Synthetic vs cane reeds

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Synthetic mouthpieces, so why not synthetic reeds? Let’s compare

Traditionally woodwind instruments such as the clarinet used mouthpieces made from wood in combination with cane reeds. A big problem was always that natural products such as wood and cane were not only inconsistent, but also unstable – prone to warping, cracking, and sooner or later just wearing out – sooner rather than later in the case of reeds as they also deteriorate due to various digestive enzymes in the saliva.

A minor Blues

Legere Logo
Disclaimer: Since writing this article I have become a Legere endorser.

As soon as a viable alternative for mouthpieces was found – ebonite (hard rubber) – it very quickly superceded wood as the main mouthpiece material. In the case of saxophones, metal also became popular for mouthpieces as an alternative. Both ebonite and metal were quickly accepted as an ideal solution to the problem of replacing an unstable material. Either they sounded the same to many people’s ears or the sound was actually better.

This is not the case with reeds: most players still prefer the sound (and response) of cane reeds, and for years manufacturers have been experimenting with synthetic materials in order to provide a stable long lasting product that not only sounds like a cane reed, but has the same “feel”. So far the big problem has always been the enormous difference in sound, usually perceived as a negative difference. Another problem is a difference in how the reed responds, or feels to the player.

Can you tell the synthetic?

Reed 1a

Reed 1b

Reed 1c

Reed 2a

Reed 2b

Reed 2c

Which is which? Click here.

Reed 1 is a Legere Signature

Reed 2 is a Rico Jazz Select


Synthetic Reed Recommendations

The only synthetic reed I have found so far that sounds very close to a cane reed, and responds in the same way is the Legere Signature. I tried Legere reeds a year ago and was not totally convinced, but they seem to finally have found the right formula with a new model, the Legere Signature.

Close behind is the Hahn Fibre Reed, I played one of these and liked it a lot when I test played one at the Frankfurt Musikmesse fair, but when I ordered one to play at home, it seemed completely different. Although the sound was good over some parts of the range, the higher notes seemed to close up and play slightly flat. Altissimo was very difficult to get at all (unlike with the one I previously played). When these are more consistent (and there is no reason why a synthetic should not be consistent), then these will be a very close competitor to Legere.

Vintage Plastic Synthetic Reeds for saxophone
“Betcha”, one of the earliest synthetic reeds:


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