You're right - you can't fight reeds - they will win. I carry at least four reeds and start with one at random when getting ready to play. Typically I will have to try at least another one for the gig. The next time, that first reed might be great. I don't even mark the good ones anymore because the next time you will wonder why you put that mark on this dog reed.
Pssh...you think you were a reed nerd? Try talking to an oboist or bassoonist! I lived with a symphony-caliber oboist while in undergrad and he was a reed FREAK. He'd brew his tea like a mad scientist and then hole-up in his room for an entire evening listening to Mahler and making reeds with the loving devotion and focus of a neurosurgeon. Granted, he now plays for a major symphony.
Me? I've been playing sax for 20 years and have been on both sides of spectrum: extreme reed geek to over-casual "throw it away if it doesn't work" guy. Now, I buy a box of 10 of my favorite reeds and play one at a time. I can generally tell before putting the reed on the mouthpiece how's it going to play, and they usually fall into one of three camps: (1) Great reed! A miracle!; (2) This one needs a little break-in but is gonna be a player; or (3) This reed is stuffy crap. If I'm on a gig, 1s and 2s get used immediately and 3s go back into their holder. I write "P" on the holder of the category 3 reed to remind me that that reed is for practice only. Personally, I can't imagine trying to keep track of eight reeds in rotation.
There's an old story about Dr. Fred Hemke (RIP) doing a clinic at Northwestern and one of the participants complaining about a reed being stuffy and unworkable. Allegedly, Dr. Hemke took the reed from the student, asked the student to sign his name on the reed, and kept it. That evening, Dr. Hemke gave a performance and played beautifully (of course). After the performance the clinic students gathered around and Dr. Hemke revealed that he had used the "stuffy, unworkable" reed signed by clinic student from earlier in the day.
Other classical players (Delangle comes to mind) have some eccentricities about their reeds. Dick Oates uses 1 reed at a time until it's DEAD and then moves on.
There's no "one size" or right/wrong when it comes to reeds. It's really up to you, your level of fussiness, and the amount of time you're willing to devote to crafting the perfect reed.
Oh, and synthetic reeds suck. Unless you're playing jazz bari or bar-honking on a tenor.
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