detailed process of making Oboe & bassoon Reeds. There are many different types of reeds to suit every player from students to professional oboists. Kexun is very proud of the experience and skill of his workers who have averaged 10 -15 years working for KGe Reeds.
The KGe factory looks like a large workshop & is made up of a number of smallish rooms, each with 4 or 5 workers sitting at a series of workbenches. Each room is dedicated to a part of the reed or oboe making process. KGE occupies two floors of the industrial building. What surprised me was how much of the reed and oboe making was done by hand. The workers are very highly skilled craftsmen & women, using innovative machinery and tools. Each oboe and reed is hand crafted to exact specifications. Kexun oversees and regularly checks the work of his staff & gives expert advice in the complex process of making reeds and oboes.
Innovation has played an important part in the success of Kexun’s business. Kexun has designed and developed precision machinery such as the oboe reed profiler to streamline the reed making process. Profilers are very popular with professional oboists who need a constant supply of reliable reeds. The Oboe reed profiler greatly speeds up the reed making process and can be adapted and adjusted to suit the requirements of each player.
KGe’s latest innovation is the “Oboe Bocal Reed”. This is a revolutionary new type of reed that allows the oboist to experiment with different tone colours and different staple lengths. The Bocal Reed also enables oboists to make small intonation changes by lengthening or shortening the reed using the same staple without changing the dimensions of the scraped part of the reed. Kexun believes, from his own testing, that the “Bocal Reed” is more stable and has a warmer tone than a traditional oboe reed. He hopes that the KGe Bocal Reed will benefit oboists at all levels of playing.
As I walked through the reed making factory, I noticed that each worker had a specific job. One woman was gouging cane, another was soaking and shaping the gouged cane. Yet another woman was tying the shaped & folded cane onto the staple and a man was working with a reed making profiler, scraping blank reeds and finishing them by hand with a very sharp reed knife.
In another room there were several people sitting around a large table. One woman was measuring the thickness of the gouged & shaped cane. Another was sticking labels on plastic reed boxes. A finished Lan Mei Oboe was being checked and tuned & several reed orders were being made up to send out to customers. There was chatting and laughter in this room and the atmosphere was friendly and productive.
PART 2 - OBOES
A large part of the KGe factory is dedicated to making oboes for Professional and student players. Many KGe professional Oboes are made from Grenadilla wood but KGe Oboes have become known for their quality synthetic & hybrid oboes (with a synthetic top joint and a lower joints made from wood). KGe Synthetic oboes are increasing in popularity around the world, especially in Germany and Russia. KGe consistently offers quality oboes at a very competitive price.
Kexun Ge began his career as an oboe player with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra. He won a scholarship to study in London with Anthony Camden and started selling oboe reeds while he was in London. In 1989 Kexun followed Anthony Camden to Brisbane Australia where he founded KGe Reeds and became an Australian citizen.
As his business grew, Kexun found a reliable source of oboe cane in Anhui province in China and he returned to Shanghai to set up his workshop. A reliable supply of cane was crucial for Kexun to produce reeds of a consistently high quality and Anhui cane has a higher fibre density and greater resilience than other canes, including French cane.
Kexun has personally trained his staff at KGe reeds and he believes it is the skill and experience of his employees that sets his business apart from many of his competitors. But, with innovations such as the KGe reed making profiler, KGE has been able to produce Oboe reeds that are reliable and consistent at a reasonable price. And the innovation continues with the new KGe Oboe Bocal Reed.
by Linda Jane Stacy, Oboe player & teacher, Sydney, Australia
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are my own and are not the views of my employers.