Accessories Ridenour finishing system on a budget


Cambridge, UK
For those who find the acclaimed Ridenour reed finishing system too expensive especially when delivered to the UK, I have just assembled my own version for very cheap. It looks like this:

Glass sanding table can be replaced with a ridiculously cheap sample tile from Topps Tiles @ £1.30 delivered!

Sanding block: this mini sanding block from Amazon @ £4.48 delivered (prime)

Sand paper: take your pick @ £5

And most importantly of course, the method, which Mr Ridenour has kindly made available on youtube.

Total: £10.78
Thanks for posting that link to Keith's method, fascinating and very instructive. He does seem to give them a serious going over, none of this take a little bit off and test, but I suppose he's been doing it for a long time and knows his business. His results are astonishing.
It's a game changer for me already. I've turned a reed that was unusable to a good reed. Arguably it was just too hard. Thing is I have another of the same brand and cut that's too soft!

These are rigotti wild reeds as well. I think cane is just inherently inconsistent and it's not feasible for rigotti to play test every reed.
I just turned a Rigotti 2.5 medium that was a bit hard into a much better player after watching the vid. The wild reeds are a bit more variable in strength but lately I've been finding the latest box of Golds to be the same.
I just turned a Rigotti 2.5 medium that was a bit hard into a much better player after watching the vid. The wild reeds are a bit more variable in strength but lately I've been finding the latest box of Golds to be the same.
When I run out of wilds I'll probably buy a gold just to see the difference. I've heard good things!
I like the wilds and am just using the last one I have. The Golds come in 3 sub strengths and the medium is closest to the half strength, if you want the "full" strength then I guess you have to decide whether you want, say, a 2.5 strong or a 3 light. Rigotto do a fixed strength but I don't think they are available in local stores, you have to buy them from their online shop if you can figure out how it works. The Golds have a somewhat darker heart as opposed to the springier wilds, more opportunity for sanding ala Keith Ridenour.

There's a video of the Rigotti factory - Why Are Saxophone Reeds So Expensive? Rigotti Reed Factory Tour – Better Sax that's very informative. But you're right, however hard they try to grade them sometimes you get a box of great reeds and sometimes not and often somewhere in between.
I purchased the Ridenour method more than 10 years ago, and used it quite successfully for several years. I had been using the side to side balancing for 20 or so years previously, but just using a small piece of sandpaper, or reed rush, and my finger. I’ve gone back to that method of sanding, and only use the sanding block when I need to do some wholesale strength reduction.

However, the real benefit to that system is the book and video demos. Tom has a clarity of thought about reeds that I found refreshing. I bought that system as part of a systematic study of reed preparation and adjustment that I undertook over a period of 6 months or so. He is the only one that said that breaking reeds in is a waste of time - a fact I had discovered on my own 25 years prior.

Since I buy reeds that are basically in the ballpark out of the box, I often only need to do the side to side balance to get them to play well for me.

I like using that tile piece @LesterOld. I use a glass plate made for the “scary sharp” sharpening system, also purchased on Amazon. I have small pieces of glass in each sax and clarinet case. My clarinet teacher in the 1960’s had his students go to a window shop and have them cut a small piece from plate glass offcuts. Nowadays, since windows are mostly all pre-manufactured, it’s impossible to find a shop that cuts glass to size. What I use now is called a “manicurist mixing pallette” - also available on Amazon. They are about 1/4” (excuse me, 9mm) thick, and 2”x3” in size. Perfect for sticking in a case.

Thanks all for the trip down memory lane.
Thanks for the detailed reply, very interesting. I do wonder whether some of this need to sand down reeds is just that they are too hard and that going down a strength is the answer. After all, if you sand down every reed you adjust to softer ones and it's not surprising if you struggle with the ones straight from the box.

Regarding balancing, do you follow the technique shown in the video of blowing on each side of the reed in turn to determine how to balance? I couldn't really find any difference doing that
You tilt the horn so that you are muting one side of the reed, blow to see if one side blows freer. You might find that there's no difference, or very little. I was most interested in his work on the back of the cut but balancing the front end can help.

A softer reed may be the answer, if all of your reeds are too hard it points that way. But a softer reed is just that, softer, a harder reed that's been thinned down is still made of more resistant fibres so not quite equivalent. I think he is intending to get the balance right rather than thin the reed although it obviously does get thinner in places as you remove the cane. One thing struck me about KRs vigorous approach is that by the time you've finished the cut is nothing like the original that manufacturers often make much of.
My experience is that almost every reed is a little unbalanced. Sometimes only a few swipes of sandpaper is alll that’s needed.

I do sand every reed before testing - with 600 or 800 grit paper, and feather light pressure. This is just polishing the surface of the reed, removing stray fibers; almost nothing is removed. Keeps splinters at bay :)

Ridenour recommends lightly sanding the tip of the reed before anything else, because the tip is where small uncut or partially cut fibers have the most negative effect. Reed manufacturing machines can not be meticulous in this area, and even slight defects have a big effect. I also sand the tip after clipping (though I rarely clip), for the same reason.

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