The reed is one of the most important parts of a saxophone since it is the actual 'noise maker' and one of the cheaper things you can experiment with to change the sound of your saxophone.
Sax reeds are made from reed plants, also referred to as cane. There are also synthetic reeds and hybrids available that we will briefly look at in a moment.
Each reed brand has a few different cuts of reeds that affect the resistance and tone of the saxophone. I always suggest younger sax players stay with basic reeds made by
Rico or La Voz.
Both brands have a basic reed that is very suitable for new players. Many pros prefer these brands years later, therefore are a good all-around reed. Most beginning students will likely play basic Rico reeds due to the lower cost and reality that they can break easily when being handled.
The Rico Royal reeds cost a bit more but have less unusable reeds per box. When my daughter started sax this year I gave her a medium tip mouthpiece #4, and a box of Rico Royal #2 reeds to start. New saxophonists will perform best on a small tip mouthpiece with softer reeds, and then grow into a little larger tip mouthpiece with a little harder reed over the first few years.
There are a number of reed variations available. Each reed has a strength, marked by a number, 2 to 5 in half steps, 5 being the hardest for Rico and 2 being the softest. La Voz uses a word system: soft, medium soft, medium, medium hard, and hard. Each reed manufacturer has a system for marking how hard or how soft the reed is but generally follow a scale where the higher the number, the harder the strength of the reed.
If you are buying reeds today, you would start with the saxophone (ie. alto, tenor or baritone), next the brand, (ie. La Voz or Rico), and then the reed strength of your choice. I use 'Rico Royal' '#3' 'Soprano Saxophone' reeds for example. All 3 pieces of information are needed to place an order.
There are a couple of things you will want to know before ordering.
– Reeds generally sell by the box - 5, 10 or 25.
– There are slight differences in each natural cane reed.
– Every box will likely have a percentage of reeds that don't work very well or for very long. It is not unusual for 20% of any box to be unplayable.
All the other brands and special cuts are for the more advanced player to experiment with. There are jazz cuts, hand selects, and classical reeds available to further tailor the desired sound.
Although most Saxophone players use basic cane reeds, there are also synthetic reeds – very consistent due to the material consisting of plastics and they last for months. I have tried these, but be cautioned, there is a definite trade off in volume control and tone. Yet many sax players have found these a great alternative to traditional cane.
There are also the "plasticover" reeds by Rico. These reeds are cane with a thin coat of plastic over them and last a lot longer than the basic cane reed. They do however trade a portion of the core tone for an increase in volume as well as the overtones needed for the extended range on the sax, known as altissimo. I personally use plasticover reeds on alto, tenor and bari saxes almost all the time.
As you can see, there are plenty of options to consider when shopping for saxophone reeds. The best place to start is safe and simple. No one wants to struggle and feel like the instrument is winning. Start with a medium strength — and over time you can try other options and understand the benefits of different reeds.
Woodwind & Brasswind is proud to offer high-quality reeds for musicians from professional to beginner. All reeds are backed by The Woodwind & Brasswind's 110% Price Guarantee, assuring that you won't find quality Rico products at a lower price anywhere else.
Los Angeles based freelance saxophonist Greg Vail is among the most versatile woodwind players on the west coast. His work in jazz, pop and contemporary gospel music spans over 30-years. Greg maintains an active digital presence at www.gregvail.com.