Reeds and Mouthpieces

By Mike Vaccaro
(from Mike's Musings #1, our newsletter)

Welcome to the first offering of my musings. Today, I would like to talk for a moment about reeds and their importance, both in performing and in selecting a new mouthpiece.

I was recently informed by a representative of one of the major reed manufacturers, that reeds are coming in about a half size stiffer than in the past, and that he sees this to be true for a few years to come. I have personally found this trend to be true in regards to the various brands of reeds that I've recently played, and if you are having difficulties finding a good reed, my advice is to try a softer strength than you normally play. Of course, you also need to determine if your mouthpiece is part of the problem.

As with wine, cane is different from year to year and from region to region. The quality of the reeds being manufactured by any company is subject to the crops of cane that are available for that particular year. It can be expected that cane will be different from company to company depending on where they buy their cane.

It is important to remember that different companies get their cane from various parts of the world, mostly the Var region of France, but also from many other sources. For instance, South America is a major new player in the cane game. There are also many new reed companies. These smaller companies don’t have the need to sell as many reeds so they tend to be more particular about which part of the cane shaft they use and how the cane is aged and cut. Also, some of the larger, more well-known companies are marketing higher-end products that are claimed to be more refined and exceptional compared to their standard lines.

Because of the many changes in cane around the world, it is important not to get married to a particular brand of reed just because you have used it all of your life, or your teacher tells you that it is the cane to buy. Experiment !!!!!

Currently, I am using Eastman Reeds, and am finding a high percentage of excellent reeds per box, a great response, a complex tone, and comfort on the mouthpiece. I also currently like Rico Reserve, though I have to work on those a little more to get them exactly how I like them. I repeat, that is now. Next year or the year after, I may find a cane that works better, so it helps to keep an open mind, and to compare your current reed to other available brands, especially if you are not getting good reeds on a regular basis.

I will go into reed adjustment and its importance on another occasion, however, if you are unsure of how to modify your reeds for the ultimate playing experience, I strongly suggest that you purchase Tom Ridenour’s reed system which can be found online at or from the retailer of your choice. I suggest you buy the complete package with video and workbook, plus, of course, the reed tool. This system can make even the beginner adept at reed modification.


The first thing to do is to take some new reeds, make them so that they respond on your old mouthpiece, but don't fine tune them yet. With these reeds, some of which may be too hard or too soft, you're in the position that you know you have somewhat responsive reeds to try on potential new mouthpieces. You're at least in the ballpark. After you have selected a mouthpiece with these new reeds, play and adjust them for optimum sound and response. It has been my experience that musicians do not usually make radical changes in their mouthpieces. Big changes usually come over a period of time. That said, even a change of a few thousandths of an inch in the tip opening or in the length of the facing can make the mouthpiece play much differently. Even though a new mouthpiece may feel good at first, you still have to learn how to play it, as it is bound to be different than your old mouthpiece. Only then will you know the true potential of your new equipment. Of course, we'd like you to try our mouthpieces first, and we have a generous return policy, however there are plenty of retailers that have similar return policies on mouthpieces you try, so taking your time and selecting a reed for a new mouthpiece should be no problem.

In future editions of "Mike's Musings," I'll write more about mouthpiece vetting and reed adjustment, so if you have any friends who might be interested, please have them go to my site to subscribe.

I will be making a series of videos that will be available on YouTube and on my website. These should be finished in mid- to late summer. I will announce here and on my site when they will ultimately be available. Video subjects will include; Picking a Mouthpiece, How a Mouthpiece is Made, Reeds and Their Nomenclature, How to Select a Reed, How to Adjust a Reed, and Ligatures. There will also be articles on how all these factors work together to optimize the tone generating system for the instrument.

In the meantime, please visit my website to see available articles and more information on mouthpiece selection at Sax and Clarinet Mouthpieces.


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