Nov 7, 2016

Sax Reed Adjustment - Which Parts of the Reed Affect High Notes and Low Notes?

An important aspect of single-reed adjustment is where to sand or scrape in order to make certain notes speak more clearly. I've read quite a few books and articles on reed adjustment, in the never-ending quest for the elusive secrets of getting a good reed. Most writers seem to agree that lows are controlled by the lower end of the vamp closer to the shoulder, highs by the area closer to the tip. That is, if your low Bb is stuffy, then sanding or scraping towards the bottom of the vamp might help; if your high notes are not clear, try thinning towards the tip (but not too much). In my own experience, this is a valid concept.

A while ago, I was given a nearly complete set of Saxophone Journal magazines, dated from 1981 to 2001. I had (foolishly) never been a subscriber, but this was a great magazine, and now I have a second chance to read hundreds of informative articles. It will probably take me a year or two to check out every issue. Anyway, I just ran across an article (Nov./Dec. 1988) by mouthpiece expert Ralph Morgan, with a very interesting assertion - that if we divide a reed's blade into 33 equal segments and "each segment is weighed to compute its mass," each segment will be found to have a "resonance frequency" corresponding to a "quite accurate chromatic scale."

Morgan brings this idea up in a discussion of reed/mouthpiece compatibility, but obviously it would apply to reed adjustment as well. In his article, Morgan references research by Ignatius Gennusa, who was principal clarinetist with the Baltimore, Chicago, National, and NBC symphony orchestras, though it's not completely clear whether this idea comes from Gennusa. I admit to being a little skeptical about the precise validity of this claim - but I'd love to see the details of the research. On the other hand, I do agree with the basic concept that highs (and high overtones) are generated towards the tip, middle register notes in the middle of the vamp, and lows towards the bottom.

Perhaps you are familiar with this test for how to balance the left and right sides of a reed (quote is from this article on reed adjustment):
Turn the mouthpiece clockwise, so that your embouchure only controls the right side, with the left side of the reed free. Blow an open C# (sax) or G (clarinet) - then turn the mouthpiece the other way, to free the right side. If the “free” side (L or R) seems stuffy compared to the other, some wood should be removed from the stuffy side. 
Try combining this test with the idea that highs are controlled at the tip, lows at the shoulder - for example, if your middle D is stuffy, take some wood off approximately where the word "even" is in the diagram above, but first test that note with the mouthpiece-turning method to see which side is actually the problem; remove a little wood at the appropriate point on the reed for that frequency, and do it just on the appropriate (stuffy) side. It seemed to work for me.

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