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While the saxophone reed is just a small part of the saxophone, it has huge effect on the sound. Every player knows that when you have a reed that feels just right your tone and playing get better.
Choosing the right reed for your saxophone, skill level, and playing style is essential. Players will go through many different brands, trying to find the one that suits them best. If you’re trying to find your perfect guide, this guide will help.
We will list and review the best and most popular tenor saxophone reeds on the market today.
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1. Vandoren Sr2215 Tenor Sax Traditional Reeds
Vandoren Reeds are well known for being high-quality ‘traditional’ style reeds. Traditional reeds have an excellent response in all registers, which allows for greater dynamics across the range of the saxophone.
With Vandoren reeds, the professional player should be able to maintain a pianissimo attack on even the highest notes. The reeds are designed to be flexible and give legato and staccato execution across large intervals and jumps.
Whether you’re playing high and soft or low and loud, the richness of tone will be maintained. The body and clarity of Vandoren reeds is a trademark.
Every reed is sealed in a ‘Flow Pack’ which ensures freshness. These reeds cost a little more than most, but they are a great buy for the professional player, the serious hobbyist, or the beginning player who just wants to see what all the fuss is about.
User reviews say the reeds are long lasting and durable. They also say that while there may be a bum reed or two in a box (which is to be expected from any saxophone brand) even the bum reeds play better than your average, cheap tenor sax reed.
These are great combination of high-quality and good price.
2. Legere Tenor Saxophone Signature Series Reeds 2.0
While most reeds are made out of cane, these Legere Signature Series 2.0 reeds are actually synthetic – made out of plastic. Skeptical? You should be! Cheap synthetic reeds play like they sound – plastic-y.
Legere Signature Series reeds sound as good as cane, are as easy to play as cane, and do not require preconditioning before playing. You don’t need to soak them in water to get them to play properly.
The price of one (1) of these reeds is about the price of a whole box, but the cost is designed to reflect how long these last. One synthetic reed should last as long as an entire box of standard cane reeds.
Synthetic reeds have a small disadvantage: they are a little slicker than cane reeds, and require more careful positioning on the mouthpiece. They are a little harder to get into place, and the sound varies more depending on where the reed is situated.
The numbers are also slightly different. If you normally play a 2.5 regular cane reed, consider buying a 2.25 or a 2.0 synthetic reed.
Being able to just pick up your sax and play without moistening the reed is incredible. These are a great product and worth a shot.
3. Vandoren Sr422 Tenor Sax Zz Reeds
These Vandoren reeds have a slightly brighter, jazzy sound. These ZZ reeds have a medium-thick heart, spine, and a rounded tip. The relationship between the thicker heart and the rounded tip gives the reed a beautiful color and fast response.
Vandoren reeds are a little stiffer than some of the counterparts, in particular their Rico counterparts. Make sure to consult a stiffness comparison chart before you buy.
ZZ reeds are designed to have a ‘buzzy’ sound. This is great for jazz, rock, and popular music. They respond immediately and are satisfying to play, but they may not be suitable for classical or ensemble music, which requires a smoother sound.
User reviews say that this particular line of reeds has excellent quality control – usually 4 out 5 reeds are in great shape. Some bad reeds are to be expected, as the material is natural.
4. Rico By D’Addario Tenor Sax Reeds
Rico by D’Addario Tenor Sax Reeds are by far the most popular choice on the market. They are a priced for educators and students, have a slightly thinner vamp cut which makes them a little bit easier to play, and are available in many different quantities.
Just because they are popular and inexpensive, does not mean they are bad. In fact, there is a reason they became a staple of music rooms and lesson studios – they are a great reed whether you are a serious player or just beginning.
If you are just starting out, Rico reeds are a great way to go. You can figure out what stiffness you like and try out a few. Many experienced and pro players go on to play Rico reeds because they are so used to them!
The downside to these reeds is that the quality control can be spottier. You may find more reeds in a box that don’t play the way you expect them to. Some players say they found other, more expensive reeds performed better as they improved and demanded more of their reeds.
5. Fibracell Tenor Saxophone Reeds
Fibracell synthetic reeds have been around for over 15 years and are a well-respected, good quality synthetic reed. They are made of a ‘sophisticated composite of aerospace materials’ and are designed to duplicate the way reed cane reacts.
These reeds are bright, with brilliant overtones and a full, resonant tone. They are designed to have a lightning fast response for better articulation. Their pitch stability and intonation in all ranges is equal to or superior to reed cane.
Fibracell also claims to have the same ‘woody’ tone as cane, but better sound projection – a claim which is borne out in dozens of user reviews.
Users say that while you do sacrifice a little bit in the tone department, you gain a lot in durability and usability. Synthetic reeds can be left on the saxophone most of the time and picked up an played. That’s awesome!
If you’re in a band that doesn’t require a ‘beautiful, clear tone’ but does require gigs, travelling, and lots of playing, these are a great choice.
6. Boston Sax Shop Custom Tenor Saxophone Reeds
Boston Sax Shop reeds are interesting, because they are made by a small company in smaller batches. The owner of Boston Sax Shop, Jack Finucane, found that most ‘jazz’ cut reeds are too bright and buzzy, but have great projection. ‘Classical’ cut reeds had the depth and darkness that he found appealing, but couldn’t project through a band.
Jack set out to make the ‘perfect’ reed, and came up with a reed that has the qualities of both traditional cuts. Made using the finest French cane, these reeds have a warm, dark tone, but project well.
They have a reputation for durability and being that they are made in smaller batches, one would hope the quality control would be superior to that of large brands like Rico. They are a little more expensive than average, but if you like them, it is worth it!
7. D’addario Woodwinds Hemke Tenor Saxophone Reeds
These saxophone reeds have a darker tone which is favored by many classical and traditional saxophone players. Jazz players looking for a more ‘vintage’ or ‘retro’ sound may also choose these reeds for their dark quality.
Hemke reeds are designed to be used with round-chambered mouthpieces, and are French-filed for freedom of response and low-register clarity. The have a shorter vamp for darkness and a balanced, thin tip for response and playability.
Again, all of this lends these reeds to traditional and classical players. These reeds are good quality, no-nonsense, and a good price point for most players.
8. Lazarro Tr-L Tenor Saxophone Reeds
Lazarro are a less common option for tenor saxophone reeds, but they are good quality and made in the U.S.A. They are also one of the least expensive options on the market, while purportedly maintaining better quality control than Rico brands.
Realistically, these reeds are probably as good as the cheap Rico brands, but they are harder to find and less popular, which earns them a lower ranking. Like any cane reed, some of the reeds won’t be as good as others, but for the most part these are a good option for a beginner or serious hobbyist.
Note that like any bamboo reed, you need to moisten the reed for 5 minutes before playing.
9. Ammoon Tenor Saxophone Reeds
These are the least expensive reed on our list, but that doesn’t mean they are necessarily of poor quality. The vamp is not as long as some, but according to user reviews, the quality it consistent.
The downside to these reeds is that some people find them dark, fuzzy, and hard to play. Not everyone agrees, but some people feel this way. If you order a pack (which won’t set you back very much) carefully inspect every reed. You should be able to tell if a few of them are not up to snuff.
For the price, these reeds will do the trick. If you are looking for practice reeds or try a cheaper alternative to your favorite reed, try them out. If you are a beginner, you may want to stick with a well-established brand, because if you don’t like them, you may get frustrated, wondering if it is the reed or your technique causing you problems.
What To Look For When Buying Saxophone Reeds
The sad truth, is that amongst a box of reeds, there will be some excellent quality reeds and some that have slipped through quality control, and are not worth playing. Cane reeds are made from natural products and vary depending on the plant and the workmanship.
It is not always possible to pick out a bad reed visually, and stores may not let you inspect every reed personally, but if you can inspect your reeds before buying, here is what to look for:
Inconsistent Grain Width
When you are looking at the reed, is the width of the grain on the vamp (the shaved, playable part) consistent? Look out for inconsistencies. This usually results in a less-playable reed.
Discoloration Of The Grain
If the grain on the vamp is discolored, you will often find that the reed will not respond as well on the mouthpiece. Note that discoloration on the shiny bark is not an issue.
Courser Than Average Grain
If the grain on a reed is courser than average or courser than the rest of the reeds in the box, it is like not a good reed. This take a little practice to spot, but with time you’ll get a feel for what to expect of a reed.
Lack Of Symmetry
If one side is thicket than the other, your reed will not play well. This is easiest to spot by hold it eye level and looking at the blunt end, not the shaved tip.
Heart Of The Reed Off-Centre
Hold the reed up to a light source, and look for the slightly thicker ‘heart’ of the reed. It should be right in the center of the vamp. If it is not, the reed will not play well.
Some Of The Best Saxophone Reed Brands
Like almost every product on the market, there are a variety of high-quality brands to choose from, and various players, professionals, and hobbyists will have strong opinions on which is best.
The truth is, your favorite brand will depend on your personal taste, your saxophone, and the type of music you play. You could play any of the brands we’ve mentioned in our guide and be totally fine. They are all different, but they are all reeds and they will all make sound.
The biggest difference between reeds lies in whether they are designed for a ‘classical’ or a ‘jazz’ tone. Classical saxophone tone tends to be darker and softer, meant to blend with an ensemble. Jazz tones tend to be bright and louder, meant to cut through a band.
Here are a few popular and quality brands.
Vandoren reeds are French-filed, traditional reeds. They were founded in 1905 in Paris, France and have been around ever since. They now ship 90% of their product internationally to over 100 countries.
They grow most of their cane in their own cane fields in Southern France. Their reeds are made in a traditional style and are popular with jazz and classical players. Vandoren is often known as a ‘higher-quality’ reed and they tend to be a little more expensive.
Rico By D’Addario
Rico reeds are the most popular reed in the world. They are good quality, tend to be a little softer and easier to play, and are priced for educators and students.
While these reeds are often associated with beginners, amateur jazz bands, and educators, they are in fact used by professionals around the world as well. Rico makes good reeds, you just have to know what you are looking for and which thickness you prefer.
Legere makes one of the most popular synthetic reeds on the market. They are known for their bright, focused sound that stands up against any natural reed on the market.
Synthetic reeds are great options for all striped of players. As a practice reed, they are great because they can be left on the saxophone for longer periods of time. As a gigging reed, they are great for the same reason, and for their overall durability.
While the reeds are often associated with jazz, Legere also makes synthetic ‘classical’ reeds, proving that any brand can be for any player.
Buying In Bulk
When you’re starting out, you may want to try a bunch of different reeds. If you’re in this position, buy smaller packs of reeds, or even individual reeds to start with. There is no sense wasting money and reeds if you don’t like the brand or tone.
Once you find a good reed, we strongly recommend you buy that reed in bulk. Reeds have a long shelf-life and buying in bulk will save you money in the long run.
Synthetic Vs. Natural
The general consensus amongst professional players is that synthetic reeds sound different (usually worse) than regular, natural, cane reeds. This may be true, but for some players and situations that may not matter.
Synthetic reeds do not warp, crack or wear. They do not have to be moistened before playing. They can be kept on the mouthpiece for longer amounts of time. For certain players and certain situations, synthetic reeds are a good choice. There is no shame in trying one out!
You may find that the convenience of synthetic reeds gets you playing more consistently. If so, buy one and enjoy making music!
Best Tenor Saxophone Reeds, Final Thoughts
All of the reeds we’ve mentioned here are great options for both the beginning and the experienced player. The right reed for you will be a matter of experimentation and personal taste.
Buy a few of these reeds that seem appealing, and when you find a brand and stiffness that you like, stick with it. You’ll get to know it better and you’ll be able to buy in bulk, which saves money.