Customizing Your Reed

If your reed feels too hard or too soft from the first time you play it or it isn't cut with perfect symmetry, don't throw it away, it may well be saved!

For Reeds Which Are Too Hard:
Here is a trick that Joe Henderson showed me years ago for softening reeds which feel too hard.  This really works and saved me many a reed both in practice sessions and on live gigs:

With the reed wet and ligatured to the mouthpiece, press firmly a few times with your thumb on the middle and rear vamp slope area of the reed to help loosen up the fibers a bit and make it less resistant. 

This may take you some time  to perfect because if you press too firmly, you will get a reed with too little resistance and it could possibly end up losing its "spring" and resilience.  On the other hand, if you press too lightly, you won't feel any change.   So it's better to approach it cautiously at first because if you go overboard, there is not much you can do to restore the spring.   Try a press or two, play it, and try again if need be. 

Once you master this operation by feeling the right amount and number of presses it takes, it may well be worth it once you see the results..

The traditional alternative to this is using "Dutch" or reed rush, a reed knife or sandpaper. Dutch rush can work very well on the vamp of a reed that feels too hard or stiff. The advantage of using rush is that you can take material off in slight increments, test the reed and then see if it needs more, so this  provides you with some margin of safety to not overdo it.

You can also use light to heavy grit cutting paper on top of glass (depending on how much you want to take off), working the table of the reed in circles with not too much hand pressure as this method.

And if you find the table becomes bowed, which can happen after the reed is soaked and then dried, using files or other flattening tools can bring it back to true and considerably help it regain its seal with your mouthpiece table and therefore perform a lot better.

 Taking material off the vamp with a reed knife takes a good amount of skill and touch.  It is also a traditional method for thinning areas which might make the reed feel a bit more responsive.  But do this judiciously   or you may end up over-softening your reed to the point that it will be unplayable or have a very short playing life. 

For Reeds Which Are Too Soft:
Hardening reeds is generally more difficult to do than softening them.  The most widely and traditionally used method for this has been reed clipping. The trick here it to start by taking as little material off the tip of the reed with the clipper as you can, so you don't over do it and cut so much that the reed dimensions have changed considerably and it now becomes stiff and loses some of its vibrational characteristics. Some players try burning the reed tip to harden it which may work well enough in a pinch, though the results usually don't last long and if you aren't careful, you might end up with a piece of useless tinder-wood!

General Customization of Reeds:

There are several good books out on the subject of reed customizing and some work here can go a long way in giving you performance even more tailored to your own particular needs. We believe that we are giving you an excellent product to work with as our reeds perform and last as well or better than any brand we know of if the proper strength is selected.   But a little extra customizing can't hurt if you desire it.

For example, as it's impossible to get perfectly cut reeds in the large runs we do, if one side at the back of the vamp has a little more bark than the other, or if you prefer a flared "V" or "U" shape here, adjustments with a reed knife or retractable cutter can easily be made. However we firmly believe that the way a reed looks does not necessarily correspond to how it will play as some unevenly cut reeds can very well play better than perfectly balanced looking ones and visa versa. The real test for this is it actually plays and you should always base any customization you might want on that.  You can try taking some material off in certain areas of the reed, but remember too, anything you take off can't be replaced so do this with caution.

Some players also seem to like drilling a hole at the back of the vamp (though one maker years ago had a model made this way and it didn't stay in production very long, probably because this tends to take some of the life and spring out of the reed.   Others may even prefer using a Tenor sax reed on their Alto, for example. While we intentionally designed our models to be used specifically for their corresponding mouthpiece models, in the end whatever works best for you is what you should use.