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Finding a good reed in that box


Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
Did you ever wonder how to better recognize a "good" reed. Reeds
come in all variations and I'll review some of that here to better
acquiant yourself to reeds. We won't review particular brands
unless someone has a particular question and I happen to have one
handy (or other posters may post their findings).

It is always generally good knowledge to understand how reeds are
made. but reeds are cut from between the joints. and each section is of a
different thickness and quality.

Ignoring the quality element of it, it also contains veins. These
veins can be large or small or a mixture. Normally, higher quality
reeds are selected from small vein cuts. and cheaper from larger
vein cuts.

As example. take one of your warmed up reeds (soaked in water,
played, etc) and hold it up against a light (or on a piece of glass
against a light). Take a look at the veins in it.

Notice the shape of the cut on the reed. Compare it to a different
brand, or a different hardness, etc.

Now look at the butt end (opposite the tip). Compare those reeds
once again. pay particular attention to the thickness of the reeds
on the sides - are they the same? The height in the middle can be
compared to different reeds.

The reeds that seem to play the best are the ones that are much more
symetric left to right without a big height variance in the middle.
At least that is my observation - no scientific analysis done on

So basically, you can hand select reeds at the store and pick a
winner every time. you just have to learn based on the reeds that
you use, what qualities does that reed have which will help you
select better reeds in the future.

So there a quick overview of reeds.

have fun


Admin and all around good guy.
Staff member
Ruediger Kramer said:
i don't search for good reeds anymore, i play them all as long as they give a tone...

I've heard that before. Usually I hand the student a primo (determined by testing) reed and they start to understand. And they won't give me back the reed. :cool:

Ruediger, I've known some very good players that can make any reed sound good and sometimes a leaking sax sound great. But that doesn't work for everyone. I often use lessor reeds for practice and the best reeds for a concert gig.


Staff member
Here's my routine for reeds:

I buy reeds from time to time and date the box with a sharpie.

I have at minimum three reedguards in a plastic bag along with some spare reeds. The reedguards have the reed strength written on them and a, b, c, and d for the four slots so that I remember to rotate reeds. The three reedguards are made up of one with the strength of reeds I'm playing and one with a half strength less than what I am playing and one with a half strength stronger than what I am playing.

When new reeds are removed from the packaging I sand the vamps and the tables with 400-1000 grit sandpaper (it just depends on what I have laying around) until they are smooth. I avoid doing any adjustments to the reed or sanding anywhere near the tips. These reeds are placed in their holder in the plastic bag.

When a reed wears out I toss it and replace it with one of the prepared reeds in my plastic bag.

Out of the four reeds I'll develop a preference for a given reed and will generally use that reed as little as possible. I may pull it out once a month and use it. The reed in question is the reed I will use in a concert situation. The most non-responsive of the reeds may be adjusted using the methods outlined by Larry Teal in The Art of Saxophone. As a last resort I have been known to use the reed drilling method.

Carl H.

Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
My routine is similar to what Ed described. I take new reeds and give them a soak to raise the "grain". I then Scrape the table with a single edged razor to remove what was raised by the soaking. I then soak it again for a bit (as long as it takes to do the other reeds I am doing) and give them a final scrape. I then use my thumbnail to "polish" the vamp, going downhill and being careful at the tip. When they are a bit drier I polish the tables and vamps with a clean piece of heavy white paper.

Beyond that I adjust them as needed once they have been played in. Usually little further attention is needed.


Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
I also generally just grab a reed and start playing. Remember, I generally played bass clarinet and contrabass clarinet. Those reeds are very expensive.

However, the observation:
The reeds that seem to play the best are the ones that are much more symmetric left to right without a big height variance in the middle {on the heel}. At least that is my observation - no scientific analysis done on this.
Seems to hold true for me, as well. Additionally, I can take a reed and hold it up to a light. If that big thumbprint in the vamp, as seen here, is consistent in its opacity, then it's probably going to be a really good reed. If it's asymmetrical in its opacity, it's probably going to be tossed out, soon.

Of course, if you use a synthetic reed, you'll have a different experience :).
I usually pull a reed out of the box and just see what happens. I very rarely find a reed that doesn't respond decently, and Sometimes I find one that just makes my heart happy. I like to mark the happy ones, and if I find a bad one I put it away for a few months and come back to it, sometimes it gets better by itself, I've never learned how to really do reed adjustments, so I don't usually do anything to them because the v-12s cost more than the traditional vandorens and I don't want to hurt them.
My 2c:
I use the most annoying reeds in the first half hour of practice just to get myself used to "worse" reeds so therefor there are less "bad" reeds in the box, more playable reeds that I can make sound just as good as a great reed with practice, less money spent on reeds, happier me!

Good post Steve.