Mouthpiece / Reed Info


"DeanoTheSaxman" (Hampshire, U.K.)

Mouthpiece / Reed Information:

Sense and nonsense about mouthpieces :

A player can play his / her whole life with one mouthpiece. Another has a drawer full of mouthpieces and is still not satisfied.

Before buying a mouthpiece you will have to deal with a couple of things first.

What kind of music do I want to use the mouthpiece for? Classic, big band, jazz or pop? One who plays a metal Dukoff in a brass ensemble, will almost certainly be at odds with the conductor or choir-master.
A mouthpiece has to suit you! The oral cavity, dental position, embouchure, blowing habit, etc., etc. are for every player personal. If your tutor finds that a Claude Lakey is an excellent mouthpiece for the alto, it does not automatically mean that it will suit you.
And, of course, you will have to like the sound of the mouthpiece. This is also very personal. If your favorite sax player produces a fantastic sound with an Otto Link 8*, this does not mean that the tone will be the same when coming from your lips.

The Role Of The Chamber :

A large chamber means a full, round tone, a small chamber a sharp funky sound. The form of the chamber is also important. A baffle in the chamber gives the mouthpiece venom.

The tip opening :

The smaller a tip opening, the easier the reed will sing. For beginners and "lazy players" it is advisable to have a small tip opening.

However, the problem is that high tones sound rather pinched, because the reed is nearly pushed onto the mouthpiece. More experienced players switch to larger tip openings for a broader sound. But then again, you will have to have the "embouchure" ( lip tension) to be able to play it. You will have to have to be in good condition to play with a large tip opening.

The measurements are usually in thousands of an inch. For an alto 70-100 is common, for a tenor 90-120.

Otto Link numbers its tip openings from 5 (small) to 9* (very large). Meyer: from 4 to 11. Selmer uses an A to K notation.

The length of the facing :

The facing length affects, among other things, the blow resistance. It is easy to play staccato with a short facing, because the mouthpiece reacts more promptly.


The material :

Most mouthpieces are made from ebonite (vulcanized rubber). Ebonite is usually made for a more cultivated sound. Although there are also ebonite mouthpieces available to get the "better roaring" sounds.

The last decade the demand for metal mouthpieces is has become very high. Metal mouthpieces are used for more modern compositions. Metal resonates differently and gives in combination with the thickness of the mouthpiece usually more power and dynamics.

Crystal as base material has a limited demand. It is mainly used for the clarinet and the soprano because of the clear tone.

Lately wooden mouthpieces are being used again. Though nowadays they are reinforced with metal to prevent cracking. A wooden mouthpiece sounds warm and feels good.



Although there is a lot of grumbling about the price and quality of reeds, this piece of cane does deliver an extremely clever performance.

The reed converts the "blow pressure" of a saxophonist into a vibration, in other words a specific tone. When blown, the reed easily vibrates a hundred times a minute up and down. Half the time sealing the mouthpiece. A quarter of the time fully open and the remaining time the reed is sprinting between opening and closing.

Add to this that the reed has to adjust quickly to every new pitch (low B-flat, flageolet), full stop, start, crescendo, piano and then it even has to sound great. Hour after hour, day after day and preferably a couple of weeks long.

A cane reed consists of small hollow pipes with a gluey substance in between. Let it suck a generous dose of moisture and you will get a nice, flexible and still strong reed that vibrates perfectly. However, saliva does break down the structure of a reed. The result: a weakened reed without spirit that can easily tear.


A couple of reed tricks :

You can polish the upper side of a reed. This will prevent saliva from penetrating too rapidly, thus degrading the reed. Put the reed on a flat surface and seal the cut surface by rubbing it with, for instance, the back of a teaspoon. Move towards the tip! Just as long until the upper side is hard and smooth.

It is better to moisten the reed by putting it in a glass of water than to suck on it.

Wipe the reed very clean and rinse it with water when you have finished playing. You could also scrape it clean, but with care. Best is to leave the reed overnight in a solution of 3% hydrogen peroxide, not forgetting to rinse it with water afterwards.

Reeds often bend. Don't worry! It only means the moisture is not evenly spread. It will regain its original form.

Best is to keep the reeds you use in a reed holder. It has to be clamped on a flat piece of plastic or glass.

Still, even though you have taken good care of the reed, it will eventually become soft and spiritless. The only thing left is to cut the edge. This is however only a temporary remedy.

In order to cut the reed it has to be very wet. Cut small pieces at a time and test it. Ultimately, you can't cut off more than one and a half of a millimeter. If necessary you can file the round tip edge to fit the tip of the mouthpiece. (File with a nail file from the outside inwards.)

What can you do with reeds that don't play satisfactory?

Try out the reed for a while (so play it in) because the character of the reed changes, specially when it's new. Usually it becomes more flexible after some time.

If it stays capricious it is often out of balance. There are some stiff parts in the reed or the reed is stiff on one side. Sometimes you can see this by holding it up against the light. You can also hear it when you blow alternately the left- and right side of your mouthpiece. With sandpaper you can sometimes correct the stiff places, but this is an art by itself! Best is to use Dutch Rush. You will get the most effect by sandpapering the sides of the reed at about a half to one and a half centimeters from the tip. Always work towards the tip. It is better to leave the thin front piece of the tip alone. It is also better to leave the hart (the V-form) of the tip alone; this is the backbone of the reed. Only when the reed is too strong for you, you can, very carefully, take some off.

There are also plastic an fiber reeds; these have a constant quality and have a prolonged life. Plastic reeds commonly sound loud and raw. A fiber reed sounds less attractive than a cane one.

Lastly there are roughly two trends:

1. American reeds (Rico, Hemke, La Voz,) are used a lot in light music.

2. French reeds (Van Doren and Alexander Superial) are stiffer and are used a lot in classical music.