Do we nearly reed to talk about this?
Whilst rushing out of the shop a few weeks ago to catch a flight I thought it would be a great idea to grab a bunch reeds from the four most popular lines of Vandoren reeds used by non-classical players and write a review of them. Not because I don’t think that classical players deserve the same consumer advice but simply because classical players don’t mess around with their set-up anywhere near as much as the rest of us, in my experience they mostly play Vandoren traditional reeds and they tend to stick to a mouthpiece for years if not decades! I am inclined to believe that they are probably wiser than the rest of us who are sat penniless in a sea of discarded reeds, overly priced ligatures and almost identical mouthpieces, but I like the endorphin rush of opening new packaging soooo….
The main players in the ‘Vandoren non-classical saxophone reed market’ are…. (try out that riveting opener at the next hang)….Java Green, Java Red, V16 and ZZ. I think you’ll also find that’s in the chronological order in which they were introduced to the Vandoren product range *sweeps girl off feet and hails taxi*
When I reached my destination with some time to kill I had this grand idea of working my way nonchalantly through the aforementioned reeds as the sun was setting over a cascading Iberian landscape, taking appropriate notes whilst quaffing locally sourced red. The reality, in contrast, is me sitting in my girlfriend’s parent’s basement slightly hungover aimlessly stuffing an overwhelming assortment of cane on and off my mouthpiece thinking…..this is f*****g mental.
If you check the Vandoren blurbs on these reeds they use phrases like ‘homogenous timbre’ and ‘elasticity zone’, which are words that may or may not have any bearing on real life. The reality of the matter is that it is simply impossible for one person to give you an accurate, impartial account of how sub-categories of reed within one brand play in comparison to each other. It’s just impossible and anyone who tells you otherwise is either trying to flog you more reeds than you need or is completely full of shellac.
Firstly, reeds within one pack vary massively, some are hard and dull and some are soft and bright and we all just hope that we get enough ‘just right’ ones in a pack that we’re not left bitter about the fact that one pack of reeds costs more these days than a whole chicken and all the sides at Nandos. So even if you’re lucky enough to get enough goldilocks reeds that you can make an informed decision about them (I’d argue this would be at least 20+ reeds) they all need to be not just ‘played in’ but played through most their life, pushed hard, neglected, soaked, dried, all which you simply can’t do in one sitting, or even a bunch of sittings. By the time you’ve systematically worked your way through a couple dozen of the same reed you’ll probably have twice as many leaks on your horn, completely different ideas about ‘the sound’ that your going for and be eyeing up a completely different florida link on eBay that’s worth more than your car.
Furthermore, we all respond differently to different reeds and we all use slightly different mouthpieces with different tip openings, facing lengths, chamber dimensions etc. So if your mate Steve* reckons that Java Greens are THE best reeds for Jazz and anybody that disagrees with him is wrong, you should simply agree with Steve but delete him from your friends list as soon as you get home. Steve is an idiot.
So where’s all this going? Well nowhere really, I’m afraid you’re just going to have to try them for yourself and still be as utterly confused as me, either that or stick to the same reeds that are working perfectly well already and go and do some constructive practise. I can however comment on the type of people who buy these reeds in our shop and their sonic tendencies (shotgun band name).
So here’s an arguably pointless rundown of ‘who buys what kind of Vandoren reeds in our shop’....I’m a hoot at social events.
Vandoren Java Red
Our most popular Vandoren tenor reed by a long shot, typically used by jazz players who like to be heard. Often coupled with metal mouthpieces and high baffle set-ups. I feel like if Brecker played Vandoren (he played La Voz of course) he would play these.
Vandoren Java Green
Similar customer to Red Java but we don’t sell anywhere near as many, possibly players going for a slightly less zingy tone….hard to say. Maybe these are just the people who didn’t buy into the ‘New and improved Red ‘filed’ Java’ marketing drive. Similarly responsive to Reds but maybe less pokey?
We sell way less of these than the JAVA models but the typical customer tends to be your more discerning tone junky type. I sold a beautiful Conn tranny once to a dulcet sounding Italian who swears by V16s (you know who you are). Think large bore American horns on melancholic ballads. Seriously though they take quite a bit of blowing, they seem a lot thicker than other reeds and subsequently blow a lot harder but the payout is tasty.
These tend to be far more popular for alto than tenor and I’m not sure why, possibly favoured by players going for a more contemporary sound…. like a Kenny Garret kind of vibe? even, full and chirpy. To my surprise I actually prefer these to all the others and I neither sound contemporary or like Kenny Garret, so there.
The bottom line is, it doesn’t matter which jazz sticks you lash on to your tooter, you’re still going to need to practise for thousands of hours and you’ll never sound like Coltrane. And if you’re still reading this you’re even more mental than me for writing over 1000 words on reeds… but as a reward here’s a discount code to get 10% off any of the reeds on our website which I think you’ll find are already very competitively priced. *ahem*
Discount Code: ACTUALLYREADTHEWHOLEBLOG
(Expires end of Feb 2019)
P.S. If you're interested in trying only a few of each type, call the shop on 01179070493 and we can sell you any quantity you like and have them delivered.
*Steve, if you're reading this... I don't mean you, I mean another Steve.