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Synthetic reeds are probably the future

I was pleased to receive recently some samples of D’Addario Woodwinds’s new “Venn” synthetic clarinet and saxophone reeds. In an upcoming post, I’ll share some thoughts about and demonstrations of the specific products. But here are a few thoughts to set the stage:

  • I’m thrilled to see a major cane reed manufacturer like D’Addario take on this challenge. My hunch is that other major reed makers are either close at their heels or betting on musicians’ provincial thinking about modern materials. Let’s hope it’s the former.
  • I am a strong believer that synthetic reeds are the future. Modern science has invented amazing materials for clothing and smartphone screens and space travel; we can invent something that works great for reeds. Natural cane isn’t sacred or magical—it’s a material with upsides and some very clear downsides.
  • It’s easy to fall into the trap of trying something like a synthetic reed and asking the question, “does this synthetic material sound as good as cane?” And, if the reed doesn’t play as well as one’s usual cane reeds, to answer the question with a no, and perhaps to further opine that nothing can ever sound as good as “real” cane. But that knee-jerk reaction fails to take into account all the other things we already know about reeds, such as that their geometry matters a great deal, and that their match to the mouthpiece is equally crucial. We’ve all found the reed-plus-mouthpiece combinations that work for us, and introducing any random new reed (cane or synthetic) isn’t especially likely to improve the situation. The better question to ask is, “Is this a viable reed?” In other words, does it function like a reed should, when paired with an appropriate mouthpiece: with appropriate response, stability, and characteristic tone, regardless of whether it is my new personal favorite?
  • Assuming there are viable synthetic reeds available, it may make sense to adopt them and claim all the potential benefits (consistency, longevity, resistance to warping, reduced waste, cost savings), and, if necessary, seek out new mouthpieces that are well suited to them. I have mouthpieces I like, but if I can replace them and never have to deal with the problems of cane again, that seems like an option well worth considering.

Zealous loyalty to “traditional” materials isn’t a virtue. (If you’re a woodwind player like me, there’s a good chance your equipment already includes materials that are “new” since the instrument’s invention anyway.) Keep an open mind!


One response to “Synthetic reeds are probably the future”

  1. Richard Carbone Avatar
    Richard Carbone

    I can only take the praising comments about synthetic reeds as being wonderful IF the player has a wife like mine who has fantastic ears and judgment about what I sound like. We all have to remember that we are behind the sounds we’re making. Unless you have top-level recording equipment to evaluate yourself (I was lucky enough to be recorded by film-studio guys from Los Angeles for a concert—what an eye and ear opener that was!). Hey, if you’re happy with what you sound like—with any kind of reed, go for it. I just have never liked what comes out of me with anything but cane.

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