Saxophone reed – What You Need to Know

Saxophone reed – What You Need to Know

A saxophone reed is a thin piece of wood or plastic that needs to vibrate in order for the saxophone player to produce a sound on an instrument.

Reeds are often compared to human vocal cords. When a person sings the vocal cords vibrate to produce a certain pitched note, the reed acts the same way a vocalizes the note through the saxophone body. All Instruments that produce sound from this little piece of material are called reed instruments. The reed is placed onto the mouthpiece by using a ligature. 

The correct placement of the reed on a traditional saxophone is the key to producing the clean sound in the right pitch. The mouthpiece, with the reed, and the ligature that holds them together are the piece that a musician has his contact to produce the sound. These elements influence the quality of the overall sound of the instruments. They also play a big role in the way the instrument feels in the hands of a player.

saxophone reed
Image by shonamcq from Pixabay

What is a function of a saxophone reed

Your saxophone reed might be quite small compared to the whole instrument; however, as mentioned above, it may be one of the main influences of the tone of the instrument, so choosing the right reed for yourself should be a priority. This is important especially during the beginner phase, when you are just getting accustomed to the instrument and adjusting your amboture to the mouthpiece.

The variety and strength of a reed

Although you might discover that the reeds are relatively inexpensive, compared to other accessories of the saxophone, picking the right type of reed and correct reed strength is very important to feel comfortable when playing. 

Even though you might come across the labeling as “soft,” “medium” or “hard”, the standard scale for saxophone reed strength is from 1 – 5, where 1 is the softest reed to be played and 5 is the hardest one. When a reed is chosen for the beginner saxophones, it is usually in between 2-3 strengths for a player to adjust better.

Different materials reeds can be made from

 The majority of woodwind instrument reeds are made of Arundo donax plants or synthetic materials like plastic. Although most cane reeds have been produced in France, Argentina and Spain are gaining popularity as well. 

However, despite the cane reeds’ warmer and deeper sound having been regarded as a gold standard among saxophonists, there is a lot of natural variation among them, so, even two reeds of the same size and strength can sound quite different.

Synthetic reeds can be used as an alternative to natural cane reeds. These reeds vary in material composition depending on the manufacturer and have a few unique features. The first benefit is that they don’t need any of the advanced care that canes need, such as softening the reed prior to playing. 

In addition, they’re extremely consistent as there’s no variation from one to the next. Finally, synthetic reeds do not crack or warp over time because humidity has no effect on them. As a result, synthetic reeds can be a good fit for someone who is more concerned about convenience than sound.

What are some of the good quality reeds in the market

Some of the greatest brands that produce high quality reeds: 

  • Fiberreed; 

  • D’Addario;

  • Rico; 

  • Légère;

  • Vandoren;

Which reed is right for me

Discovering the right that is right for you can be a difficult process. Unless you’re buying multiple saxophone reeds, you have to make a choice between natural cane and synthetic materials.

If you are a beginner you will probably have to go with Beginner Medium/Soft Reed (2-3 strength) – these are good to practice as a beginner as they are easier to play. However, the downside is that they have less professional sound than more strength reeds usually provide when played by professionals.

If you’ve been playing saxophone for 3-6 months and decided to change the reed, but are unsure of which reed to order, you should probably go with Intermediate Medium Reed (3-4). These are fairly easy to play as well, but they do have this mature sound mentioned above. This can be a good next step if you are upgrading from 2-3 strength reeds.

saxophone reeds

A medium/Hard Reed is an upgrade after a medium reed. These reeds are designed to be thicker and have a richer sound. While the reeds require more time to adjust to the player, their flexibility is much higher.

It is likely that a Professional Hard Reed will be the final step in the reed upgrade. When playing medium-hard reeds, you may want to switch to a professional hard reed if the strength is insufficient. They have a much deeper tone and are much more difficult to play, but they have a high level of flexibility and a much more professional sound.

Taking care of the reed

Saxophone reeds are extremely permeable and will expand and contract depending on how much moisture they are exposed to. It’s easy for our reeds to become really gross really quickly and mold can be an actual problem as well.

storing cane reeds on a flat surface is one of the tips that will help your reed to avoid warping.

Warping is when the tips of the reed become wavy from the drying and wetting cycle, The reed is also considered to be warped if the whole cane is curved on one side, making it difficult to create the suction possible when attached to the mouthpiece.

Another tip is to get a plastic container and keep your cane reeds moist all the time. This can be very helpful, as the lifespan of the reed is shortened by the cycles of drying and wetting the cane. If the drying and wetting cycle is avoided, the reed can last way longer.

saxophone cane reeds

If you want to clean, sanitize or disinfect saxophone reeds you should soak your saxophone reeds in a glass filled with 3% hydrogen peroxide solution for 30 minutes, then, dry them with a sterile sponge afterward.

So these are the main tips to keep the reed clean and in good working order:

  • To Prevent Mold on Reeds: Make sure you take care of your oral hygiene before playing.
  • Try to Sanitize your Reeds Often using the above-mentioned technique
  • Store Your Reed Properly – the plastic case with the ventilation holes in it with a damp sponge that will keep the cane reed moist should do the job
  • Try to use fresh water to soak the reed before playing, avoid wetting with the saliva.

To make your saxophone reed last longer by use a reed guard or reed case. By storing your reed carefully, you can extend the life of your reed.