There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing the best reeds for your alto saxophone. Consistency, quality of cane, sound, and playability are all important considerations. There are also different types of reeds best suited for different styles of playing.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the best reeds available on the market today.
What are the best reeds for alto saxophone?
There is no definitive answer to this question, as different players may prefer different reeds depending on their playing style and preferences. Some like rico alto sax reeds, others like vandoren reeds; some prefer cane reeds, while other prefer synthetic reeds.
In other words, you need to look for the best alto saxophone reed for you.
That said, some reeds do tend to perform better than others in terms of consistency, sound quality, and playability. Here are my top picks of the best saxophone reed brands (based on over 20 years as a saxophonist):
1. Vandoren Traditional “Blue Box” Reeds
When looking for the best reeds for alto sax, Vandoren reeds are a reed brand that you must check out.
Vandoren has been making reeds since 1905. Consequently, they know a thing or two about reed making. Vandoren has a reputation for producing high quality reeds, and their traditional reeds are one of the best and most consistent sax reeds available today.
These reeds produce a clear sound with a slightly darker tone. They feature a slightly thinner tip (for easy of response and articulation) and a thicker heart (for tone stability).
The Vandoren Traditional (otherwise known as the “Blue Box”), are, hands down, one of the best alto saxophone reeds available today.
They feature a very thin tip (which improves ease of playability) and a thicker heart (which strengthens the tone). These are one of Vandoren’s most popular (if not their most popular) for a reason. If you are looking for the best alto sax reed, give these a try.
Vandoren “Blue box” Alto Sax Reeds
Vandoren’s Most Popular Reed
High Quality Cane
Run about 1/2 strong than Vandoren jazz reeds.
May not be ideal if you’re looking for a really bright sound
2.Vandoren Java Green Alto Sax Reeds
Vandoren Java Alto Sax reeds
Crafted meticulously to deliver a captivating tone and dynamic response, these reeds are the go-to choice for jazz and contemporary players seeking unrivaled performance. Unlock your true artistic potential and immerse yourself in the vibrant sound of Vandoren Java Green Alto Sax Reeds.
The Vandoren Java Green Box Reeds are a fabulous choice for jazz music, contemporary jazz music, and other commercial music. They produce a brighter tone (these are the brightest reeds Vandoren makes), and have amazing projection.
These reeds are the thinnest cut that Vandoren makes. These reeds run about 1/2 softer than then the Vandoren Blue Box reeds. So if you normally play strength 2/5 in the Blue Box reeds, you will need likely need to step up to strength 3 in the Java Greens.
The alto sax java reeds (like all Vandoren reeds) come in boxes with 10 reeds in each box, and are available in half strengths from 1 (softest) to 5 (hardest).
The reeds also come in a sealed flow pack so that they are factory fresh when you first open them. These are amazing alto saxophone reeds so I highly recommend them.
Vandoren Java Green Alto Sax Reeds
Great for jazz and commercial Music
Might be too bright for some musical styles
3. Hemke Alto Sax Reeds
D’addario’s Hemke reeds are used by everyone from Fredrick Hemke (classical saxophonist) to sax superstar, Kenny G.
Similar to the Vandoren Blue Box reeds, the Hemke reeds feature a thin tip for ease of response and articulation. They also have a shorter vamp, which gives the player a darker tone.
However, these reeds are still quite versatile, as they are used by Kenny G on all of his saxophones and contemporary saxophonist, Jeff Kashiwa. So don’t just think of these reeds as solely a “classical music reed”
I highly recommend this reed to anyone who wants to achieve a darker sound, or is playing on a mouthpiece that is naturally resistant (I find that the reed vibrates very easily). I also find that these reeds make my articulation much cleaner too!
hemke Alto Sax Reeds
Thin tip for ease of response
Beautiful dark tone
Great for articulation
Might be too dark for some musical styles
Does not project as well as other reed brands
Comes in boxes of 5 only
4. La Voz Alto Sax Reeds
This is another reed brand that I’ve always liked. They feature a traditional reed blank, with a stronger spine.
I’ve found these reeds to be very was to play (as long as you have the right reed strength). LaVoz, reeds don’t come in the traditional half-sizes we see with other reed brands. Rather, these reeds come in the following strengths: Soft, Medium-Soft, Medium, Medium-Hard, and Hard. You can think about the strength of these reeds like this:
Soft = 1
Medium Soft = 2
Medium = 3
Medium Hard = 4
Hard = 5
These reeds have been used by some of my favorite sax players, including Everette Harp, and Gerald Albright.
I also heard that David Sanborn and Phil Woods used these reeds at one point. Anyway, these are one of the best saxophone reeds available today and are defiantly worth a try.
la voz Alto Sax Reeds
Great for jazz and commercial music
Neutral sound (not too bright or dark)
Reeds come in a wider selection of reeds strengths because they do not come in traditional half sizes
5. D’Addario Jazz Select Alto Sax Reeds
This reed is an excellent choice for jazz players. Daddario offers both a filed and unfiled version of the reed (which is a great option to have). The reeds features a thinner (traditional ) tip and a thicker spine. So what you get is a reed that’s easy to play, but also stable in the higher range of the instrument and has a lot of power.
Soundwise, these reeds are on the brighter-end of the spectrum, but the unfiled reed is a little darker (and more resistant) than the filed reed.
D’addario jazz select Alto Sax Reeds
Available in filed or unfilled versions
Come in 1/3 strengths so you can really fine tune your reed preference
Great projection and sound
Some players might find these reeds to be too bright
Vandoren V16 Alto Sax Reeds
Vandoren V16 Alto Sax Reeds
The V16 reeds are known for their excellent response, allowing for precise articulation and dynamic control. With their consistent quality and durability, Vandoren V16 alto sax reeds have gained a reputation among professionals and enthusiasts alike as a top choice for achieving a rich and expressive tone on the alto saxophone.
Another popular reed is the Vandoren V16s. According to Vandoren, the V16 is a java reed with more wood.
The V16s are the thickest cut that Vandoren makes. They feature a thicker tip and a slightly thinner heart for a very warm tone. I find that these reeds have a thicker sound quality to them and they play great.
Because these reeds are thick, it’s important to remember that they are much more resistant and saxophone students should consider moving down a 1/2 strength from what they normally play.
vandoren v16 Alto Sax Reeds
More body to the attack
Some players might find these reeds to be too resistant (consider moving down a 1/2 strength)
Do not project as well as other reeds
D’Addario Reserve Alto Sax Reed
D’Addario Reserve Alto Sax Reeds
The Reserve reeds are known for their rich and warm tone, excellent response, and superb projection, making them ideal for a wide range of musical genres and playing styles. Furthermore, their durability and longevity ensure that saxophonists can rely on them for extended periods, making the D’Addario Reserve alto saxophone reeds a top choice for professionals and aspiring musicians alike.
One of D’Addario’s flagship reed brands is their Reserve reeds. These reeds are marketed as a classical reed. They produce a warm sound, and feature a filed cut for ease of response.
These reeds feature D’Addario’s highest quality reed cane, and feature a traditional tip and heavy spine for ease of playing and a rich tone.
These reeds are meticulously crafted with high-quality cane, ensuring consistent performance and excellent tonal characteristics. They offer a perfect balance between flexibility and projection, allowing musicians to achieve a rich, warm sound with precise articulation.
With their superior craftsmanship and reliable performance, D’addario Reserve alto sax reeds have become a top choice for professional saxophonists and students alike.
D’ADDARIO RESERVE Alto Sax Reeds
Made with D’Addarrio’s highest quality reed cane
Extremely consistent reeds
Rich tone that is slightly on the brighter end of the spectrum
Some players might find these reeds not suitable for all playing styles.
Rico Orange Box Reeds (Best Reeds for Beginners)
Rico Orange Box Alto Sax Reeds
D’Addario Orange Box alto saxophone reeds are widely regarded as one of the best reeds for beginner players. These reeds are known for their consistency, durability, and ease of play, making them ideal for those starting their journey on the alto saxophone. With a well-balanced response and a versatile tone, D’Addario Orange Box reeds provide beginners with a reliable and enjoyable playing experience, helping them develop proper embouchure control and sound production..
Rico Orange Box reeds are highly regarded as one of the best reeds for beginners diving into the world of saxophone.
These reeds boast a thinner profile, making them incredibly responsive and easy to play. With a traditional tip, they provide a familiar feel and allow beginners to develop proper embouchure.
Notably, saxophonist Cannonball Adderley himself used these reeds, and he sounded great.
What makes the Rico Orange Box reeds exceptional for beginners is that they simply get out of your way and let you focus on playing. They offer a smooth and consistent response, allowing beginners to concentrate on developing their sound and technique without unnecessary hurdles.
When you’re just starting out on the saxophone, having reeds that facilitate your progress and provide a hassle-free playing experience is invaluable, and the Rico Orange Box reeds excel in this regard.
D’ADDARIO orange box Alto Sax Reeds
Made from a thin profile for ease of response
Great for beginners
Not as consistent as other saxophone reeds
Reed quality is not as great as other reed brands
ltimately, this really comes down to experimentation. You should experiment with various reeds and figure out what best suits your playing style. And don’t forget – it is also important to take proper care of your reeds! If you keep them in good shape, they will last much longer and perform better.
Finally, if you’re looking for a reed all-rounder, then try out the Ishimori or Vandoren Blue Box reeds – they tend to be quite popular and are great for just about any style of playing. All in all, finding the best alto saxophone reeds should be an enjoyable process so have fun experimenting and best of luck in your search for the perfect reeds!
What factors should you consider when choosing a reed?
Some of the most important factors to consider when shopping for reeds include consistency, quality of cane, sound, and overall playability. But here are the main things you should be thinking about.
If you have been playing saxophone for some time (e.g., more than 2 years), you probably have noticed that you have some preferences about reeds. For example, I have always found that I preferred filed reeds and reeds with thinner tips.
You should pay attention to what you already like about reeds as this can help you narrow down the brand/type of reed that will be best for you.
This is huge. The type/style of mouthpiece you have will have an enormous effect on how a reed feels. There are lots of factors that we can discuss here.
For example, a mouthpiece with a wider tip opening will require a softer reed (generally speaking). Also mouthpieces with a shorter facing curve (e.g., Jody Jazz Jet) generally prefer reeds that are softer.
Your mouthpiece will have a big impact on the type of tone you make. So, it is important to think about finding a reed that will compliment your desired tone. For example, if you are playing a very bright mouthpiece (e.g., Dukoff, Theo Wanne Shiva), you may want to pick a reed that is slightly darker to balance out your tone.
Generally speaking, I found the following to be true:
- The more open the mouthpiece is, the softer the reed you need.
- The more closed the mouthpiece is, the harder the reed you need.
- Mouthpieces with shorter facing curves are more resistant and therefore need softer reeds.
- Mouthpieces with high baffles are easier to play and therefore need a harder reed.
Read More: Theo Wanne Durga Alto Sax Mouthpiece Review
Filed vs Unfiled
There are two types of reeds–filed reeds and unfiled reeds. Filed reeds are easy to identify because they have a strip of the cane removed from the back part of the reed. Unfiled reeds do not.
Generally speaking filed reeds are a little more free blowing than unfiled reeds. Conversely, unfiled reeds may have a bit more resistance.
Musical Style Or Genre
You may choose different reed varieties depending upon what music you play. Most musical genres are best served with a dark tone, but playing jazz you might prefer more bright colors.
Generally speaking, reeds like the Vandoren Java, D’Addario Jazz reeds are more favored by jazz musicians or commercial players, while classical musicians prefer darker sounding reeds. Although, reeds like La Voz produce a “middle of the road” sound in terms of brightness.
If you are looking for a reed that will help you blend in a section (like a concert band) you may want to consider a neutral sounding reed or a darker sounding reed.
What are some common misconceptions about saxophone reeds?
One common misconception is that playing a harder reed makes you a better player. This is not necessarily true–in fact, it can be counterproductive to force yourself to play with a harder reed if it doesn’t feel comfortable or natural to you ( I did this for many, many, many years).
Simply put, you want to play reeds that are comfortable for you. The classic example that most saxophonists use is Cannonball Adderley, who played on a Meyer 5 mouthpiece with a #2 reed.
Another example is Gato Barbieri, and Argentine jazz tenor saxophonist who played on a 1.5 reed.
Another example is Ben Wendell, who I just learned is playing on Boston Sax Shop #2 reeds.
Another example is Terrence Martin, who also uses Boston Sax Shop # 2 reeds.
The point: play what is comfortable.
Additionally, many players assume that all the reeds in the box will be the same strength. However, this is almost never the case.
What you tend to get is a range of reeds; some will be harder than others and some will be softer than others. That is normal. Your job is to find those reeds that work for your right away (and meticulously take care of them), and “work” with the other reeds so that they are ideal.
Which type of reed is best suited for your playing style?
The best reed for you depends on your individual preferences and playing style. Generally speaking, jazz players, who generally use a mouthpiece with a larger tip opening, tend to prefer softer reeds (e.g., a 2-3), while classical saxophone players, who use a mouthpiece with a more narrow tip opening, tend to prefer harder reeds (e.g., a 3-5). Commercial music players usually like something in between (e.g., a 2-4).
What is the best alto reed for beginners?
A good alto saxophone reed for beginners is a cane reed with 1.5 strength for kids and 2.0 strength for adults. Make sure to pick the correct strength of reed for the sax so that you can develop quickly without fighting the reed.
Playing saxophone should be fun, but if you are playing on a reed that is too hard for you, its is a drag.
How to Choose a Reed?
When you look to get an alto horn there are several considerations that need paying attention to. In this section we will talk about key areas which will guide you in determining reeds which suits your needs.
Tips on putting reeds in mouthpiece
To put a reed on a saxophone mouthpiece, follow these steps:
- Begin by soaking the reed in water. Submerge it in a glass or a reed case filled with water for about 2-3 minutes. This helps the reed to become more flexible and easier to work with.
- Remove the reed from the water and gently shake off any excess moisture. Be careful not to touch the delicate tip of the reed to avoid damage.
- Take the mouthpiece and examine it. Notice that one side of the reed is slightly wider and thicker than the other. The wider side is the bottom, and the thinner side is the top.
- Align the reed with the mouthpiece so that the thinner side of the reed matches the curve of the mouthpiece facing up. The tip of the reed should be positioned just slightly above the tip of the mouthpiece.
- Hold the reed firmly in place with your thumb and index finger, ensuring it stays in position.
- Carefully slide the ligature over the reed, aligning it with the mouthpiece. The ligature is a metal or fabric band that secures the reed to the mouthpiece. Make sure the ligature is centered and even on both sides of the mouthpiece.
- Loosen the ligature screws slightly and position them over the reed. Once in place, tighten the screws evenly, but not excessively, to secure the reed. Be cautious not to overtighten, as it may affect the reed’s vibrations and overall sound quality.
- Double-check the alignment and stability of the reed. Ensure that it is secure but not overly compressed. Adjust if necessary.
- Finally, assemble the saxophone by attaching the mouthpiece to the neck, and you’re ready to play!
How long do alto saxophone reeds last?
The lifespan of a reed varies depending on factors such as the player’s embouchure, playing style, and maintenance. On average, a reed can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. It’s important to rotate reeds and let them dry after each use to prolong their lifespan.
How do I break in a new alto saxophone reed?
To break in a reed, you can soak it in water for a few minutes before playing. Start with gentle practice sessions, gradually increasing the playing time over several days. This process allows the reed to adjust to your embouchure and playing style.
How do I properly care for alto saxophone reeds?
To care for alto saxophone reeds, it’s important to keep them clean and dry. After each use, rinse the reed with clean water and gently wipe it with a soft cloth to remove moisture. Store your reeds in a reed case with proper ventilation to allow them to dry between uses.
Can I adjust the shape of alto saxophone reeds?
Yes, it is possible to adjust the shape of a reed slightly to suit personal preference. However, this requires careful and precise work. The ReedGeek, for example, is a great tool that you can use to adjust reeds.
Can alto saxophone reeds be reused after they become unplayable?
Once a reed becomes unplayable or no longer produces a good tone, it is generally not recommended to reuse it. Reeds wear out and lose their responsiveness over time. It’s best to replace worn-out reeds with new ones for optimal sound and playability.
How often should I replace my alto saxophone reed?
On average, saxophonists replace their reeds every 1-4 weeks. However, it’s essential to trust your ears and replace a reed when it no longer produces a good tone or becomes unresponsive.
Are synthetic reeds suitable for alto saxophone?
Yes, synthetic reeds are suitable for alto saxophone. The benefit of a synthetic reed is that they tend to be more consistent from reed to reed (unlike cane reeds). However, in my opinion, cane reeds sound much better.
Playing the saxophone is a rewarding and expressive musical journey. To truly maximize the potential of your alto saxophone, selecting the right reed is crucial.
The reed serves as a vital intermediary between the player and the instrument, influencing tone, projection, and overall playability. Choosing the appropriate alto saxophone reed allows you to unlock the instrument’s full potential, enabling you to produce a rich, vibrant sound with ease.
Factors such as reed strength, material, and craftsmanship significantly impact the saxophone’s response and tonal characteristics. By finding the perfect match for your playing style and preferences, you can achieve greater control, improved articulation, and a more nuanced musical expression.
Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced saxophonist, investing time in selecting the right alto saxophone reed can significantly enhance your playing experience and help you reach new heights of musicality.