Old Reed vs New Reed

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In our last post, we covered the process of rotating reeds. This can improve your tone and increase the duration of effectiveness for each reed. This week we’ll identify the characteristics of an old worn-out reed and a new reed. This will help you understand when to retire a reed, and when to move up in reed strength.

The Old Reed

Especially if we don’t rotate our reeds, we can easily get caught playing the same old reed. If we continue to play on this reed for an extended amount of time, it could have a negative impact on our tone and playing in general.  It’s essential that we identify characteristics of an old worn-out reed to avoid any potential issues.

Low Notes

Have you ever played on a reed, and the longer you played on it, the low notes become easier to play? If your low notes are easy to play (and they weren’t a few weeks ago), then your reed may be worn out. Even though this is a sign of a worn-out reed, you should not retire the reed on this one idea. Next, check out the higher notes.

High Notes

If your low notes come out easily, try the palm keys (remember to use low air as you play these notes). If they’re difficult to play (squeaking, thin sound, reed closes off) then this is another sign that your reed is worn out. If the high notes and low notes respond as described, then there is a good chance it’s time to retire the reed.

Buzzy Sound

Another characteristic of a worn-out reed is a buzzy sound in your tone. The buzz can be heard best in the middle range of the saxophone. If the buzzy sound wasn’t present a couple of weeks ago, and it’s there now, then you may have a worn out reed.

Playing Response

Many times the worn-out reed can become a favorite reed of a beginner, because they are so easy to play. However, sometimes when a reed is old, it may become more difficult to play. This is not to confuse the situation, but to be aware that most of the time reeds will become easier to play, while sometimes the opposite is true.

New Reeds

If you’re rotating reeds, then a new reed should not feel significantly different than the other quality reeds you’re playing. Here are some characteristics of quality reeds that are new.

Low Notes

The low notes could be more difficult to play, but once they come out, you’ll notice the superior sound quality.

High notes

Compared to the worn-out reed, the higher notes on the saxophone will respond easier. These notes will also produce a better sound.

Buzzy Sound

Sometimes a new reed will produce the same negative characteristics of an old reed. If this occurs, then move onto a different reed. If you find that all your new reeds produce the same characteristics of an old reed (right out of the box), then it may be time to take a step up to the next reed strength. This is a result of a maturing embouchure.

Difficult to Play

Whether you’re taking a step up in strength, or just taking a new reed out of the box, be aware that some reeds will be difficult to play, even if they are quality reeds. If this is the case, no big deal. Just play on them for a few practice sessions and they should become easier to play. If the reed continues to fight you, and all your other reeds play well, then you may need to retire that 1 reed (even if it’s new).


If you follow this pattern of identifying reeds, you’ll know the right time to retire a reed and when to increase reed strength. This will help you produce a better tone and help your embouchure continue to develop properly.

What type of reed experiences have you had with old and new reeds? We would love to hear about your reed adventures in the comment section. You can also give this process a try and let us know how it works for you. I look forward to your improved tone.

Have fun playing!

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