An Evaluation of Vandoren’s Hottest Products
Vandoren is a name that many saxophonists have come to swear by. I have tried many of Vandoren’s reeds and saxophone accessories for soprano, alto, and tenor. David Gould and Andy Blanco over at DANSR were nice enough to send me some of their most popular Vandoren products. I am going to be reviewing a good chunk of the product line and sharing my thoughts on these items.
Many saxophonists know that when you find the right mouthpiece, you never want it to wear out. I have tried many vintage and used mouthpieces and have noticed that many mouthpieces, after continuous play, will have the bite pad worn down to the point where the mouthpiece needs to be repaired or is almost unplayable. A great accessory and cost effective solution that Vandoren offers is it’s black mouthpiece cushions. These mouthpiece cushions are on the thicker side which offers great protection. In addition to long lasting, these cushions last for a very long time and can be switched from mouthpiece to mouthpiece without losing the adhesive that keeps the mouthpiece cushion in place. I highly recommend the Vandoren mouthpiece cushions because they will protect your favorite piece(s).
Find on Amazon.com: Vandoren Mouthpiece Cushions Black, Thick, Package of 6
M|O Vandoren Ligature (Gold & Aged Gold)
The two ligatures I received from Vandoren were the new M|O gold and aged gold ligatures for tenor and alto saxophone. All throughout high school I played on a metal Vandoren V16 mouthpiece and the very popular and widely used Vandoren Optimum ligature. Not too long ago, Vandoren introduced the M|O ligature, which is a combination of the Masters series ligature and the Vandoren Optimum ligature resulting in a lig that is light-weight and allows the reed to vibrate even more.
My main setup throughout college and now is an old hard rubber Otto Link mouthpiece with a Francois Louis Ultimate Ligature. When I tried the M|O ligature I was surprised by how I could shape notes with an edgy and focused sound. This ligature reminded me of the Optimum ligature but the M|O ligature was lighter and had less contact points on the reed allowing it to vibrate more freely. I was surprised by how consistent my sound was using the M|O from the top register all the way down to my low Bb.
The gold finish M|O ligature compared to the aged gold finish M|O ligature was very similar. The difference that I found between this finish and the aged gold finish was when I was playing the gold finish, I heard a bit brighter sound when in the upper register and the sound was a bit less spread and more focused in the upper register.
I have played on a Rovner Eddie Daniels Edition ligature and a stock Meyer 6M mouthpiece for a very long time. Overall, I found the same results with the M|O ligature on tenor as I did on alto. The best way to describe the difference between the aged gold finish and the gold finish would be the overall sound. When I played on the aged gold finish, I felt my sound was leaning towards a more Cannoball Adderley-esque sound while the standard gold finish M|O gave me a brighter sound that reminded me of Charlie Parker and Sonny Stitt. I understand that everyone has different preferences in terms of sound and comfort and that is why I recommend checking out all three finishes if you can (aged gold, gold lacquer finish, and gold plated finish).
Here are two videos of Antonio hart playing with the M/O ligature:
M/O Vandoren ligature Alto (Gold & Aged Gold)
Read the Vandoren Product Brief [Sorry(!), but this web page has disappeared since the original publication of this article]
Find on Amazon.com: Vandoren M/O Series Saxophone Ligature Tenor Sax – Gilded
Vandoren V16 T8 (Tenor)
I own a Vandoren V16 A7 alto mouthpiece and have switched between my Vandoren and Meyer mouthpiece based on which alto saxophone I am playing. I recently was able to try the Vandoren V16 T8 mouthpiece for tenor to see how it compared to my Link. I would have to say that out of the various mouthpieces that Vandoren offers, from soprano to baritone sax, the V16 mouthpiece reminded me most of the popular vintage mouthpieces that so many players (including myself) have played or have been searching for.
I found the V16 T8 model to be a little bit open and I would probably prefer playing on the T7. One characteristic that I have noticed while trying the Vandoren V16 as well as the Vandoren Jumbo Java mouthpiece is the consistency you can obtain on these mouthpieces. I found the V16 to play very neutral throughout the entire range of the horn, and I found great stability when playing down to the low Bb as well as playing up to the high F#. In comparison to my Link, I felt that my Link had a bigger sound as well as focus, but the Vandoren V16 was more consistent from top to bottom. I would highly recommend trying the V16 model if you are looking for something that embodies many of the characteristics of the most popular vintage mouthpieces, but with Vandoren’s mouthpiece innovations.
Find on Amazon.com: Vandoren SM823E Mouthpiece V16 T75 Tenor Saxophone Ebonite
Vandoren Jumbo Java T75 (Tenor)
The Vandoren Jumbo Java is one of Vandoren’s most popular jazz mouthpieces. Many players who I have talked with view the jumbo java as a mouthpiece that offers many players the power of a metal mouthpiece but in hard rubber. When I test-played the Vandoren Jumbo Java, I was surprised by the sound. I did not realize how loud a hard rubber mouthpiece could be. I found that I was able to produce a very big sound that just consumed the entire room.
In terms of focus, I found this mouthpiece to be much more spread than focused. The Jumbo Java was very easy to control and I found in particular the bottom range to be extra-full. This mouthpiece is very different from the V16 model mouthpieces and I would recommend trying out both to see which one fits your style of playing.
Find on Amazon.com: Vandoren SM613B Mouthpiece Vandoren Tenor Sax Jumbo Java T75
I tried almost every type of reed that Vandoren manufacturers, from the blue box to the ZZ’s, but had not gotten the chance to compare the full line up side by side. I received a mixture of 2.5 and 3-strength reeds of the Vandoren Java, Vandoren V16, Vandoren ZZ, and the Vandoren Java Red for tenor saxophone. Here are my thoughts on how these reeds sounded to me.
I play-tested the 2.5 and 3 strength vandoren Java reeds. What I noticed was I prefer the 2.5 Java over the 3 because the 3 was a bit hard. What I noticed about the Java was its instant response as well as bright sound, especially when I played in the upper register. I find these reeds to be very free blowing and brighter overall when compared with the ZZ and V16.
Find on Amazon.com: Vandoren Java Tenor Saxophone Reeds #3, Box of 5
The Vandoren Java Red was the newest reed of the Vandoren line up that I had ever tested. The best way to describe the sound of this reed would be as follows: It had the characteristics of the Java in regards to the brighter upper register, with neutral mid range of the V16 reed, and the edge and free blowing-ness seen in the Vandoren ZZ.
Find on Amazon.com: Vandoren Java Red Tenor Saxophone Reeds #2.5, Box of 5
The Vandoren ZZ was overall the edgiest and darkest reed of the Vandoren line. I found the ZZ to have a nice focused sound and can see why so many jazz saxophone players have chosen this reed.
Find on Amazon.com: Vandoren ZZ Tenor Saxophone Reeds #3, Box of 5
I found the V16 reed to be the most neutral of the Vandoren line. This cut has actually been one of my favorite Vandoren cuts due to is consistency out of the box as well as it neutral timbre which gave me the most freedom to shape the sound the way I wanted. I found the V16 to have more resistance compared to the ZZ, Java Red, and the Java. If you are not a big fan of some resistance, I would recommend the ZZ or Java, but this reed has a very warm sound.
Find on Amazon.com: Vandoren Tenor Sax V16 Advanced Reeds #3, Box of 5
Vandoren Reed Comparison Chart
All in all, Vandoren has consistently been developing great products over the years. They are probably one of the most innovative companies in woodwind accessories and I can see why many players have continued to play their products. My favorite product out of the Vandoren product line was the aged gold Vandoren M|O ligature for tenor saxophone, and surprisingly I enjoyed playing on the Vandoren Red box just as much as I did on the V16. I would like to thank David Gould and Andy Blanco for sending me these various Vandoren products.
Otherwise, the best advice I can give in regards to equipment is to play what feels comfortable.
March 19, 2013 @ 6:45 pm
This was a great review. I will definitely be checking out the new ligatures because of it. Thanks for your hard work.
March 23, 2013 @ 7:10 pm
Overall I do not like Vandoren products for saxophone. I prefer Rico products, on tenor the regular Orange Box 2.5, on alto the LaVoz Hard. I find Rico reeds to be much more consistent. They are batting 50% or better out of the box. When I used to buy Vandoren reeds I’d be lucky to get get 2 of them to play.
March 24, 2013 @ 6:49 am
It’s great that you found a brand you enjoy playing on. I play both vandoren and rico on alto and tenor from time to time and feel both reeds work well. For rico I enjoy the jazz select’s and on vandoren I enjoy the java red box and V16. I believe the vandoren has some great accessories such as their ligatures and mouthpieces. Let me know if you get a chance to try out the V16 metal tenor mouthpiece, it’s a great overall mouthpiece.
March 25, 2013 @ 7:41 am
I was told by the sales rep at the NYC store of the Woodwind and Brasswind that the metal V-16 mpc was basically a knockoff of a metal Otto Link. The sales guy at the WWBW in NYC heard me play my metal Florida Otto Link 8* when I was trying out some Keilwerth tenor saxes. He told me I wouldn’t like the V-16 mpc because it was a Link type knockoff and it didn’t play as well as a vintage Link. The sales guy was a sax player and he tried out all the mpcs they had in the store as that was part of his job. So no, I have not tried the V-16 metal tenor mpc.
I feel that Rico reeds are more consistent than Vandoren reeds, they seems to respond faster. This is across the board for all the Rico products. I have known die hard Vandoren guys who were “classical” sax players. Lots of them have switched to the Rico Reserve Reeds.
I use what works, because I am a jazz and commercial oriented player I use Orange box Ricos on tenor and LaVoz on alto. There are a lot of jazz players who are using orange box Rico’s, LaVoz and the Rico Jazz Select. Btw sometimes I do use a RJS unfiled 2H but by and large I prefer the regular Rico 2.5 reed on tenor.
Now I must tell you that I have tried Roberto’s RW 2.5 H reeds also. Some of them work well. They play a bit harder but they really project. The big downside of the RW Reed is that it is very expensive.
As far as ligatures go I will stand by the silver Selmer Ligature for metal mpcs. It works great on my FL Link. On alto the brass gauge Selmer ligature works great on my Meyer 6M. On clarinet the Rovner/Eddie Daniels works great on my vintage Selmer E mpc. I do not like the Rovner on sax mpcs. They work okay but the Selmer ligs work better for me.
Well I guess that’s about it. Oh btw, I know someone is going to write in and say that the WWBW does not have a store in NYC. However when I was In NYC in 2000 with my Navy Band they did have a store in NYC. If my memory serves me right it was on either 22nd or 23rd Street about 1 or 2 blocks away from the F Train subway station.
March 25, 2013 @ 3:56 pm
A great old metal otto link mouthpiece is hard to beat but when I test played a few otto links and v-16 metal mouthpieces, I felt the V-16 from mouthpiece to mouthpiece was more consistent. The otto link metal’s are great mouthpieces but you really have to play a few of them because some time the finishing work is not 100% on each mouthpiece. I have been pretty happy with rico and vandoren’s ligatures. I have not played on a orange box of rico reeds in awhile but should check them out again. I would say the rico reeds are a bit thinner in terms of strength compared to the vandoren and finding the right strength is key to the right play-ability for you. I enjoy roberto’s reeds as well but agree that they have gotten more expensive so I don’t pick up as many boxes as I used to.
March 25, 2013 @ 5:17 pm
Zach: The new Links do not play as well as the older Links that is a given. The new “Vintage” Links are supposed to be better but I have not tried the metal ones yet. You are right, Rico’s are cut thinner than Vandorens. But the ZZ’s seem close. This is my experience.
I play a Rico 2.5 Orange box on my FL Otto Link 8* metal mpc. To make a Green Box Java work I actually had to go up to a # 3. Blue box Vandorens are much harder, a blue box 2.5 is to hard for me as is a V-16. The ZZ’z 2.5 seemed pretty close to my Rico 2.5. One of my students gave me a Red Box Java 2.5 and it was to soft so maybe a # 3 Red would work.
When I was doing legit playing with a Larry Teal mpc I was using Blue Box Vandorens in a # 2. But I was going through them very quickly and out of a 5 count box I lucky if I got 3 that played well. Usually I got 2 that worked well. This was before the Rico Reserves came out. Today I would play a Rico Reserve, either a 2.5 or 3.
You can buy Roberto’s RW Reeds in 3 packs. For tenor that is @ $13 bucks and some change + shipping. I actually used a RW 2.5 H when I taught today. It worked well. Because he gets his cane from Rigotti and Rigotti also makes the reed to his specs that drives up the price.
It’s funny, the Francois Louis, Queen, and Rigotti Gold and the RW’s are all made by Rigotti. They all play differently. The FL’s were a total waste of money, maybe 1 or 2 playable reeds in the box of 10. The Queen was okay but not good enough to make me want to buy it. The Rigotti Gold was also okay but didn’t yield enough playable reeds per box to make it worth it. Only the RW’s seem to do it for me. The others just don’t seem to provide the edge, projection and sub tone that I like. What really works the best for me are the RICO 2.5 Orange Box reeds. The RJS 2H unfiled work, but most are a bit to hard for me but I have used them on some gigs with success. As stated the RW’s work too but they cost + Roberto always tries to ship the more expensive way. I always ask him to ship regular mail to try to cut costs.
What Vandoren reed do you use for Jazz and what strength? Let me know and I’ll make a Rico Orange box reed strength suggestion. The good thing is Rico’s also come in 3 count cards so you don’t have to buy a whole box to try them. Also what tip opening are you playing, a .110, .115 or is it smaller?
Well take care.
April 1, 2013 @ 9:35 am
I play on a 7 tip opening old hard rubber otto link. I am using the alexander reeds but enjoy the vandoren java red box 21/2 and 3. I also use roberto’s, alexanders, and rigotti reeds for tenor and alto saxophone.
April 1, 2013 @ 7:33 pm
Glad they work for you. I’ll stick with my orange box Rico 2.5’s and the occasional RW 2.5 H or RJS @H unfiled.
May 19, 2013 @ 10:12 am
Thanks for the article about Vandoren products.
I have been using Vandoren Java reeds 3 1/2-strength on my alto for the last couple of years. I play in an amateur community concert band and these reeds seem to respond and articulate well for me with this type of music.
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