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Reed Sorting and Marking System

#1
Hi, I'm a new (older) clarinet player and this is my first post. I've been practicing for about a ear now and I'm wondering if anyone can suggest a sorting / marking system for reeds. Every time I buy a new box of reeds I try and play through them and pick out the best. But some seem more squeaky than other, some seem harder than others, some seem thin in sound, and some have other personalities and are hard to describe. I haven't run into a marking system yet but it might be easier to adopt a system used by an experienced player rather than reinventing it.

Also, I have a piece of fine 600 grit sand paper glued on a flat piece of glass that I use for the squeaky reeds in hopes that its just a simple flatness problem. Any suggestions of other treatments for these would also be greatly appreciated. I do have a teacher who has pointed out that embrouchure has much to do with reeds squeaking and I try and address this aspect but some reeds just don't squeak as much and some do.

Thanks in advance for any advice,

David R.
Oakland, CA
 

jbtsax

Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
#2
Hi David. Welcome to the WWF. You've touched on several topics in your post. My system for "auditioning" and sorting reeds that are new out of a box is done in 2 or 3 different settings. I have found that my first impression of a reed is not always the most accurate so I go through the reeds more than once.

I soak all of the reeds at the same time in a shot glass of water and then put them all in a line across my desk. Going from right to left I play each for about 2 minutes and then if it has possibilities I move it forward. If the reed is dead, buzzy, hard to blow, etc. it gets pushed back. After I have gone through say 10 reeds, depending on the brand there might be 5 or 6 on the front line.

Those 5 or 6 will get another play and then get put away for the next session. I won't mark or grade them at this time. The next session I will soak those "finalists" at the same time and go through the same process as before, but this time if the reed is just ok it stays in the middle line. If the reed plays to my liking it moves forward. If it disappoints it gets moved back.

This time if there is more than one in the front line they are compared to each other back and forth and given a number of how they rank 1,2,3 etc. written in pencil on the top just below the bark. Once I get 4 reeds that I would feel comfortable performing on I put them numbered 1 through 4 in a reed guard that holds 4 reeds. If one sounds a bit brighter than the rest it gets a "B" after the number. If one sounds noticeably darker it gets a "D".

As I play the reeds in practice, I try to rotate them. The rankings often change and usually I end up with my "pet" reed that I save for performances and the other reeds that are used to practice and as backups. Sorry for the long post. I couldn't think of a way to shorten it without leaving out information. I'm sure others have their own systems as well.


 

Helen

Content Expert Saxophones
Staff member
Administrator
#3
Hello David.

I second jbtsax's welcome to the WF. His procedure is pretty much identical to the one I used to use when I played cane. Over the years I finally gave up, because life's too short to fiddle around with cane reeds. Now I use synthetics, but also in rotation. I keep them in a the same reed holders that jbt shows, and have the slots numbered 1, 2, 3, 4. I have one holder for show reeds, and another for rehearsal reeds.

Moral of my story: rotation, rotation, rotation. And if in the future you ever get tired of the drama of cane, there are lots of excellent alternatives out there to try.
 

jbtsax

Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
#4
As a private lesson teacher and beginning band teacher for over 20 years, I would tend to agree with your teacher that squeaks are often caused by the embouchure
or pilot error as I call it. :)

Squeaks on the Bb clarinet can have other causes as well. Some of the most common for less experienced players are:

- a reed that is not soaked enough (wavy tip)
- a reed that is not perfectly aligned with the mouthpiece side rails
- not covering an open hole completely
- opening a key by accident, usually a side or "sliver" key

Embouchure related squeaks occur when one side of the reed is free to vibrate and the other side is not. Some of the things to look for when this occurs are:

- The mouthpiece not parallel with the lower lip and/or teeth.
- Uneven top front teeth that tilt the mouthpiece to create the condition above. A mouthpiece patch can help this.
- Biting down on the reed on one side or the other.
- Biting too hard generally.
- Jaw movement---especially when tonguing.

I used to have my clarinet students play just the mouthpiece and barrel and sustain long tones on a F# concert pitch. They would hold the barrel with one hand and with the other insert the index finger in the curve of the chin between the chin and the reed. The instruction would be to form the embouchure while playing that pitch feeling the jaw pull down and away from the finger---not pushing up against it. When they achieved that sensation, I had them slowly pull the finger out keeping the embouchure the same.

Another helpful exercise is to play until you experience a squeak, and then try to keep recreating the squeak over and over. Then try to adjust how you play so the squeak goes away, and when you can do that, practice turning the squeak on and off. The rationale behind this is if you can discover what is causing the squeak, then you are more than halfway to solving the problem.

If it is the reed's fault completely which is rare it is due to an imbalanced reed. You can check this in the following ways:

- hold the reed up to the light and see if one side of the tip area is darker than the other
- gently "flick" each corner of the reed and see if they both have the same springiness
- hold the reed up and compare the side rail thicknesses rotating the reed side to side
- check to see if one side of the tip or the other has a crack or chip in it.
 
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#5
Hi jbtsax,

Thanks for the great advice. I did exactly as you suggested. I soaked all 10 of my new Vandoren 3 1/2 reeds until they looked fully wet, about 10 min, as some seemed to soak up water faster than the other.

I played through them all spending a couple of minutes each. I had never done this will a full box and it sure helped me pick out the three duds which were obviously hard to play. Surprisingly none of them squeaked. This is in contrast to the box of Vandoren 3's that I had previously played through one at a time and found more than half were squeakers. I think that soaking them had something to do with this.

So I had 7 first round reeds that I played though again and found one that seemed harder than the other so I put that aside. I

I will soak play through the remaining 6 at soon and see if I can sort them further.

In your reply you said "This time if there is more than one in the front line they are compared to each other back and forth and given a number of how they rank 1,2,3 etc. written in pencil on the top just below the bark." Does this mean that from a package of 10 reeds that you sometimes only get one reed that makes it to this stage?

And thank you for your advice in your next post. I tried your finger at the chin technique and I can feel what you are talking about, pulling the chin down. I'll add that to my practice sessions.

And thanks Helen for your suggestions too.

All the best,

David R.
Oakland CA
 

Carl H.

Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
#6
Does this mean that from a package of 10 reeds that you sometimes only get one reed that makes it to this stage?
Unfortunately, sometimes this is the case, but do not discard the "duds". Down the road you may change mouthpieces or your embouchure may be more mature and you might find that your preferences have changed. Put these reeds back in the box (dried first please) and put them away to try again another day.

Sometimes a reed that is a dud in summer does quite well in winter, so you never know. Eventually you may learn how to correct these flawed reeds too and end up using all of them at a future time. You never know from day to day some times...
 
#7
Over the years I finally gave up, because life's too short to fiddle around with cane reeds. .....And if in the future you ever get tired of the drama of cane, there are lots of excellent alternatives out there to try.
yes indeed. bienvenuto David. the next time you see someone leaving a 7-11 with 25 slurpee cups, only one of which is filled with cherry red, be sure to introduce yourself, cause they 're a reed player. :)

Oboist pal of mine used several different alphabets to mark his reeds. Greek, Cyrillic, Latin, Armenian, etc. He did his math & figured out it was like 625 (or something) reeds.
 
#8
I always have five or six reeds rubber banded together in my clarinet case, all of which go through the sort of "first round" testing that everyone seems to do. I usually mark these on the back, next to the vandoren logo according to how they play. There isn't really any consistency to the marking though, usually just a smiley face, or a small note to myself as to what ensemble to use it in. I always stick these reeds in my pocket, so I can change find a reed to match the character of the music, and my own mood.
 

Gandalfe

Admin and all around good guy.
Staff member
Administrator
#9
When I played just the alto sax I futzed with my reeds incessantly. I could prove a tweaked reed was better. But now I can be called upon to play a s,a,t,b sax or s,a,b clarinet at a moments notice. It became very easy to make almost any reed sound good. I often wonder if a doubler like Merlin would agree?
 

SOTSDO

Old King Log
Staff member
CE/Moderator
#10
Same same here...

...I tried sorting reeds back when I mostly played art music, but never really stuck to a system. These days, it's first out of the box unless it's chipped or split. Too many horns to keep track of, too many changes for a show, etc.

I do tend to fuss a bit more with bassoon reeds, but that was from long experience. These days, with reeds made by real bassoon players readily available through the internet, it's just a couple of light scrapes here and there and nothing more.
 
#11
Well I seem to have had some success with my reed sorting. I have six usable (out of the box) reeds, a couple that sound really nice, and four that would need some tampering to work.

A friend said that he soaks his reeds over night and lets them dry out, twice, before playing them. He suggested that this stabilizes the reed in some way. I tried that too.

One thing I did notice is that the little glass of water that I soaked the reeds in because slightly cloudy after a night of soaking. So there must be something washing out of the reed which would do this. Is this good, I'm not sure.

Thanks again for all the suggestions!

David
 
#12
...I tried sorting reeds back when I mostly played art music, (...) These days, it's first out of the box unless it's chipped or split. .
I think I saw somewhere you didn't solo much anymore except on baritone. Frankly, if you did it more extensively, would you dare being upfront under the spotlights on a long solo with whatever reed you picked up from a big heep ? If yes, this is impressive.

Someone wrote on another forum that he had organized a concert with the Mike Brecker band. Mike arrived well in advance and asked for a warming-up room. The organizer and his friends stayed outside of the room listening how this fantastic guy prepared a show. For more than half an hour what they heard was ultra-quick, complex but very short phrases which all stopped at an odd spot anywhere on the phrase. Then, thirty seconds later, another phrase, same treatment. When Mike came out to go onstage, they saw the practise room was littered with something like 30 broken reeds. Happily enough for him, Mike certainly endorsed a reed maker and had not to pay for the carnage; but he was very reed-picky...
J
 

SOTSDO

Old King Log
Staff member
CE/Moderator
#13
Well...

...I'd not go so far as to say that every reed that I've ever picked up was a bundle of joy. However, without a reed company looking for my endorsement, and with baritone reeds being up there on the price charts, I've learned to make do.
 
#14
... without a reed company looking for my endorsement, and with baritone reeds being up there on the price charts, I've learned to make do.
... so had I until I decided to go synthetics (I'm firmly on Harry Hartman's Fiberreed Carbon on tenor and bari; very close to the best cane I've tried; splendid consistency and durability; sent by post within a few days. Give them a chance - I'm not an endorser - ). But this is another debate.

J

http://188.138.103.227/webshop/inde...ophone.html/XTCsid/bv39k698sj6c7inqnqbac4rmn2
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
#15
The only disadvantage with synthetic is that you're stuck at whatever strength it is. If you're a beginner -- or returning to a reed instrument after a long while -- the strength that works well for you is probably going to change. A lot. That can be really expensive, really quick. Hey, a bari sax (which was my main sax) synthetic reed ranges in price from $9 to $20 on WWBW. A box of 3 Rico reeds is $10.

If you have played for awhile, synthetic can be a good idea because it's doubtful that you're going to be switching reed strengths every couple weeks. I know, from another thread, that a single synthetic can last for months.

FWIW, I've tried a couple synthetics in the past and the Rico Plasticovers (natural reed that's plastic coated). I didn't care for the former and the latter was great for a multi-instrument gig, but they warped badly after said gig. It was awhile ago that I tried them, though. Both probably have improved.
 

SOTSDO

Old King Log
Staff member
CE/Moderator
#16
I've tried synthetics...

...and have found them wanting. Since cane works well enough for me "out of the box", and since synthetics are pricey just to start (and inconsistent in their grading to boot), I'm not willing to chase down each and every brand of synthetics to purchase a spectrum to see if they will work.

(The transparent ones were so rough on my lips that I ended up getting cuts from the edges. Not fun.)
 

Merlin

Content Expert/Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
#17
When I played just the alto sax I futzed with my reeds incessantly. I could prove a tweaked reed was better. But now I can be called upon to play a s,a,t,b sax or s,a,b clarinet at a moments notice. It became very easy to make almost any reed sound good. I often wonder if a doubler like Merlin would agree?
I have to adjust oboe reeds and bassoon reeds - yes, even the ones I make myself. As a result, I don't usually want to do much with single reeds.

I have taken to doing a bit of work with the Vandoren resurfacer and wand on my clarinet reeds of late. If I have time.
 
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