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If you’ve played the saxophone for a few years or more, you know what happens to your reeds in the winter time. If you play them, get them all wet, and then put them back away, and leave them to the elements, they warp and start squeaking like crazy.
For those of you who live in cold and dry climates, today’s topic is particularly important because we are going to talking about how that affects your reeds.
In most cases, the only time most saxophonists have problems with your reeds, like squeaking and stuff, is the winter time when it gets a lot dried.
That’s when you sit there not know what’s going on. You wet the reed, and it still keeps squeaking like crazy, driving you completely nuts. This is when most saxophonists just move away from cane reeds to synthetic reeds, without even figuring out the problem.
If you live somewhere that’s really cold and dry, you’re always going to have a problem with the reeds. They always dry out really quickly and get warped.
So how do you store your saxophone cane reeds to prevent warping and the maddening squeaking that comes with it?
The short answer—you need humidity packs or pouches, some Ziploc bags, and a couple of hygrometers. The Ziploc bags are an air-tight way of storing your reeds. The humidity packs are for regulating the relative humidity inside the airtight bags. And the hygrometers are for measuring humidity inside and outside the bags.
Let’s see why you need at least three different percentages of humidity pouches. I normally recommend 62% RH, 72% RH, and 84% RH because these seem to work best for me.
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What is Reed Warping?
There are two kinds of reed warping:
There probably the one that you think of when you look at the front of the reed and it looks wavy like a wet newspaper that had dried out.
That is the first kind of warping, and usually, that can get handled by wetting the reed, placing it on your reed plaque, and just smoothing out the tip. That will get rid of a lot of warpage on the front of the reed just fine. Nice and easy.
But you know what? That’s not even the type of warpage we are most concerned about getting.
The more damaging kind of reed warpage is where when you turn the reed around and look at the butt, and it’s warped—your whole reed is warped.
When your reed warps severely, what happens is that the side rails curve up or pull away and leave a concave groove.
When that happens to your reed, it simply stops playing efficiently.
This happens because the reed is not 100% touching the table of your mouthpiece. Your reed starts squeaking, it feels stuffy, it feels more resistant, it won’t have a nice even vibration, the tone becomes poor and articulation completely sucks.
Basically, the reed is dead.
One thing you can do to solve that is to get a piece of sandpaper and try to sand the belly of the reed. The problem with this, of course, is that although sanding increases contact between the belly and the table of the mouthpiece, sanding the heart of the reed completely destroys the reed.
You are not supposed to sand the heart of the reed, and when you are sanding the belly of the reed that is exactly what you are sanding if your reed is warped.
So even though you might get the reed to play again for that practice session, by sanding the belly, that reed eventually dies because of that.
It’s never going to play the same as it did before you sanded the heart of the reed.
That reed is toast. It’s really that simple.
So how do you store saxophone reeds to avoid warping?
This Proven Saxophone Reed Storage Method Will Prevent Warping (in Cold, Humid Weather)
Fortunately, there are people in this world that smoke cigars (and drink scotch, but that’s beside the point). I know how this sounds.
Let me explain why this is important.
The Method — Humidity Packs/Pouches
So, cigar smokers like to have tobacco at a certain humidity. They don’t want it to dry out. What they use are small, compact humidity packs or pouches that maintain different relative humidities.
These pouches are commonly made by a company called Boveda, and I think they are the exact thing that Rico sells.
So if you get one that says 60%, for instance, and you put the pouch inside something airtight like a Ziploc bag, the inside of that area is going to stay at that relative humidity of 60%.
Humidity packs work really great and are actually quite reliable at preventing reed warping. And they are easy to test with a hygrometer.
Hygrometer’s measure the amount of humidity in the air, and they are completely straightforward and uncomplicated to use.
So after you play or practice on your saxophone, you take that reed after you’re done, soak it in water, dry it and put it back into its little case, put the case into a sealed Ziploc bag with all your other reeds in it, throw in the humidity pouch, and seal the bag up.
What happens once the bag is sealed is that at first, the humidity will be higher than indicated on the humidity pouch—way over, if we’re being strictly accurate—but slowly (over a few hours) the pouch will remove humidity until the relative humidity inside the bag is as indicated.
After a few hours, the humidity will have been pulled in by the pouch.
These humidity packs come in a range of different percentages, according to the manufacturer. I recommend you use three: 62% RH, 72% RH, and 84% RH.
I use 62% RH for what I consider medium-term to long-term storage (about or over a week), and your reeds will stay ready to go when you’re ready for them. Humidity packs are good for many, many, months.
If I have some reeds that am playing on and I am done for the day, I will use 72% RH pack to store those reeds until the next day. Now 72%, I found, is a good humidity for day-to-day storage.
The third instance is where I have a reed on my instrument and I’m on stage and I have a couple of extra backup reeds, just in case. I put these in a bag with an 84% RH pouch. This is, strictly, for the reeds I want to keep ready to play, so that I don’t have to worry about them drying out, and then I have to waterlog them before slapping them on.
At 84%, they’re basically ready to go as soon as I take them out of the bag. I do that just for the sake of convenience. Given enough time in this environment, your reeds will, of course, start to mold and mildew. So be careful with this humidity pack.
Something I should mention here is that on stage, some saxophonists use sponges to keep their reeds moist, this will give you about an 80-85% humidity.
So if you do that, you don’t want to leave your reeds for long durations in that kind of environment.
So there you go, with humidity patches, these will keep your reeds in playing order. It doesn’t matter how dry it is they will play for you, and they will not warp.
The 3 Essential Saxophone Reed Storage Tips You Need to Know
Tip #1 — You Want Your Reeds to Stay in One Humidity
The worst advice that a non-woodwind band director, or anybody else really, can give to students is that when you get a new box of reeds, you need to play through all of them, find the best one and save it for the concert.
That is the worst advice for cane reeds because once you wet a can reed, when it dries out the tip of the reed will get warped.
So if get that reed wet and it dries out, you can pretty much almost guarantee that your reed is going to warp. And once it warps it will never sound the same again. Even if you “flatten it”, it will never sound the same as it did out of the box.
When storing reeds, you want them to stay in one state, in one environment or humidity level. The reason for this is quite simple actually if your reeds go back-and-forth between dry and wet, you’re actually wearing the cane in the reed a lot quicker.
You’ll go through a lot of reeds a lot quicker.
In the section above, I recommended that you store your reeds in three humidity levels, one for long-term storage, one for daily use and the third instantly playable.
How you do this is by trying not to move the reeds outside of these three humidity levels.
In a dry climate, for example, the humidity levels maybe somewhere in the range of 35-40% RH. That’s half as humid as the long-term humidity pouch!
Keeping your reeds in between what I recommended 62-84% RH, you have nothing to worry about, as long as your reeds are in one of these pouches at all times.
The only wet state you cannot leave your reeds in the long-term is 84% RH. But definitely, don’t let them dry.
Tip #2 — Use Only Original Listerine to Store Your Reeds
If you decide to go with one of the many solutions that use sponges and Listerine to keep your reeds wet, use only the original Listerine (that nobody likes).
Why original Listerine?
If you use Listerine that has blue, mint or one of the flavored, colored Listerine, there is sorbitol in there. Sorbitol a type of sugar.
There is nothing wrong with sugar, except bacteria feed on sorbitol. You want to keep your reeds as sanitary and germ-free as possible.
Anything with sorbitol is an absolute no-no. So, only use original Listerine.
Tip #3 — If You Store Your Reeds in Water, Add Hydrogen Peroxide to Kill Mold, Mildew
First of all, you probably shouldn’t be soaking your reeds in water as your entire reed storage method.
The obvious culprit here is, of course, mold and mildew. If you’ve not gotten it from storing reeds in water, it’s coming, just you wait.
Again, completely avoiding water, where your reed has never seen water except the moisture from your mouth is completely ridiculous.
Don’t be the guy that sits with a reed in his mouth for 30 minutes.
Back to water… I have seen a lot of professionals store all of their reeds in a jar full of water for months at a time. I personally don’t do this.
If you store your reed in water, use a bit of hydrogen peroxide solution mixed so that you don’t grow mold and mildew on your reeds.
I wrote an article that goes at length over how to clean, disinfect or sanitize your saxophone reed with hydrogen peroxide. Have a look at that to see why the brown bottle at you see in the medicine, or the first-aid cabinet is your best defense against mold, mildew and all sorts of nasty stuff you don’t want on your reed.
You know you’re losing your reed to mold and mildew when it more than one color.
I hope that helps.