Problems with your clarinet or saxophone reeds?
- If you buy into the myth that there are only two or three “good” reeds in a box of ten, you are buying the wrong reeds. There are many, many options available to you. When I’ve got the right brand, cut, and size of reed for my mouthpiece and embouchure, easily eight play respectably well right out of the box. Within 15-20 minutes, I can adjust nine or ten to play quite well, and maybe three or four of those at recital quality. I use the steps below and nothing else.
Don’t waste time and cane messing with the topography of the reed’s cut. With all the variation in reeds, the cut is the one thing that is really quite consistent. If you don’t like the cut, shop around some more. If you own a diagram like the one shown here, with elaborate instructions on which tiny sectors of reed you should sand, I recommend that you throw it away.
- Make sure the reed is flat. Many aren’t, and one that was flat yesterday may not be flat today. A piece of 600-grit wet-dry sandpaper held against a piece of glass is the perfect tool for this. Concentrate on the part of the reed that contacts the mouthpiece’s table. For $2, I had a local glass shop cut me a 3″×4″ piece of ¼” glass, with the edges ground smooth. You can also use a mirror or window pane. A flattened reed will respond better and squeak less.
- Balance the corners. This is the one exception I make for changing the reed’s cut. Well-balanced reeds have a nice clear tone and respond reliably throughout the instrument’s range and at any dynamic level. I find that balancing the corners can correct for much of the asymmetry of a typical reed. Even a reed that already seems pretty good can often be improved. Tom Ridenour’s method is dead simple and strikingly effective—required reading.
- If absolutely necessary, clip the tip using a high-quality reed trimmer. I do this to maybe one in twenty reeds. I do it to make a reed feel a little stronger. Clip off the tiniest possible amount at first—a little clip goes a long way. It’s very rare that I clip off more than a tiny bit, and if I do, it rarely works out well.