Review: Rico reed cases

July 20, 2011

I’ve been trying out the Rico single and double reed cases. These are plastic cases that can optionally accommodate Rico’s “Reed Vitalizer” packets, which, according to Rico, help keep your reeds at your desired humidity level. The single reed case holds eight reeds, baritone saxophone or smaller, and the double reed case holds five double reeds, oboe or bassoon. (I found contrabass clarinet reeds to be just a little too large for the single reed case. The double reed case holds English horn reeds just fine, but doesn’t work for oboe d’amore or contrabassoon.)

Detailed review follows, but here is the quick summary:

Price reasonable initial investment; pricier if you regularly buy additional Vitalizer packs
Looks handsome
Humidity undecided
Design flawed

Price

Current street price on both the single reed case and the double reed case  seems to be about $20. This includes one Reed Vitalizer pack. If you choose to use the Reed Vitalizer packs on an ongoing basis, they go for about $5 apiece, and Rico says you will need a new one every 45-60 days (so, up to around $40/year, not counting tax or shipping).

Looks

These are basically good-looking cases. They are plastic, but an appealing plastic with a vaguely leather-like finish. The single reed case is black, and the double reed case is a sort of coppery brown. I can’t see any reason for them to be different colors, and I guess I would prefer for both to be black, since I like to keep my accessories low-key on stage, and I’m more likely to fuss with my double reeds than my single reeds during a concert. Both feature a raised “silver” (plastic) badge that says “Rico,” and a raised blue insignia for the humidity control system. The logos don’t bother me visually, but do cause another minor problem (see “Design,” below).

Humidity

I live in a very humid climate, and my instruments live in an older building that tends to be a little on the damp side. I find that I can generally leave reeds sitting around without any kind of case and not suffer any ill effects. I have also lived in very dry climates, where I found it absolutely necessary to use some kind of humidification system, but using any of those previous methods here has resulted in thriving and colorful mold colonies.

I kept clarinet, saxophone, oboe, and bassoon reeds in the cases over a period of several weeks, playing them regularly. I used the “73%” Vitalizer packs that came packaged with the cases (58% and 84% are also available). Rico claims these packs provide a “2-way” humidification system, which I presume means that the packs can either raise or lower the case’s humidity as needed.

As far as I can tell, the humidification system had no effect on my reeds. This includes a conspicuous absence of mold. I do think that it would be worthwhile to test these in a climate where dryness and warpage are real issues, and I welcome comments below from anyone who has tried these cases under those conditions.

On the other hand, the Vitalizer packs are unobtrusive and don’t add any significant bulk to the cases, so for me there’s no harm in keeping them in there. They are optional, and the cases work fine as ordinary cases without the Vitalizers.

The single reed case keeps the reeds on a fluted surface, presumably to allow some airflow around the reeds. The double reed case has fluted mandrels, which should allow some air to get inside bassoon reeds. [Update: photo of double reed case mandrels added in the comments section.]

Design

While my overall impression of these cases is positive, I do think there are some design issues that  could use a little tweaking.

First of all, if you have to provide printed instructions on how to open the case, then it’s not designed in a user-friendly way. Even having read and fully understood the instructions, I still occasionally (and embarrassingly) fumbled with these cases trying to get them open. It’s not difficult, just not natural or intuitive.

The eight-single-reeds capacity should meet most clarinetists’ and saxophonists’ needs, but a five-reed case will be unsuitable for some double reed players, particularly oboists. Oboe reed cases sometimes have a capacity of two dozen or more reeds, to allow for reeds in various stages of completion plus possibly English horn reeds. (I chose to try the five-reed case as part of a personal quest for more focused and quality-over-quantity-oriented oboe reedmaking, and may continue to use it for that purpose.)

Doron at bestsaxophonewebsiteever.com reviewed the single reed case recently, and complained of a problem breaking saxophone reed tips against the rubber band that secures the reeds in place. While I haven’t broken any yet, I did come close a couple of times. I also find that the case’s latch slightly blocks access to the two center reed slots unless you lift the reed tray.

The raised logos on the outside of the case protrude by a couple of millimeters, which means that the cases don’t stack tidily. I think I would find this vaguely annoying if I were using two or more in an instrument case.

Rico includes a set of labels with the cases, so that you can indicate what kind of reeds are contained within, but for some reason the label spot is on the bottom of the case. (I suppose you can put the stickers anywhere you want, but a clear label-sized area is marked out on the bottom.) And both the single reed case and the double reed case came with this set of labels:

My biggest gripe about the Rico cases is wasted space. I like my reed cases as slim and trim as possible, to conserve valuable real estate in my instrument cases’ accessory compartments, and to slip easily into a pocket before heading out on stage. Rico has designed these cases to fit a variety of reeds, with a result that is unnecessarily bulky. I think these cases would work better designed for individual instruments. (I believe Rico originally offered a clarinet reed case and an alto saxophone case, though now they offer only the multi-instrument cases.)

Here’s what the single reed case looks like loaded up with clarinet reeds:

As you can see, without changing the outer form factor of the case, the inner tray could easily be redesigned to hold five reeds across (ten total), or be narrowed to hold four across without the extra space. There is also significant wasted space above the reed tips, which gets fully used only if you are storing baritone saxophone reeds.

The double reed case suffers a similar problem, being designed to hold either oboe or bassoon reeds:

The mandrels are conical, so they accommodate both oboe and bassoon reeds, but the oboe reeds have to sit up fairly high on them. The bassoon reeds sit lower on the mandrels, but leave unused space beyond their tips. The mandrels are spaced to allow for the width of bassoon reeds, leaving wide gaps between the oboe reeds—at least six, possibly seven oboe reeds could fit here.

I don’t see much use in having multi-instrument reed cases. Although I’m part of the minority of musicians that plays both oboe and bassoon, I would rarely have any reason to store the reeds together—it seems this design is for Rico’s convenience, not for the reed players’. Storing, say, clarinet reeds and E-flat clarinet reeds together, or soprano saxophone and alto saxophone reeds, seems like a slightly more likely scenario, but the single reed case is still too large.

Verdict

I think these cases have a number of positive qualities, and the humidification system seems potentially useful for those that live in a climate that demands it. But the design issues, stemming primarily from trying to make multi-purpose cases, are significant enough that I’ll be keeping my eyes open for some other options.

Comments

  1. patty

    Are those mandrels the plastic sort? I really don’t care for them. I want wire … the sort that Singin’ Dog sells. I’m still looking for that PERFECT reed case.

    & of course a perfect reed case would then make all my reeds behave perfectly!

    Recent blog post: I Be Smarrt. I Yam Shure! (July 20, 2011)

    Reply

    • Bret Pimentel (Your host)

      Yes, they are plastic. I like the the wire mandrels better, too.

      I think a perfect reed case should make reeds and oboists behave perfectly…

      Reply

  2. Jacob Mertz

    Just a comment about the Vitalizer packs, how long they last depends quite a bit on the humidity level of the location. My first one last from October of last year to this April. However, in the summer some have only lasted a couple of weeks. You’ll know they’ve outlived their usefulness when it feels like there are tiny rocks/bits of sand in the pack. I think they work really well.

    The emblem on the case is my main design gripe for the reasons you’ve listed. I think the beauty of the case is that you can use it for whatever you want.

    Reply

  3. Sarah Dale

    I definitely think it’s silly to have the “spot” for the sticker on the bottom. I use 1 single reed case for my alto reeds and 1 for my tenor reeds. I keep my alto reed case in my case so they never get mixed up, but that’s besides the point. I would agreed this is a design oversight.

    I’ve used the single reed case for the last year for my alto reeds and now that I have my tenor with me again, I have one for my tenor.

    Overall I have no complaints and I really like them. I’m not convinced of the usefulness of the vitalizer pack though. Oddly enough one of the things I like about the case is its bulkiness. I find it easy to hold and easy to open/close. I would never use the single reed case for anything smaller than alto reeds though. For example I use a protec clarinet reed case that holds I think 12 or 16 reeds for my clarinet.

    I don’t know if it’s because I’m playing more or playing different (or what), but I used to go through at LEAST a reed a week. After switching to this case (and perhaps for the reasons in the previous sentence), I used less than 15 reeds in 9 months of heavy playing. I’m on my 2nd contract and I’m still using a lot of those same reeds I used last contract.

    Ultimately, I would definitely suggest to anyone interested to check them out.

    Reply

  4. Monica Shriver

    I received one of the cases as a gift little over a year ago and use it to store tenor sax reeds. I’ve found that the Vitalizer packs are helpful in Phoenix, AZ (the driest place on earth) and my tenor reeds last longer and play better (when I remember to change the packs) but it’s hasn’t been enough of a benefit for me to go out and buy 5 more reed cases and packs for my other saxes and clarinets. Of course, I’d use it if someone gave them to me. :)

    Recent blog post: WELCOME! (September 20, 2010)

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  5. Jarrett

    Do clarinet reeds and saxophone reeds fit equally snugly into the cases (in terms of thickness, not height)? I have the original just-clarinet case and just-alto sax case, and reeds fit differently into each of them, so I was curious how they deal with that in a multi-instrument case.

    Reply

    • Bret Pimentel (Your host)

      The single reeds are held in place with a sort of rubber band. Thicker reeds are held a little more snugly, but even for thinner reeds I don’t see a problem with them being less than secure.

      Reply

  6. Clayton

    As a double reed specialist (bassoon primarily), I’m wary about picking up anything that says ‘wire’ or ‘fluted’ mandrel as a means of holding my reeds safely in place. I’ve had many friends say not to bother wish wire mandrel cases since it can cause the back of the read to not seal properly around a bocal (because, come on: two sections of wire poking at each side of the cane can cause the cane to give and form to the pressure over time). Would you take a better photo of the mandrels in this Rico case to show their design? That’s what is standing between my ordering this case. I want to see its texture and design before I buy one—and no place around me sells them without ordering and asking for payment pre-order/arrival.

    Reply

    • Bret Pimentel (Your host)

      Click for larger.

      Reply

      • Clayton

        Thank you! They’re not harshly fluted at all, so I think I’m going to go ahead and order one. I truly appreciate this picture, especially since Rico themselves can’t be so bothered to give a good detailed photo anywhere else.

  7. Robert Moody

    I’m not exactly sure that I’ve ever been impressed with “ humidity control” reed cases. Of course. I live in Virginia and maybe they’re not as useful here… I don’t know.

    I am a professional clarinetist and public school teacher. I have a number of local clarinet students, two of which just made a local youth symphony in a nearby larger city. The clarinetist in the orchestra had a masterclass with the involved youth symphony players and recommended they get this reed case.

    I must say that I agreed with everything you mentioned. While I will support my student’s experiences, I cannot support pushing kids to by gimmicky equipment. When they brought it in and I looked it over, I felt bad for them. For just a few dollars more they could have got a time tested, tried and true reed case with a flat piece of glass like the Selmer cases.

    I find that if you regularly play on and rotate your reeds, there is rarely a mold issue if ever. Besides, a little soap and water works fine on that.

    Reply

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