1. The differences between the brands is not as big as you might think.
One of the first things to consider when purchasing a saxophone reed is which brand to buy. Every saxophone player has their personal favorite, but in terms of sound quality, the differences between the brands are minimal. Personally, I started with Vandoren reeds and have always come back to them as a personal choice. However, I have had success with Alexander Superial reeds. Alexander Superial reeds are a little bit more expensive but they do have quite a good percentage of excellent reeds per box.
2. There are ways of predicting which reeds will play best.
Saxophone reeds have become quite pricy so it’s important to know what to buy before you make a purchase. Some music stores will not let you pore over reed boxes to find the best reeds, but if they let you, there are a few signs of a bad reed which you should be aware of:
- Discoloration of the grain
- One side is thicker or thinner than the other (look at the blunt end, not the tip)
- Fluctuating widths of grain
- Rougher than normal grain on the cut side of the reed
3. Playing on hard reeds does not make you a more advanced player.
A common misconception about saxophone reeds is that the softer reed you play on, the less experienced you are playing the saxophone. The truth about saxophone reed thickness is that the higher you ascend in thickness, the easier it becomes to play altissimo notes and play loudly. However, harder reeds can make playing with vibrato and note bending remarkably difficult.
Working with softer reeds has helped many professional saxophone players with developing a better embouchure plus overall range and dynamic adaptability.
4. A good reed cannot play to its full potential if it’s not properly matched to the mouthpiece.
The best saxophone instructor I have had (who I found through AngiesList.com) taught me an important, and commonly overlooked, fact: a good reed cannot play as well to its full potential if it is not a good fit with the mouthpiece. Mouthpieces with narrow tip openings usually work better with harder reeds and mouthpieces with wider tip opening work better with softer reeds.
5. Saxophone reeds play better when wet.
There are several different methods in which to wet a reed. Some players will just soak them in their mouth before playing. Others carry around a small container of water and let their reeds soak in the container before they play. A reed may become warped from drying out too quickly. A simple remedy to this ailment is to soak the reed in water. If this does fully solve the problem of the reed being warped, soaking the saxophone reed in alcohol has been known to do what water cannot.
6. If all else fails, a synthetic reed may be the best solution.
Another alternative to purchasing natural saxophone reeds is the synthetic saxophone reed. However, there is a general consensus among professional saxophone players that synthetic reeds sound different (ie: worse) than natural reeds. One plus of purchasing synthetic saxophone reeds is they will not warp, crack, or wear over time. It is up to you to decide whether you want a better sounding or a longer-lasting reed.
One synthetic saxophone reed that sounds close to the cane reed is that Hahn Fibre Reed. With the Hahn Fibre Reed, some players have experienced difficulty playing altissimo and higher notes are flat consistently.
No matter which saxophone reed you choose, be sure to, above all- have fun playing saxophone!