We live and die by our reeds. Ultimately it’s best to learn to adjust reeds to make them play how you like them. But we still have the starting point of selecting what strength reed to purchase that will best fit our needs. Lately, I’ve found that process dated and flawed. And though it will never be perfect, like Frank Costanza frustrated with holiday traditions, I realized there had to be another way.
Reed manufacturers have released many new cuts of reeds over the last 20 years. And though I would hope the process of producing reeds has improved, we still have to look at a chart to determine one reed’s relative strength to another.
What inspired this little project was some recent clarinet and sax Légère reed orders. For saxophone, I usually play D’Addario Select Jazz, but wanted to try a Légère cut. But Légère doesn’t reference the D’Addario jazz cuts in their chart, and D’Addario’s chart is hard to find. And once you do have it figured out, you have to look past a dozen different reeds to find the one you want.
What can make this more difficult is if reed companies report the strengths differently. If you look at the Légère clarinet chart, they report D’Addario reeds to be softer than Vandoren, where on the D’Addario chart they are the same. More than once I had to exchange a Légère reed because I followed their chart only for the reed to be too soft. Kudos to them for offering an exchange program.
I don’t want to sound down on these companies. I really like what they’re doing with in-between strengths (like quarter sizes) and sample packs. Reeds are imperfect, therefore assigning a strength measurement to them will also be imperfect. In fact, a box of 10 reeds will yield 10 slightly different strengths and this is by design. The strength number is really an average, there are some harder and some softer in the box. This is best shown in the Boston Sax Shop comparison chart.
But still, that is an awful lot of data to sift through. Being the 21st century, I should be able to filter which reeds I want to compare to find the appropriate strength. So I built such a filter using Google Sheets. It is best viewed on a larger screen.
As with everyone’s strength charts, this is imperfect too. I used Vandoren Traditional (blue box) as the North Star, as that can be referenced on most charts. Fringe sizes (seemingly outside of Vandoren 1 and 5) were left out for space. Still it’s easy to find that the charts often don’t agree perfectly (see D’Addario/Légère). Be sure to double check the Source Charts when making purchases. This is really a proof of concept, a commentary on how it should be.
Let me know what you think! How have you found reed strengths to compare to each other?