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There are two basic schools of reed profile, American and French. It is very important to understand that this is directly linked to the mouthpiece style you play. Mouthpieces have a similar two schools of facing design and surprise surprise matching up the two schools usually guarantees the best results.
American style reeds generally are unfiled which means the scrape of the reed is directly cut into the bark at production time. This combined with a thinner heart and thicker tip compliments a mouthpiece with an American facing. This is because the American style mouthpiece facing generally has a flat point around two thirds the way up; this flat point can continue to the tip of the mouthpiece or on some mouthpieces it falls away quite abruptly. This flattening of the mouthpiece curve then demands a reed with a thinner heart and thicker tip to speak properly. In contrast the French facing style keeps a gradual curve all the way to the tip rail. This French style suits a reed with a thinner tip and thicker heart (the opposite to the American style), this is because the thinner tip of the reed plays better on a gradual curve.
The Anatomy of a Mouthpiece
Selecting Your Reed
Saxophone Reed Strength Comparison
Baffle - The area of the mouthpiece directly behind the tip rail. The baffle’s shape influences the relative brightness or darkness of the mouthpiece as well as its “buzz”. Generally, the closer the baffle is to the reed, the brighter the sound. These are called “large” or “high” baffles. Conversely, a baffle that is further from the reed is sometimes called a “small” or “low” baffle and produces a darker sound.
Chamber - The open space in the middle of the mouthpiece, located between the bore and floor. Larger chambers produce a “fatter” tone while small chambers produce a narrower, more focused tone. Modern mouthpieces tend to have smaller chambers for brighter sound.
Facing Curve (Lay) /Tip Opening - Sound, playability and control characteristics in both saxophone and clarinet mouthpieces largely depend on how much resistance the mouthpiece produces. This is called the lay of the mouthpiece, and two components that help define it are the tip opening at the end of the mouthpiece and the facing curve, which extends from the tip to the point where the mouthpiece contacts the reed.
Tips can be described as open, meaning there is more open space between the tip and the reed, or close, meaning that space is reduced. The more open the tip, the more flexible, or soft, the reed will need to be. The facing curve between the tip and where the reed connects varies in length. The shorter the length, the softer the reed will need to be.
Therefore, a close tip and a long facing curve will create the least resistance and require the firmest reeds. This type of mouthpiece is typically easier to control and produces a comparatively dark tone. In contrast, an open tip and short facing curve will require the softest reeds, produce greater resistance and offer a brighter tone. Keep in mind that these are rules of thumb, and any time you get a new mouthpiece, experimenting with reed firmness is in order.
While beginning players may be best served with a mouthpiece that offers the best control, those who with more skill may want to try different tonal qualities, and thus experiment with mouthpieces offering different lays. Many mouthpiece models come in a number of different lays, and they are generally graded numerically based on hundredths of an inch or alphabetically, from least to most resistant. Facing charts such as this one can be helpful in getting to a short list of mouthpiece possibilities.
Side Walls / Side Rails - The side walls form the interior shape of the mouthpiece leading into the chamber. The shape and depth of the walls and rails both impact tone and volume.
Table - The flattened section where the reed is clamped by the ligature. Usually they are perfectly flat, however some models have a very slight amount of concavity to accommodate reed swelling as it grows wetter.
Tip rail - The tip rail is the point at which the reed seals with the mouthpiece as it vibrates. It shouldn’t be too thick or too thin, as that can hinder the responsiveness of the instrument.
Window - The opening the reed is positioned over.
Clarinet Reed Strength Comparison
Your reed choice can be one of the most important parts of your clarinet or sax playing set-up but are YOU playing the right reed? Further down the page is a chart listing what strengths suit the main mouthpieces on the market, but before you jump to it are you familiar with how reeds vary and how to choose the best type for your set-up? Below we explain some of the differences, its well worth a reed (ha-ha!) to make sure you're getting the best possible combination with your mouthpiece to help your tone. This will save you money, time and improve your tone. The charts below compare how each reed manufacturer grades their reeds.
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