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Discussion Starter #1
Ok, possibly it will qualify as "dumb" question but hey...

Q: Apart from an obvious bout of physical disintegration, what are the signs that your reed has past it's "best before" date?

Reason I ask is that I've had my Alto just under 2 months now. Been playing every day and experimenting with reeds from different suppliers and strengths.
Have noticed that reeds I've used much more than others appear to shift up an octave easier than they used to. (Sometimes unbidden due to lack of lip pressure control!)
Is this a sign that the reed is on the way out?
A new reed of the same strength seems to eliminate this initially but it will do likewise after a few weeks use.

Also I seem to find a "well used / over used" reed tends to "squeek" more.
(Sorry I know this is not very descriptive, but words fail / I've never played a reed instrument before.)


I realise there are many variable factors involved, but how long do reeds last?[rolleyes]
 

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It can take a while to be able to discern when a reed is dead.
I recommend you keep 4 or 5 reeds in rotation so that the older ones will stand out in comparison. If you just play with one reed, your embouchure gets used to the gradually softening reed and you won't be able to tell. You'll also find your next new reed too hard because your embouchure will have gotten weaker.

My tell tale signs that a reed is done are:

Descending slurred octaves are sluggish, slow to respond.
Upper register sounds shrill and weak.
Intonation is less centered, notes go sharp or flat easier.
Staccato playing unresponsive.
Reed closes up when playing loud because of lack of resilience, it doesn't bounce back.

Visual cues:

Hold the reed up to the light, if it is considerably darker than a new reed, it's probably done.
 

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Grafton alto | Martin Comm III tenor
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My tell tale signs that a reed is done are:

Descending slurred octaves are sluggish, slow to respond.
Upper register sounds shrill and weak.
Intonation is less centered, notes go sharp or flat easier.
Staccato playing unresponsive.
Reed closes up when playing loud because of lack of resilience, it doesn't bounce back.
I agree with all of those except staccato being unresponsive, I don't see how that can happen as staccato is applied by stopping a sound, not starting it. A used up reed could mean that starting a tone would be unresponsive, but not stopping it.

Just a thought.
 

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.. A used up reed could mean that starting a tone would be unresponsive, but not stopping it..
I don't see the disagreement.

Every time you play a staccato note it is started.

When you play a long note on an unresponsive reed it doesn't matter as much if the reed takes more time to "get into it" since it can "catch up", while on a staccato note it has less time so it needs to bounce back quicker. It has to be there right away.

If you're descending octaves, a reed needs to cut it's vibrating speed in half.
If you're playing staccato on a single note, it needs to come to a complete stop and and then start up again in rapid succession.
A less resilient reed takes more time to adjust to these different pitch frequencies

In other words, a reed needs to respond quicker on a short note than on a long one.
 

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Grafton alto | Martin Comm III tenor
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I don't see the disagreement.

Every time you play a staccato note it is started.
True, so this really applies to any tongued note, not just staccato. That's what I was getting at (but articulating badly)
 

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It can take a while to be able to discern when a reed is dead.
I recommend you keep 4 or 5 reeds in rotation so that the older ones will stand out in comparison. If you just play with one reed, your embouchure gets used to the gradually softening reed and you won't be able to tell. You'll also find your next new reed too hard because your embouchure will have gotten weaker.

My tell tale signs that a reed is done are:

Descending slurred octaves are sluggish, slow to respond.
Upper register sounds shrill and weak.
Intonation is less centered, notes go sharp or flat easier.
Staccato playing unresponsive.
Reed closes up when playing loud because of lack of resilience, it doesn't bounce back.

Visual cues:

Hold the reed up to the light, if it is considerably darker than a new reed, it's probably done.
+1 Exactly what he said....

In addition, some reeds can look like warmed-over death and still play great. And you can tell Plasticover reeds are getting old when the plastic starts flaking off.
 

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Top Ten Signs Your Reed is Dead:

10) It stinks ... literally!
9) High A is really a G#
8) The tip looks like a toothless old geezer
7) Your mouthpiece won't let you put it on
6) Ligature marks in the bark have mold in them
5) It will only play that foo-foo subtone sound
4) That lovely dark, slightly florescent green color around the edges
3) It sticks to the mouthpiece just fine without a ligature
2) You can no longer read the logo on the back

And the number 1 sign your reed is dead:

When you soak it in your coffee, the coffee gets darker!!!
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Marvelous!
Thank you for all your thoughts.... (Especially yours Steve... brill!) :mrgreen:

Between you all you have confirmed my thoughts that I seem to have more or less arrived at by the good old trial and error...

My I take this op to wish you all a very Happy New Year!

May your pads never stick and your air column always resonate!!!

Cheers from a misty but beautiful Cornwall, England...:!::!:



Jon F
 

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When your reed says to you, "It's not you, it's me..."
 

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One thing you will notice is that after a while the reed loses it's ability to spring back to being straight, ie it takes on the curve of the mouthpiece.

You will notice this by just resting it on a flat surface. There is probably a very slight curve right from the start and by storing it in a reedcase it would straiten out as it dries, however as you can image, by being constantly bent while playing and straightened out it will gradually get to the stage where it takes on the bend very quickly after starting to use it. (As opposed to a new one which takes a lot longer due to it still having it's youthful springiness).

So what is actually happening is at least two things:

  • The reed is just getting old and the fibres are breaking down so less response.
  • The reed is getting bent so the tip opening of the mouthpiece is effectively getting smaller. This will manifest certain problems such as harder to get and sustain high notes or loudness.
 

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...I've had my Alto just under 2 months now. Been playing every day and experimenting with reeds from different suppliers and strengths.

Have noticed that reeds I've used much more than others appear to shift up an octave easier than they used to. (Sometimes unbidden due to lack of lip pressure control!)
Is this a sign that the reed is on the way out?
While I agree with all the signs for a worn out reed given in preceding posts, if you've only been playing for 2 months and have been trying out different reeds, the problem you describe here is not necessary down to a worn-out reed. It may just as well have to do with an undeveloped embouchure. Just thought I'd mention that because you don't want to jump too quickly to the conclusion that "it's the reed" or "the reed is worn out," if that's not really the case.
 

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For me it's when going straight for a top E results in the reed closing up.
Nothing else seems to matter...chips, splits, flaking Plasticover coating, various organisms banding together and demanding rights under the Shadow Proclamation....
When that happens I downgrade the reed from 'gigging' to 'testbench', at which point it gets played until it becomes dull in tone.

Regards,
 

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Nothing else seems to matter...chips, splits...
You know I'm torn here because I like to use things until they're pretty much done. It breaks my heart when I notice a really good reed has been chipped or split. Now I may not have noticed when it happened, and may even have played part of a gig with it... but once I recognize it, I toss the reed. I guess I'm just worried that even though it may still play, it's bound to worsen and I wouldn't want it to fail on a gig.
 

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You know I'm torn here because I like to use things until they're pretty much done. It breaks my heart when I notice a really good reed has been chipped or split. Now I may not have noticed when it happened, and may even have played part of a gig with it... but once I recognize it, I toss the reed. I guess I'm just worried that even though it may still play, it's bound to worsen and I wouldn't want it to fail on a gig.
I used to be like that, back in the days when I used plain cane reeds.
When I switched to Plasticovers the increased cost of the things became an important factor. I found myself on a gig one evening, clumsily fitting a mouthpiece cap...I caught the edge of the reed and folded over a 5mm square tab on a Plasticover I'd just fitted.
I did what any cheapskate would do...prised the tab out flat and tried the horn. Blew fine.
I fiddled with the tab a little more, at which point it fell off. Blew the horn again, it blew fine.

Some months later I was mucking about with a Plasticover baritone reed. It was a bit of a stiff blow, and my old sax teacher had taught me a little trick whereby pressing down firmly on the heart of the reed while it's on the mouthpiece would often free it up a bit. I pressed a bit too hard and put a long split right down the centre of the reed. I did about three or four gigs on it before it gave out...which isn't much less than I'd get with a perfect reed.

It's a subject that comes up time and again with the workshop, and I take some small pleasure in blowing a client's sax and then showing them the chipped and worn reed on my mouthpiece.

Regards,
 

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When I switched to Plasticovers the increased cost of the things became an important factor.
I used to buy them for my son when he played and they seemed to last forever. In fact, if you've got something to trade for an unopened box of 2 1/2 altos, just let me know. I guess my willingness to toss a chipped/split reed actually makes me be a bit more careful with them. Thing is though, when they split or chip it's usually after months of use anyhow, and I figure it's just an indication that they're spent. The inner perfectionist in me might have me worry too much on a gig anyhow; believing any noticeable degradation would have to affect sound efficiency to some aspect. But I guess I could keep one around to practice on... or maybe take it on a gig... and when I screw up... I'll point to the reed! :bluewink:
 

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Do thicker reeds last longer than thinner ones? Or is it relative based on embouchure? I've only played on 4's for so long that this question never really occoured to me until this thread.
 
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