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|
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).
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).
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.]
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.
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.