Equipment Recommendations Part 3

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Hopefully this series has been helpful in regards to understanding some specific brands of saxophone equipment. We’ve covered saxophone makes and models, as well as details on beginner, intermediate, and pro mouthpieces. Next, we’ll continue down the list:

  1. Reeds
  2. Ligatures
  3. Neck Straps

Beginner Reeds

In a former post I made equipment recommendations for the beginner. One of these suggestions included Rico brand reeds, at a 2.5 or 3 strength (depending on alto or tenor). I continue to make that recommendation with an emphasis on reed strength. Often, beginning students will begin on a 1.5 or 2 strength instead. I discourage this approach. Sure, it will be easier to play, but your tone will suffer.

The 2.5/3 strength provides more resistance as you play. This requires you to apply more pressure to the reed in order to make the instrument play and respond properly. A reed that doesn’t provide enough resistance can cause a lazy and relaxed embouchure. This can result in a tone that sounds tired, lacking energy. Once again, for a better tone, make sure you do not begin on a reed lower than 2.5 in strength.

When to Step Up

When should you move on from a beginner reed and move up to a pro reed? That’s a good question. There are many approaches to this, but I think one particular suggestion is helpful. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Maybe around 6 months you’ll be ready to move up to a pro reed. Try buying a few earlier than that, and give them a try. Experiment with the pro reeds and see if they are helpful or not. Here are some signs that it’s time to move up:

  1. You consistently produce a buzzy tone
  2. Low notes come out easily and high notes are more difficult to play
  3. Every reed out of the box plays easily
    • When you’re playing the right level of reed, there tend to be some reeds in the box that don’t play well
    • If you can play on every reed easily (after 6 months or so of playing), it may be time to move up

Pro Reeds

There are many reed brands available today. Even within one brand, there seem to be an overwhelming amount of options. In this post, I’ll simply recommend some popular options so you can try out the reeds that have proven to be most successful among the masses. Here’s a quick list:

Classical, Or Non-Pop Reeds

  • Vandoren Traditional (Blue Box)
  • D’Addario Reserve
  • Frederick Hemke

Jazz/Pop Reeds

  • Vandoren (V16, ZZ, or Java. They sell a variety pack where you can buy all of them together)
  • D’Addario Select Jazz

Recommended Reed Strength

This will come down to experimentation again, but here are some tips to start off right.

Classical, Or Non-Pop Reeds

If you’re playing a 3 strength Rico Royal reed, and you try the Vandoren Traditional reed, I would suggest going down to a 2.5. If you get the same strength on the pro reed as you play on the beginner reed, it will probably be too difficult to play. For example, a 3 Vandoren Traditional reed provides the same type of resistance as a 3.5 Rico Royal. The new Vandoren may be more difficult to play at first, but after about a week these reeds will become easier to play and your tone will improve.

Jazz/Pop Reeds

I would suggest starting with the same reed strength you currently play with your beginner setup. Since the reeds are cut differently than “classical” reeds, there won’t be as much resistance. You should feel comfortable with this strength reed. Of course, you won’t use these reeds until you have a jazz/pop mouthpiece.

Your Choice

What reeds do you play on? Have you moved up to a pro reed yet? Or maybe you like a reed that’s not on our list. Feel free to share your experiences and recommendations in the comment section.

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Comments 8

  1. Thanks for the info. Didn’t know what pro reeds were. I’m 61 starting on late 60s 10m with a graftonite b5 mpce. Just got a Otto link tone edge7. Playing Rico 21/2. Think I need a different ligature and different reed maybe

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Chuck,

      Thanks for your question. The Otto Link is a jazz mouthpiece, so I would suggest trying the Vandoren jazz reed variety pack to find the right reed for you. I would also suggest settling on the right mouthpiece/reed combination before looking into a ligature. If you get too many pieces in the equation, it can be overwhelming and confusing. Once you know what you have with the reed and mouthpiece, it’s a lot easier to choose the right ligature. I’ll cover ligatures in more detail next time.

    1. Post
      Author

      Reeds are like finding the right shoe size. Even after you find the right size, after a little time the foot grows and a new shoe size is needed. For a beginner, a Vandoren reed could be the worst choice. I would suggest trying a Rico Royal 2.5 and 3 at this point. Once you play these reeds for a few months then I would consider trying a 2.5 or 3 Vandoren. Of course this all depends on the mouthpiece you are using as well.

  2. Hello Jeff, regarding reeds, I play an Alto Yamaha YAS 275, with mouth piece 4C, and Rico 2 1/2
    strength reeds. I have wondered what to do about what you refer to as a “buzzing” sound that is sometimes produced by the reed. Do you have any thoughts you might offer?

    Thank you, Laura

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Laura,

      That’s a great question, and I’m glad you asked. The sound I’m referring to is just a slight sound. When you have a reed strength that works for you, there will be a rich full sound. Then, as the reed begins to break down, it not only becomes easier to play, but it begins to lose some of the rich/full qualities and will begin to sound buzzy. It’s slight, but it will show up as the reed eventually breaks down. You can do an experiment by playing on one reed for about a month (or longer). Then when it becomes very easy to play, switch to a new reed and listen to the difference in the sound. You’ll hear that the old reed has a slight buzz to it, and the new reed will not have that issue.

      Once you hear that sound, you’ll be able to judge when the reed has that buzz right out of the box. At that point, you can move up a half strength. If you can’t hear this buzz at first, that’s okay. If you get to a point where every reed out of the box is easy to play, then go ahead and try a reed a half strength higher. If it’s too difficult to play, and you’re fighting with the reed when trying to focus on other things, then go back to your other reed.

      If you can’t hear the buzz, I wouldn’t worry about it, because the main thing you want to listen for is the overall tone and how the reed responds. At the very least, buy some reeds a half strength above what you’re currently playing, and see how it goes. If you don’t hear the buzz, that’s okay too. I post a number of characteristics because different people hear different things. So, it’s not essential to hear the buzz, but if you do, you’ll know what to do.

      If you have any other questions please feel free to ask, and I would love to hear how things go.

      Best,

      Jeff

  3. What are your recommendations on synthetic reeds? I have found Legere to be the best for me. My style is to play in the lower register (D, Db, C, … Bb) on Tenor and I could not find a natural reed brand that could deliver the consistency to be trusted.

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Jay.

      I’ve never had much luck with synthetic reeds, to be honest. They tend to have a little more buzz in the tone than I prefer. Even when I was in high school I was not a fan, but they have improved greatly in recent years. However, I still prefer cane reeds. What can reeds have you tried? Maybe I can help you find a good fit.

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