Experimenting With Synthetic Reeds

Throughout my career, I have been a purist as far as it goes regarding reeds. I have pretty much played Rico Orange box, LaVoz and Hemkes on my horns and I never really thought much about switching away from those cuts.

In late May this year, I traded for a Theo Wanne Durga tenor mouthpiece. I was (and still am) blown away by the piece – the sound, colour, volume, presence, etc. This to me is the ultimate piece. It really allows the player to make it sound the way that they want. I took it on funk gigs, corporate wallpaper jobs, restaurant gigs, shows with my trio and more – but one this was bothering me about this piece…the reeds.

At first, I thought that it was me. I have played Otto Links or Link-based pieces on my tenor and I figure that it was the extreme change in mouthpiece style. After a few weeks things still weren’t feeling quite right. I had switched from my favourite Rico reeds and I was playing Vandoren JAVA’s. The JAVA reeds were not bad, but sound wasn’t what I had in mind.

I finally was fed up with cane on this mouthpiece after about eight weeks. I starting thinking that I should look into a synthetic reed. I had tried some different synthetics in the past and I wasn’t impressed. I started looking into the Legere, Fibracell, BARI and Forestone reeds.

I tried the BARI and the Fibracell reeds. They weren’t for me. Something about them didn’t feel right.

Then I tried the Legere Signature Series. They are very close! I tried some different strengths and I think that I’m in between sizes. I wanted to see if I could get a 2.3 or 2.4 from Legere, but my emails were never answered. I think that a 2.3 would be the right strength for me. I would definitely try the next “generation” of Legere reeds, if they ever come out with one, because I was impressed with the response of the reed.

I ordered a Forestone 2.5 to try and as soon as I slapped it on my mouthpiece, it spoke. This reed is worth checking out! The 2.5 is a little soft for me, but it still responds over the entire instrument. The altissimo is in tune and pops out easier than it ever has for me. One thing that concerned me about using the reed was the volume. I felt like I wasn’t getting the same amount of sound out of the horn. I took it to a rehearsal yesterday, and after I asked around, everybody said that I was more than loud enough. This reed is a great reed!

I learned a few things about synthetic reeds throughout my trials.

Synthetic reeds are not cane reeds. You need to wrap your head around that concept before you’ll have any success with them. I didn’t have to change my embouchure but the reed sounds totally different than a cane reed from behind the sax.

I generally had to go softer than I thought I should. I worked my way up to a comfortable strength.
If you have any biting issues the reeds will sound buzzy. I tried strengths that were too hard to my setup. This resulted in the unpleasant buzziness in which synthetic reeds are known. Once I had the proper strength, the reeds lost that ugly buzz and gained some of the zip or zing that I love from really good cane reeds.
I’m still unsure of what role synthetics will play in my performing life. I still have some great cane reeds ready for shows, but I’m excited to try the Forestone reeds over a period of time and see how they stand up my schedule.

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