What kind of reeds should I get?

Posted by Trevor Brown on

The ultimate question for single-reed players. There are so many different types of reeds out there, sometimes it can be overwhelming to pick which reed seems to be the best. If there is one thing that is for certain, there is no such thing as the perfect reed.

The type of reed that one should settle on should not only feel great while playing, but also offer the best quality of sound that one can achieve.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself when looking for what type of reed is the best fit for you:

How long have you been playing?

Are you looking to improve response or sound quality?

In what setting are you usually playing? Concert band? Jazz combo?

jazz saxophonist

How long have you been playing?

Newer players may find that simply getting cheaper reeds such as Rico or Royal by D’Addario is best because they are more likely to chip or break their reeds than more experienced players. Although this may be best when first starting, many players are hesitant to switch to a new type of reed after their first or second year. Once single-reed players start to feel more comfortable in the lifespan of their reeds, they should consider upgrading the quality of their reeds. The typical reed to upgrade to from a Rico or Royal is the traditional Vandoren reed. The traditional Vandoren reed will give a good sound but will not break the bank when buying a box of five or ten.

More experienced players will want to weigh more factors when choosing which reed is best for them. Reeds come in two types of cuts, may be thicker or thinner at the tip, and may be made from different parts of the cane.


Filed reeds:

Filed reeds will have a horizontal line cut in the middle of the reed and extra bark shaved off between the horizontal line and the profile of the reed. How does all this affect how the instrument plays? Filed reeds tend to be thinner, more resistant, and have a quicker response.


Unfiled reeds:

The Unfiled reeds don’t have the horizontal line cut in them, and the bark is left on the reed other than where the profile in the reed is cut. Unfiled reeds have a slower response but can provide a fuller sound than the filed reeds. They are thicker reeds, in general, which means the tip is cut further away from the bark of the cane. This part of the cane tends to be less dense and therefore less resistant.


Reed consistency:

Some models of reeds are also made from different parts of the cane. Your standard Rico reed is made from a less dense part of the cane, which makes the quality of each reed less consistent but also keeps the price of the reeds affordable. The D’Addario Reserve reeds are hand selected and are made from much more dense cane. The denser the cane, the more consistent the reed is. This means there will not be much variety in a box of reeds from one reed to another. Reeds that are less consistent will vary quite a bit from one another and can often be unpredictable. One other advantage to having a reed made from higher density cane is that they will generally last longer.


Are you looking to improve response or sound quality?

If you are looking to improve in either the response of the instrument or the overall sound quality, you may consider which variety of cut is best for you. Filed reeds offer a quicker response than the unfiled reeds, although the unfiled reeds can potentially produce a fuller sound.


Reed strength can also play a factor in response time versus sound quality. Although it may be easier to produce a sound on a softer reed, softer reeds often lack the control and sound quality of a harder reed. Harder reeds often require a more refined embouchure as well to achieve the desired sound. Generally, play on the hardest reed that suits your needs and gives you the best sound. There is no strength of reed that is better than the other, but a particular strength may fit you better than others.


The mouthpiece:

Mouthpieces with a small tip opening require a harder reed because softer reeds may close the gap between the reed and the mouthpiece while it is vibrating. Mouthpieces with larger tip openings require a softer reed because harder reeds will become far too resistant. Reeds that work for one mouthpiece may not work for another mouthpiece. Therefore, it may be necessary to get two or more different strengths of reed when switching between mouthpieces.


In what setting are you playing?

Harder reeds may make it easier to play loudly and help the tone of higher notes. Because of this, harder reeds may be more desirable for solo or small ensemble playing. Softer reeds make it easier to play at a lower dynamic, but can also produce a bright, thin sound. Consider the setting for which you are playing when deciding what strength is best.


The Cost of Experimentation:

Although there are a few exceptions, many reed companies don’t sell just one reed in a package. Usually, to try out a particular type of reed, you must purchase a box of five or ten. This can make trying out a few different types at once very costly. Unfortunately, there is not a great way to combat this issue and may result in a hesitation to switch types of reeds or to try new makes of reeds. However, it is encouraged to try new reeds and to purchase the boxes of multiple reeds. Because each reed of a make and model can vary in quality, it is important to try out multiple reeds of a certain type to get a better idea of what the average reed of that type can offer.


Popular Filed Reeds:

Royal by D’Addario

D’Addario Reserve


Grand Concert Select

Vandoren Traditional

Vandoren V12


Popular Unfiled Reeds:

Rico by D’Addario

Mitchell Lurie

D’Addario Reserve Classic

Grand Concert Select Evolution

La Voz

Vandoren V21

Vandoren 56 Rue Lepic

Vandoren Java

Vandoren V16

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