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DISCLAIMER: I'm not trying to bash blue-box Vandorens, though I kind of am. Just keep in mind when I say "Vandoren (reed)" I am referring to Traditional Vandoren reeds. I have not played on V12s, V16s, or ZZs. I have played on Javas, and they were okay, but that's besides the point. Anywho...

About a year or two ago a friend recommended I try out Hemkes for jazz band, and I'm glad I did. They had such great response, and I have yet to have one not seal out of the box. I was using standard blue-box Vandorens for concert band, and after having an entire box stop sealing within a week (and that's with soaking them for about 5-10 minutes prior and sanding them down as I saw necessary and playing a good hour or so on each reach AND this just so happened to be Honor Band Weekend), I decided it was time for a change.

Having so many problems with Vandorens prior to my change, I had used some of my Hemkes in concert when none of my Vandorens would seal. I really enjoyed the response and the tone, though it did sound rather thin, which I figure is because the reed itself was thin, a 2 1/2 (about a 1 1/2 Vandoren equivalent), which I thought I needed for my plastic Berg Larsen. I had already read that Hemkes were designed to be good for jazz and classical, but I didn't realize until a few days ago that they are actually French-cut reeds, something I find very important for classical reeds, though I have been using what I thought were American-cut Hemkes for concert band for quite a few months now. Now I feel less guilty about using them for concert. I find it funny how band directors always tell you to start out on blue-box Vandorens and what ended up working out for me is made by the same company they tell you to never use... Rico. Moving right along...

Noticing that a Hemke reed doesn't last as long as the oh-so-rare Vandoren reed that actually works (though Hemkes have more play time considering all of them work right out of the box), I sought new ways to make my reeds last longer. I quickly purchased a Selmer reed case, which is great and does a wonderful job of preventing warping and molding.

However, I have wondered since I do nothing to prep Hemkes, and I don't like the idea of prepping them considering they are so thin already and play like a well-broken-in reed as soon as you strap them on your mouthpiece, what effect does this have on the life of the reed? Am I theoretically making it shorter by not soaking them or sanding them down? Or is not loosening the fibers in the wood through soaking giving more time for my saliva to break down the reed, thus giving it a longer life?

Thanks in advance for your responses.
 

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The only 'basic' difference I've found in my years of playing between the Hemke and Vandoren reeds is lack of consistancy in product and the thickness of the heart.
Longevity is about the same for 'most' players putting in the same amount of play time per reed.
If you want to get about another day or 2 out of them you can rinse them in clear water before putting them in the reed case. This will remove some of the saliva and stop/slow the enzymes from 'digesting' any more of the fibers.
Another thing you could try is going up .5 in hardness in the Hemke's. It's not a large enough jump that it would cause major difficulties and you might see another week or so of play time per reed.
I've been using Hemke 2.5 or 3's on alto and tenor for a few years and I swear I'll never use another Vandoren again unless they're the only reeds left in the world. The same goes for clarinet reeds. ANYTHING but a Vandoren. :)
 

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I've never played on a Hemke reed (I'll have to give them a try!). I actually recently switched from using the blue box Vandoren to Rico Reserves. I think they are a little more consistant, last longer and respond well.
I always soak my reeds, I just feel like they play better when I do. I don't ever soak them in water for more then a minute or two, and only play them for like 5 to 10 minutes when I'm breaking them in. But I'm not one to spend to much time worrying about breaking them in...If I pull a reed out of the box, soak it, and it is playing great immediately I will go with it! I spend time sanding when I have a troublesome reed, kinda as a last resort to get it to play well.
 

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Wow. All that talk of French-cut vs. American cut and prepping and sanding and yada yada.... I just soak my Select Jazzes thoroughly for four days before playing it, play it for 10 minutes on day 4, and go on day 5. Although, I will give you that the blue boxes are... inconsistent. A good one is awesome, but they aren't worth all the bad ones. I've also tried V12s and ZZs, and they are far better reeds (and the V12 does everything a traditional does, only better).
By the way, this just goes to show you that everyone's taste is different - I found Hemkes to be unresponive and restricting compared to everything else I tried (save the blue boxes), and I played them for two and a half years beforehand not knowing the difference. Although, Hemkes did seem to play better on a small tip than other reeds and vice versa.


AntTony, you could also try V12s along with Hemkes. I've never played the Reserves, but I have never heard the blue boxes called consistent before. I thought the V12 was similar to the Hemkes and good blues, but I actually like the V12s myself.
 

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Something that has helped me (especially if you also live in a dry climate) is a reed vitalizer kit from Rico

It's a small bag that has an osmotic material that will keep reeds at a constant moisture level
They come in a few moisture levels and are relatively inexpensive

They have kept my reeds lasting at least a few days longer then otherwise

http://www.ricoreeds.com/ricoProduc...3&productid=10&productname=Reed_Vitalizer_Kit
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Another thing you could try is going up .5 in hardness in the Hemke's. It's not a large enough jump that it would cause major difficulties and you might see another week or so of play time per reed.
I've been using Hemke 2.5 or 3's on alto and tenor for a few years and I swear I'll never use another Vandoren again unless they're the only reeds left in the world. The same goes for clarinet reeds. ANYTHING but a Vandoren. :)
Considering Hemkes are as thin as they are in comparison to other reeds, I might as well give the extra .5 a try. My only worry is playing 3.5 Hemkes on my Berg Larsen, because I don't want to buy separate strength reeds for jazz and concert when it's the same reed, and that Berg takes so much more air to play on than my S80. And I'm glad that others agree with me about the Traditional Vandorens!

Wow. All that talk of French-cut vs. American cut and prepping and sanding and yada yada.... I just soak my Select Jazzes thoroughly for four days before playing it, play it for 10 minutes on day 4, and go on day 5. Although, I will give you that the blue boxes are... inconsistent. A good one is awesome, but they aren't worth all the bad ones. I've also tried V12s and ZZs, and they are far better reeds (and the V12 does everything a traditional does, only better).
By the way, this just goes to show you that everyone's taste is different - I found Hemkes to be unresponive and restricting compared to everything else I tried (save the blue boxes), and I played them for two and a half years beforehand not knowing the difference. Although, Hemkes did seem to play better on a small tip than other reeds and vice versa.
The American-cut vs. French-cut does seem a bit elitist, but a lot of it was fed into my head by elitist people, so there you go :) Interesting that you found Hemkes to be unresponsive. What strength did you try them on? I'll admit, I do find better response on my small-tip S80 as opposed to my huge-tip Berg Larsen, but I'm not sure if that's because of the tip itself or the reed. It does require much more air to play the Berg, so it's hard to tell.
 

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First thing, soft reeds aren't thinner than harder reeds of the same cut. All reeds of the same cut are (more or less) the same thickness. The softer ones are just less resistant, more flexible. That said, Hemke's are cut thinner than Vandoren's (regardless of the strength).

Despite them having Fred Hemke's name on them, I think Hemke's are too buzzy and bright for classical work and I think they break down faster than most other reeds. I know some people who use them for jazz but never anyone who uses them for classical.

The problem also probably has a lot to do with dropping the comparative reed strength. If you play a reed softer than what you're capable of, it will give out quicker than than a harder reed because it can't really handle all the air pressure you're throwing at it.

I prefer Rico reeds, though over the years I've learned how to play on Vandoren blue box after hating them for many years. If you were to go with a Rico brand for classical, I'd try the Rico Reserve Classic's (they may not make the "Classic" for bari) or Grand Concert. Compared to Vandoren's, I think Rico Reserve's are easier to play, are more consistent, and give a more pure tone while Vandoren's are a little darker and have a little more depth and character.

Past that, I'd recommend the Reed Geek. It really only takes off the bare minimum of material when flattening the table. Sanding usually takes off more than what's necessary which can totally change the way a reed plays.

My reed prep is that I briefly soak reeds in a small glass of purified water. Just enough so that you can see the butt end of the reed get wet. Then I dip the butt end in the water for a second, wipe off the excess water, put it on the mouthpiece and play at a medium volume for 30-60 seconds. I take the reed off the mouthpiece and lay it somewhere (table, desk) with the flat side facing up and leave to dry. If you didn't have to soak it long initially, it won't take too long to dry, maybe 5-10 minutes. During this time, the table of the reed will warp a little bit. Not much but a bit. I use my reed geek to flatten the table, dip the reed back in the water just for a couple of seconds and play it again for about a minute. The reed usually sounds better already at this point. I then put it in a Rico Reedvitalizer case. I like the lowest humidity setting though I've used the middle one too.

With that, the reed is already more stable that it is straight out of the box. I still break it in a little, playing it a couple minutes to start and gradually playing it longer over the course of a few days (up to 10-15 minutes) and by the 3rd or 4th day, it's ready for more all out playing. Playing a reed all out from the start can overstress it and cause it to deteriorate fast. It needs to be conditioned to get used to vibrating so it can become more resilient.

I've never had a problem with Vandoren's not sealing. It could be that the sanding really isn't doing the trick (invest in a Reed Geek). It could also be that storing reeds in a humidity controlled case will help. Without it the reeds can just warp, especially if you're in a humid area and also especially during the change of seasons (winter to spring, spring to summer). The Hemke's might have seemed to seal better 1) if you made the change after the change in season, once it began to get warmer and more humid and/or 2) because they're softer and softer reeds can hold a seal more easily than hard reeds.
 

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First thing, soft reeds aren't thinner than harder reeds of the same cut. All reeds of the same cut are (more or less) the same thickness. The softer ones are just less resistant, more flexible. That said, Hemke's are cut thinner than Vandoren's (regardless of the strength).
...
I prefer Rico reeds, though over the years I've learned how to play on Vandoren blue box after hating them for many years. If you were to go with a Rico brand for classical, I'd try the Rico Reserve Classic's (they may not make the "Classic" for bari) or Grand Concert. Compared to Vandoren's, I think Rico Reserve's are easier to play, are more consistent, and give a more pure tone while Vandoren's are a little darker and have a little more depth and character.

Past that, I'd recommend the Reed Geek. It really only takes off the bare minimum of material when flattening the table. Sanding usually takes off more than what's necessary which can totally change the way a reed plays.
...
I use my reed geek to flatten the table, dip the reed back in the water just for a couple of seconds and play it again for about a minute. The reed usually sounds better already at this point. I then put it in a Rico Reedvitalizer case. I like the lowest humidity setting though I've used the middle one too.
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I've never had a problem with Vandoren's not sealing. It could be that the sanding really isn't doing the trick (invest in a Reed Geek)...
I think you're right about strengths all being cut to same thickness for a given reed brand. But I got confused when I read what Santy Runyon said about working for a reed maker... I think it was Ciccone... and saying - I know I read it right - that they would clip the tips, or maybe it was shave different amounts... to make the harder vs. softer strengths. That seemed way at odds with everything I've read about reed making... the cane structure determines the strength; cut is the same.

As for Rico Reserve, my experience with their soprano reeds is that they sounded and blew OK but are some cheap mezzo fortes with tips that are even more flimsy than Vandoren blue box, which split and chip as though they're made of paper. All the ones I played didn't last long. They didn't wear out. They broke, sometimes just from my tongue touching the tip. This never happened with other reeds, except some Vandoren blue box reeds.

I don't have a reed geek but from what I can see it makes line contact with the reed table. How people who use these or a knife to work the table can achieve a truly flat surface seems to me can only be dumb luck or painstaking skill. As you make a pass, side-to-side pressure and moment-to-moment pressure as you make the pass are certain to vary. It seems intuitively obvious to me that you need plane contact (as in 600 or finer sandpaper on glass), not line contact, to achieve a flat table. And yes, you have to go easy to avoid taking too much off. But you will attain flatness far more reliably. What am I missing?
 
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