How do you choose what reed is right for you?!!
As with much of the stock here at sax.co.uk the large range of reeds can initially be somewhat intimidating. In the face of so much choice- the question‘where to start’ is often asked.
Firstly, changing your make of reed is not likely to produce any major overhaul of your sound. It is more about finding something that works well with your own playing technique rather than trying to let your reeds lead the way. If you play in a soft, controlled, classical style certain reed types will help (or hinder) whereas some reed types are designed to hold up well when a player’s approach relies on maximum power and volume. Basically it’s all down to feel; does a certain reed type work with your playing or against it- do they feel comfortable?
The reed is fundamental to producing the sound. The saxophonist sets the reed vibrating and creates sound waves that pass through the neck and out of the saxophone. The quality of each reed can greatly affect the tone that is produced. The best reeds are made from cane which is grown in Southern France, benefiting from warm Mediterranean breezes. Each reed has a slightly different cut, much like each piece of wood has a different grain, and even within a box of the same make they can vary in consistency. Popular makes of reed are Vandoren, Rico, Hemke & La Voz, and benefit by being more consistent than most,enabling the saxophonist to produce a clear sound. Certain sizes of reed suit certain sizes of mouthpiece. As a rule a narrow tip opening requires a harder reed, a wider tip opening a softer one. But again this is merely a useful guideline and as the sax player is developing he/she may find a preference for a particular size or make of reed that is an exception to the rule. Reeds must be moistened before use as this improves flexibility and the reed will have the best chance of functioning correctly. Also to keep them flat and as fresh as possible investing in a reed holder is most useful. Recent developments include Fibracell synthetic reeds which although expensive can last far longer.
Other practical issues are robustness and consistency. Certain makes of synthetic reed are available for exactly these reasons- one plastic reed is the same as any other and they last significantly longer than any cane reed is likely to. However when they do finally stop working they go from playable to totally unusable almost immediately (hence, always carry a spare). Another factor which favours synthetics is that they don’t need to be damped before playing, so tend to be popular with instrumentalists who have to swap saxes frequently during a gig. However, for the majority of players, cane reeds are the ‘real deal’, give the authentic sound and the search for just the right one is all part of the ritual of playing the saxophone.
One point about testing reeds. Trying out one single reed of a specific type is useful, but- due to the variations within each box- to get the ‘feel’ of a particular reed type it’s usually necessary to give two or three reeds a blow to really get their character. Whereas your saxophone and mouthpiece are precision engineered from metal and ebonite, reeds are cut from cane and vary noticeably, even within the same box.