soprano saxophone

Different Reeds, Different Soprano Sounds

If you listen to different tunes on my album, Gratitunes, like Rain Driver, How They Fell In Love, Badango, Open To Receive, and Ten Dollar Ticket, you’ll hear different soprano sax sounds. The sound varies from more breathy, dark, and intimate, to more focused and bright. I’m playing the same sax, with the same microphone on all of the songs. The difference is almost entirely from the reed I’ve used. On the breathier sounding songs, I’m using a harder reed. On How They Fell In Love, I also used a classical mouthpiece—a Selmer Concept—instead of my usual Selmer Soloist. The Concept has a more “tucked in,” formal kind of sound to my ear, whereas the Soloist allows for a lot easier pitch bending in and out of notes.

The difference in reed hardness comes from the way I’ve trimmed the reeds I use. I always use Marca Superieure 2 ½ reeds, but I shave them down a little to make them a bit more pliable. If that seems soft to you, consider the fact that I’m at a 7000’ elevation here in Northern New Mexico. The air is a lot thinner this high up, and reeds respond differently than they do at sea level. So I have a keeper full of reeds that I’ve shaved to varying degrees, and depending on the sound I’m going for, I’ll pick accordingly.

I think I may have also played a little closer to the mic on the more quiet songs, and that also tends to include a little more air in the sound.

People talk about how different mouthpieces sound different, and I’ve certainly experienced that, but to my ear the biggest difference comes from reed itself.