The Reed and Embouchure

Santy Runyon Discusses Reeds

Part 2:
The Reed and Embouchure

The afore mentioned cane reed that came with the C Melody sax is a good example of how too soft a reed can weaken your embouchure. The homemade hard rubber reed, on the other hand, is a great example of how you can maintain a consistent strength of the lips, since the reed didn’t weaken appreciably over a period of time. The only drawback, however, was the tone quality, which left a lot to be desired. Gale Stout, Vic Bowen (also of the Chicago Theatre Orchestra), and I devised a practical way to sustain a good embouchure.

We each bought a bunch of reeds. I bought about 50. Then, a clarinet reed cost 10 cents—alto, 15 cents—tenor, 20 cents. It would be prohibitive at today’s prices to do that. The object was to find five reeds of a good enough strength and quality to play the job in a satisfactory manner–strong enough to support the higher register, yet flexible enough to permit satisfactory attack on the low notes. We played those five reeds over and over until we were satisfied that any one of them would do this most important job. We would play one on the job for a week or ten days, depending on how the reed would hold up. Then start a reed session, playing those 4 remaining reeds. If, at the start of the reed session, that first reed seemed stiff–that was a dead giveaway. Sure enough the embouchure had weakened. After playing all four of the reserve reeds, the lips had gained their strength back. That really worked like a charm for us. We felt it necessary to always have four of the proper reeds in reserve. Most naturally, the discarded reed would always be replaced. The process served me well for eleven years.

Read Part III Reed Manufacturing