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Reeds Best way to fix Alto sax reeds?

Classicalsax292

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Hello, I've been playing the alto saxophone for roughly 4 years now, and recently I've run into a problem with my reeds. A lot of them sound spitty and somewhat airy when I play them, and many are hard to play even though I'm only using a size 3 reed. Any advice would be helpful. I have a reed geek reed filer, but I don't know exactly how to use it to effectively improve my reeds (advice there would also be helpful). For reference, I use Vandoren blue box size 3's, and also Vandoren java green size 3.5. I play on a Vandoren optimum al5 mouthpiece typically, but I use a Vandoren Java a55 mouthpiece when I play jazz.
 

jbtsax

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"The Art of Saxophone Playing" by Larry Teal contains a chapter on reeds. On pp. 28-29 there is an illustration and instructions on where to "scrape" a reed in order to effect specific changes. There are other reed books and instructions out there, but this would be a good place to start.
 

randulo

Playing alto 25 months
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3,503
"The Art of Saxophone Playing" by Larry Teal contains a chapter on reeds.
Thanks for that reference. I just looked at it and find it 100% incomprehensible!
1. What is the "stock end" of the reed? The vamp?
2. Put the bad reed away for at least a year?
I wouldn't normally follow a topic like this, but just this week I opened two new reeds and they both play really hard and sound bad. I put my current favorite on, same exact brand and type, and it sounds exactly as it should. Am I just unlucky? I'm tempted to open a third one. If it's bad, maybe the whole box is bad? It came from Thomann, it's Vandoren Blue 2.5.
 

nigeld

I don't need another mouthpiece; but . . .
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I play bassoon, so I'm used to fiddling with reeds, but in general all I do to saxophone reeds is make sure the bottom is flat (with a Reed Geek) and even out any obvious imbalance between the sides. If the reed really doesn't want to play, I throw it away.

A simple guide to reed adjustment is Dr Downing's Saxophonist's Reed Doctor, by Peter Moore and Sandra Downing.
 

Pete Effamy

Senior Member
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1,803
Thanks for that reference. I just looked at it and find it 100% incomprehensible!
1. What is the "stock end" of the reed? The vamp?
2. Put the bad reed away for at least a year?
I wouldn't normally follow a topic like this, but just this week I opened two new reeds and they both play really hard and sound bad. I put my current favorite on, same exact brand and type, and it sounds exactly as it should. Am I just unlucky? I'm tempted to open a third one. If it's bad, maybe the whole box is bad? It came from Thomann, it's Vandoren Blue 2.5.
Players are divided on whether to doctor a reed or not. I think it was probably normal maybe 50 years ago and beyond, but possibly less-so in recent times. I was taught a few techniques by my college prof but the most crucial is as Nigel says about making sure that the back is flat, and then the sides not imbalanced.
The Reed Geek is great, but a small square of pretty fine glass paper and a flat surface (a window! - preferably not your own) work very well.
Paul Harvey also wrote well about Reed Doctoring.
 

randulo

Playing alto 25 months
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3,503
There is one thing I tried just now. When I was having trouble with the rented soprano, the guy in the store showed me how to bend the reed to make it close more. This is not optimal probably, but I just did it with the dead alto reeds, and it helped a lot. We'll see if they remain playable tomorrow. They're kept in the Reed Juvenator.
 

Pete Effamy

Senior Member
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1,803
Something I’ve done since I can’t remember, and have no idea where I got the idea from - is to push my thumb along the face of the reed, quite hard, from just above the ligature to the tip. With the reed on the mouthpiece.
It can give a slightly stuffy reed more clarity and possibly softens it minutely. I think it might be called burnishing - but I can’t remember.
 

nigeld

I don't need another mouthpiece; but . . .
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5,260
Something I’ve done since I can’t remember, and have no idea where I got the idea from - is to push my thumb along the face of the reed, quite hard, from just above the ligature to the tip. With the reed on the mouthpiece.
It can give a slightly stuffy reed more clarity and possibly softens it minutely. I think it might be called burnishing - but I can’t remember.
My bassoon teacher used to call it "ironing". I can't remember what it is supposed to do, but it was a "good thing".
 

jbtsax

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Thanks for that reference. I just looked at it and find it 100% incomprehensible!
1. What is the "stock end" of the reed? The vamp?
see page 22 :) Better yet, read the entire chapter to get a better understanding.
 

randulo

Playing alto 25 months
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3,503
see page 22 :) Better yet, read the entire chapter to get a better understanding.
I realized immediately after saying that, I should have looked in the same book. I don't feel I have the desire or time to buy equipment to adjust reeds, but the bending thing seems to help some. I still didn't understand about aging the reed for a year, then retesting it.
 

nigeld

I don't need another mouthpiece; but . . .
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5,260
There is one thing I tried just now. When I was having trouble with the rented soprano, the guy in the store showed me how to bend the reed to make it close more. This is not optimal probably, but I just did it with the dead alto reeds, and it helped a lot.
A variation on this is to hold the reed on the edge of a table with the end of the tip on the table and the stock sticking out over the edge, then "twang" it a few times so that it vibrates (we used to do this with rulers at school). This is supposed to help loosen up a new reed.
 

Ivan

Undecided
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I wouldn't normally follow a topic like this, but just this week I opened two new reeds and they both play really hard and sound bad. I put my current favorite on, same exact brand and type, and it sounds exactly as it should. Am I just unlucky? I'm tempted to open a third one. If it's bad, maybe the whole box is bad?
This inconsistency is consistent for me, no matter the make of reed

Mind you I am finding differences between Legere reeds, so there is some inconsistency there too, but not the point of unplayable
 

Colin the Bear

Well-Known Member
Messages
12,604
Inconsistencies in reeds can largey be put down to inconsistencies in the mouthpiece facing and saxophone regulation. Imo

It takes a certain reed to blow through a leak and uneven mouthpiece rails.

There's also the problem of choosing too stiff a reed in the first place.
There is a little variance as it's a natural product. Some a little stiffer than others. If you're at your limit with the softer end of the range then the stiffer end will feel unplayable. Come down a half step.

Having said that I switched from Vandoren blue to a Rico reserve because the comparison chart showed a Rico 3 equivalent to a Vandoren 2.75. Just right. ;)
 

jbtsax

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I realized immediately after saying that, I should have looked in the same book. I don't feel I have the desire or time to buy equipment to adjust reeds, but the bending thing seems to help some. I still didn't understand about aging the reed for a year, then retesting it.
I had to search for that in the chapter. Thanks for calling that to our attention. It is something I have overlooked. My understanding after reading the description is that some new reeds from the factory have cane that is not "cured" and is not stable enough to hold adjustments. One would think that the cane stock would be given time to "cure" before being cut at the factory.
 

Colin the Bear

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12,604
There are so many different species of cane, grown in many different climates, on different continents, harvested and stored by many different people and cut on a variety of ancient and modern machinery. Sheesh! It's no wonder there are so many ideas and opinions. It's a bit witchdoctorvoodooey. ;)
 

randulo

Playing alto 25 months
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3,503
Some people who play saxophone love the synthetic reeds. I like them a little, but prefer cane.
 
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