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Discussion Starter #1
Please excuse the slightly long post. For a while I have been looking for new reeds for my alto saxophone mouthpieces as I don't like the brighter sound I am getting from the ones I use. I currently play a Yamaha YAS-280 and a Selmer S80 C** with Francois Louis Ultimate brass ligature with either a brass or a Stainless Steel plate and also a JodyJazz HR* 5M and a Rovner Dark ligature. I have tried for a long time to find reeds that would suit the sound want and resistance I need. I would prefer synthetic if possible as I found can reeds might irritate my lip slightly (I have tried Vandoren Traditional reeds and noticed my lip was feeling a bit irritated by those slightly). I have been playing for around 1 year and 7 months and when I started playing, I was using Legere Signature reeds.

At the time the Signature reeds seemed fine as I didn't know enough about different reeds and my embouchure hadn't developed at all yet and had no prior experience of playing reed woodwind instruments as I had previously played flutes and whistles. When I started, I was using a Yamaha 4C and Rovner Dark ligature but on a cheap Chinese Alto sax. I played it on and off for a while, then the saxophone got air leaks in the low notes about 3 months in. I save up and 2 months later got the Yamaha YAS-280. I started playing more seriously and I played on the 4C until I found I could only get a buzzy sound with the reed strength I could use (about 6 months). I then switched to a Meyer 6M and played it for a little while, but found it a little hard to control then, so sold it and got a JodyJazz HR* 6M. I found it a little easier to play but was getting a little too much of an airy sound.

I also got a Selmer S80 C** as I thought it would be easier to control and play. I tried it with the Rovner Dark ligature and legere Signature reeds as many players who like synthetic reeds tend to say Legere Signatures are the best. My experience is a little different. I have since switched ligatures to a Francois Louis Ultimate Brass with either a brass or stainless steel plate. The brass adds a little resistance and the stainless steel is a bit less resistant, producing a slightly lighter sound, but the results on what I said below on the reeds I have tested, is very similar, except the sound was a little brighter on the Francois Louis ligature, maybe a little less resistant, especially with the stainless steel plate on it.

I tried a 2, 2.25, 2.5 and a 2.75 strength Signature reeds. What I found was the 2.75 strength was too hard and I only got an airy sound. With the 2 and 2.5 strengths, I got a similar feel and response despite being different strengths. They gave me a slight airy sound and I could hear moisture gargle type sound when I played them and they felt a little stuffy and a bit buzzy, but not in a soft buzzy kind of way. The 2.25 strength worked best for me, but the sound I got was still a bit buzzy and didn't feel right to play on, despite being the right strength. I knew then Signature reeds wouldn't work for me, so I decided to try Studio Cut and Classic Cut reeds to see if the added resistance they have, would solve my issues as I thought that it was a lack of resistance in the reeds, not just the reed strength that was the issue.

I tried a 1.75 Legere Classic cut and 2,2.25 and 2.5 Studio Cut reeds. I tried the 1.75 Classic Cut. It was too hard to play and felt too resistant. I then tried the Studio Cut. The 2 played better than the 2 Signature, but a bit soft and stuffy, same with the 2.5. The 2.25 worked the best. I no longer had a buzz in the sound and the feel I got was much better.

I found the 1.75 Classic cut too resistant. With the Studio Cut reeds, the 2 was a bit stuffy and airy, same with the 2.5 but the 2.25 played perfectly and had the resistance I needed. A month ago I bought a JodyJazz HR* 5M as I thought it would be easier to play than the 6M. I tried all the same reeds I had previously tried on the Selmer S80 C** and my results were the same, the Studio Cut 2.25 worked the best. However the sound isn't what I am after. On the S80 C**, the Studio Cut gave me a slightly brighter sound than I'd like, but had the control I needed. On the JodyJazz HR* 5M, the Studio Cut had more of a brighter sound that is too bright for me. I get an ever so slight hit of air in my sound, but I do have the control I need.

Between trying the different Legere reeds, I also tried Fibracell, Forestone Hinoki and G Reeds to see if they would give me anything different. The fibracell was a bit bright and buzzy for me. With the Forestone Hinoki unfiled reed, I tried a medium. It had a similar response to me as the Legere Signature reeds. It was too buzzy but I had some control, but don't want the buzzy sound. I thought maybe the medium hard strength might be too hard, so haven't tried it yet. I recently heard of G Reeds from Argentina so decided to try them out. I have only tried one so far, a M2 2.5 strength. It was a bit buzzy and the way it felt to play, I couldn't tell if it was a strength too hard or soft. I will have to try different strengths, but my initial impression is that they may be a bit too bright

I don't have anywhere I can test reeds, or a lot of money to try different ones and while I can currently play on Studio Cut reeds, on my S80 C** and JodyJazz HR* 5M they work fine and have the right resistance I need, but give me a kind of straight sound, a little bright and on the JodyJazz they are a bit too bright sounding for me although I like the JodyJazz more than the Selmer mouthpiece.

Does anyone know of any synthetic reeds that have the same or similar resistance as the Legere Classic Cut but are darker sounding?
 

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Well, let me ask you a couple of questions about your playing practices with all these many reeds. We need to know this mainly because, like it or not, it actually takes years to learn not just how to play the sax but how to get a set-up that works for you personally. What I mean by that is that the horn, the mouthpiece, and the reed are all just inert pieces of dead dumb material. They have no life of their own and it is we the players who must give them life. Right? However that means not just learning to get your brain and heart through your fingers to get the sax to play musical notes but also learning how to set up the mouthpiece and reed to produce the tones that sound the way you want them to. It's not just a matter or looking on a mouthpiece page in WWBW and picking one that looks good or appeals to you because others praise it or because it is supposedly for a certain kind of music but actually having some experience playing so that you can try them and know if they work for you. Unfortunately that's a Catch 22 because as a beginner you haven't internalized the knowledge playing and hearing yourself to know what works and what doesn't. Same goes for reeds. Lots of brands and lots of hardness numbers plus there are cane and synthetic ones. How is a beginner to know *** to do? Right?

So first off you need to be methodical. You got a Yamaha 4C, which is a generally recommended mpc for starters. Middle of the road, nebbish, plain Jane mpc that costs little and doesn't require much chops to play. I had one back at the beginning too and sold it quickly because it was dull. I had been playing a bunch longer than you so it wasn't an issue of a "buzzy sound" but that I found it colorless and dull with the reeds I had available at the time. I bet if I had that mpc today I could match it with it's ideal reed and make it sing almost as good as my Berg HR 90 piece or the Selmer Super Session D which are gems and a far cry from the Yamahaha. You know that Bird played on borrowed altos that had rubber bands holding them together and pads stuck on with spit but he was Bird. so you know he could have made a 4C Sang like a mutha.

So my question is what made you think that the problem was the 4C? And why did you change to the Meyer 6 instead of a 5 which is the traditional go to size for alto players? You couldn't play it because the opening was too big, so you should have gone back and worked on your chops on the 4C because it was basically you not the reed issue. I mean to say that if it wasn't the right brand or hardness of reed you could have changed it...a lot cheaper than a new mpc....had you known your way around the issue. And if it was a dead synthetic....they do die faster than cane believe me (fun on a gig).....you would have known that, were you experienced. You say you could only get a buzzy sound with the reed strength you could use but how did you know it was the reed size you needed. I mean if it was buzzy then it wasn't right for some reason, either too hard or something else. How about your embouchure and/or your setting up of the reed on the mpc? How did you know it wasn't those? See it's easy to blame the too rather than the apprentice, if you know what I mean. So let's talk about that first.

Have you had any instruction from anyone on how to properly prepare reeds for playing? How to properly place them, adjust them and clamp them on the mpc? How to test play them to see if they need working on, such as sanding, scraping, etc, etc? I mean how did you know that the strength of the reeds you were using was right or not right for you when in fact reeds can vary in hardness and playing quality and characteristics quite a lot even in the same brand and even in the same box? Yes you said it was a Legere, but those can wonk out all of a sudden like a dead dog and you as a beginner might not know it was that and not something else, right? There is in fact an art to choosing a setup and truthfully it is not learned overnight but by trial and error and the trail of tears over time. There is now way up the mountain little grasshopper except one step at a time and nobody can avoid that reality.

So since you don't have the experience, getting a teacher or advanced player to advise you is the first suggestion I would make. Have them check out your horn for leaks and intonation issues and check your set-up and it's aptness for you. Then have them check how you hold the sax and place the mpc in your mouth and form your embouchure. It's an alto not a tenor so you know that the mpc doesn't go straight into your mouth, right? Also you need to be taking in a goodly amount of mpc and have to avoid biting down on the reed or you will stifle it. This frequently happens with beginners when they get frustrated and it is a lose-lose situation. You have trouble, you get frustrated, you bite down, you sound worse, you get frustrated, you bite even more and then you write in and ask what mpc and reed you should get. LOL

Okay, from your description of "an airy sound" I know right away that you are neither taking in enough mpc nor directing your airflow up at the reed which is at an angle to your tongue and not horizontally parallel to it like on a tenor. If you want a full rich deep sound on alto you need to have the right embouchure and that is where you are going wrong. Man, I hate to say it but you have been wasting time and money going around in circles buying and selling 4 mpcs and god knows how many reeds and still not getting anywhere toward developing a sound that is at all pleasant or good. This by your own admission. But don't feel bad....this is the beginners trap that many fall into, thinking that it is the gear that will be the answer and not them learning to use it properly. I did that as did most on here and many still do. Ha Ha. If you were a novice chef would you go out and spend thousands on a professional knife set before you can even slice a baguette let alone filet a chicken breast in 3 mm thick slices?

So it isn't your fault. We all have gone the route of gear and more gear early on while finding our way, but my advice is to cut to the chase and find out (1) how to choose, adjust and setup reeds properly on a mouthpiece, (2) how to form a proper solid alto embouchure ,(3) how to breath from the diaphragm (watch this video)


and (4)how to play for the tonal quality before you worry about what you are playing, i.e. play long tones up and down the horn. (5) Play scales for the tone not just for the correct notes.

Thankfully years ago non of this was learned except by trial and error but these days there is a ton of info online in the way of tutorial videos and step by step instruction to help you. There's so much in fact it becomes overwhelming. Where to begin is the problem.

But first I suggest you follow these tried and true suggestions:

--Get someone to check out your set up, your embouchure and show you how to do the basics correctly.

--Stop changing Mpcs. A S80C** or the Jody Jazz 5 are perfectly fine mpcs for a beginner or even an experienced player so it isn't them at fault.S80C and C* have been the standard mpcs for millions of beginning players on up to intermediates. Many pros didn't play mpcs that much different from them either. You don't need a Tesla, you need to practice driving the VW.

-- As for reeds, if you want a dark reed get a Vandoren Trad, which is plenty dark.

-- If you want a dark synth it's a bigger problem because most of them are bright and the bigger the more jazz designed the mpc the brighter they will sound. I can play a legere on my Selmer Super Session D and it sounds great. Even on the Berg bullet chamber 90/0/SMS it sounds good. However if I put that reed on my Metallite M7 fuggeddaboudit. Way too strident and treble. Finding any reed dark enough for that baby is the problem right now for me. Dark doesn't exist with it I think.

-- And get one reed size 2 and one size 2.5. Then watch this video on reed prep and do what he does.



Okay, I know you are going to say, but JIA that is for cane reeds not synthetics and they hurt my lip. Well man, that's odd, because for most folks the synthetic reads hurt the lip after awhile because they have no pores, don't breath, don't absorb moisture, and don't give. They are solid plastic.

Cane on the other hand does breath because it has pores and is a natural material that was recently alive. It's just because you didn't know how to prep the cane reed first that the roughness of the surface hurt you. I have some new cane reeds I could shave with and sand the callouses on my feet with. Imagine that!! So watch that video and do what that guy does with the reed on the paper and you will seal and smooth the cane surface and make it as soft and gentle as a baby's butt. I guarantee it.

Okay, that is very basic reed prep but more can be done and in fact some people get almost anal compulsive about how they prep reeds. I do not advise that at this stage. Some of it is more Voodoo than logical functional practice.

However, this guy has a good video of how he does it and I used to do this too.


But after 10 years of doing it after first wising up to this stuff by stumbling for a long time I just quit it and have just done the basics of smoothing it and maybe sanding it before playing it. If a reed doesn't play well after a bit of futzing with it I just choose another one. No reed geek, no vodka soaking, no sponge b.s. for me. If it doesn't play after a couple or three rounds of working on it I throw it in a box and select another. I do not throw away reeds. I keep them in boxes by size and keep trying and rotating them when I need a new one because they are really only dead when they break.

Finally, the last tip I can give you is one that many people don't know about but it helps to open up a new reed and make it less stiff and thus more responsive. With the recently wetted new reed on the mpc, clamped down by your ligature, stick your thumb in your mouth to wet it too and then place the ball or meaty part of it at the beginning of the vamp right past the cut and pressing down push it down the reed towards the tip. This will push the reed down onto the facing of the mpc and depending on the facing curve this will make it go down more or less to touch the facing flattening it more than it is normally. Do that 2 or 3 times and I guarantee that most new reeds that are resistant at first will open up and sing much better. sometimes that is all a new reed needs to get it playing well. It's something that Dexter Gordon used to do, as well as Coleman Hawkins, I believe, and it works. Believe me.

Okay, I hope this all helps you and any other new player.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Thanks for the information. I'll read your post properly when I have more time. Something I forgot to mention in my post is something I only found out about a few months ago from my dentist. When I have been playing I have always rolled my lower lip onto the top of my teeth but saw videos that said that rolling your lip out would create a bit of a bigger, fuller sound and not dull the sound of the reed. After trying to do that, I couldn't do this easily and found it a bit tricky to create a good embouchure.

I have always had a slight overbite, but when I asked my dentist about it and told her I was learning to play the saxophone and wondered if this would impact my playing in any way, she told me that it was because my lower jaw is slightly shorter than my top by 11-12mm. I was thinking this was causing the response issues I have been experiencing with mouthpiece and reeds, but can't say for certain. All I do know is that as my embouchure has gotten stronger, I have found playing easier as is normal, but I now can have more control over my lower jaw position. I put my lower lip on the top of my lower teeth and taking in slightly more mouthpiece and I can get the control I need without much issues,
but to quickly answer a few of your questions:

So my question is what made you think that the problem was the 4C? And why did you change to the Meyer 6 instead of a 5 which is the traditional go to size for alto players? You couldn't play it because the opening was too big, so you should have gone back and worked on your chops on the 4C because it was basically you not the reed issue. I mean to say that if it wasn't the right brand or hardness of reed you could have changed it...a lot cheaper than a new mpc....had you known your way around the issue. And if it was a dead synthetic....they do die faster than cane believe me (fun on a gig).....you would have known that, were you experienced. You say you could only get a buzzy sound with the reed strength you could use but how did you know it was the reed size you needed. I mean if it was buzzy then it wasn't right for some reason, either too hard or something else. How about your embouchure and/or your setting up of the reed on the mpc? How did you know it wasn't those? See it's easy to blame the too rather than the apprentice, if you know what I mean. So let's talk about that first..
At the time, I got to a point of playing on the 4C until I only was getting a bit of a buzzy sound on the Legere Signature 2.5 reed I was playing and couldn't control the volume of my sound easily. I went up to a 2.75 strength and found it a bit hard to play as it was a bit airy sounding and I found it hard to get sound out. This was why when I played the 4C, I wanted something different. Since then I have tried Legere Signature, Studio Cut, Forestone Hinoki unfiled reeds on it, and also got a Yamaha 7C and done the same. All reeds at the strength I could play had a buzz to the sound on both mouthpieces and I couldn't control the volume or get a smooth sound.

At the time I bought the Meyer, I was looking for a mouthpiece that had a bit of a bigger sound, less dull and without the buzz I didn't know if I wanted to play classical, Jazz or anything in between and heard the Meyer could give me the inbetween sound. After getting the Meyer, I realised the tip may have been too big when I was playing it, so sold it. At the time I didn't know about my lower jaw issue.


Have you had any instruction from anyone on how to properly prepare reeds for playing? How to properly place them, adjust them and clamp them on the mpc? How to test play them to see if they need working on, such as sanding, scraping, etc, etc? I mean how did you know that the strength of the reeds you were using was right or not right for you when in fact reeds can vary in hardness and playing quality and characteristics quite a lot even in the same brand and even in the same box? Yes you said it was a Legere, but those can wonk out all of a sudden like a dead dog and you as a beginner might not know it was that and not something else, right? There is in fact an art to choosing a setup and truthfully it is not learned overnight but by trial and error and the trail of tears over time. There is now way up the mountain little grasshopper except one step at a time and nobody can avoid that reality.

So since you don't have the experience, getting a teacher or advanced player to advise you is the first suggestion I would make. Have them check out your horn for leaks and intonation issues and check your set-up and it's aptness for you. Then have them check how you hold the sax and place the mpc in your mouth and form your embouchure. It's an alto not a tenor so you know that the mpc doesn't go straight into your mouth, right? Also you need to be taking in a goodly amount of mpc and have to avoid biting down on the reed or you will stifle it. This frequently happens with beginners when they get frustrated and it is a lose-lose situation. You have trouble, you get frustrated, you bite down, you sound worse, you get frustrated, you bite even more and then you write in and ask what mpc and reed you should get. LOL
I know now how to properly prepare reeds as I did research on it and watched videos on how to do it a few months back and want to get a reedgeek when I can. I also have had my Yamaha saxophone checked over by a repair technician back last July and had it fully overhauled with new pads as it had constant sticking pads and also had it checked for leaks, and the keywork adjusted so its is in fully playable condition with no leaks and issues. I also now know that after a while on playing on Legere reeds, they can go a bit duller and softer feeling and that you are supposed to rotate them every 30 minutes or so to stop them wearing out as quick. Where I live there are no saxophone teachers anywhere near me so that has been a little less helpful to me and I have had to learn from online tutorials.

I know when playing to be relaxed and breathe from my diaphragm. I have a Jazzlabs Saxholder as I have slight compression in my upper back and it prevents the weight of the saxophone on my neck. I know also not to bite down on the mouthpiece as it can stuffy the reed and leave a mark on the mouthpiece. I usuaully practise for 2 hours a day, every day (I have one day a week where I don't play) and play for 20 minutes, rest for 15 minutes, play for 15 minutes and so on for around 2 hours and stop if I feel fatigued.

Okay, from your description of "an airy sound" I know right away that you are neither taking in enough mpc nor directing your airflow up at the reed which is at an angle to your tongue and not horizontally parallel to it like on a tenor. If you want a full rich deep sound on alto you need to have the right embouchure and that is where you are going wrong. Man, I hate to say it but you have been wasting time and money going around in circles buying and selling 4 mpcs and god knows how many reeds and still not getting anywhere toward developing a sound that is at all pleasant or good. This by your own admission. But don't feel bad....this is the beginners trap that many fall into, thinking that it is the gear that will be the answer and not them learning to use it properly. I did that as did most on here and many still do. Ha Ha. If you were a novice chef would you go out and spend thousands on a professional knife set before you can even slice a baguette let alone filet a chicken breast in 3 mm thick slices?
I think part of the airy sound could be my embouchure and lower jaw causing it. I have tried different angles on the mouthpiece and as I mentioned above about how I create an embouchure by putting my lower lip on the top of my lower teeth and taking in slightly more mouthpiece but on reeds strengths I can play, I get a slight hit on air in my sound in all mouthpieces I have used. When I said "an airy sound" with reeds strengths I can't play, I meant I was getting mostly an airy sound and I found I had to blow more air to get the reed to vibrate, and even then the sound didn't come out as well as it did on reed strengths I can use.

But first I suggest you follow these tried and true suggestions:

--Get someone to check out your set up, your embouchure and show you how to do the basics correctly.

--Stop changing Mpcs. A S80C** or the Jody Jazz 5 are perfectly fine mpcs for a beginner or even an experienced player so it isn't them at fault.S80C and C* have been the standard mpcs for millions of beginning players on up to intermediates. Many pros didn't play mpcs that much different from them either. You don't need a Tesla, you need to practice driving the VW.

-- As for reeds, if you want a dark reed get a Vandoren Trad, which is plenty dark.

-- If you want a dark synth it's a bigger problem because most of them are bright and the bigger the more jazz designed the mpc the brighter they will sound. I can play a legere on my Selmer Super Session D and it sounds great. Even on the Berg bullet chamber 90/0/SMS it sounds good. However if I put that reed on my Metallite M7 fuggeddaboudit. Way too strident and treble. Finding any reed dark enough for that baby is the problem right now for me. Dark doesn't exist with it I think.
Like I mentioned above, I don't have any teachers anywhere near me so can't have anyone check my setup but I know how helpful that would be. I have also stopped changing mouthpieces as I have found these two are the ones I like a lot and don't want to change them as I like the darker sound of the Selmer and the ease of control and clearer sound I can get on the JodyJazz and the JodyJazz feels more comfortable for me to play on and I noticed I can play on it longer and get fatigued less quickly than I do on the Selmer S80 C**. I know bigger tips will give a bigger sound and my Yamaha YAS-280 is a bight sounding saxophone too. I was just looking for a reed that had a slightly more complex, bit darker sound than the Studio Cut.

With the Vandoren Traditional reeds, I recently tried a 2.5 strength. I have a reedjuvinate and put it in it with Listerine. When I went to play test it a day later, I found my lips were a bit irritated and wasn't sure if it was the cane reed that was causing it. I have used the Listerine as mouthwash for a longtime with no issues and never had my lip irritated by synthetic reeds, but I don't want to rule out using cane reeds unless I am sure they are irritating my lip. I found it didn't play well for me, but it could have used some adjustments. I want to try a few different strength and maybe D'addario Reserve reeds and see how they work out for me.
 

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You may find Forestone Black Bamboo reeds to your liking if you insist on a synthetic reed.
Or you could just use cane and the world opens up to you once again.
Hemke reeds play dark for me as do Vandoren Blue box reeds.
There are plenty of darker cane reeds to choose from.
A stronger reed and more open tip can help also.
 

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I didn't read the whole thing, but I do know from having grown up with an extreme overbite (nearly a half inch) that was not dealt with until I was in my mid 20s, that an overbite never really substantially affected my playing or sound.

Best advice would be to find a good teacher and have them guide you through finding a workable embouchure.
 
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