Saxophone reeds are a vital part of producing a great sound on the instrument. They are made from thin pieces of cane or synthetic materials, and are placed on the mouthpiece of the saxophone.
When air is blown into the instrument, the reed vibrates against the mouthpiece, creating sound. It is important to note that playing on harder reeds does not necessarily make you a more advanced player; it is more about selecting the reed that works best for you and your playing style.
Saxophone reeds are available for all saxophones, including alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, and soprano saxophone.
Things to Consider when Selecting Saxophone Reeds
When selecting saxophone reeds, it is important to consider factors like your skill level, the type of playing you will be doing, the strength of the reed, and the quality of the cane or synthetic material.
It is also important to keep your stock of reeds in a case to protect them from damage, and to rotate through and check your stock of reeds regularly to ensure consistent sound.
Whether you prefer Vandoren saxophone reeds, D’addario saxophone reeds, or one of the smaller brands, there are plenty of options available to help you achieve the sound you desire.
It is worth noting that many manufacturers offer reed strength information, charts and information to help players select the right type of reed for their playing level and style.
These charts typically range from 1 to 5, with 1 being the softest and 5 being the hardest. It is important to experiment with different reed strengths to find the one that feels and sounds best for you.
Ultimately, selecting the right reed is a personal decision that depends on your individual playing style and preferences. Whether you prefer the warm and rich sound of a Vandoren Traditional, or the bright and projecting sound of a Rico Royal, there is a reed out there for everyone.
Saxophone Reed Strength
Saxophone reeds come in different strengths. The strength of a saxophone reed is indicated by a number followed by a decimal point, ranging from 1 to 5, with half-strength increments in between. The higher the number, the thicker and harder the reed. A reed with a lower strength number is thinner and more flexible. Choosing the right reed strength depends on various factors, including the player’s skill level, mouthpiece, and personal preference.
It’s important to note that the reed strength that works best for an individual player may vary based on personal preference, mouthpiece design, and the specific requirements of the music being played. Therefore, it is recommended for saxophonists to experiment with different reed strengths to find the one that suits their playing style and musical needs.
Saxophone Reeds Review
Now, let’s take a closer look at some of the major reed brands available on the market.
Vandoren is one of the most popular and widely-used reed brands among saxophonists. They offer a wide range of reed types, including their traditional cane reeds, as well as synthetic options like the V21 and the Java Green.
Vandoren Traditional reeds (aka “Blue Box”)
The Vandoren Traditional reed is their most popular reed type, known for its warm and full sound. These are also extremely versatile and can be used in a variety of musical genres. They feature a thin tip (for ease of response) and a thick heart (for stability of tone). These reeds also feature a filed cut for ease of response.
While these reeds are typically thought of as a classical saxophone reed don’t let that fool you. They are extremely versatile and are used by popular saxophonists like Eric Marienthal and Lenny Pickett.
Java Green Box
Java Greens are designed for jazz and commercial music. These reeds are the thinnest reeds that Vandoren makes. The cut of these reeds allows them to vibrate along a wider palette. I find that these reeds are very easy to play and are very responsive. They produce a bright tone and have great projection (these are the also the brightest reeds Vandoren makes). They are used by popular saxophonists like Warren Hill and David Sanborn.
Java Red Box
Java Reds are also designed for jazz and commercial music. The main difference between these and the java greens is that the java Reds are filed. These reeds are not as bright as the java greens but they have great projection. I really love the way these reeds play.
The best way to think about ZZ reeds is to view them as a cross between the java greens and the V16s. They feature the wider pallet of the java greens and the rounded tip of the V16s. These reeds feature neutral sound pallet with some edge.
The ZZ reeds were used by the late saxophonist, Phil Woods.
The V16s are they thickest cut that Vandoren makes. They feature a thick rounded tip that provides a darker sound-in fact, Vandoren will tell you that the V16s are the darkest jazz reeds they make.
Rico, owned by D’Addario, is another well-known brand in the saxophone reed market. Their most popular reed brands are the Rico Orange Box, Rico Royal, La Voz, and the Jazz Select Reeds.
Rico Orange Box
Many beginning saxophonists start on these reeds. They feature a thinner profile for ease of response. They are great for anyone who is just getting started on saxophone.
That said, some saxophonists continue to use these reeds as professionals. I believe that Marc Russo plays these. At one point, I believe that Melissa Aldana was using these reeds (before she switched to Rico’s jazz select reeds). Remember that rico alto saxophone reeds were the reed choice of the great Cannonball Adderly.
I’ve used them on some pro gigs and they held up just fine. The only challenge with these reeds is that the quality of the cane is not the same as it once was, but if you can find a good one, it will play awesome for you.
Rico Royal Reeds
The Rico Royal reeds are a filed version of the Rico Orange Box reeds. However, I tend to find that these reeds are more resistant than the Orange Box reeds for some reason. These reeds sound nice and bright and really project. I really like the way they record (I used them exclusively on my 2019 album, Begin Again). They are also used by tenor saxophonists, Bob Reynolds.
La Voz Reeds
They feature a traditional blank and a stronger spine for increased power. I find that these reeds play great and have a neutral sound (not too bright or too dark). In fact, I recorded my first Billboard-charting single on a la voz reed.
Jazz Select Reeds
The Jazz Select Reeds are the creme-de-la-creme. Rico uses it’s best cane for these reeds. They come in either filed or unfiled cuts, and also come in 1/3 strengths as opposed to 1/2s. This way, the player and better dial-in his/her preferred reed strength.
The filed reeds are more free-blowing and brighter in comparison to the unfiled reeds.
Another reed from this line that I really like is the Hemke reeds. Although these reeds are typically thought of as a classical reed, they are versatile. In fact, saxophone superstar Kenny G uses these reeds are all his saxes.
I can see why Kenny uses them: they feature a thin tip and a shorter vamp for a dark sound that is easy to play. I ease of playability of these reeds is simply amazing.
They are quite dark so they can really help balance out a bright mouthpiece.
One important thing to know about these reeds is that come in boxes of 5 as opposed to the typical box of 10. This makes them a little cheaper and the consistency is fantastic.
If you haven’t given these reeds a try, I highly encourage you to do so.
I have also spent some time playing Rico’s premier classical reed-Rico Reserves. These reeds are excellent and work well in a variety of musical styles. They feature a traditional tip and a filed cut for ease of response. They are very dark reeds and have a decent amount of projection. A reed like this can really help tone down an overly-bright mouthpiece.
Rico also used synthetic materials and offers a range of synthetic reeds, including the Royal Graftonite and the Plasticover. The Royal Graftonite is designed for beginning players, while the Plasticover is a favorite among jazz players for its unique sound and resistance to moisture.
Other Reed Brands
There are also many smaller reed brands on the market, such as Brancher, Alexander, Gonzalez, Woodstone, Robertos, Legere, and Silverstein. Other popular brands for alto sax are the Rigotti gold alto saxophone reeds and the legere reeds signature series alto saxophone reed. Each of these brands has their own unique strengths and features, so it is worth experimenting with different brands and product types to find the one that suits your playing style and preferences.
In conclusion, the type of reed you choose can have a significant impact on your saxophone sound and performance. While many players believe that harder reeds are better for advanced players, it is important to remember that reed strength is a personal preference and can vary depending on the player and their playing style. By experimenting with different brands, types, and strengths of saxophone reeds, you can find the perfect reed to help you achieve your desired sound and play your best.