Fiberreed and Cane Reed Comparison on Alto Sax – My Personal Experience
I’ve been feeling like an old dinosaur the way some people responded to my “new” discovery and excitement brought about by synthetic saxophone reeds. The synthetics I’m talking about are the Fiberreeds from Germany. Turns out there are more….a lot more people using them than I ever imagined.
Today, as I prepare my alto saxophone setup to do some recording, I was once again totally frustrated in finding that “perfect” cane reed in the midst of 3 or 4 boxes. There were some good ol’ Rico regulars, Rico Royal, and a newer box of Vandoren ZZ. The ZZ’s are usually pretty good right outta the box but not this time. I must have played the one or two good ones to death the last time I played on an alto.
Anyway, the good news is that the Fiberreeds saved my day. This is good since I only have a couple days to spend with this beautiful Trevor James alto saxophone at this time.
I wanted to share this with my alto friends since reeds in general can be such a mystery, if not a headache at times. Just because you’re an experienced player this problem does not necessarily go away.
The Hemp and Carbon Onyx Fiberreeds Came Through
The Hemp and Carbon Onyx Fiberreeds not only played as well as a good cane reed but surpassed my expectations. This was great and a really unexpected experience since I rarely play alto and am trying a brand new mouthpiece as well.
The mouthpiece is a Fiber Carbon Guardala MBII FatBoy and is generally speaking, quite bright. I found the Hemp fiberreed not only very bright but also had that “buzz” sound that I really like, especially in the rock and roll style of playing I do a lot of.
The Carbon Onyx Fiberreed felt like the type of reed that I can count on for a more all-around type of playing styles. Still had the top-end brightness with maybe less “buzz” I guess, and a little warmer and fuller on the bottom end of the horn.
An Advantage For Beginners Too
I’ve always told my beginner students to play on a cane reed when starting out. I wouldn’t advise that anymore. Not the way some of these synthetic reeds are playing, no way. They sound great and are consistent, unlike cane reeds which are hit and miss. This can be a major problem when starting to play the saxophone.
When we are first trying to get sounds and then certain notes, there are all sorts of inherent problems ranging from air support, undeveloped embouchure and lack of technique. It’s very difficult to know why something isn’t happening the way it should. It can be any one of these reasons or it can simply be a bad reed. How can a beginner really know the difference between a bad reed and a great one?
Therefor, starting off with a good solid reed that will be consistent for many months will put the student at an advantage.
Only a Matter of Time?
With the smart and creative people in the synthetic reed industry one has to believe that it’s really only a matter of time before the synthetic reeds surpass cane reeds in popularity and sales. I blame the cane reed companies. They are well aware of what goes into every box, how many good playing reeds and how many duds.
Consider the same situation with other instruments. Guitar, violin, bass strings used to be made from animal intestines. Natural fibers found in the intestines of animals such as goats, sheep horses and even pigs is what instrument strings were made of.
Now of course most of these stringed instruments have strings made from nylon, bronze and nickel plated stainless steel. Sure, there are some classical players who will still choose the natural “gut” string but by far most guitar strings sold today are of the nylon and steel variety.
Now companies such as Fiberreed are using natural fibers from hemp and wood to create a true and great playing reed, not only for saxophone but clarinet and a double reed for the oboe. We can also expect these synthetic reed companies to keep developing newer and even better products in the very near future. Personally, I’m really optimistic and very happy about this industry and were it’s heading.