Rigotti Gold Reed Strength Comparison

Today, I thought it would be interesting to write a reed strength comparison article on my blog.  I was trying a new Phil-Tone Mosaic 7* tenor mouthpiece this morning with different strength Rigotti Gold reeds when I had the idea to record some clips and throw it up on the site to see what some of you might think.  This isn’t so much about the Mosaic mouthpiece as it is about the differences between reed strengths on the saxophone.


The Rigotti Gold reeds are unique in that they come in 3 sub-levels of size within each half size.  Up until recently, most reed companies had reeds that came in one number size per strength.  So you  might have a size 2 1/2, size 3. size 3 1/2, size 4, etc……..     Rigotti started using 3 sizes within each half number size which I think is a great idea.  They have a 2 1/2 light, 2 1/2 medium, 2 1/2 strong.  Then they have a 3 light, 3 medium, 3 strong, then a  3 1/2 light, and so on.  The reason I love this idea is that years ago, I would get so frustrated when I bought a box of size 3 reeds.  Out of a box of 10, 4 would be too hard, 4 would be too soft and 2 would be exactly what I was looking for if I was lucky.  With Rigotti’s 3 sub-level system they have now broken down the reeds into those light, medium and stronger reeds that were all mixed in the same box before.  I love this,  as now I feel like I can really pinpoint the exact strength I’m looking for for each mouthpiece I review.

For this post today, I’m testing out 6 Rigotti Gold reeds in the 2 1/2 to 3 size range.  This is by no means a wide range of reed strengths, but I thought it would be interesting to hear  if and how some elements might change as the hardness of the reed changes.  These were all brand new reeds that I took out of the box and I did feel like the strength increased as I went up in reed size. (although the 3 light felt softer than I thought it would be as I came from the 2 1/2 strong……).

When you listen to the clips see if you can hear any differences:

-Is the tone brighter or darker?

-Is the tone richer, fuller, or thinner, shallower?

-Does the articulation sound different?

-Do the low notes change in tone color or articulation?

-Do the high notes sound brighter, thinner,thicker,etc……?

-Are there difference in volume?

-How does the middle D range of the instrument sound in the different clips?

These are all questions I think of when I am testing out different reed strengths with a mouthpiece. Here are some of my basic findings when comparing softer reeds to the harder reeds in general:

-Softer reeds speak easier but sometime are too bright or “blatty” sounding.  They can sound big and full but the tone might not have as much character or depth compared to the sound of a harder reed.  If the reed is too soft it might not give you enough resistance to blow against.  It will go from 0-100% with very little effort. Once at 100% volume it might be hard to push it any further and the reed might even close up if it is really soft.  Because the reed is soft is can be easily manipulated. A little bit of pressure and it goes sharp, ease off on the pressure and the tone bends down. This can be great if you want and need to manipulate your intonation or be expressive but it can be bad if you don’t have a steady and solid embouchure or a solid center of intonation (you don’t know if you are sharp or flat).  Vibrato can be expressive and easy to manipulate.  Subtones can be gorgeous!

-Harder reeds can be harder to articulate and even stuffy if too hard. The middle D range of the horn can sometimes become more muted and nasally to my ears. The tone can sound richer and have more character. You can usually get more volume out of a harder reed but it takes more effort.  The low notes can be harder to produce and require more support.  If the reed is much too hard you might get an “airy” tone that feels stuffy and hard to play.

Obviously, what you or I want between these two descriptions is a middle ground. I’m always looking for that “happy medium” where I can get the best of both worlds.  I consider all the reeds I am trying today to be in that “happy medium” range for me although there are subtle differences between them and I would consider some better than the others for this mouthpiece.  If I tried this experiment with a size 1,2,3,4,5 I think you would more easily hear the extremes between the reed sizes but even with these closer sizes I think you will be able to hear some differences.

Checkout the clips below for yourself and let me know what if any differences you can hear in the clips.  I put some of my own observations below.      Thanks,    Steve


Rigotti Gold 2 1/2 Light

Rigotti Gold 2 1/2 Medium

Rigotti Gold 2 1/2 Strong

Rigotti Gold 3 Light

Rigotti Gold 3 Medium

Rigotti Gold 3 Strong

Some of my observations from the clips above:

The 2 1/2 light felt and sounded too light to me.  It was easy to play but almost too easy, like I didn’t have to try. It sounds a bit “blatty” to me. Like at times I’m over blowing the tone because the reed is too soft.  It was ok to play but I know from experience that a reed at this softness won’t last too long as I play it.  Because the reed is softer,  it sounds like it goes sharper to me as I change my embouchure.  The first high A in the clip sticks out as a tad too sharp to me.

The 2 1/2 Medium sounds more focused intonation wise.  The first high A sounds more locked in and not as sharp as on the 2 1/2 light clip.  The tone seems to have more depth and character to it. The low B on Donna Lee took a little more effort for me as you can probably hear.

The 2 1/2 Strong sounds even richer to me.  The low B honked out a bit on Donna Lee but that can be easily smoothed out if I played it again and got more used to it.

The 3 Light  felt a little harder than the 2 1/2 strong to me but the response was a little weird to me.  I think it is an anomaly in the box.  It was very easy to blow and had a brighter edgier sound to my ears although it still sounds thicker than the 2 1/2 light to me.

The 3 medium sounded nice and thick but the articulation doesn’t sound as crisp and clear to me.  I don’t hear as much manipulation of the tone which can happen as the reed gets harder and doesn’t respond as fast to embouchure changes.

The 3 Strong is getting to that point where the middle D range is becoming a bit different in tone than the rest of the range.  This is neither good nor bad.  Many sax player love that difference in tone of the D that harder reeds give.  I have always preferred the clearer D that the slightly softer reeds give me.

In general,  I really like this range of reeds for me on most mouthpiece I try.  I think for this test, I feel most at home and comfortable with the 2 1/2 Medium or 2 1/2 Strong.  The 3 Mediums were a little harder than I like but sometimes those turn out to be perfect after you play them for a while.  Each mouthpiece, tip opening, facing curve and person is different so you have to  experiment for yourself and find the right match for you………..  Have fun!

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Steve About Steve

Steve Neff has been playing and teaching saxophone and jazz improvisation around the New England area for the last 25 years. He is the author of many effective jazz improvisation methods as well as founding the popular jazz video lesson site Neffmusic.com.


  1. Gustavo Silva says:

    Hello Steve

    Great job, i often peruse your site and appreciate the work you have done in this great resource for sax players.


  2. I was listening to the Rigotti Gold reed comparison and my question is, after you play the song, you go into some riffs. I’m trying to find out what book I can purchase from you with those riffs. Any help to this is greatly appreciated. Thank You!

  3. Larry Weintraub says:

    I liked you better on the 2.5 med and 2.5 strong for all the reasons you stated. Just curious, what is your everyday go to mpc? The one you will use on gigs and teaching. What size and brand of reed do you use w/this mpc?

  4. David Cantoni says:

    I will add that in 2013 they were transitioning from the glossy box to a more matte one. The current production is the matte one, and the reeds have the “JAZZ” word on the reverse. I’ve found that all the newer ones are slightly harder, to half point harder. With no exception (alto, tenor, soprano). Just wanted to share my experience. The problem, for me, is that you order online, and no idea what kind of box you’ll get, until music stores unload their old stock.

  5. Was very helpful. Thanks for sharing it.

  6. Arya Boustani says:

    Thanks Steve. I was trying to see if I find someone else having issues with Rigotti Gold tenor sax reeds and bumped into this. I love the expressiveness and definition of Rigotti Gold sound while having a better warmth to my ears compared to let’s say Vandoren ZZ or V16. I like the idea of the smaller increments but as you said you gain something and loose something else in either side of the spectrum. I imagine for the same mouthpiece, we naturally loosen up the lower lip firmness with softer reeds. That reduces the definition of the tone. So I imagine each person perhaps has a strength that above that their lip firmness doesn’t change much and as you said the tone start to change merely because of the reed thickness profile and then they settle with clear tone, or go higher in strength for something more airy, etc. With lower strength than a nice firm lower lip, it’s hard to say where to settle. I would say it brings surprises for the not experienced people like me while it is nice for 2 hours practice in a row. I think the highlight of Rigotti Gold is to maximize the definition and expression and I found the optimum balance of these two in your sound clips fall into #3 light or #3 medium. Probably #3 light is a bit more organic (subtle variations of expression in different notes rather than #3 medium which to my ears is just a tad more tailored sounding with a more fixed envelope). I guess there are preferences for people wanting that more defined envelope for the whole song / performance and some who appreciate more organic characteristic of the slightly softer reed. I didn’t find either #3 light or #3 medium noticeably different in the overall impression of the thinness or fatness.
    When I started from the top of your list (Rigotti Gold 2 1/2 light) I got pumped up with the expression of the lighter reed but once the low notes played fast, lack of definition shows itself as if not each note in that range of the saxophone is as important to the ear as the middle or high notes. Also the thinness shows a bit in the high notes compared to the stronger reeds.
    Another reed that has in between strength is Gonzalez. Very good reed; long lasting with a mouthpiece friendly cut and stability of tone across the whole range of the sax. Although they are not as expressive as Rigotti Gold. Sort of in the darker side of the spectrum with a well defined low-mid range frequencies.
    Thanks again,

  7. Arya,
    I tried the Gonzalez reeds a while ago but they seemed much harder then reeds in comparable sizes. I never got into them because the couple of boxes I bought were just too hard for the mouthpieces I tried them on. I still have the reeds and try one once in a while to see if it works with a new mouthpiece………I appreciate your input. Thanks, Steve

  8. Hi,

    I find your website informative, thought provoking and honest. I have used it many times to listen to your mouthpiece reviews, and your sound is as near as possible to that which I am trying to achieve. (Which, is still distinctive, no matter what mouthpiece you are testing). I play a Silver Custom Z with the new neck, and have tried many mouthpieces including Morgan Fry, Navarro, etc. but currently have gone back to my old Yanagisawa Ebonite 6* which I believe is nearer to most 7 tip openings for the tenor. With this I use the Rigotti Gold, starting on a 2.5 soft and working my way up to the 3 soft, finding the latter to be the most responsive for me after being broken in for a short period. I was told that the Yani mouthpiece was very ‘middle of the road’ in terms of tonal quality, but with the Rigotti Golds, the tone remains thick and even and can be played quiet or loud with a very quick response. I got to try these reeds after speaking to Morgan Fry about the tip shape on the reeds I was using before not matching the profile of the tip rail, he suggested these and I have been using them ever since, even though I have now sold his mouthpiece on.

  9. Ian Nevins says:

    I like the Gonzalez Classic reeds. Kind of a cross between Rico and vandoren. Much better and more playable than the regular Gonzalez tenor reeds for me.

  10. Stephen Kurtz says:

    How do the Rigotti Gold saxophone reeds compare to the Rico Jazz Select reeds in thickness?

  11. Stephen,
    I honestly don’t know which is thicker. The Rigotti are a bit brighter and can be edgier than the RSJ reeds. I prefer RSJ when I want a darker sound than the Rigotti give me. Steve

  12. In these demonstrations what was the tip opening on the mouthpiece you were using

  13. Jesse, It was a 7*. That is a .105 tip opening. Steve

  14. Arya Boustani says:

    My Mark VI is one of the later productions. Also I’ve been using a bright mouthpiece these days. I found out that with Rigotti Gold, while it was giving me enough edge on my older horn (early 60s Buffet Crampon Super dynaction) and was balanced with the depth of the core of the tone, when I switched to my Mark VI, I was kinda getting a bit too much edge or not as balanced tone between a deep core tone and buzz. It tended to be more honky. I just tried that setup with Rico Reserve. With that bright mouthpiece and that Mark VI, it fell right into something really nice sounding and balanced. Good enough edge while having a very grounded rich core to the tone. They also promise more life compared to Rico Royal. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

  15. Arya,
    I go through a similar thing depending on what mouthpiece I am playing or reviewing. Some mouthpiece facing are great with the Rigotti reeds but like you, I find some to be overly bright and edgy. I’ve noticed this a lot on mouthpieces with shorter facings. i would think that this would be true on different horns also. Thanks for sharing, Steve

  16. Arya Boustani says:

    Hi Steve, I was wondering if you have tried Rigotti Gold Classic. Looks like the blue box is jazz and the red box is classic (original cut I think). I’m now playing on a Vandoren T20 which is like Link 5 tip opening. No baffle, and very dark. Looks like Rigotti is a good complement for that piece. I’m trying to find the right strength before I order. Rigotti replied me that classic is similar to Vandoren Traditional (blue box) but they don’t have a Tenor reed strength comparison chart yet. I’m trying to find one that is a touch softer than Vandoren Traditional #3. This page is the only one with the chart for Alto reed. Please check this link at the bottom: http://www.reedsonline.fr/boutique_reedsonline/en/product/rigotti-gold-jazz-saxophone-reeds-box-of-3/
    Classic seem much harder than Jazz (2 1/2 S Classic is harder than 3 S in Jazz). I appreciate your input. What is the reed of your choice mostly these days, especially on a mouthpiece the is fairly dark sounding. Thanks a lot, Arya

  17. Arya, I haven’t tried the Classic Rigotti’s yet. Maybe in the future but I just made a huge reed purchase in January so I’m all set for a while. Maybe next year…….. Steve

  18. hubert verstuyft says:

    thanks a lot !

  19. Hello Steve.
    Did you have a chance to try Rigotti Queen Reeds? Rigotti Queen Reeds vs Rigotti Gold?
    Thanks you,

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