Learning an instrument is never easy, it takes years and years of intense practice and co-ordination. When learning an instrument, one of the most frustrating things will be if they just can’t get the right sound.
However, in these instances, it might not be something to do with you… rather something to do with your instrument.
Saxophones deliver one of the most distinctive sounds in the horn section. The rich, warm and fluid tones are the staple of any orchestra or jazz band. They are both ensemble and solo instruments, so if the sound is slightly off, chances are you, your bandmates and the audience will know it immediately.
Saxophone reeds are pieces of wood that you fix just underneath the mouthpiece with a ligature and they help concentrate the flow of air from your mouth into the instrument. These reeds will help improve your sound and might help add some more nuanced notes to your playing.
Choosing the right sax reed will make all the difference between a great sounding instrument and an absolute wash-out. Even though they seem small and insignificant, your sax reed will elevate your playing to the next level.
Thankfully, there are plenty of reeds out there for you to choose from with plenty of manufacturers who value the tones of a saxophone and want you to get the most out of your playing.
But where can you pick up the best saxophone reeds? What features does a really good sax reed need to have and what materials should it be made out of to give you a top-notch performance? How much should you be looking to spend on a decent set of saxophone reeds?
Well, whether you’re a novice or experienced sax player, we’ve got you covered, with our list of some of the best saxophone reeds that you can currently find on the market.
We’ve also got a buyer’s guide that will help you choose between the best and the worst sax reeds, as well as some frequently asked questions.
OUR TOP PICK
Our first set of saxophone reeds has been rated very highly by some of the world’s most expert saxophone players, made by the reputable company of Vandoren.
These reeds are made with high-quality wood with a thicker heel and a longer palette to create great vibrations, setting you and your sax far above the rest - introducing the Vandoren SR613 Alto Sax V. 12 Reeds.
Having a thicker tip is key for achieving that rich and deep sound, and this reed certainly delivers on that. This brand comes vacuum-sealed in a "flow pack" that will give you a freshly opened feeling with every reed that you use.
These reeds are made from high-quality wood that helps facilitate a rich and warm sound. This wood is also very easy to clean and absorb, so you won’t have to worry about the accumulation of any saliva throughout an hour-long playing or more.
These reeds are also well-rounded, so you won’t have to worry about any splintering.
- Sealed in a freshened flow pack, you won’t have to worry about your reeds tasting or smelling stale when they’re removed from the packet.
- With a thicker tip and longer palette, you can expect to have a much deeper and richer sound from your sax, the sturdy wood dampening the air that rushes through the mouthpiece and preventing any squeaking or bum notes.
- This thicker tip will also mean that your reed will last longer, resulting in being able to play for longer and saving you money on new reeds in the long run.
- The price - for the features that these reeds have, the price is very reasonable. You could probably pick up a few packs without spending too much.
- Some users have complained that the palette might be too long and cause some awkwardness in the mouthpiece when playing.
Our next brand of reed is one that provides a huge sound and a powerful projection, ranging in 3 different sizes of soft, medium and hard, as well as different strengths.
If you are looking for clarity in the articulation of your notes as well as that fat sound most commonly associated with jazz, then you can’t go wrong with the D’Addario Rico Alto Sax Reeds.
The Rico reeds come from a state-of-the-art reed research center, so you can expect a scientific level of precision to have gone into the construction.
The material of these reeds is premium cane which also makes the reeds last longer, cutting down a significant amount on your reed expenditure every month.
There are two different models of these reeds, filed and unfiled, so you can get greater versatility from the sound and adapt them personally to fit your specific mouthpiece.
These reeds have a greater response from the mouthpiece, allowing you to flutter through many notes at a time without fluffing, perfect for jazz playing.
- These reeds are ideal for both the beginner and the professional saxophone player, with both filed and unfiled options that you can adapt to your particular playing style.
- This will give you a much bigger and fatter sound, designed with precision by the boffins at the Rico research center for jazz playing.
- This is a great reed for jazz playing, with a super-fast response that you can better articulate the differences between the different notes, which is perfect for the faster playing that often accompanies jazz.
- The construction of these reeds means that they will be able to last a lot longer, which will save you money on your monthly reed purchase.
- This brand of reed only suits a traditional tip of saxophone, which might mean that it is not adaptable to certain styles of music.
This next brand of reed is made from a synthetic material that comes in a 3 strength, yet won’t result in that horrible-sounding fake sax sound that players will want to avoid at all costs.
This won’t dry out like a lot of other synthetic reeds, manufactured painstakingly by Legere with a non-toxic substance - introducing the Legere Alto Sax Reed.
Unlike other synthetic reeds, you won’t have to wet these before you play them. They play a lot like traditional cane reeds, giving you that premium quality but without the hefty price tag.
This is a great set of reeds for those beginners who might not have the budget for a professional-level set of accessories but still want that sophisticated sound.
Despite being synthetic, these reeds are made from a highly innovative non-toxic material that won’t result in that fake sound that can often occur with cheaper reeds.
You can save precious time not having to precondition these reeds, which will be particularly useful if you want to hit the stage quickly.
- This comes with the same properties as a moist cane, meaning that you won’t have to wet it before use and you won’t have to spend time preconditioning it before going out on the stage.
- Despite the synthetic material, this reed gives you the same rich and deep sound that you might get with a genuine wooden reed.
- This reed is perfect for beginners who want that professional sound from their sax but on half the budget.
- Originally used with clarinets, these reeds will give you the same reliable sound on every use, so you won’t have to worry about it splitting or not fitting correctly over your mouthpiece.
- The longevity of these reeds will all depend on the intensity of the saxophone that you’re playing.
This next set of reeds comes at a very affordable price, with a shorter vamp that results in a much darker tone than a lot of other reeds.
These reeds are filed and come in a box of 5, which means that they come with a much lower price, making them an ideal first reed set for an entry-level sax player - introducing the D’Addario Woodwinds Hemke Alto Sax Reed.
These reeds are precision balanced, with a thinner lip that will allow you to achieve a quick response from your mouthpiece as well as a better articulation for the notes.
This makes them a great option for jazz players where fast interchange between notes is common and you’ll want that greater distinction between them.
You can get a very dark and deep harmonic tone sought after by a lot of jazz saxophonists, giving you that blues-tinged somber feeling to your playing.
You can make soft attacks a lot easier with this reed, the cut and shape of them are designed to fit even the most conventional of mouthpieces.
- The shape and cut of these mouthpieces - you can very easily achieve soft attacks on this reed, the articulation of even the most gently played notes is superb.
- You can be sure that this reed will fit even the most conventional of mouthpieces, meaning that there will be very little fluffing or bum notes.
- If you are a jazz player, then this is the reed for you. Adapted for round-chambered mouthpieces, you can achieve those rich and dark tones favored by jazz sax players, with great articulation for notes played at super-fast speed.
- These are great for the budget player - coming in a pack of 5 instead of 10, you can budget your reeds a lot easier, getting a fresh pack from week to week rather than buying in bulk every month.
- The fact that there are only 5 reeds in a box might not appeal to players who want plenty of reserves in their back pocket and might feel shortchanged having to buy lots of packets.
Our final set of reeds certainly don’t skimp when it comes to design quality and construction, with a thinner vamp cut making it an ideal reed for student playing level.
This reed is unfiled and is harvested from a rich French cane farm, fusing a hand-crafted quality with state-of-the-art technological precision - introducing the D’Addario Woodwinds Alto Sax Reeds.
This is perfectly suited to student playing, so whether you are a genuine student or consider yourself a student-level amateur sax player, you’ll want to consider this slender and versatile reed.
It will give you power in your tone, as the back of the reed is a lot thinner than the traditional style of reed.
This reed can be used in an educational scenario, made all the easier by the fact that you can buy a lot of them very cheaply.
The quality of the cane makes it a great option for teaching your students about breath control and how to articulate the notes between playing.
- This reed is designed for student playing, with a much thinner lip that will allow the newbie player to get to grips with the articulation of the notes and breath control.
- This is made from high-grade cane, simply the best material to use for these palettes.
- This will give you a lot of power in the tone of your playing, with a shape that is specifically designed for round-chamber saxophones.
- This is also a great option if you are a music teacher teaching students saxophone. The low price will allow you to buy plenty of reeds to teach a handful of students.
- As these are aimed at student level players, you won’t expect the same level of durability and professional sound that you would get from the top-level reeds.
Best Saxophone Reeds Buying Guide
There are a few essential features that you’ll want every one of your reeds to have to give you that rich and dynamic sound.
You’ll first have to consider what genre of music you’re going to be playing using your saxophone, as different genres have different preferred tones and abilities.
How Strong Is Your Reed?
When shopping for reeds, you might notice that there are various strengths, measured from 1 (the softest) to 5 (the hardest). You can usually find this strength rating on the side of the reed packaging itself.
Some reeds might also simply refer to themselves as ‘soft’, ‘medium’ or ‘hard’, which is much more straightforward to understand.
It might go without saying that the beginner player will need a softer reed to break them into the mouth positioning and breathing style of the mouthpiece.
Once you starting progressing in your playing, you can move onto a stiffer cane which will give you more responsiveness and be able to withstand harder notes, as well as faster and longer playing.
What Is The Material Of Your Reed?
Cane is often considered the gold standard in terms of material for a reed. It is both hard and responsive and can come in many different gradients.
However, no two canes sound alike, so you might want to do a bit of shopping before you find the right one for your instrument and playing style.
You can also get a synthetic cane, which might not give as much of a consistent tone as a real cane reed, but they are more durable and take less care and maintenance. You don’t have to precondition a synthetic cane, and it is much more resilient to outdoor weather such as rain.
What Genre Of Music Will You Be Playing?
If you are playing in a jazz soloist style, the likelihood is you’ll want a reed that produces a much darker tone, as this is the preferred sound of jazz musicians.
Conversely, you might want a brighter sound if you’re playing in an orchestra.
Reeds are also measured in terms of strength, with a 1.5 or 2 strength being perfect for student players, while professional players who want a harder tone will want a stronger reed.
The shape of your reed will also determine the tone and sound that comes out at the other end, with thicker reeds giving off rich and deep tones, while the thinner reeds are brighter and more playful in tone.
Best Saxophone Reeds - FAQ's
Will The Reed From An Alto Sax Fit Other Types Of Sax?
The reed from one style of saxophone will certainly physically fit the mouthpiece of another, but certain reeds are designed for certain saxes.
An alto sax will require an alto sax reed, a soprano sax will require a soprano sax reed etc, etc.
How Long Does A Reed Last?
This will all depend on how often and to what intensity you’ll be playing your saxophone.
Also, the longevity of your reed will depend on how well you maintain and clean it before or after use.
Some reeds can last for a few months of infrequent playing, however, if you play hot and hard for two weeks straight, then your reed could end up being trashed a lot quicker.