Reed Management for Woodwind Instruments

February 24, 2021 Edward B

Information on how to determine what reeds to use, how to maintain them, and prolong their lifespan.

At some point, we have all had a favourite reed; one that we have kept using for longer than we perhaps should have, simply because it made the instrument sound so good. And when it inevitably needs to be replaced, we are reluctant to do it.

For us reed hoarders out there, here are some tips on how to maintain reeds efficiently:


First of all, don't stick to the same set of reeds. If you've never experimented with different brands, I recommend that you go to your local music shop and ask for a selection of single reeds.

These might include big brands like Vandoren with cuts that include ZZ, V12, V16, Java; Rico with Royal, La Voz, Hemke, Select Jazz; smaller brands like Juno, Slade or Ammoon; or even a plastic reed like Kmise or Légère.

The reed is the most important part of your woodwind instrument, without it, you can't make a sound. The reason why there are so many different brands comes down to the type of material used, the angle and grade of the cut, as well as the strength of the reed.

This all affects the sound quality in some way, whether that is to make it brighter, mellower, punchier or breathier. You may like your sound at the moment but at least try a few different reeds to confirm that.


Once you have found your favourite brand and style, it's time to make sure you aren't having to spend a lot replacing these reeds.

Think about getting a reed case, these can be as simple as a plastic box with a few spaces for reeds, to something that has UV sterilisation built into it to better maintain the reeds and avoid enzyme breakdown.

Don't use one reed at a time. Take all the reeds out of the box and soak them in a small dish of medium temperature water for about a minute. This way, you can change reeds quickly when you want to.

Try numbering them as well, rotating them so that you are using a different reed each time you play. This way, you increase the amount of usage time before you have to buy a new box.

Earlier, I mentioned the sterilised case. Something similar can be done with items you may already have but this step should only be used by adults:

Take a plastic bottle (usually a see-through medicine bottle) and make sure your reeds will fit in and can easily be taken out with tweezers.

Take a little vodka or gin and pour it into the bottle with your reeds and keep the lid on. This sterilises the reeds, killing off any enzyme bacteria which, if left unchecked, could eat and break down the reeds over time.

The important thing to remember is that, because of the alcohol, when the reeds are taken out, they will dry out very quickly and so need to be placed back in the bottle when you're not using them. Also, make sure to replace the alcohol solution regularly to maximise the sterilisation.


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