A number of well-known sax players have used Plasticovers and still do. One of the foremost is Pete Christlieb who played in the 'Tonight' show band and is heard on many records. I just recommended them to someone today here on the forum who has to set down his alto for extended periods on the gig and has had no luck with synthetics. I used one on alto last night because my Fibracell sort of took a dive as I was doing the pre-gig fooling around at home - lucky I had some to pick and choose.
But to the original question on how to break them in, I tried something last night that several players have posted here over the years - I call it 'reed-tenderizing' and it is an art that you need to learn. As has been reported, Plasticovers these days seem to be way too hard for their grade and that's what I found yesterday, but I needed a playable reed fast, so I remembered this procedure.
How I do it is to dismount the reed and remove the ligature or get it out of the way. I place the reed crossways on the table of the mouthpiece (still on the neck) so the whole tip is flat on it, covering the table from side to side and holding it down with one thumb, then just gently pull up on the rear of the reed with the other hand and let it go - kind of a 'pluck'. I might do this a few times, then play the reed. If it needs more, I do the same thing except push the reed to the right about 1/8" so the thicker vamp gets 'exercised'. You just have to have a feel for not over-bending it - the butt is raised only about 1/8" to 1/4" the thinner section can take more flex than the thicker section.
You do not 'reverse' the trick by flicking the reed down - only pluck it upward.
This reed 'came in' for me in just the few seconds it took to do this simple procedure and was great for the whole gig.
I feel like I have to speak to the notion expressed above that you 'soak' a Plasticover, which since I have been playing them since about 1959 really is bizarre to me. The whole point of the Plasticover is the resin is supposed to keep the reed dry, so after playing it, the reed can't dry-out and wrinkle. This works great, and as you may surmise, eventually the resin thins/breaks down and loses its water resistance. Typically by that point the reed is done anyway. Whatever, the point is you open a box of Plasticovers and start playing them with no preparation involving liquids. That means you play it dry and hope it stays dry. The resin coating also makes it comfortable to play a dry reed just like the material of a synthetic does.
Hopefully more of you who are looking for some kind of synthetic reed for saxes that are subject to reed drying on shows will try Plasticovers again and use the 'tenderizing' procedure and start getting the benefits you're looking for - cane reed sound with synthetic reed water resistance.
BTW, the 'reed pluck' also works the same on any other cane or synthetic reed - just take it easy at first and work up to it.
Yes, Plas had a 160 Berg and used 1 1/2 baritone Plasticovers. He also was known to smear a little Vaseline on the table which I believe was to help seal. The man had the biggest, fattest tenor sound of all time. He was so great on records/sound tracks that he became the voice of the tenor sax for decades while only a few even knew who he was. I recognized him on every record/movie sound track but could not learn who he was - then came the Internet and SOTW! Then I had a name to put with that unbelievable sound. Now that we have Sirius FM and it's '50s and '60s channels, I am to this day still hearing Plas on records I never heard before. He must have been on thousands of sessions because he can be heard on hundreds of records. As you know, a small percentage of records get any air play so there probably is a lot of his work 'in the can' that we'll never hear - but what we can hear is so amazing that it doesn't matter. Like the great drummer Bernard Purdy, producers and A&R men called on Plas because his great sound and style simply sold records. What young tenor player hasn't played the 'Pink Panther' theme? You can find many recordings of it but the original Henry Mancini cut featured Plas. No other tenor player who ever recorded it had the same lush but penetrating sound of Plas. Of course he was a member of 'The Wrecking Crew', the LA-based studio band.
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