Reed

Reed

The sound of the saxophone starts with the reed. No reed - no tone. The reed is what produces the tone when you blow air into the mouthpiece the reed starts to vibrate and it is this vibration, that produces the tone.

Green cane looks very much like bamboo - but is in fact a kind of grass. Takes 2 years to reach usable hight. This is one year old cane.

Dried for 4 weeks under the sun - then 2 years in drying barns utilizing the mediteranian winds. Cut into tubes without knees. Split into quaters - the cane is then ready to become a reed.

Different ways of producing the reed, different cuts affect the sound of the reed. Here is an overview of the terms used to desribe the anatomy of the reed.

Cane is king

The character and quality of the tone depends of the reed.

 

The reed vibrates as you blow air into the mouthpiece and pass the reed and thats what forms the tone. Flexible because you can tune it up and down or bend if if you will. The type of reed you choose has a big impact on how your tone will sound. Soft and woody if you use a classic Rico reed. Responsive and clear if you go for a Vandorn. So the reed is responsible for creating the tone and the tone quality, and you might wonder why I leave out the player. As mentioned earlier you as a player play a vital part in the equation of sound. However I will stick to parameters that are generally describable.

Reeds are divided into groups refering to the instrument they fit: Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Baritone are the most common. You do have Sopraninio, Bass, Contrabass Saxophone, but they rare and I will leave them out for sake of common interest.

They also are divided into categories of strenght. 1 being the softest - 5 being the hardest. Most players use between 2-3. A soft reed 1-2 is very easy to play, but can not play very loud and becomes unstable when pushed. 2-3 is the medium hard reeds and deliver a flexible performance in most setups. The tone is focused and good flexibility. 3,5 - 5 are hard reeds, and only used by trained professionals. You get a big tone, but the reed requires lots of air and hight preasure to give a good tone.

You tend to shift to harder reeds as you become a better player - something that is equal to the tip opening of your mouthpiece - something I will get into under Mouthpiece.

Size matters

You need to use the right size even thouth it is possible to play non fitting reeds

 

You can play a clarinet reed on your soprano and vice versa - but impossible to play a alto reed on a baritone saxophone. This is pretty basic stuff and you should know this.

 

Finding out witch strenght suits your level of experience Try out different reeds with different strenghts on your mouthpiece.

 

Many players make choosing the right reed a kind of sacred ritual. Using knives to scrape off pulp that builds up when you play, Sealing off the end of the reed with laquer or glue, sanding the base, cutting the edge and so and so on. In my experience if a reed dosnt play right out of the box - dont use it, cause it will never get to the point where it feels right. And since reeds tend to have a very short life expectancy - you might be better off putting a new reed on your mouthpiece and play. A really good reed can last from a week up to 3 weeks if you play every day. A synthetic reeds can last as long as up to 3 months.

Reeds come in a box with 5 or 10 Reeds. In a box you can find that some reeds feel and sound different from the rest. Well reeds are made from cane that grows organically, so you will have a non uniform material to start with - so expect reeds to vary.

 

Different makers of Reeds have different numbers for strength, as you can se from the chart below. Here you have Rico and Vandorn reeds compaired in a strength comparison chart.

For more information please check out these two videos. They tell a lot of useful stuff on production of quality reeds.

Vandorn promotional video

Rico production video