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Vintage reeds better?

Discussion in 'Reeds' started by LowThudd, Jul 30, 2012.

  1. I recently bought some 70's era Lavoz Bb medium soft reeds for about a buck a reed. Though I am a novice, they seem far better than either brand new Rico, or new Mitchell Lurie(rico) which are both 2.5s. They are the same thickness as the 2.5 ricos, but the vintage reeds just seem to have much better tone and feel. I also noticed that the fiber density is much higher on the vintage Lavoz.

    Just wondering, were reeds actually better quality back then? Or did they simply age well? Or (?)

    I have read that some players prefere the Rico (brown box) 'V' type reeds which are no longer made. I am thinking maybe this is a similar situation. Just curious as to why older reeds seem to be better, or are just more popular.
  2. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    Reed quality nowadays vary greatly. They also separate and cut the reeds differently.

    Put the reeds up to a light and you can see the veins. In short there are thin and thick veins.

    Also the more light you see the thinner an area on the reed.

    Higher quality reeds have thin veins (for the way I like them). But that does not indicate the quality cut of the reed.

    Mitchelle Laurie reeds are cut thinner through the tip to the core more and allow quicker response and easier play. This also makes their tonal performance drop off quickly and they do not have as full of tone as a thicker cut reed.

    I used Mitchell laurie's for a bit for an "instant on" play testing reed until I went synthetic. I can't use the ML's for a concert setting as they would die 10 minutes into a performance, and then require drying to get their playability back.

    The Lavoz is more designed like a modern Blue box Vandoren i think.

    I have a big box of old vintage reeds at home I obtained years ago from an out of business music store.

    I did alot of comparison, though no documentation. back in my high school days I was taught how to cut and adjust reeds.

    But there are other quality concerns. Check the butt of the reed, as it should be an even arc and both ends should have the same thickness. The arc defines the thick center core of how the reed should be cut and shaped. I haven't really fiddled with reeds in a long time so the terms and stuff I just don't recall.
  3. This makes sense. I did notice that the Ricos were far less even than the MLs, and more so less even than the LaVoz. Also, the Rico and MLs lacked uniformity of the fiber compared to the LVs. I was going to go synthetic, but I read somewhere in the beginer section, that beginers should start on standard reeds. IS that debatable?
  4. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    Cost for one.

    My son started on clarinet. He chipped many, many reeds - over 3 months probably about 12 or up to 20 or more. I bought some and I took some out of my reserve and shaved them down for him to use.. If those were synthetic that would have been alot of $$$

    On sax now he's calmed down and has only chipped /broken a few by comparison.

    Either way, at $25 a pop or whatever per reed that is alot of money for a beginner to be burning through compared to relatively cheap cane reeds.
  5. Makes perfect sense now. I have ruined a few, and at a buck or two a piece not a big deal. at +$10 each, that would hurt. lol
  6. As (primarily) a double reed player, this discussion has a...surreal.. overtone :0

    "vintage reeds" to me, means that someone has found an 1880's shaker chair at a flea market, and has proceeded to work some of the cane used for the seat. ;)

    ruined "a few" reeds, means to me, a 5 gallon bucket full of split, gouged, and otherwise folded, spindled, and mutilated splinters of once- proudly-growing-in-a-sunny-mediteranean-seaside-bog arundo donax :) [huge fire hazard, btw]

    "fiber reeds" means to me, #6 plastic cups from 7-11, taco bell, or jack-in-the-box, cut &tied onto a staple. [Altho I havent checked it out, in person....I strongly suspect "fiber single reeds" are plain old #6 slips thatve been worked down to the correct profile. ]Proper sanding can really put a realistic, veinous, cellular feel on the reed's surface. Its tough to get #6 thats thick enough to do that, at a consumer level.

    When I played primarily clar & sax, vandorens, rico's & luries came in boxes by the dozen with maybe a tissue or piece of foam at the tips. Individual reeds came in a cardboard pocket. Soon, everything began to be individually wrapped. Sure, sometimes there was a dud, or an improperly aged pink one, but a few days in direct sunlight generally sorted it out...

    I bought my first sax reeds in 29 years this past week. and they were all individually wrapped in hermetically sealed bags; wrapper, within wrapper, within wrapper.

    It seemed a bit of overkill to me, to present reeds in such manner. there are so many changes they can go through once unwrapped and used. 'Wrapped at the ideal RH " means to me, that they have at best a 50/50 chance of survival in the real life demands of rapid drastic RH changes.

    Ive found that the reeds which last the longest, are the ones that go through the most difficult births. Often enduring weeks, or months before they are acceptable for public consumption; but then they sing for years. Its not uncommon to find pipe reeds that are 10, 20, even 40 years old. We;ve yet to find out how long the useful life of a #6 composite reed really is, on average.

    What does this have to do with your vintage reed question? Its not so much that reed 'quality' has degenerated; certainly mfg techniques& tolerances have been drastically improved; but rather that consumer demand was low enough to allow cane to sufficently age before production, (this is why the cellular density is higher in the 70's laVoz's) , cane growers perhaps even planting 'short term' crops in the 80's to increase profit margins...
    but also that consumer expectation has risen--Personally, old-school me would rather buy a dozen cheaper, ill-packed reeds with the foreknowledge that three, maybe four will be useful, and one just *might* be stellar...than pay more for a box of 'perfect' reeds, several of which crp out once they hit the real world.

    So, knowing what I know now about the vague& organic nature of the life of a double reed, I;m rather interested to see how rapidly the newfangled single reed of today can bite me back.
  7. That is exactly what I did. Seeing the quality of the 30-40 year old reeds, I bought a couple more 'Vintage' boxes of reeds, costing @50 cents a reed. The 40 reeds should last me untill I actually know how to play properly, and for not much more than a "Brand New' box of ten reeds.

    I have always loved wood, and have been whittling and carving and constructing wood things since the first grade. I could tell by looking at the LaVoz that they were superior material. True, they needed a little fine sanding to not bite back, but the sounds is much better, louder also(not necessarily better right now. lol).

    Haven't tried a double yet. I have been curious about the asian gouged and folded reeds that are running about a buck each eBay though. Alot cheaper than the $10 or so I normally see them going for, quality can't be that great though.
  8. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    Absolutely seriously and with no sarcasm intended, implied, etc., single reed players have life MUCH easier than double-reed players. While it's occasionally noted that single-reed players could make their own reeds, double-reed players are essentially expected to make their own. Or, at least, that's been my experience talking with double-reed players. It's been a couple years.

    Anyhow, re: vintage reeds, I actually played Vintage bari sax reeds. That was an old Vandoren brand that went out of style in probably the EARLY 1980's or earlier. Which was good for me because in the MID and LATE 1980s, I was able to get them at my local music store. I was the only one that bought that style and the store saved 'em for me. I liked these because they were about 2" longer than other reeds and fit my Sigurd Rascher mouthpiece better.

    LT, because you're a beginner, you're probably going to be going through a few levels of reed hardness before you settle on one. This is something that you and your teacher should go through together. I mention this because you could buy an awful lot of reeds that are, say 3s ("medium") and find that you need something much harder, so you've spent a lot of $ on kindling. Of course, you can certainly buy something harder and shave it down with a reed knife and/or (very fine) sandpaper and/or a reed rush, but if you really need a 1.5 ("soft"), you're going to have a lot of work if you have a box of 4s ("very hard").

    FWIW, a box of 10 Rico baritone sax reeds are $30. Ouch.

    There's no one magic reed brand or 100% infallible way to say that a particular reed is going to be "perfect."
  9. I have tried a few, and settled on 2.5(my teacher concurred). I felt the the rico/MLs were a little soft, and I was thinking of trying 3s but found a deal on 6 LaVoz reeds(vintage) Med/soft for $6 and am very pleased. Bought another 12 for $12, then found a box of vintage Rico(brown box) V2.5 for $12. Financially I am very happy. The LaVoz vintage reeds seem to be a sweet spot for me. Any harder, and they would be difficult for me to play. And I have achieved better tone in the Clarion register, even hit a couple half decent Altissimo notes which I was not able to do before. So this hardness should be good for a while. I have experimented with filing, some came out good, dome not so good. At least I have plenty to play around with. lol
  10. Helen

    Helen Content Expert Saxophones Staff Member Administrator

    Vintage reeds = 1980s? Wow... Do I feel old or what? I have lots of cane reeds in my reed drawer from the late 70s and 80s. Lots of brown box Ricos, Plasticoats, Rico Royals, and purple box Vandorens. To me vintage reeds are reeds from the 50s and earlier. (In other words, way before I was born.)

    Is vintage cane better? Maybe it's cured better. I've been told the best thing you can do with reeds is throw them in a drawer for 20 years and wait. I don't know if that's true or not. I do know that I gave up on playing cane years ago--around 1998--because I regularly played 3 or 4 horns on stage every night. For one thing it was impossible to keep my reeds wet, and for another, I just couldn't be bothered to go through all the break in period, filing, sanding, clipping, blah, blah, blah... you have to do to get the most out of your cane reeds... Oh, and then X that by the 5 different saxophones I play.

    That all said, for a beginner starting out, Rico Orange box, or whatever the colour is now, is a fine choice. I have my students all start on those. You'll burn through lots, and like Pete said, your instructor will help you figure out what strength is right for you. Honestly, getting an expensive reed now would be a waste of $.

    If you can pick up cheap, "vintage" reeds somewhere, then great. But one thing to be aware of, is that often times these boxes have been mixed and matched, and not all the reeds are there. Sometimes some have been used as well. Nothing is more disgusting than using someone else's used reed.

    Like with everything else, have your instructor help you, and it will go a long ways in ensuring that the right choices are made early on.
  11. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    Is that the purple cardboard box (older 25 or newer 10 pack) or newer yet plastic 10 pack box vandorens from the 70s/80s?

    I really wanted to like the old Selmer Soloist sax reeds (felt lined box) but they were cut like the modern Mitchell Lauries .. very thin and a long thin section. I found them good only on my Selmer metal J mpc otherwise they would get soft quickly and loose their tone. The later Omegas (in red box) were much better and cut differently. A much better general reed.

    I have some old boxes of Mitchell Lauries too .. they are different than the modern ones.

    when i bought that old store out of their reed I had obtained about 50 boxes of Alto Clarinet reeds (Terry's favorite). Luckily someone came along who used alto clarinet reeds for alto sax. I had brown box Ricos, early Orange box ricos and tons of other ones.

    correction - mistated The Selmer Soloist reed as Omegas. Soloist were the earlier felt lined box model and Omegas the later red box model
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2012
  12. absolutely true if you plan on harvesting wild arundo. I only hope that the tubes of cane I bought (by the kilo) 7 year ago had been sitting in the store for at least 7 years before that....

    Simpatico! I''ve gone composite wherever possible. But certain d/r horns still require cane and nothing else: so I;m still dealing with sponges, wet& dry caps, small bottles of water, and large glasses of cognac (after-gig of course ;) )

    THANKS for your sympathy to double reed players Pete. we have to make our own because (no saracam here either) single reed players are much more concerend with embrochure than we are imo. You guys form your lips to the mpc, we form the mpc to our lips. essentially.

    Since we've touched on the subj...heres a quick s/r Q...need a refresher..

    when removing material from a hard single reed, is it do able to sand the front profile on a piece of glass (or flat stone); instead of messing with the gradient on the 'lip-side'.... capisco???? So i;d be removing cane from the side thats got the "serial #" on it lol
  13. Helen

    Helen Content Expert Saxophones Staff Member Administrator

    Plastic box. Those were the little pieces of plywood I used on soprano sax in university when I played the little demon horn all the time. :emoji_rage: If I tried to play on one of those reeds now, I think I'd have an aneurysm. They're something like a 4 or 5, of whatever the equivalent was in Vandorens. (It's been so long, I can't remember what their strength was graded in.) But then I played a Selmer C* mouthpiece on my Mark VI.
  14. Helen

    Helen Content Expert Saxophones Staff Member Administrator

    I played bassoon for a short while (about 5 years). The reed thing was enough to drive me to drink. "A round of cognac for the bassoon section." That's what I would have liked to have heard after each rehearsal/performance. :-D

    I don't know what you use for in the composite arena, but up until 18 months ago I was using Fibracell. I really liked their older (more golden colour) reeds. However, when they changed their composition, and the reeds went grayer in colour, I was totally unimpressed. The longevity and responsiveness of the reeds went down big time.

    Then last year I was turned onto the Legere Signature Series for tenor. Now my alto Fibracell stocks are depleted to the point that I've had to switch to Legere as well. Sadly, they don't yet make Signature Series for either soprano or baritone. I've still got boat loads of bari reeds, but soprano is the next Fibracell that I'm going to run out of. I don't like the rest of the Legere lines, so I'm hoping that they will get the Signature lines for the remaining saxophones going soon.
  15. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    (tenor sax) In college and until about 6 years ago I used to be able to use a equivalent 4 vandoren reed on a 8* mpc. The sound was awesome, woody and deep and I could make it airy anytime I wanted.

    Of course about 6 years ago I started to get these bad headaches .. then I felt like my eye balls were going to explode out of my head. I realized this occurred while playing hard reeds. Thus I've had to soften my stance since then.

    With play testing I use Legere's also. You just can't beat the Instant ON synthetics have. I used to use on clarinet the Mitchell Laurie reeds for the instant on, and on sax just a soft 2 reed for that. But tone always suffered.

    I also still have vintage 5's for sax and clarinet laying around. Good for sanding down and making them usuable for todays situation.
  16. SOTSDO

    SOTSDO Old King Log Staff Member CE/Moderator

    I've seen this as a natural tendency...

    ...on the part of younger players, that being to equate "better" with a harder reed. I used to play 3 1/2 Van Dorens on the bass clarinet all of the time, and this transfered over to saxophone playing over the years.

    I've since moved to softer 2 1/2 strength in the same reeds overall. A lot easier to manage and less of a strain on me the player.

    Legere reeds were an early try and reject for me. For some reason, they were hard on my lower and upper lips. That they also "collapsed" after some use put them even further beyond the Pale - I've got a full set for each horn around here somewhere, and I cringe whenever I blunder into them.

    Perversely, I find very few reeds in a box to be "less than useable". With baritone reeds costing what they do, you learn to function with what the folks from the south of France ship out.

    Double reeds are a no-brainer as well. I've tried the replacements and always go back to cane.

    Keeping everything wet and ready to play hasn't been all that difficult. Usually, I have a three horn spread in front of me, and a periodic lick on each one is enough to keep them ready. For bassoon, I resort to the water cup on the stand, but that's just one of the nuisances that goes with bassoon playing.

    With a five horn spread (as with for the musical Company, where the usual suspects were joined by the Eb clarinet and bassoon), you did need to be a bit more religious about the moisture levels. I got around this by noting in the part when to wet each reed - a little extra to pay attention to after finishing a number or turning a page.
  17. Helen

    Helen Content Expert Saxophones Staff Member Administrator

    For me the worst, is playing 5 different saxophones. No way to keep all 5 reeds wet. Soprano I use in maybe 2 songs, bass, in 2, then alto, tenor, and bari are equally split. Playing a bass sax with a dry reed is like playing the horn with a Popsicle stick. I've been a synthetic user on bass since I've owned it. On occasion I try a cane reed on my TT bass, and then ask myself: What was I thinking?

    My reed strength is about a 2 1/2 across the board now on all horns--except bass where I use a 1 1/2--and my mouthpiece openings are now much more open than they were back in the 80s when I played classical. (Hence the C*.)
  18. SOTSDO

    SOTSDO Old King Log Staff Member CE/Moderator


    I used to play a C*, back in my high school days when money was a bit tighter than it is now. My current "normal" mouthpiece is a Selmer G, which (with the soft 2 1/2 reed stock) is just fine.

    I think that people get reluctant to experiment with mouthpieces, since the expense is substantial, and they are afraid to go down in reed strength, lest they appear to be a wimp to their peers. When I took in students back in the 1980s, it was a constant struggle with students who wanted to move to the hard reeds, and (at the same time) wondered why they had trouble voicing notes in all registers.
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