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What Do You Look (Listen) for ?


Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
Well my reeds died. Went caput it seems.

Yesterday I played in a big band jazz band concert. And in the morning I went through the music and noticed the reeds went south. Now, I practice my clarinet mostly. Which I should practice my tenor sax alot more (or go jogging) to remember how much air flow it takes.

So in the morning I had to go through and select a mouthpiece and reed of which I was going to play.

On clarinet I simply play a 3-1/2 Vandoren Traditional or Legere Quebec. End of story unless the mpc is out of "normal".

On sax now .... I do swap between too many mouthpieces. Ranging from a Selmer C* to a Selmer metal G and other brands 8s.

Thus one cannot use the same strength of reed from top to bottom of my mpcs.

Which brings up an interesting selection process. I do not necessarily select a reed based on strength, but more based on the tone.

I played a mpc which most people would normally play a 2 or 2-1/2 reed on. But, even though it played really well I did not like the tone. Everything was fine, it was just missing that really thick base core sound.

So I went up to a 3 reed. Which, at first it was all airy (not flexible yet) and poor response (using a loose embouchure, non-pinching). After a little soak the reed started having good response and an excellent full tone. I also had to focus my airstream a bit more for better reed and horn response.

But the tone was excellent.

When I was playing my tenor several times a week I really ended up playing very hard reeds even on large tip openings. The tone was incredible. I loved playing it.

Now playing every so often I found myself going to softer reeds where playing was easier but the tone was thinner. This allows one focus on technique and playing rather than also having to think and support the embouchre/airflow aspect of playing. but much more enjoyable tonal spectrum.

So I was curious on the players out there how they select a reed ?
And whether you ever try playing harder reeds than normal to see what they have to offer ?
Or if you even hear the difference in various strengths ?
Harder reeds tend to sound darker to me, which I like, but they are more difficult to play, which I do not like.

I use two reed kinds/sizes. Rico Select Jazz 2M and Alexander DC Superial 2 1/2. I prefer the Alexanders.
I definitely hear a difference from different strength reeds, but at the same time I don't want to fight the reed. I want a good response, but can't tolerate a thin sound. I used to play Lavoz MH on tenor, but have dropped back to 2.5 Gonzalez to 3 Alexander DCs on Link 7 mouthpieces. The MH gave me the sound I want, but made me work harder than I wanted to. Lavoz mediums didn't give me the sound. The Gonzos and Alexanders are a nice solution for me. Other medium strength reeds I've tried give me the sound I want on maybe one or two reeds in a a box, with the rest sounding too buzzy.

My experience has been that if a reed plays well straight out of the box, I'll be disappointed with it after a week or two.


Staff member
I always have three or four strengths in my reed bag. The same make. If I have to play alto and I haven't done so in a while then I try a 3 and see how it goes. I always rotate reeds. Each reedguard slot has a letter code assigned to it (A,B,C,D) that simply helps me choose different reeds. It is not related to how I think they play.

I guess I have basically gone back to grab and go. I feel like I will get a nice tone regardless of what strength I'm playing.


Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
at one point I was playing a 4 Vandy on a 8 mpc. But then I was playing tenor all the time. Tone was great to me and others. It was a lot of work but i got used to it. I recall i had to modify the airstream a bit but was able to work it really well - I was also able to play on softer reeds and barely be audible (and I mean barely audible) while keeping air flow fast - great for practicing at all hours of the night.

I prefer the reeds that are thicker in the middle and for further up to the tip. They are more work - but i've also modified some harder reeds in the past to soften up the tip and upper sides to play a little easier while still maintaining alot of the darker qualities.

Now I just play the reeds out of the box. Guess I should play tenor more =-)

Dave Dolson

Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
Very few reeds play well for me right out of the box. So at home, I prep ALL of my reeds (soaking, drying, re-visiting after a day or two, scraping with a knife, etc.). THEN, I play them for tone and response. After I do that, I sort them in their order of playability and place them in marked reed-guards (mostly) for selection at a gig.

Yes, I have different style reeds for different mouthpieces. For instance, on my Morgan Vintage 6 soprano, I use a Vandoren ZZ 2. But on my Morgan Vintage 7 and Super Session J sopranos, I use Vandoren Java 2.

Same with altos . . . on a Meyer 6S-M and Super Session F, I use Vandoren Java 2. But on my all-time favorite Don Sinta, the ZZ 2 is wonderful.

But, it isn't as simple as all of that because I also have other brands and styles available. The strengths vary from 2 to 3 depending on the individual reed. It is just that the Javas and ZZ's are my favorites. The other brands and styles are individual reeds that played good enough for me to keep available.

On clarinet, it is Fibracell all the way (soft). I keep a back-up Fibracell also because when they die they DIE! And, the Fibracells have also been pre-selected before a performance. DAVE
With my Blues / coverband I played a Ponzol M2 with either Rico's 2.5 or LaVoz M. Happy with both and to my ear the LaVoz only seemed a bit darker sounding.
Every now and then I sub in concertband and had to switch to a S80 C** with VD 3.5's. Always had problems making that switch and had a hard time producing a more focussed 'classical' sound. A bit airy with 3.5's and thin and reedy with 3's.
Just before summerbreak our BigBand bandleader asked me to take 2nd tenor instead of bass-trombone. Started on the Ponzol but had a hard time blending in so another mpc search started. Ended up with a Soloist F that I now use for BigBand with Rico's and for concertband with Hemke's. Still need to focus a bit more in concertband for a consistent tone but this feels like a big improvement for me. For now I also use it with the Bluesband to get a good grip on this mpc with my choice of reeds.

I'm in the market for a flute for doubling and to give myself a little headstart before my daughter starts her lessons in about a year, I'm sure to encounter all kinds of problems when I start, but at least not with reeds.
I received 6 tins of Alexander DC tenor reeds in the mail today. Five reeds to the tin. I bought them from Saxquest after reading someone complain about their shipping fees and reading Mark's response. By buying 6 tins, I avoid the shipping fees. I should have enough reeds to last a while, now.

I read somewhere that Alexander reeds sometimes arrive chipped. They are sealed in the tin, perhaps at the factory. I opened all six tins. All the reeds are fine.

The company recommends preparation and break-in procedures. I always promise myself that I will do that. But I rarely do.
Al, I always buy multiple boxes. Living in Europe and always buying reeds in the USA, shipping fees are to be considered. They differ from 4.50 up to 34.00 for sending a box of reeds. I order with Junkdude, 4.50 for the first box and an additional smaller fee for every extra box. Most of the time I pay around 10.00 for 5 to 7 boxes. His website doesn't show Alexanders but for now I'm happy with my reeds of choice.

I do a bit of preparation and breaking in on my reeds but not that much. After several hours of playing I do try to adjust them to get the same 'feel' with most of them. Doesn't always work though.
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