Sam Newsome

Sam Newsome
"The potential for the saxophone is unlimited." - Steve Lacy

The SN Trio live at Corlears Hook Park (2017)

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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Using Bb Clarinet Reeds on the Soprano: A Saxophonist's Best Kept Secret

Have you ever tried playing the soprano saxophone using a Bb clarinet reed? Believe it or not, they work great. I first heard about this sort of thing from saxophonist Branford Marsalis. He has stated in interviews that he plays clarinet reeds on the soprano. I don't recall him going into great detail about it, only saying that he likes the cut.

I dabbled with them off and on, but I never made any real commitment to them. Not until recently, anyway.

In April of 2015, I went on a European tour with The BadPlus, along with alto saxophonist Tim Berne and cornetist Ron Miles, and I took four boxes of RW reeds with me. Two boxes of 2 1/2 soft soprano reeds, and two boxes of 2 1/2 soft clarinet reeds. And guess what? The boxes of  soprano reeds never got opened.

What I like about the clarinet reeds is that they have a more consistent cut throughout the entirety of the reed. My theory is that the clarinet narrower, therefore, there's less room for error. Soprano reeds tend to be a little flimsy at the tip, making it difficult to play with a full sound in the high register. And there's a general inconsistency throughout. Whereas the tip of clarinet reeds tend to be firm but not too stiff. These reeds have a good balance between resistance and vibrancy. The cut feels sort of a cross between a Rico Royal (back when they were good reeds) and the Vandoren Traditional Saxophone Reed--a.k.a. the blue box. 

To further explain my findings, here is a list of pros and cons of using Bb clarinet reeds on the soprano saxophone.

  • reeds are more vibrant
  • they enable you to produce a bigger and fuller tone
  • you have better intonation in the middle and high registers; however, the extreme lower register (Bb1 - D1) tends to be on the sharp side--but nothing a few daily long tones couldn't remedy
  • you have more control in the altissimo 
  • multi-phonics sound more prominently and consistently
  • you have more sound projection
  • a higher percentage of good reeds per box--which is always a bonus!

  • the clarinet reed is much narrower, so it takes some getting used to
  • the intonation is sharper in the extreme lower register 
  • going back to soprano sax reed is more difficult; hopefully, you won't need to
  • because you’re having to manipulate more sound, it can slow down your dexterity; however, this can be remedied by practicing a few Marcel Mule etudes or just coming down in reed size. Some might try shaving the reed, but I’m not a big fan of this process.

As I said stated earlier, they do take some getting used to; however, I think the benefits to be gained outweigh this temporary stage of discomfort, tenfold. 

Check it out. I'd be curious to hear what you think.

Roberto's contact information is listed below:

Roberto's Winds
149 West 46th Street
New York, NY 10036
Toll free: (888) 7676-SAX
Phone: (212) 391-1315
Phone: (646) 366-0240

Store Hours:
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  1. Thanks for the tip. I need to try some clarinet reeds.

  2. It was good enough for Johnny Hodges ....

  3. I modified a Neck for my Soprano Sax, and I put a Bb Clarinet Mouthpiece and Reed on it. I call it my "Saxinet",.. It's Amazing !!!

  4. I just happened to see a YouTube video by Dan Forshaw yesterday, and he recommended using clarinet reeds on soprano. (He is a big Branford Marsalis fan, so that's maybe where he got the tip.) I tried it briefly today for the first time, and I was very pleasantly surprised. The high register and palm key notes seemed to pop much cleaner and more reliably. Didn't have time to really check intonation carefully. I normally use #3 soprano sax reeds, and found a 2 12 clarinet reed worked best for me.

    1. Hi Tenormanmike - I'm glad to hear that this works for you. It takes some getting used to. But once you get over the slenderness factor, it will be difficult to go back to the soprano reeds--so I've found. Keep us posted!



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