Single reed players are constantly looking for a better reed. It takes diligence and patience to work with cane reeds. With numerous synthetic reeds currently on the market, you may be thinking of trying them out. A common question is, how long do they actually last?.
Depending on the brand and the amount of playing , synthetic reeds generally last from 6 to 8 months before they become too soft. This makes them a good economical choice compared to cane reeds. Synthetic reeds are typically more consistent than natural reeds, and offer a very decent tone.
A growing number of woodwind musicians are turning away from traditional cane reeds in favor of synthetic reeds. Many players use both, switching back and forth depending on the situation.
In this post, I look at the lifetime of synthetic reeds, when they should be replaced, how to make them last longer, and which synthetic reeds to choose.
How long do synthetic reeds last?
One of the best aspects of synthetic reeds is how long they last. Incredibly durable, synthetic reeds will generally last 6 months to as long as one year.
The table below shows how long some of the top synthetic reeds last on average:
|Fiberreed||$38.50||Up to 11 months|
While the above gives you a good idea of the durability of reeds, based on player feedback, some players admit they play on their synthetic reed longer than they should, even though it has become softer. Your mileage may vary.
Players sometimes use Legere reeds for up to 11 months. However, it must be noted the tone often starts getting altered after 6 months.
The longevity also depends on how you play on the reed. If you play on the same synthetic reed multiple hours every day, or if you play using slap tonguing and lots of altissimo, you may find the reed doesn’t last as long. These techniques will age any reed more quickly.
It’s also important to store synthetic reeds safely in a reed case so that the reeds sit on a flat surface. This helps the reeds to maintain their shape and protects them from damage – else the corners may bend or splits may appear.
Students find they can generally use the same synthetic reed throughout the school year.
How do you know a synthetic reed needs to be replaced?
Just like cane reeds, synthetic reeds gradually soften over time. It may feel too easy to play, or the tip may close against the mouthpiece when playing high notes or when trying to play fortissimo.
Some players find that the tip of a synthetic reed eventually develops splits in it as it ages. This is usually a good indication that it’s time to replace the reed.
You can also tell when a synthetic reed needs to be replaced by the way it responds to articulation. Rather than a quick, clear response, the reed may produce a slightly delayed and dull sound when articulating.
It’s important to be sensitive to when a reed is worn out. If you play on any reed that is too old and is ready to be replaced, your embouchure can become accustomed to playing on a reed that is too soft.
When you do replace it, you will find that the new reed feels too stiff. Then you have to build up your embouchure muscles again.
How to make synthetic reeds last longer?
Because synthetic reeds aren’t made from cane, they don’t need to get wet before playing. The fact that they don’t go through the wetting and drying process makes them last much longer.
The best way to make your synthetic reed last even longer is to have multiple reeds that you rotate. Synthetic reed makers often suggest playing on a reed for about an hour, and then rotating to a different synthetic reed.
This is because the reed tends to soften as it warms up. By rotating to a second reed, you’ll find the first reed is ready to go the next time.
Rotating reeds also prevents the possibility that you become accustomed to one specific reed. When this happens, it’s more difficult to move on to a different reed.
What are some of the best/longest lasting synthetic reeds?
Légère synthetic reeds
The synthetic reeds for clarinet and saxophone made by Légère are very popular.
The company uses polypropylene to make their reeds. This is a common, non-toxic polymer that doesn’t absorb water and can be cleaned with a mild detergent.
Légère reeds are thinner than those made of cane, but they’re made using a stiffer material. Players like the free vibration they get from these synthetic reeds.
Many feel they can’t tell the difference between the sound of a cane reed and a synthetic one made by Légère.
There are three styles to choose from:
- European Cut (clarinet) – flexible, with a bright, yet warm sound. Favorite of professional clarinetists
- Signature – free blowing, easy articulation. Saxophone players’ favorite.
- Classic – ideal for marching bands and large ensembles.
Many players suggest, if you buy Legere reeds, to get the signature cut ones. They generally beat the classic cut in terms of tone quality and are worth the extra price
To help you find the right cut and strength, Légère offers free exchanges of their reeds (up to five times in one year). This makes it very easy to find what works best for you.
Fibracell synthetic reeds
Fibracell is a synthetic reed that has been around for a long time. These reeds are made using Kevlar fibers which are suspended in a lightweight rosin. Players who use Fibracell reeds choose them for their quick response and accurate intonation.
Fibracell reeds give the same “woody” sound as cane, but are meant to last at least four times longer than traditional cane reeds.
Many Fibracell reed users say they can’t tell the difference between them and cane reeds in terms of how they look, feel and sound.
Fiberreed synthetic reeds
Some players prefer the Fiberreed, which are designed by Harry Hartman. There are numerous styles to choose from, including:
- Classic Fiberreed – free blowing.
- Hemp – dark, full sound.
- Carbon – hollow fiber layered with carbon fiber. Brilliant sound.
- Copper Carbon – copper and carbon infused resins. Warmer sound.
- Carbon Onyx – carbon enriched resins. Easy response, powerful sound.
Fiberreed reeds are very durable and consistent.
Forestone synthetic reeds
Many players prefer the hybrid reeds made by Forestone. These reeds are made using a combination of natural cane with synthetic materials. They combine the durability of synthetic reeds with the core sound of natural cane.
Forestone uses an injection molding process, and they have reeds available for clarinet and saxophone. These reeds can be adjusted using sandpaper, a reed knife or a reed clipper. They can last up to three or four months with heavy playing.
These reeds come in a variety of styles:
- Hinoki Unfiled – American unfiled cut. Lively response and wide dynamic range.
- Black Bamboo – French filed cut. Darker sound.
- Black Bamboo W Blast – French filed cut. Special treatment for better projection, added volume and quicker response
- White Bamboo – French filed cut. Easy response.
- Traditional – French filed cut. Free-blowing.
Are synthetic reeds a good option vs cane reeds?
For many players, the design of synthetic reeds has progressed to the point where they’re able to compete with traditional cane reeds for response, tone, and intonation.
- Synthetic reeds last much longer and don’t warp.
- Synthetic reeds are more consistent than natural reeds. You know what to expect right out of the box.
- Synthetic reeds don’t change based on moisture or humidity, so you can count on them playing the same each time.
- Synthetic reeds are cost-effective. One Légère reed costs about as much as a box of 10 cane reeds.
- For many players, a single synthetic reed will last longer than a 10 cane reeds, especially since not all of the cane reeds in the box will play well.
Because synthetic reeds don’t need to get wet before playing, they are useful in a many situations.
For example, a woodwind musician who doubles on different reed instruments for a musical needs to be able to switch instruments and play immediately.
Taking the reed off, wetting it, and putting it back on before playing is time consuming. This isn’t a problem with synthetic reeds.
Likewise, a saxophone teacher may perform on cane reeds, but use a synthetic reed while teaching. During a lesson, there may be a period of time when they’re not playing, then they want to play for the student.
It saves a lot of time if they are able to simply pick up the saxophone and play without having to remove the reed and wet it again.
Last but not least, cane reeds can become waterlogged, which greatly affects the response and sound. Hence, synthetic reeds are a great choice for outdoor playing, as the heat and humidity won’t affect them.
Cons of using synthetic reeds
Some feel synthetic reeds have a brighter tone than cane reeds. However, there are many different brands and styles, with some producing a fuller, warmer sound.
One drawback of synthetic reeds is that they don’t always respond as well when using extended techniques, such as flutter tonguing, slap tonguing and extensive altissimo playing.
This type of playing does tend to age the synthetic reeds more quickly. However, they still last longer than cane reeds.
With the great variety of synthetic reeds available, it’s worth trying them to see how they work for you. You may find one that plays as well as cane reeds for you. It will definitely last longer.