Buy or burn?- The reeds struggle continues

Got an email from a reader today:

Dear David,
Another Rigotti Gold tenor sax reed-user, sitting here with a stack of pretty useless (and spendy) new reeds.

Is there another brand of reeds you recommend, or does one just gamble on more Rigottis?

Do some retailers seem to have better Rigottis than others?

Ways you adjust so-so reeds?

David Kailin, Ph.D.

My response:

  I too am still using Rigotti reeds. Daniel Rigotti finally replied to the rant that I posted about his reeds a while back and admitted that his reeds are probably not aged as much as other brands. I still think that they are better than anything else out there, sad as that may be.

  I've found that the sizing has been pretty inconsistent on Rigotti reeds lately. Some boxes will be much harder and some will be too soft. If you buy a bunch of boxes at once I think you may get an entire batch that is too hard or too green. Sometimes it seems to me like Roberto's has better reeds than WWBW does, but I can't be sure. I gave up on this line of reasoning because the reeds were just too expensive not to buy from the best-priced retailer, whoever that happens to be at the time.

  Getting a bunch of shitty reeds is mighty depressing, so you might try just to not open the boxes as long as possible. This will give you the false sense of security that you still have good reeds in reserve, which may not help your saxophone playing, but it WILL make you a happier person. You think I'm joking?

  There are other brands of reeds that also use Rigotti cane that may work a little better for your particular setup. These other brands are Roberto's, François Louis, and Ishimori (Woodstone). All of these other brands are more expensive than Rigottis. I believe that the cane is pretty much exactly the same, but the cuts are a bit different. Roberto's tend to have less heart and François Louis reeds have more heart. The Ishimoris are just too damn expensive after shipping, so I haven't tried more than about three of them, which is not enough to make a judgment on them.

  I would try to move up or down a strength before you switch to other reeds, because when you go back out there and start using a shotgun approach to try out new brands you're just going to end up with an even bigger pile of kindling than you have in front of you right now.

  At least Roberto's has extended their Rigotti sale (at least until the end of the month):

Alto Sax - $19.99
Tenor Sax/Bass Clarinet - $26.25
Soprano Sax/Bb Clarinet - $15.99
Bari Sax - $32.99

  If I get a huge run of bad Rigottis I will try to buy from a different retailer on my next order. As far as I know you can only get Rigoittis from WWBW, Roberto's and Muncy Winds. There are a few more dealers for the François Louis brand. I just can't personally justify spending $20 dollars more per box on the François Louis reeds just for a slightly different cut.

  I think the problem with some of the Rigottis are the fact that they haven't been aged long enough, so don't throw them away if they don't work. Put them in a cool dry place and leave them for a while. I have so many boxes of bad old bad reeds in my furnace/storage room that it probably has become a fire hazard. Maybe someday one of them will work when you go through 500-700 of them in one sitting at some point in the distant future. Then that reed will have cost you about $1750. You can also try to sell the rejects to your students.

  I'm not a big reed adjuster, just a big reed complainer. I do work on my reeds in a very clumsy way with fine grade waterproof sandpaper. I first just work down at the vamp and a little on the rails. If that still doesn't work I'll sand furiously at that heart to punish the little piece of $hit and then smash the tip into my desk.

  It helps to see if you can make sure that the rails are balanced. To do this twist your mouthpiece about 20 degrees in one direction and then try to blow on it with your head perfectly level, so that only pressure is applied to one rail. Then do the same with the other side so you can judge if one side it harder than the other. Then sand down the harder rail until your test determines that both sides play the same.

  The other thing that I do is to add a double French cut to the Rigottis if they are too dead. You don't even need a real reed knife to do this, a sharp pocketknife will do. Score the bark of the reed just below the bottom of the vamp by rocking your knife back and forth across the reed with heavy pressure from your thumb. Then, with your knife at an angle that is closer to being parallel to the top of the reed, peel back the bark without taking too much cane off in the process. You can finish up by scraping the reed with your knife (or by using sandpaper) to smooth the area that you just cut the bark off from.

  That's the long answer. The short answer is that all reeds suck and if you play the saxophone and expect your reeds to play well you're pretty much screwed. You might as well get screwed by Rigotti and actually have some slight chance that once in a while you will actually find a good reed. Then again you could also just save yourself some time and heart ache by following these simple steps:

1. Just take a stack of US currency ($20 bills work well)
2. Cut the bills up into tiny pieces
3. Put the cut bills into a nice neat little pile
4. Light the pile on fire
One thing to keep in mind is that reeds do work better for kindling than dollar bills do. If the power ever goes out and you need to build a fire to keep warm you may be better off with bad reeds than $20 bills.

Good luck, DCV


Anonymous said...

LaVoz is back, baby!
I get 6-7 usable ones, in every box of 10. Once I stopped being picky or obsessive about reeds, and told myself that I am a good enough player to make anything sound good(& so are you), guess what, I was right.
Most of our "heros" were too busy with extra-musical activities to obsess on the perfect reed. They had the right idea.

Peter said...

It's never any fun to play reeds that suck. I've resorted to just buying the Orange Box Ricos. Though they are the cheapest, I find them to be as consistent in quality as any other reed for a fraction of the price (sometimes I can find really good deals on Ebay). I'm playing a 3 or 3 1/2 on a hard rubber link 7* (tenor).

The quality control could be better in all brands, but I'd like to single out Vandoren for creating some of the crappiest reeds I've ever played. I'm not an expert, but I feel like they're using some really terrible cane. Also, the shoulders are consistently off on every single one. Every reed in the box seems to need a major adjustment.

I haven't tried to the Rigottis yet, but I'm willing to give them a shot. They seem to be the best priced of all the "boutique" reeds. How have you found they compare size-wise to Ricos?

David Carlos Valdez said...

In general they run a little softer, but they do also have more strengths.
I play a 3.5 strong on alto, which is close to a 3.5 Java Vandoren.

Each half strength comes in light, medium and strong.

Damien said...


If you keep promoting Rigotti reeds, more people will buy them and the quality will suffer. Please tell people you play something else!


Unknown said...

Thanks for the paragraph where you "punish the little piece of shit before smashing the tip into my desk". I've done this many times. It was just the laugh I needed after spending the last 3 hours tortured by crap reeds. I just opened a new box of La Voz MH tenor and every one is unplayable. The same for a box of ZZ's.The reed situation is so bad it seems I can never get to a meaningful practice session. You end up spending all your time trying to find a reed that's somewhat enjoyable to play. If there's someone you really hate, get them to take up the saxophone!

Unknown said...

Instead of spending so much time searching for the perfect reed (and fighting a losing battle), spend time making reeds play better. Try the Reed Geek...

David Carlos Valdez said...

I have a Reed Geek and it helps a little, but it is not a cure-all.

Unknown said...

Her hee hee! I'm thinking of heating my house with reeds that don't play. Should work for a couple of months...

Joy said...

Is there a chart that compares Rigotti to Vandoren? I tried making a comparison and came up with a Rigotti 2.5 strong being equal to a V16 2.5 and a 2.5 medium being equal to a vandoren 2.5 zz. I am 76 years old and started playing sax a year ago and need all the help I can get.