Col Loughnan's Reed Adjustment Tips

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Col Loughnan currently teaches saxophone and woodwinds in the Jazz Departments of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and the Queensland Conservatorium of Music. He is well known in Australia as a soloist, composer and arranger, and has worked with artists as varied as Frank Sinatra, the Toshiko Tabakin Orchestra, Sammy Davis Jnr., Freddie Hubbard, Georgie Fame, and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. He studied in the United States with Joe Allard, Eddie Daniels and Victor Morosco. Check out his latest stunning Cd

Diagram 30 jpg

Adjusting Saxophone Reeds

More unpredicatable than the weather, reeds remain a constant problem for most saxophone players. How many times have you gone to the local music store, purchased a new box of reeds, gone home, tried them out, and to your amazement and frustration found that the whole box was unplayable.
The tips below are based on personal trial and error and as a result of studying with the great master teacher, Joe Allard, who could magically transform the worst reed ever into a good playable reed.

Balancing The Reed

The problem with many reeds is that they are not balanced. In other words, one side of the reed may be thicker than the other causing an inbalance, and making the reed respond poorly in various registers. The first thing to do is test the sides of the reed.
Placing the instrument into your mouth as normal, tilt or rotate the mouthpiece to the left closing off the left side and exposing the right side which will vibrate. Blow a note (middle C Sharp for example), tilt the mouthpiece to the right closing off the right side and exposing the left side to vibrate. Blow a note---compare the two sounds, if one side sounds dull, airy, or is just harder to blow, that will be the side we want to adjust. After testing the reed by playing both sides, you can do a further test, by feeling underneath either side of the the reed, going towards the tip area and bending the reed up SLIGHTLY with one finger, one side at a time. The side that bends the least is the side that has more wood on it, and is the side that you will adjust. Using either, medium sand paper, a one sided razer blade, or a reed knife, scrape the side to be adjusted. Start in about 1/16" of an inch, and at the vamp, where the slope of the reed ends. Start at the vamp and work slowly towards the tip. Stop about 1/16" from the tip. Take very little wood as you get towards the tip, take more from the vamp to about 1/2 way down the reed.
See Diagram A
Test the reed, blowing both sides as before, and adjust until both sides of the reed are equal in sound and response.
See Diagram B
N.B. Avoid touching the heart of the reed, as this may result in the reed sounding unfocused and difficult to play in tune.

Reed Too Soft

If a reed is too soft, you can either:
1. Place the reed further over the tip of the mouthpiece.
2. Clip the reed using a reed clipper.
3. Burn the tip of the reed.
See Diagram C
Clipping the reed, usually makes the reed sound a little dull, burning the reed however, seems to retain and in some cases brighten the sound of the reed.
As in clipping, take the smallest amount possible, test and repeat, until the desired strength is achieved.

Polishing The Back Of The Reed

Using a flat surface, (table, bench top etc.) place a white piece of A4 paper on the table---holding the paper so it will not move, place the reed in the center of the page, using your strong hand, press the 1st two fingers ( index and 2nd ) of your hand onto the reed. Going clockwise or anticlockwise, rotate the reed in a circular motion, fast, and about 100 turns, this will polish, the flat side of the reed and make sure it forms a perfect "seal" to the mouthpiece.
See Diagram D

Diagram  6k jpg

This is especially helpeful when the reed has been played for a few days, as with moisture on it the fibres of the back of the reed may swell.
Buying another box of reeds may help you find the 'magic reed', but you may end up spending more that day on reeds than your gig is worth. Feeling comfortable with the strength and sound quality of the reed, is a must if you wish to play well and to be creative. We can not be creative, if we are struggling to play poor equipment or a bad reed.
I hope these tips on reed adjusting may help you as they have me.
Happy reed adjusting!!

Copyright 1995 Col Loughnan. Reproduction of this article for other than private use is not permitted without the written consent of the author.
Col loughnan. Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Jazz Dept. Mcquarie St. Sydney 2000. N.S.W. Australia.

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