7 Tips for Curing “Stinky Reed Syndrome”
Normally I like to include your names and links to your sites when I use your questions in my articles, but in this particular case, anonymity was requested.
You see, what we’re talking about could be a bit embarrassing to discuss, but since we deal with saliva and cane working together, it’s not at all unusual that there might be some reed hygiene issues at play.
“I’ve had this problem for several months now and I’ve tried everything to fix it and I was wondering if you might have a solution to this problem. I’ve recently been noticing that after playing a long gig or practice session that my breath has a odor to it. It’s kind of like a metal taste with saliva mixed in. I don’t leave the reed on the mouthpiece when I’m done playing, I swab out my horn after playing it, and I also brush my teeth before playing, but nothing works. It’s getting to the point when I know a reed is about to go bad based on how it smells. Anyway I was wondering if you had a solution to this problem, so I’m not eating through reeds like crazy.”
– Anonymous Reader
Ouch, that does sound like a nasty dilemma! Here are a few tips that are likely to help you cure this problem once and for all so that you can avoid learning to play while wearing a gas mask (just being goofy here, but I think you catch my drift).
1. Make sure that your breath isn’t the problem.
Nobody likes to think that they might have bad breath, and unless we test ourselves for it, it’s likely that our unwelcome oral odor could be leaving a trail of stinkiness in its war path. Fortunately, testing for bad breath is quite easy. According to TheraBreath.com, the following test should give you a pretty definite answer as to your breath’s current state of affailrs:
The Cotton Test: Wipe the top surface of your tongue with a piece of cotton gauze and smell it. This is probably the most honest way. Also, if you notice a yellowish stain on the cotton, it’s likely that you have an elevated sulfide production level.
There are several more helpful tests you can do as well, so to check some of those out pop on over to TheraBreath.com.
2. Dry your reeds as much as possible.
Wipe them as dry as possible before putting them in a carrier. Ideally, they should only go in the reed case once they’re completely dry. At the very least, take them out and air dry them when you return home.
3. Find a reed case with dehumidifying capabilities
Reed cases such as the Rico Multi-Instrument Reed Vitalizer Case (about $17) or the more expensive and sophisticated Vandoren Hygrocase (about $72) contain a desiccant, which is the substance that induces or sustains a state of dryness. With the Rico Multi-Instrument Reed Vitalizer Case, there is a slot in the case where you insert a packet full of desiccant, wheras the Vandoren Hygrocase is “a state-of-the-art digital reed case that allows you to control the specific humidity within the case, ensuring your reeds will play no matter what your location.” Ahh, the wonders of moder technology…
4. Keep food and drink out of your horn
Although our Anonymous Reader already brushes his teeth before playing, I would be remiss if I left this tip off the list. My advice is, don’t play right after eating. If you must play immediately after eating, brush your teeth before putting the horn in your mouth.
5. Soak your reeds in mouthwash
Many saxophonists have had luck soaking their reeds in Listerine. Before you play, just leave your reed in a cup of mouthwash for a minute or so. It will be hard for your reed to stink after that, and the added bonus is that you’ll keep the entire sax session smelling minty fresh!
6. Clean your reeds at least once a week.
At the very least, run your reeds under water and wipe them off. If you want to get a bit more complicated, you may want to try a more thorough cleaning as outlined here (haven’t tried this myself, but it seems as though it would work being that this method involves vinegar which makes for a very powerful cleaning agent).
7. If all else fails, consider plastic or semi-plastic reeds
If none of the suggestions listed here give you the results you’re looking for, you may want to consider at least trying reeds that are 100% plastic, or at least plastic-coated. These reeds should be much easier to clean and won’t absorb water and mold like a cane reed does. Although they get a bad rap, there are some great players out there who swear by plastic and plastic-coated reeds. Some popular brands of fully plastic reeds include Bari, Fibrecell, and Legere, while Rico’s Plasticover reed is probably the most popular semi-plastic reed.
So There You Have It
Have you ever ran into Stinky Reed Syndrome – and if so, were you able to find a cure?
December 6, 2011 @ 6:37 am
Larry Teal’s “The Art of Saxophone Playing” recommended soaking in hydrogen peroxide. I’m not sure I’d soak overnight like he recommends — a couple of minutes should be sufficient, followed by a water rinse.
This wikipedia article has some additional comments about reeds, bacteria, etc. :
December 6, 2011 @ 10:05 am
Yeah, I read about the hydrogen peroxide. Seems weird to put that stuff in your mouth even though I’m sure it’s totally safe if you rinse the reed off afterwards.
Anyhow, thanks for the Wikipedia article – who would have though that they’d have a wiki page on reed care? (although I guess Wikipedia has a page on just about everything).
December 6, 2011 @ 11:27 am
Hydrogen peroxide is a common ingredient in those teeth whitening rinses, etc. so there should be no issue with putting in your mouth (especially if the reed is rinsed)
December 6, 2011 @ 1:47 pm
Hmm, looks like someone here needs to learn a bit more about Hydrogen peroxide (hint, it’s not you Jeff).
I guess the name just sounds so toxic, but that’s good to know, thanks for adding to the list!
June 23, 2012 @ 8:21 pm
Soak your reeds in a 50% water/50% mouthwash solution. I keep mine in an old plastic pill bottle that doesn’t leak.
Store the reeds in a reed guard in either a Rico reed revitalizer bag that act like a humidifier. Or this is what I do. I store the reed in a LaVoz reed guard which is then place inside a zip lock lunch baggie with a Rcio 73% reed vitalizer pack in it. DO NOT CLOSE the ZIP LOCK Baggie all the way. Leave it open about a 1/4″. THe mouthwash/H2O solution sanitizes and cleans the reed and gives it a slight minty taste. By keeping the baggie slighty open you do not get that funky mold growing on your reed. Try it, this is an inexpensive solution to your problem. It works for me.
Btw I learned this at the Saxophone Symposium in a Masterclass given byScott Silva who played tenor in the US Navy Jazz Commodores and is now a staff arranger for the Navy Band.
April 11, 2017 @ 5:28 pm
Yeah I’ve only been playing for a short time but when I finish my breath and reed always smell really bad. I can’t wash it because my saxophone teacher keeps getting up me when I take it out of the mouthpiece because ‘every time you put it in you run the risk of splintering it’ (a different problem I used to have)
February 4, 2019 @ 6:17 pm
I am loving your tips- first one i saw read about helping your lip by changing ambroshure (sp?). I’ve linked on a few others as well.
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February 17, 2019 @ 8:11 am
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