Whether you’ve just picked up a saxophone and are learning the tricks of the trade or if you’ve felt like you’ve hit a plateau with your music skills, the thing that might take you over the top can possibly be the little extra help of the saxophone reed. To help improve the sound and help you add some notes when you’re playing a certain genre, the saxophone reed may look small—but it’s mighty influential. The best alto saxophone reeds can take your music over the top.
Physically speaking, of course, the saxophone reed is quite small. However, it is seen as one of the most important pieces of your saxophone—especially from a perspective of tone and sound. Actually, if you want to be so bold, it can even be rated as THE most important piece. To help you choose the right sax reed not only for your instrument but also your skill level is like taking the first step to help you land the rich, warm notes you’ve been looking for this whole time. A few of the most popular brands, like Vandoren, and Legere are on our guide today.
Top 5 Alto Saxophone Reeds Review 2020
To help you sort out which are best for you, we’ve not only set them up on a comparison table with detailed reviews but have spent hours researching online, looking for important features like the woods and the strength and have put together this article—as well as the buying guide to help you understand which is best for you!
Vandoren SR613 – Editor’s Choice
- Material: wood
- Strength: 2.5-4
- Sealed in flow pack
More features: thick heel, long palette
Rated as one of the best choices out there, our Editor’s Choice for best alto saxophone reeds is the Vandoren SR613.
From its sheer quantity, you can rest assured that you’ll have replacements for a long time, with 10 reeds sealed in a flow pack. These reeds are not only made with high-quality wood, but they also feature a thicker heel and a longer palette to help create more vibration, which will set your sound apart from other saxophones out there and will also help you reach that tone and notes you’ve been wanting.
To help you reach that deep, rich sound with the body of the reed, the thicker tip’s sound is not the only good thing about it—that specific detailed feature also helps the tip last longer, which means you can play more without having to replace and pay more.
Available in strengths 2.5-4, this covers a range of strengths to help fit your instrument and music. The reeds in the Vandoren SR613 are sealed to seclusion in their “Flow Pack”, which helps ensure freshness with every open.
With a 25 year history, the Vandoren brand has taken its success from its clarinet and transferred it to the saxophone.
- Precise attack
- Homogeneous timber in every register
- Controlled high notes, warm and velvety sound
- Might be too bit of a long palette
D’Addario Rico Select Jazz – Best for Jazz
- Material: wood
- Strength: 2-4
- Filed cut
More features: thick spine, traditional tip
The D’Addario Rico Select Jazz is rated on our guide as one of the best alto saxophone reeds for jazz. With its huge sound with powerful projection, the D’Addario Rico Select Jazz is also available in a variety of different sizes, from third strengths in the 2-4 range, and in soft, medium, and hard.
The D’Addario Rico Select Jazz is also available in two different models, from filed to unfiled. What sets this brand and style of saxophone apart is the fact that it‘s well-defined, with a longer vamp and a structured heart. It gives off a clear, fatter tone and outstanding projection. This clearer sound makes it perfectly fit for jazz. The D’Addario Rico Select Jazz also boasts flexibility and a lightning-fast response, which is great for the jazz notes.
The premium cane feature also makes it suitable to last longer—as well as the protection of the thick spine.
From its home in the San Fernando Valley facility, Rico has a state-of-the-art reed research center that help produce reeds like the D’Addario Rico Select Jazz and instruments for names like Mark Nuccio, Jerry Bergonzi, Chris Potter, Benny Golson, Ernie Watts, Bob Sheppard, Henri Bok, Richie Hawley, Eric Alexander, and many more.
- For the beginner and seasoned professional
- Designed by agronomists, scientists, and musicians
- Has a thick spine
- Plays with a traditional tip which might not work with certain music
Legere Signature ASSS3.25 – Best Synthetic
- Material: synthetic
- Strength: 3
- 30-day exchange policy
More features: non-toxic, doesn’t need to be pre-conditioned before use
For a synthetic price and a high-quality product, the Legere Signature ASSS3.25 is an alto sax reed that is one of the most updated versions of the signature Series technology.
From its already successfully used clarinet reeds, Legere uses that same method to create a synthetic sax reed that comes with a 3 in strength and a breakthrough in design.
Boasting the same properties as a moist cane, what sets the Legere Signature ASSS3.25 apart is the fact that this synthetic reed actually can skip the step of having to be pre-conditioned before you play.
Opposed to other reputations of synthetic reeds, it also is designed with completely non-toxic materials—and is backed so well by the manufacturer that it has not only a 30-day return policy, but also comes with an exchange policy.
You also don‘t get that awful, fake sound of a plastic or synthetic reed with this high-quality alto sax reed. The Legere Signature ASSS3.25 boats its pure and professional sound that doesn‘t get dry like other synthetic reeds. You don‘t have to wet them—just pick up and play!
Some customers have even gone so far to say that they play just like cane reeds—you can barely even tell the difference
- Really easy to clean and maintain
- Affordable price
- Mileage may vary based on sax and player
D’Addario Hemke Alto Sax Reeds – Best Value
- Material: wood
- Strength: 2-4
- Filed cut
- Suits traditional mouthpieces
More features: short vamp, thin tip
If you‘re looking for quality at an affordable price, the D’Addario Hemke Alto Sax Reeds can offer you just that.
With a tone that is darker than most on the market and containing a shorter vamp, the D’Addario Hemke Alto Sax Reed comes with a strength of 3 but is offered in a range from 2-4. It also comes with a filed cut and is packaged with a box of 5 reeds—which might explain the budget price since most other reeds come in a package of 10.
The quality of the D’Addario Hemke Alto Sax Reeds, however, is not only balanced, but also contains a slightly thinner tip, which helps it gain quick response and articulation.
The filed cut that we already mentioned can help increase the depth in harmonics, which will help produce that dark tone that many classical and traditional jazz saxophonists desire. Fit for a musical looking to get that traditional, round-chambered mouthpieces, the D’Addario Hemke Alto Sax Reed keeps it simple in design but effective in sound production.
The response is a bit freer and the shape of the cut adds clarity to the tone, making soft attacks easier. Backed by a credible name like Rico, the D’Addario Hemke Alto Sax Reed is a product of years of science-backed research and years of tinkering until perfection.
- Comes at a budgeted price
- Balanced and low tone
- Traditional mouthpiece
- Only has 5 reeds in a box
D’Addario RJA1030 – Best for Students
- Material: wood
- Strength: 1.5-4
More features: thinner vamp, traditional bank, standard spine
If you‘re just starting out playing the saxophone, the D’Addario RJA1030 can benefit you, since it has the features to make it our best student saxophone reed.
With its number one feature of the fact that it‘s easy to play, the D’Addario RJA1030 is set apart from other reeds on the market for a student‘s playing level. This set-up is due to the thinner vamp cut that is specifically designed for ease of play. The feature of the traditional blank for a clear sound is also paired with the fact that it is un-filed, which can help back the power in the tone.
So whether you‘re a student or still considered a student playing at a professional level, the D’Addario RJA1030 can help in a variety of different playing situations and levels.
Grown from a cane harvested by hand in France, the quality of hand-picked material undergoes state-of-the-art digital reed-making technology, producing the D’Addario RJA1030.
Since it is specifically tailored to students, that also means that it can be held up to the education standard for teachers and for students alike, rewarding the student at any level with immediate sound.
You can get a 10-pack here, which meets the standard of most other packs on the market.
- Perfect for student level playing
- Ease of playing is superb
- Affordable price
- Compatible with full range of clarinets and saxophones
- Might not fit quality with higher level playing
The importance of having the right reeds
Although you might not think such a small part of an instrument can have a huge impact on the way you play—think again!
Having the right reed not only for your saxophone (your alto saxophone, specifically) but also your skill level and the type of music you play can make all the difference.
There are some specific reeds that are tailored to a genre, like how the D’Addario Rico Select Jazz is designed to hit the best notes in jazz.
So instead of focusing solely on the price, the details of the feature can make a huge difference as well as the discoloration of the grain, the thickness of the tip, and the widths and roughness of the grain.
Tips on putting reeds in mouthpiece
If you’ve already picked out your winning reed, you will want to handle, maintain, and care for it properly.
Especially since you’ve already invested a lot in not only your saxophone but also your reed, you’ll want to know how to do it properly.
To help you with some tips on how to put the reeds in the mouthpiece the correct and most beneficial way, watch this video:
You’ll definitely be able to buy a quality reed for your budget.
For example, our budget pick, the D’Addario Hemke Alto Sax Reed is high-class quality at an affordable price.
So, don’t think you have to break the bank to invest in a good reed for your alto saxophone! All you have to do is simply to a bit of price comparison before you buy!
Choose the best alto saxophone reeds by the following features
To help you choose the best reed, you want to focus on their specification details—the features of each.
These features not only can help you tell the difference between getting high-quality reeds and not, but they also can help you see whether or not that reed is tailored to your level or type of music.
Here are the important features to watch out for:
You might have noticed the numbers that were listed above in regards to “strength” of your saxophone reed.
Normally, like most of the reeds on this guide, the range was measured from 2-4. However, although there were none listed here with this range, the standard scale of the saxophone reed strength is actually running from 1—the softest—to 5—the hardest. These numbers can be found right on the reed itself and generally on the packaging, as well.
You might also see the strength being measured using words instead, like “soft,” “medium” or “hard,” which can be quite simple to figure out.
The more beginner level you are, the softer you should begin, which is why our student saxophone, the D’Addario RJA1030 starts at 1.5. As you improve, you can head to a harder number.
The standard scale is just a simple measure of resistance and how stiff the cane is, which can dictate directly to playing quality.
Normally, the traditional reed will be designed with a specific grass type called Arundo Donax, which is famous for its rich tone.
The Arundo Donax reed is also known as the cane reed, which typically comes from France—like the D’Addario RJA1030 —but can also be found coming from Argentina or Spain.
This sort of sound from the cane is considered as the gold standard, however, each cane tends to sound different—meaning no two cane reeds are alike!
If you don’t have the money to dish out for the natural cane reed, you can go the synthetic route, like the Legere Signature ASSS3.25. Although given a bad rep, the quality of the material (although synthetic) can actually be quite good. For example, they do have the advantage of being thoroughly consistent not only through time but also from reed to reed.
The synthetic cane also requires less care and maintenance since there are no demands that a natural cane would call for, like conditioning or softening. Also, the synthetic material is unperturbed by the weather, making it possible for outdoor play without any worry.
Choosing a reed based on musical genre is also heard of. You’ll definitely want to head for a reed with a darker tone if you’re going to be playing the saxophone.
However, if you’re specifically into jazz music, you’ll want to aim for the type we mentioned above, which produces a much brighter tone.
The size of the reed is basically measured by the strength of the reed, as well. A 1.5 to 2 size is going to be perfect for a beginner while a larger strength size gives off that hard tone that most professionals are looking for.
The sound of the cane that the reeds produce mainly derives from the way it’s designed.
You’ll definitely want to do your research before you buy a reed because some of them are more tailored to give off a darker or deeper tone while others are specifically designed to give off a brighter and playful tone.
Lastly, the way the tip is cut is also an important feature and factor to your saxophone reed.
You can either purchase the reed filed or un-filed.
When a reed is filed, which is also named a “double cut”, the bark removed in a think layer at the back will allow the bark to be straight. This helps the vibration flow more freely—which produces a brighter, jazz-like sound. It’s also a better and much quicker response for beginners, which can be useful when learning.
The un-filed reeds, however, (also called “single cut”) lack that last cut, making it produce a more resistant, deeper and darker tone. It will also reduce the amount and power of vibration.
If you’re just starting out, you’ll definitely want to try out both types to see which you prefer the most.
Finally, before you buy your first (or not) saxophone reed, you’ll want to have a look at the answers to the most frequently asked questions that often come up before you purchase the best alto saxophone reed.
Physically fit, perhaps. However, the correct type of reed needs to be fitted with the type of saxophone. So if you’re going to be playing an alto sax, you’ll need the reed that is specifically designed for that saxophone instrument. There are soprano sax and tenor sax reeds that are going to be differently shaped and designed.
However, when you go the extra mile and get one that matches and fits correctly, the harmony of your sound will be spot on!
There is no straight shot answer here—it all depends not only on how often your saxophone is being played but also the type of playing and the care it’s receiving after being played.
Some reeds can last three months while others will be trashed after only two weeks of intense playing. Not only does quality go a long way here—so does maintenance.
However, you’ll always benefit from investing in the package of reeds that contain a high number, like ten.
Of course, buying a brand name means you’re investing in the reputation of the product rather than just the product itself. However, the reed gets its reputation brand by the manufacturing process—and at the end of the day, producing high-quality material.
You definitely don’t want to invest in a brand that uses cheap materials or rushes production.
The process is difficult—which poses the opportunity for quality when the company takes its time—from growing cane the right way to the actual manufacturing process.
Whether you’ve decided to skip over the entire guide or just want to get a recap, here is our verdict of the best three alto saxophone reeds:
The Vandoren SR613 is our Editor’s pick of the best reed on the market. Based on its features of wooden strength range of 2.5-4 and the fact that it comes in a 10-pack already kills most of the reeds on the market alone. It also comes backed by a high-quality brand name.
The D’Addario Rico Select Jazz is our runner’s up pick and listed as the Best for Jazz. If you’re going to be playing jazz music and want rich, playful tones, the thick spine and traditional tip will help you get them.
The D’Addario Hemke Alto Sax Reed is our Budget Pick if you’re looking for an affordable reed for your alto sax. With a short vamp and a thin tip, this 5-pack buy is a great starter kit if you’re not sure about what type of reed you like and want to give it a try.
We hope this guide has helped sort out the best alto saxophone reeds on the market and has given you plenty of information to help you make your decision. Happy playing!