The reed makes up an integral part of a saxophone's sound. You may find natural and synthetic reeds on the market that should work marvellously. Typically, synthetic reeds are said to have the upper hand in terms of durability when compared to regular cane reeds.
But, just how long do synthetic saxophone reeds last? Synthetic reeds should last from 6 to 8 months on average before they lose their prime. Some high-quality synthetic reeds are able to endure an entire year under moderate use, but saxophonists should notice a stark change in tone after 6 months while largely playable.
In this article, we'll discuss the distinctions between natural and synthetic reeds, the different brands of synthetic reeds, and how long they're reported to last on average. We'll also be covering some tips for lengthening their life cycle.
What Is A Synthetic Reed?
Reeds, as stated earlier, are crucial for a saxophone's sound delivery and quality. The reed's vibration allows the air from our lungs to be shaped into audible notes.
A synthetic reed is a type of reed made from a synthetic material (as the name suggests) that emulates the texture and characteristics of the cane used ordinarily for natural reeds.
Traditionally, reeds were extracted from a cane (or bamboo) stem and moulded to fit a specific woodwind instrument setup. Some woodwinds, like the saxophone and clarinet, use a single reed. Other woodwinds are double reed instruments, such as the oboe and bassoon.
On the other hand, the material used for synthetic reeds consists of a composite of various types of plastic and other polymers. Newer reeds are made using an array of aerospace materials that imitate the cane's consistency and performance more accurately, without losing endurance.
The Difference With Natural Reeds
Natural reeds are still prominent in the reed market, and many saxophone players prefer them for their playing needs.
Some people make the case that natural reeds generally sound warmer and more stable across all registers within ordinary playing range. In general, players report having better response and control over their delivery with natural reeds, while synthetic reeds would often be more hit-and-miss in this respect.
On the flip side, good natural reeds are not as easy to find. Natural reeds come from living things grown under diverse conditions, so no two reeds are exactly the same. The quality of the reed stock is highly variable for this reason, leading to hurdles at the moment of choosing a functioning specimen from a new batch.
Synthetic reeds, even when they have a subpar response in comparison, are consistent and should offer roughly the same experience across the board. This means that players won't have to go through the cumbersome process of testing reeds from a new box to find the playable ones. It's a convenient alternative for saxophonists who are hesitant to throw their money away.
Another advantage of synthetic reeds is their weather resistance. Also, you won't need to put extra care so that they don't warp when they dry out.
What Makes A Synthetic Reed Last Longer?
The artificial nature of these reeds has a lot to do with their longevity.
For starters, these reeds don't need to get wet before use. This means that there is no danger of deformation or warping from constant changes in humidity.
Frequent wetting ends up compromising the bonds inside cane reeds, causing them to turn too soft. It will also draw more bacteria, owing to their organic qualities.
Over time, synthetic reeds will get soft, too, but the rate at which this happens is vastly slower. To put this into perspective, natural reeds will last for barely two weeks, almost 10 to 40 times less than synthetic reeds.
What Is A Synthetic Reed's Durability? (According To Brand)
As explained before, synthetic reeds could last around 6 months in optimal conditions. While some of them can still be played afterward, the shift in sound is a good indication that you may have to replace them soon.
As of this writing, there are four main synthetic reed manufacturers worldwide. They are:
So far, Fibracell reeds are the cheapest and least-lasting of the bunch. They would last from 3 to 5 months under moderate use.
Meanwhile, Légère reeds last the longest, with a guaranteed 6 to 12 months of performance. Légère reeds would experience a change in tone after 6 months, but otherwise, they would likely remain playable for the remainder of their life cycle.
Fiberreed reeds come at a close second in terms of longevity, lasting up to 11 months.
When Is A Good Time To Replace Synthetic Reeds?
You'll need to replace the reed when you notice that the tip sticks to the mouthpiece as you play higher notes or fortissimo. This effect signals that the reed may have gotten too soft.
Furthermore, if you play a soft reed for a prolonged period, you may develop problems in your embouchure, for it might have gotten used to the softness and, therefore, you'll have a hard time attaching a brand-new reed.
Another sign that it's a good time to replace the reed is the appearance of splits and cracks. Naturally, when this happens, its performance is severely hindered.
You should also pay attention to your articulation. Over time, reeds start to sound dull, spitty or delayed. This could likewise occur when a reed is poorly installed in the mouthpiece, but experienced players would not feasibly incur these mistakes.
What Can Be Done To Increase A Synthetic Reed's Lifespan?
To increase the lifespan of a synthetic reed, you might want to rotate between multiple ones.
Thus, after you play a reed in one session, remove it, place it in safe storage for later use, and attach a new reed in its stead. Doing this prevents them from getting too warm, a factor that increases their softening rate.
Some advanced players would carry multiple synthetic reeds on stage to rotate between them, assigning one hour of playing time for each.
Finally, some experts would advise clipping or sanding the tip to harden the reed when it gets soft to squeeze some extra mileage out of it.