We saw the different stages of the making of the saxophone and clarinet reed, we also saw the mechanism by which the reed lends his voice to the saxophone and clarinet. But then what in the process determines whether the reed is of good or bad quality?
In terms of fibrous structure, a quality reed will have equal fibres and great fineness. It is this structure formed by fibres separated by micro irrigation furrows that gives the reed its elasticity. There are three types of fibres in the reed: rather soft compression fibres, tension fibres, bevelled, they give the reed its spring effect and the so-called neutral fibres which are in the direction of thickness.
In addition, the reed must have a minimum of hardness to "take the iron well" when cutting the reed can then be thinner and better stamped. If the reed is too soft, the back of the reed will have to be thicker to compensate and give it an elasticity, a reed lacking elasticity will stick to the beak and will not vibrate. A thick and hard wood will give a reed with a great sound.
This depends first of all on the atmospheric and soil conditions in which the reed was grown, as these will determine its fibrous structure and thus its elasticity, a determining factor in the quality of the reed. It is recommended that the reed, throughout its growth, is alternately exposed to drought and humidity, the drought will tighten the fibers increasing its elasticity and the humidity will, on the contrary, relax them. However, these conditions are a double-edged sword for the reed because they will also contribute to its wear and tear!
It should also be noted in this respect that in recent years there has been a decline in the quality of reeds due to mass consumption.
Other factors are known to influence the quality of the reed, indeed, some say that the lunar cycle will have an impact because it will punctuate the rise of sap!
If the reeds of the Var "Arundo Donax" are doing well, it is thanks to the nature of the reddish soil, the mistral, reputed to "strengthen" the cane, the microclimate of the region and the fact that they are scattered. Moreover, it has been proven that reeds grown by the sea are more developed, have a larger diameter and a finer wood and a tighter grain, they satisfy all the conditions in order to emit a lot of sound. Reeds grown in a continental climate have a spongy character that makes them unsuitable for music.
The maturity of the reed is also a determining factor, it depends on the drying period. Artificially accelerated drying can remove the elasticity of the reed.
The upper surface of the reed must have a regular and symmetrical cut, i.e. the compression fibres must be equal over the entire surface, otherwise the sound will be "muted" if the cut has lost its regularity or a lack of precision in the attack if it is not symmetrical. A difference in thickness of 1/100th of a mm is all it takes for the reed to start whistling.
The underside, the table, i. e. the side opposite the bevel, must be "flat" in order to have a good adhesion with the saxophone or clarinet mouthpiece table. In addition, the door leaf must not be too thick or it will sound "hard" or too thin because the sound will then lose its shiny sound. It is recommended in the first case to refine it by rubbing it with sandpaper and in the second case to cut the leaf while taking care that the bending zone does not rise too much and corresponds to the curvature of the nozzle.
It is also necessary to pay attention to the curvature of the reed, which must not be too thick, i.e. too rich in tension fibres, which will pose difficulties for the "pianissimo".
In addition, the thinning must not be the same over the entire width of the reed, it must be more accentuated on the ribs, giving the reed its conical appearance up to 2mm before the tip.