Saxophone Reeds; How to choose and adjust them

When first starting out on the saxophone or any woodwind instrument, there are so many questions about saxophone reeds:

  1. Which brand of reed should I use?
  2. Which strength reed is best?
  3. Should I use cane or synthetic?
  4. How long does each one last?
  5. Why doesn't every reed in the box work?

Cane saxophone reeds vs. synthetic?

For beginners (just starting to playing for approximately 2 years), I would strongly suggest starting with cane reeds.

Some examples of great brands of cane reeds for beginners are: Vandoren, Rico by D'Addario, Royal by D'Addario, and La Voz. 

I would also recommend that beginners start with Strength 2, nothing higher or lower. I have seen teachers start beginners on 1 1/2 – that is too soft and will break too easily. 

Synthetic reeds, in my opinion, are for musicians that have a fairly strong foundation (embouchure and breath support) and good command over most of the full range of the instrument. I personally have used Legere Studio Cut reeds for tenor and alto saxophones for many years before switching back to cane reeds.

Some feel that beginners can start on these reeds because they last longer, don't break as easily, can be cleaned so that they are germ-free, and are consistent. Each synthetic reed will play right out of the box and feel consistent. These are all huge advantages over cane, but some people feel that synthetic reeds feel a little stiffer and are not as easy to manipulate and control as cane. 

Beginners should store their reeds properly (see this article for suggestions) and rotate them regularly (see this article for the reason why). Rotating the reeds make them last longer than the usual 2-3 weeks that they normally last.

The one unfortunate thing about cane reeds is that not every reed in the box works. That's where beginners should rely on their private teachers to help adjust those reeds. There are tools out there that any saxophone player can use to adjust their own reeds, as long as they know what part of the reed needs adjusting.

All About Saxophone Reeds

The following video was from a Q&A Facebook Live session all about saxophone reeds.

I show an example of an alto saxophone reed that is not balanced, how I would test it to see what needs to be adjusted and how to adjust using the Ridenour ATG system and the Reed Geek.


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  1. Larry Weintraub says

    Something that works really well for me is to use a bastard file w/a smoother side and a slightly courser side. Take your reed, put the flat side on the file. Move it back and forth to a count of 15-20. This lightens up the reed and makes it a lot more playable. I have a reed geek but the file works better for me. I have also used a reed knife on the front of the reed w/a lot of success following Larry Teals/Dave Liebmans guide in there books.

    Of course there are some reeds that are just horrible and not even worth it but I can make most reeds work better.

    Reeds I like are Rico, Rico Royal 2.5and RW 2.5 hard on tenor. On alto it is LaVoz med hard. I have used Legere Studio Cut 2.5 on tenor. They work but I really like the sound of cane better. I use Legere sometimes for practice or teaching sometimes.

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