Is Your Saxophone Setup All It Can Be?

Saxophone Setup

We spend hours practicing our instrument (well, at least some of us). We bust our chops trying to sound better all the time. Playing long tones, scales, etudes, harmonics, learning tunes, soloing over changes, taking lessons – you know what I’m talking about.

Hard work works every time, but sometimes it’s worth asking – “am I working harder or smarter?” Smarter is always the way to go.

What if I were to tell you that you were likely to make a massive improvement in your playing just by taking a littile time to try out someĀ different equipment such as reeds, ligature, andĀ mouthpieces? Ā Ā Heck, you may even want to try playing on some different horns altogether to see how that works.

Comfort Zones are Dangerous

It’s so easy to blindly play the same setup year after year. We might never consider that there might be a richer sounding reed out there for us. Or perhaps we can make our reeds more responsive with a different ligature. Maybe we can get that brighter sound we were looking for just by spending an hour or so at a music store trying out mouthpieces and making a change.

Figure Out if Your Setup is the Best One for You

I recently decided to do a quick survey of some of the major brands of reeds out there to see for myself if theĀ Vandoren Java reeds that I’d been playing for the past 15-plus years were really the best I could do. So I headed over to the local music store and picked up reeds from six different brands, trying out three reeds per brand.

By the time I was done, it was crystal-clear that theĀ Vandoren ZZ reeds worked better for me than even my beloved Java’s.

Here’s what I did to come to the conclusion that there was a better reed out there for me:

  1. Purchased 3 samples of 6 different brands of reed. (Vandoren Java, Vandoren Java Red, Vandoren ZZ, Vandoren V16, LaVoz,, andĀ Rico Royal).
  2. Spent one day playing on each reed for five minutes or so, making notes on each reed such as the sound quality, consistency of sound quality between the three reeds, tonal characteristics, responsiveness, etc.
  3. Spend the next day recording myself on each reed
  4. After recording on each reed, I knew which brand wasĀ the best for me and which brands sounded like a poop sandwich, but I listened back to the recording to hear the difference for myself.

The funny thing is, the tone quality between each brand of reed was way less obvious than it felt while playing the reeds. But that’s not the point. A reed, mouthpiece, ligature, or saxophone has to sound and feel great in order for me to play great. A good setup can not only improve our tone, but it can also make playing a whole lot more fun. Ā And when everything sounds and feels better to us, we’ve got the holy spirit of music flowing through our blood. And when “the spirit” sets in, what comes out of the horn is more accurate, more inspired, and just plain better.

Compare the few hours I spent auditioning reeds to the weeks, months, and years it would have taken me to get that same improvement toiling in the practice room with my same old setup.

So what’ll it be, a truckload of hard labor, or a few hours having fun trying on new outfits?