There are three things to consider when evaluating a reed. I consider these same factors for either single or double reeds, and prioritize them in this order.
- Response. The overriding concern for me is that the reed responds exactly as I expect it to. A reed that is stiff, sluggish, stuffy, or otherwise unresponsive isn’t a good reed (at least in its current state), even if it “has a good sound” or whatever. Many reed players, I believe, are consistently using reeds that are overly stiff, often in the name of “good” tone.
- Stability. This is the flip side of the coin from response; a reed that is too responsive is uncontrollable. (Think of the gas pedal and brake in a car: unresponsive pedals make the car feel lethargic, but overly responsive ones make for a jerky ride.) With an unstable reed, it’s hard to play in tune, hard to control dynamics, and hard to keep the tone consistent.
- Tone. Once I’ve selected a reed that has the right balance between response and stability, I evaluate the reed’s contribution to tone quality. Remember that the reed is only one of many factors that affect tone, and that tone is relatively easy to manipulate if the reed is responsive and stable. Resist the temptation to rank your reeds based on their tone alone.