MUS 215

Single Reeds

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Reed adjustment is a skill that requires years of trial-and-error experience, but the following tips should prove helpful.


Too soft Tip Trimmer Clip small amount.  Test after each clip.
Buzzy or edgy Tip Trimmer Same as above.
Lack of resonance 1 & 2 Sandpaper Balance (left/right thickness).
Dull sound when playing softly 1 & 2 Sandpaper Balance.  Take more off both sides if still too hard.
Blows hard 2 Sandpaper Thin both sides and balance.
Lower register lacks resonance 2 Sandpaper Balance and thin if necessary.
Tip too thick after clipping Under side of tip Sandpaper Lay sandpaper on glass and stroke lightly with grain on the flat table side of reed to about 3/8" back from tip.
Reed whistles 2 Sandpaper Balance.
High tones hard to attack softly 2 & 1 Sandpaper Thin gradually with light stroke.
Thin high register 3 Sandpaper Test after each few strokes.
Lacks projection in upper register 3 Sandpaper Move 3 back from the tip.
Lack of resonance in middle register 4 Sandpaper Lightly on 3, also.
Heavy low register 6 Reed knife Finish with sandpaper.
General lack of resonance 7 & 8 Sandpaper on glass Sand rails of reed if reed is too wide for mouthpiece.
After balancing, reed plays well but blows hard 6-5-4-3

Reed knife

Thin evenly all indicated areas.
Table not flat Table Reed knife or sandpaper Stroke lightly toward tip.
Table not smooth Table Sandpaper on glass Rub lightly back and forth, always in direction of grain.

Sandpaper, above, refers to the wet-or-dry silicon carbide paper.  Grit should be 400-600 (very fine).

Reed Adjustment Tips

First look for a good reed, with fibers evenly spaced and extending all the way to the tip of the reed.

Tools include:  a good reed knife, silicon carbide wet-or-dry 400-600 sandpaper, and a small rectangular piece of glass or plexiglass--a perfectly flat surface on which to work.

When scraping, test the reed frequently on the mouthpiece to avoid taking off too much cane.

*Avoid working on the center, or heart, of the reed.

Avoid working on the extreme tip of the reed; work on the small area directly behind the tip.

Avoid clipping the reed unless it is extremely soft.

If the reed is too bright or soft in all registers, move it a bit above the tip of the mouthpiece.

Unevenly cut reeds should be scraped on the thick side.

Reeds which repond well at forte but not well at piano are too stiff at the tip.  Work on the area immediately behind the tip.

If squeaks are present, one side of the reed is probably too heavy or too light (unbalanced).

If the reed is bright in the upper register and dark in the lower, scrape the sides near the back of the vamp (face of the reed).

If the reed is dark in the top register but bright in the lower, scrape at the edges about halfway down its length.

If the reed is dark in all registers, scrape off a small amount behind the tip or at the middle and back of the vamp (reed face), where the bark ends.

Saliva entering the reed at the mouthpiece window will cause the grain to rise, and the reed will vibrate sluggishly.  Sand the table with the grain, but do not include the extreme tip.  After sanding, polish the reed on course or regular paper to seal the fibers.  

Generally, scraping can be used to adjust trouble in any register of the saxophone.  If the trouble is in the low register, work on the back of the reed.  If the trouble is higher, work towards the tip.

The balance of the reed is all important.  the back surface of the reed must always be flat and smooth.  Be sure to scrape or lightly sand the underside of the reed (table) to remove any swelling or unevenness.  

Reed Brands

The unpredictability of reeds makes it difficult to recommend the use of one reed brand over another.  The best results, however, are usually achieved by purchasing standard brands with established reputations.  The follow reeds--again, not a comprehensive list--are acceptable brands from which to choose:

French style: Selmer, Omega, Vandoren, Olivieri, The Saxophone Shop Reed, Prestini, Hemke Premium
American style: Rico, Roy Maier, La Voz, Symmetricut, Brilhart, Rico Royal, Charpen
Synthetic: Bari, Brilhart Fibercane, Ricoplex, Functional Form, Fibracell (excellent)
Hybrid: Rico Plasticover (cane reed covered with plastic)

Most reed manufacturers are supplied by the leading producers of cane, which are located in Southern France and Eastern Spain.  Due to the great demand for the product, however, other regions with suitable climates also produce a high quality cane:  Russia (Caucasus region), Greece, Yugoslavia, Italy, North Africa, Chile, Mexico and California.  The climate must be cold enough to render the plant dormant for a winter harvest.  Tropical climates, therefore, are unsuitable for musical reed cane.  Curing of the cane consists of three basic stages:  drying,  sunning, and seasoning.  The entire process yielding salable cane tubes takes one to two years.  The tubes are then slit into reed blanks and, finally, made into reeds.

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