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The Saxophone

The Saxophone

saxophone_chaos_paintingThe brand of your saxophone, what mouthpiece you use, and the reed make some difference in your sound.

But not as much as some people think.


Neal: I have not seen anyone state what their set up is? I think this is important to know when talking about intonation? I play a Myer 5 with #2 to 3 synthetic reeds. Legere, Fibracell, Rico Plastic covers. I like the Legeres. My sound seems good with them. Tried cane for 6 to 8 months? Just call me squeaky!!! Got in the way of learning big time. So, I got on Fibracells and away went the squeaks. Tim

Hey Tim, not sure how much the mouthpiece/reed is one of the biggest parts of intonation. The horn itself has a pretty sizable effect. For me (and I think most others) it’s more of a challenge to play in tune on a vintage horn. Vintage being 1924 with the Buescher tenor.

You might want to think about trying cane again, but I actually will use fibracell sometimes on alto/clarinet since I play those less. Used it for a little while on tenor, but then went back to cane.



It’s important to have your horn in good shape. A bent key or leak can cause all sorts of problems. You don’t want to be fighting the saxophone as you play, it’s easy enough to not play perfectly without that.


Maintenance is how we prevent most problems. It includes things like not eating or drinking things you shouldn’t before or after you play. After you play, I recommend swabbing out your saxophone with a cloth or silk with string on it. I do not recommend the fuzzy sticks since loose fibers can get in your pads and cause leaks.

Every once in a while it’s good to wash out your mouthpiece with warm (not hot) water and soap.

Reeds require delicate care because they break easily. You may keep them in the plastic covers that they come with and dry them out after you play. Some people keep them wet all the time using alcohol, but that can take a bit of work.



The reed makes the biggest difference in your sound. And a good reed only lasts a few weeks…… That’s how it goes. Try out some different reeds and realize that the same number from the same brand will not be the same reed, could be fairly different.

The reeds I tend to use are Vandorens and Ricos, but there are other good brands too. It’s a matter of preference. And is also related to the equipment you have and situation you’re playing in.

For the reed, it depends on what kind of mouthpiece you’re using.  I have used 3.5, 3, 2.5.  It depends on the brand of reed too.

With a Meyer hard rubber, tip opening 8, I used #3 Vandoren V16 reeds.

With a Vandoren V16 tip opening 9 (fairly open), I used #2.5 Vandoren V16 reeds and then switched to #2 of the same kind.

Used the #2.5 Vandoren reeds on a Selmer metal 7*

Now with a metal Otto Link 7* opening, I’m using #2.5 Ricos or #2 Vandoren V16’s.



Mouthpieces aren’t something to obsess over, but sometimes it’s good to try out different mouthpieces. You preferences may evolve and the mouthpiece can make a difference. Especially the transition from a stock mouthpiece to something a little higher up.

Metal can be harder to control than hard rubber, but it responds faster and has a more ‘bright’ tone. That can be good for certain styles of music – R&B, blues, jazz. You don’t necessarily want a bright tone in classical music, could make it hard to blend.

The tip opening affects the dynamics you’ll be able to play with. A basic rule is that a more open (bigger number) tip will increase your volume.



{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

KT January 24, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Thanks for the cleaning video. I have the same cloth in brown, and a silk one. I stopped using the fluffy things as soon as you mentioned possible leaks. I need more practice at using the cleaning brushes, and may switch from paper to dollar bills to clean keypads.

I appreciate the info on reeds & mouthpieces. I usually use a hard rubber Selmer mouthpiece, a Rico 2.5 ….have E
Yan Doren 3’s but I hear air or silence no music when I use those.


Neal January 24, 2013 at 2:48 pm

You’re welcome. I use bills to clean sticky pads too, they are made with stronger fibers than paper.

The main key that sticks for me is G#, more so on my alto than tenor.


Brooks Butler July 1, 2013 at 8:58 am

I bought a alto on Ebay and it arrived with a stuck G# but I watched this army repairman’s youtube, went to the fabric store bought a minimum amount of micro-suede cloth and fixed it.



Neal July 1, 2013 at 3:08 pm

Cool, glad you were able to take care of it. Wasn’t aware of that channel before either, thanks for sharing.


Brooks August 16, 2013 at 1:09 am

I bought a Cannonball Excalibur alto off a craigslist ad. ($250) Another 9th grader was abandoning band. It had a couple of tiny dents and scratches. When I got it home, G# suddenly stopped working and I saw something was missing. It was a bushing and screw found on the floor. I tried the Cannonball mouthpiece on my Bundy II (Hite mp) and WOW, the difference was surprising. It was easier blowing and my low D and below honk disappeared. My rendition of St. James Infirmary should improve.

fergus January 24, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Hey Neal,
I also have the swab with the weight on the end of it, i only clean it once or twice a week would it need to be cleaned after each session? Also on the mouth piece I’m still using the one that came with my Yanigasawa T902 I seem to get a nice warm tone from it should i start experimenting with different brands, i was advised on getting a Vandoren v16 gold plated?
Reeds also give me a headache i only ever seem to get one, or if I’m lucky maybe two from a box, I’m between Rico’s #2.5 and Vandoren zz jazz #2. I waste a lot of time in my music room trying to find a good reed to play with.
Do certain reeds go with certain mouthpieces?
Thanks Fergus


Neal January 24, 2013 at 3:09 pm

Hey Fergus,
Yes, I would recommend swabbing it after each session. It depends a bit on how you store it. If you store it outside of the case, on a stand, it will tend to dry on itself (depending on the climate).

If you put it in the case, you definitely want to swab it every time you play.

For the mouthpiece, is the one you’re using hard rubber? If so, a switch to metal will be a lot different. Seems like you’re happy with what you have right now, I wouldn’t necessarily switch. If you want to try some things, go for it, but don’t obsess about the equipment.

As you develop your playing more, you’ll have more ‘playable’ reeds with the same boxes. What changes if how much the reed fights you as you play. I find I can play most reeds these days, I just like some a lot better.

The main thing with reeds/mouthpieces is matching the tip of mouthpiece and strength of the reed.

In general do your reeds seem too hard or too soft? What makes them not work for you?


Gil January 24, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Hi Neal and everyone on SaxTribe:
I to have the silk cloth and string and use often and also clean the mouth piece with warm soap and water when needed. I use a Meyer hard rubber mouth piece, with 2.5 Rico Jazz reeds, I have used the Fibercll and Synthetic reeds, but seem to go back to the cane, I play Alto, can I get input from anyone that has used Vandoren 16 reeds, I thought I would try one out? Thanks


Neal January 24, 2013 at 3:19 pm

Hey Gil,
Sounds like you’re taking care of your sax.

I used Vandoren V16s for quite a few years, may come back to them, but also got a box of Ricos to try something else out. They work pretty well. The number on them is a little different than Ricos, a #2 Vandoren will tend to be harder than a #2 Rico.

Go ahead and try one to find out if you like it, just realize that like any reed, they will vary a lot.


Samuel Golden January 24, 2013 at 5:02 pm

Hey Neal, Have an Noteworthy alto-sax,use 2.5 Rico reed, seems to sound good, good combination . Have a sax stand and update sax cleaning equipment. Clean sax after most use as well as brush teeth. May try 2.0 and 3.0 Rico reed or should 2.5 Rico reed be enough? Thanks


Brooks August 4, 2013 at 8:21 am

Yesterday, I went to a music store with both tenor and alto mouthpieces. I played Eastman 52nd St. and Cannonball instruments for awhile. They were in the $2600-#2800 range. They were great but to be honest, if blindfolded I probably would have a tough time telling the difference with mine. The Cannonball silver tenor and a nickel bell and was
just stunningly beautiful. If I decide to move up, I’m going to get me one.


Neal August 4, 2013 at 11:45 pm

What are you playing on right now?


Brooks August 5, 2013 at 10:42 am

I bought two saxophones in June. One off craigslist, a Selmer USA Signet tenor and BundyII alto off eBay. I probably should have not gone the eBay route.


Brooks August 13, 2013 at 9:47 am

Here is a very cool 1924 Buescher factory



Neal August 13, 2013 at 10:42 pm

Thanks Brooks, actually have a Buescher tenor from 1924. I’m a fan.


Gil August 13, 2013 at 10:41 pm

Thank you Brooks for sharing website about Buescher factory tour was very interesting, I play a Buescher BU-4 Alto Saxophone.


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