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Saxophone Reeds

It is really amazing how much of a difference your reed can make. A terrible sounding horn may not have anything significantly wrong with the tone, you might just have a bad reed. There are many different choices for reeds and there are actually many types of reeds. The main types are:

  • Arundo Donax Cane Reeds
  • Semi-plastic Reeds
  • Plastic Reeds

Bamboo Reeds

Being the most common, pretty well everyone uses cane reeds in some form or another. They are what they sound like, they are cut from Arundo Donax Cane, which has excellent vibrational qualities, and they are what create the sound on your mouthpiece. Most professional saxophone players use cane reeds. Some buy them right off the shelf, try each one until they find ones they like, then put those aside and use the ones left over for practice. Others still buy reeds in bulk and modify them by shaving them down to suit their reed strength. Even more still take the time to make their own reeds.

For years I played cane reeds. I used to like Vandoren JAVA Reeds. Then I switched to Rico Royal because I could modify them to sound better than the Java reeds and they were less expensive. By that point I was pretty well going through one reed per set and the more reeds I bought, the less good ones I found.  Soon after that Rico bought Vandoren and the quality went down significantly. I invested in a reed cutter so I could prolong the use of the reeds I had that I liked and that were cut well. Then I just got fed up and started looking for other options.

LaVoz reeds seem to be a good choice. I have never liked them personally as they seem to create that smooth jazz sound I cringe when I hear but many professionals seem to make them work. If I were to return to a cane reed, I would probably end up going with a hard LaVoz reed.

Semi-Plastic Reeds

Semi-Plastic reeds are Cane Reeds with a plastic coating. There are a small number of players who swear by these reeds. The most common version of this reed is the Plasticover Reeds made by Rico. A few years ago Rico announced they would discontinue this type of reed but there was such an outcry from the pros who used it, they quickly reversed their plans. Probably the most famous saxophonist who plays Semi-Plastic Reeds is James Carter. My good friend and Famous Canadian Saxophonist, Gene Hardy, also plays these reeds. They are also sometimes used by Pros who are switching between two horns in one gig because they don’t really need to be wet when you play them allowing you to quickly switch horns without having to worry about having a dry reed.

Plastic Reeds

Plastic reeds are actually all plastic. They are commonly made of silicone and, in my opinion, are excellent. While many pros will shun plastic reeds because they tend to give you a tone that is very one sided, in the right situations this is not really that much of an issue. While there are many tones and timbers of bamboo reeds, plastic reeds are good for all out screaming sax. I have switched to plastic reeds for all of my R&B gigs, my funk gigs and most of my jazz gigs where I do a lot of switching between Alto and Tenor. I have found Légère Studio Cut reeds are excellent and I play them exclusively.

Maintaining your Reeds

You can definitely extend the life of your reeds by treating them with care when putting them on and taking them off the mouthpiece. Some people like to keep them in Reed Cases.  This works, but can sometime warp the reed unless the case is good quality. Many of the reed cases I have had allowed the tips of the reeds to break so I stopped using them. I would just put the reed into a closed plastic case I got from the food industry meant for holding gaskets. It kept the reed safe and seemed to work well.

I also own a reed trimmer which allows you to remove a very small amount off the tip of the reed. This esentially rejuvinates the reed by making it just slightly harder allowing for you to extend the playing life of a reed you like. One thing I definitely liked about a reed trimmer is that after 3 or 4 trims, the reeds would produce an excellent tonal quality but unfortunately it was often short lived and difficult to replicate.


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