The Boston Sax Shop Custom Tenor Saxophone Reeds Review

Today, I am reviewing a new BSS custom saxophone reed released by Jack Finucane at the Boston Sax Shop.  Jack has been my repairman for the last six years and always gives me the inside scoop on new saxophone gear that is coming out. Besides being a phenomenal repairman and craftsman, Jack is always up to some saxophone related endeavor lately.  Whether it be straps, cases, ligatures, saxophone necks, reed cases, reeds, masterclasses, etc….. Jack always seems like he has a new project on the horizon……When I heard of these new BSS custom reeds he was developing, I had to try them!

I have been playing primarily Rigotti Gold tenor saxophone reeds for my tenor sax mouthpiece reviews for many years now. (I don’t know the exact number of years but it has been a long time…..) Although, I love Rigotti Gold tenor saxophone reeds, at times I find them a bit too buzzy, bright and edgy depending on the mouthpiece I am using them on.  In general, I usually notice this the most on tenor sax mouthpieces with a shorter facing curve like the 48 length curve of my JVW (Jon Van Wie) refaced Otto Link, Retro Revival Florida Super D, Eric G refaced Early Babbitt and hard rubber Lamberson J7 (all  have curves of a 48 length). These are some of my favorite tenor saxophone mouthpieces but the Rigotti Gold reeds tend to be really stiff and edgy on these shorter curves in my experience. (I have reviewed all of these mouthpieces on my site here and I don’t think I used Rigotti reeds on any of those reviews)

I have been on the lookout for a darker equally responsive reed that would play well on all my mouthpiece but especially on these shorter facing curved mouthpieces.  I have been searching for years trying all sorts of reeds.  You name them, I have probably tried them with no luck. (The closest I have come to finding a darker reed has been Rico Select Jazz reeds but I found them very inconsistent for me)

The Boston Sax Shop Custom Saxophone Reeds

When Jack Finucane at Boston Sax Shop contacted me a couple months ago about a new custom saxophone reed he was working on, I was quite excited.  In our communications back and forth he left me a voicemail that I thought sums up the concept of the new BSS custom saxophone reeds.  Here is his message transcribed for you with his permission of course:

“I mean this was it for me,  I was always going back and forth between trying to find a classical reed that could project, but gave me that upper register homongeneity, if thats a word, that I could push in the palm keys and that wouldn’t get super bright and thin.  But then of course,  I couldn’t project with it and I would go to the “jazz” reeds which were too buzzy.   I would end up playing 4’s or whatever hernia inducing size as I could find but you know, I was always just going back and forth, back and forth, and this to me, I think I wrote it in my description, is kinda of like a hybrid between the two. It’s a dark reed that still projects but it gives you the good kind of resistance you need in order to fatten up the upper end of the horn which as you know,  is such and issue on Selmers to begin with………….-Jack Finucane (excited voicemail message to Steve Neff)

Here is the description of the Boston Sax Shop custom saxophone reeds from the Boston Sax Shop website:

Designing the Boston Sax Shop reed line has been a dream of mine, stemmed from the frustration that many of us as players have searching for that ‘perfect’ reed. For years I personally struggled to find a well balanced reed that would promote a warm, homogenous tone while still allowing me to project. Most ‘jazz’ cut reeds seemed to play too ‘bright’ and ‘buzzy’ but offered the projection I needed while ‘classical’ reeds had the depth and evenness I was searching for but simply could not cut across a band. So with the help of the finest French cane manufacturer in the world, I designed a ‘hybrid’ jazz reed that had qualities of both cuts, creating a reed that did exactly what I asked; providing a warm and dark tone while still being able to be pushed.  I certainly hope you give them a try and enjoy them as much as I do! ~Jack Finucane (Owner and Repair Technician Boston Sax Shop)

The Boston Sax Shop Custom Saxophone Reeds

As I wrote in the disclosure at the bottom of this review, within minutes of trying a 3 reed on my beloved Early Babbitt 7* (Slant Blank) hard rubber tenor mouthpiece and the 2 1/2 reed on my JVW refaced Otto Link 8 metal mouthpiece I immediately texted Jack and wrote “Holy Crap!  These reeds are great!” “Do you have 5 boxes of each I can buy before you sell out?”  Why was I so excited?  Why was I willing to spend 260+ dollars in a matter of minutes?  Well, I’ll tell you……….

Like Jack described in his voicemail message above, the Boston Sax Shop custom reeds are a darker sounding reed.  I have tried darker sounding reeds before but usually I find those reeds are too stiff for me.  They also don’t feel like they have the responsiveness and projection I would like out of a reed.  Many times they just sound like they are “dead” to my ears. I was looking for a reed that was darker but still had resonance.

When I first tried the Boston Sax Shop reeds they felt a bit stiffer than my Rigotti Gold reeds and I had the thought “Here we go again, they are darker but stiff as a 2 x 4!”.  I didn’t want to throw in the towel without giving them a chance so I played longer.   Within 10 minutes, the 3 reed on my Early Babbitt Otto Link tenor mouthpiece was playing effortlessly.  It had a much darker and richer saxophone tone than I can get on my Rigotti Gold tenor reeds that is for sure. I had always struggled with the palm keys and altissimo sounding too thin and bright with the Rigotti Gold reeds on the EB mouthpiece.  With the BSS tenor sax reeds,  those upper notes sounded darker, fuller and thicker.  I was in love!

The best part was that I could still get loads of volume and projection from these new BSS custom saxophone reeds.  The tone, without a doubt, is darker than the Rigotti Gold reeds, so that might affect how well my new darker tone might cut through a mix compared to the brighter reeds but in my studio they were just what I was looking for.

I was so hopeful and excited that I immediately thought of my JVW refaced Otto Link mouthpiece.  I have never found a reed I could play on that mouthpiece besides a Vandoren Java 2 1/2 tenor reed.  This mouthpiece was my main gigging mouthpiece for many years but whenever I played a jazz set it would tend to get overly bright when I played at full volume.  I have been looking for a darker saxophone reed for that mouthpiece for about 15 years now with no luck.

Did I dare to hope? My brain was telling me that it probably wouldn’t work and I would be disappointed again.  The JVW Otto Link has a short curve of 48 but I have been told by a few refacers that it also has some atypical numbers to the curve that cause it to have more resistance.   I’ve always believed that the Java reeds work the best because they are thinner right in that spot in the curve where the resistance is and they can still bend easily at that point in the curve.  All other reeds feel like a  2 x 4 and are super resistant and edgy. I hoped for the best with the BSS reeds but honestly thought they would also let me down on this JVW Otto Link tenor sax mouthpiece.

I put a 2 1/2 BSS tenor sax reed on the JVW Otto Link and tried it. Low and behold, it played easily and it sounded like a totally different mouthpiece. This mouthpiece is usually pretty bright when you crank up the volume on it like I wrote earlier.  With the BSS reeds it sounded so much darker.  Even at full volume in the upper register and altissimo still had a rich darkness to the sound.  It caught me so off guard that I was amazed.  “I could do a jazz gig on this mouthpiece and reed with no problem!”

The Boston Sax Shop Custom Saxophone Reeds

As of this review, I just don’t have the time to provide audio clips of different mouthpieces with different reeds for comparison but I do hope to do that in the near future.   Until that time, you will just have to take my word on how good these new Boston Sax Shop custom tenor sax reeds are.   If you have been looking for a darker alternative as far as tenor reeds,  these are worth checking out!  Trust me!

If you are interested in the Boston Sax Shop custom saxophone reeds,  you can get them at these links Boston Sax Shop Custom Tenor Saxophone Reeds or the alto saxophone reeds (I haven’t play tested these yet…….) at Boston Sax Shop Custom Alto Saxophone Reeds.  Hint: you might want to act fast. I posted about these reeds on Facebook a few weeks ago and Jack was sold out of the size 3 tenor sax reeds by the next day!

Thanks to Jack for sending me these great reeds to try.  Even now, weeks later, I am still just as excited to wet one of these reeds and put it on one of my mouthpieces.  I still haven’t tried these on the rest of my favorite tenor sax mouthpieces so I am super excited about how these reeds will perform with them as well.  Great job Jack!

PS.  As I was finishing writing the last words of this review above, I thought about another favorite tenor sax mouthpiece of mine that I thought was a bit thin and bright in the palm keys with Rigotti Gold reeds and that is my Barone SNY mouthpiece.  I put the same 2 1/2 BSS reed on it that I used on my JVW Otto Link and it played perfectly on the Barone SNY just now!  No edgy, bright thinness in the palm keys at all.  The tone is dark, thick and beautiful!  I’m very excited!

If you try the Boston Sax Shop reeds, please come back and tell us what you think of them in the comment section below.    Steve

Disclosure:  I received a sample package of 12-15 of the Boston Sax Shop custom reeds reviewed above for free in the hope that I would try them and perhaps review them on my blog.  As soon as I tried the tenor sax reeds, I contacted Jack and ordered five boxes each of the 2 1/2 and 3 tenor saxophone reeds and received a 10% discount from Jack on my purchase.  Regardless, I only review products that I believe will be good for other saxophone players to try also.     Steve
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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.

Comments

  1. Avatar Gerry Smith says

    I find Roberto’s like a darker version of Rigotti and I really like them. I’ll have to give these a go.

  2. I tried Roberto 2 1/2 once but they were way too soft for me for some reason. I ended up giving them away to a beginner student. Do they run a lot softer than other reed strengths?

  3. Avatar smith.gerry says

    I find the Roberto’s a little bit harder than the equivalent Rigotti although the tip a bit thinner. Just right for my sound – similar to Paul Desmond on Alto, Scott Hamilton on Tenor in concept – not suggesting I compare with either!

  4. Avatar smith.gerry says

    When I switched I went from Rigotti 3 Light to Roberto’s 2.5 Hard but on Alto I’ve since upped to 3 Light because I like the sound. Going to try the same on Tenor. Still have the Rigottis in my case, I use them for Reggae gigs!

  5. I tried some A+W reeds that Jack had recommended to you (as posted on SOTW), but I found them warm in the lower registers, but just gave out in the palm notes and they couldn’t be pushed at all. These do much better than the A+W reeds, then?

  6. i always love dark reeds, i switched from Java green to ZZ, and also selct jazz unfiled, i am willing to try these based on your assessment , but i normally use 2 and all they have is 2.5,, ???????

  7. Karl, I actually like the AW reeds but I don’t remember liking the palm keys as much as I do with these BSS reeds. I don’t remember thinking anything about the palm keys with the AW reeds actually. I just remember they were darker than the Rigotti Golds which got me interested in them. I think the BSS reeds are even darker but the tone seems thicker to me.

  8. Philipe, I think the smallest size they have at the moment is 2 1/2 unfortunately so it sounds like you are out of luck as far as these reeds go. Maybe later they will come out with a 2?

  9. do they play hard or soft or right on target

  10. The BSS reeds don’t have strong or light reeds but just one reed per have number 2 1/2,3, 3 1/2 etc……

  11. If you are asking about Rigotti Gold reeds I play all of them. I try so many mouthpieces that I need a full range of the reeds to be prepared to try each mouthpiece. I have Rigotti Gold 2 Strongs-3 1/2 Mediums in my drawer.

  12. I ordered these reeds for alto and tenor the day they went up for sale, and I was immediately sold. I’m on my second order now, and I have to say the only thing better than the tone and playability is how consistent they are. In the 15 reeds I have purchased, I found all 15 to be gig worthy. While they are a little more pricy than your Vandoren/D’Addario you can basically make up that value in their consistency.

    For those that were asking about strength, there is a strength guide on the order page. That said, I find they run a little bit harder than most jazz reeds. I think it is also worth noting that they are a little thicker at the stock than most other reeds I have played on. Not usually a big deal but if your ligature is already tight for your mouthpiece you may need to adjust.

    I’m just hoping BSS starts selling them for soprano and baritone.

  13. Avatar PAT ZICARI says

    I wish reed manufacturers would realize there are a few of us who HAVE to use a #2 reed…
    My Lawton Tenor is equivalent to a 11*-12*?? (.155)… I manage to use a Rigotti Gold Jazz 2-Light but always looking for a “No edgy, bright thinness in the palm keys at all. The tone is dark, thick and beautiful!”. Make a BSS in my strength and I might be ecstatic too…

  14. I found that I get more response and vibrance from then if I take in a little more mouthpiece than I do with the Rigotti reeds. Not a lot but just a smidge and they really open up……..

  15. Yes. A. #2 would be sweet. I use a 8* and 9 tip. The thicker spine might be why it’s dark

  16. Avatar PAT ZICARI says

    Philipe…
    YES… in over 60 years of playing, have never had less than a .125 tip for Tenor.
    You see all the #5-7 lay mouthpieces for sale… occasionally a 130/0 Berg (have one) but really not a lot.
    Maybe if we cry a bit, we can get some #2’s… 🙁
    Oh… it would also be nice if Dealers would carry #2’s when the manufacturer makes them… a lot only go as low as 2 1/2…

  17. oh yea 125 is a bad ass tip size i had a gerber and some TW 10 tips , killer bending qualities

  18. Avatar Chris Womack says

    Hey Steve! I got a couple boxes of these tenor reeds a few weeks ago. When I first slapped them on I was a little bummed. The high end did seem fuller and stronger but the lows were hard to play (they felt too stiff) and the mids seemed somewhat hollow. I took out 4 and played them each for a few minutes. They all responded pretty much the same. I put them in my reed case and would play one for a few minutes every couple of days or so. After about a week I used one on a gig and really liked how the high end sounded. It was a loud rock gig and not great sounding monitors so I really couldn’t tell what the reed sounded like exactly, but I sensed it was somewhat lacking. I didn’t really play them for the next 2 weeks but I started playing them a few days ago and WOW–these things really opened up. They sound awesome. Im doing a wedding tonight and cant wait to play them. Hopefully they just needed to be broken in or something.

  19. 4 things!
    One: Thanks to everyone for trying them 🙂 Designing a reed was always my dream!
    Two: I hear you guys and will add #2 strength to my next batch so stay tuned!
    Three: Chris Womack, I’d recommend trying a strength down. Because the tip is thicker they don’t ‘die’ like most other reeds in my experience. When you get the size that will ‘play right out of the box’ normally we take that as a bad thing, thinking they won’t last long. Because of the design of these reeds it not a problem!
    Four: Ive already approved a soprano reed prototype, those will be available in a month.

    THANKS!! ~Jack

  20. Avatar smith.gerry says

    Are they available in Europe?

  21. Jack…
    And THAT’S how you develop and keep customers…
    The #2’s WILL be appreciated…
    And the BALAM… tried the similar shoulder holder at NAMM… and do prefer yours…
    Again, thanks for the “big lay” support…
    Pat

  22. SWEET deal count me in on #2 tenors

  23. That is very exciting indeed, both those are going to be hard to find here in Europe. Out of curiosity, because like you I love Rigotti reeds, did you had the chance to test the rigotti classic? I was hoping to find the quality of the Gold with a darker/warmer tone…

  24. Avatar Chris Womack says

    Jack, thanks for the reply. No, going down in strength is not what I need. I probably didn’t convey what was going on very well so here’s my take after more playing-a gig Saturday and practice yesterday. I’m really liking these reeds. I think for me and my setup I just need to play these reeds a little longer to get them ready. Usually I will take new reeds and play them just a few minutes for several days and after that they are good to go. I think this process “self-balances” the reed and gets it properly broken in. Basically, with these reeds, that process just takes a little longer than with green Javas, what I’ve used for years. Based on how the BSS reeds responded during their break in period, I wasn’t expecting the end result to be that great. But I was very pleasantly surprised. They sound and feel great. And yes, they don’t seem to be dying as fast as other reeds. The 2 I used Saturday still sound just as good. I’m pretty stoked.

  25. Chris, Your experience is similar to mine. They feel a bit harder and thicker but once broken in they play much longer. I also found that mine seem to open up and resonate more when I take a tiny bit more mouthpiece in my mouth than I do with the Rigotti Reeds. Steve

  26. David, I have tried some Rigotti Classic but I don’t remember getting on with them like I have with the BSS reeds. I believe I still have some in my reed drawer. I might pull one out and see how they compare…….. Steve

  27. Chris, I play Vandoren Green Java reeds a lot also and find them to have a much thinner vamp area than other reeds making them play more easily for me but also making them a lot brighter for me. For me, the Java reeds tend to die a lot quicker. I remember only being able to use a reed for 4-8 hours or two gigs before it would get too soft. These reeds have a thicker vamp in my opinion which makes them feel a bit harder but once broken in I think they last longer. That has been my experience so far. They are expensive so I hope they keep lasting longer!!! Steve

  28. Got my first box of BSS reeds and have been playing on the same reed for weeks. Coming from AW 722 reeds the BSS reeds were a bit harder. Maybe because the 722 is a “jazz” cut? Anyway, after a short breaking in period it plays great with a full sound throughout the range of the horn and hasn’t lost any mojo. I’ll go a bit softer on the next box, but it might take a while before I need one. These are high quality reeds.

  29. Avatar Norman Walsh says

    Would love to purchase #2 tenor saxophone reeds from BSS. At the moment I use Francois Louis #2.

  30. Norman…
    I, too, use #2 reeds… right now using either Rigotti Jazz Gold 2-light, or Hinoke xs or Legere Signature #2…
    How does the Francois Louis #2 compare to any of these brands???
    And Jack said is working on the 2’s for us… 🙂

  31. I am going to buy a couple packs of 2. Sounds like these are what I am looking for right now. I use ZZ and select jazz and they seem to be working great.

  32. Avatar Irwin Haas says

    Yes I also play on 2 for tenor but I actually prefer my reeds on the soft side because of teeth issues. So I would like to try these and I can always reed geek them to my preferred strength. Jack let me know when their availability please

  33. You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone as hard-working, passionate and knowledgeable about their trade than Jack Finucane. He’s also a master technician. I went to see Jack a couple of years ago on the advice of a couple of players because I wasn’t totally happy with my sound and wanted to explore some other options. Jack didn’t just sell me things, he gave me his time and guidance and helped me to get the sound coming out of my horn to be closer to the sound in my head. He cares about quality and you can trust anything with a BSS logo on it. I wish him great success with it. Also, some of us enjoy trying and/or buying saxophone accessories and we have fun with it!

  34. Avatar Stephen Young says

    Great review Steve. I’ll try these on my jvw link It’s a great piece and sounds very similar to your description of your jvw link
    Over the last year I picked up two double rings… a wt facing refaced by Eric Falcon and another refaced by Brian Powell. These three pieces all play differently but all of them are incredible.
    I just need to find a hard rubber piece and then hopefully I will be able to stop my mouthpiece addiction

  35. I use Rico royal 3 alto. Is the same strength comparable to the Boston

  36. Edwin, I’m not sure. I haven’t used Rico Royals in like 20 years. Jack at Boston Sax Shop has a reed strength comparison chart here https://www.bostonsaxshop.com/reeds/boston-sax-shop-custom-jazz-alto-reeds but I don’t see Rico Royals on it. Steve

  37. Avatar Jack Finucane says

    Edwin, 2.5 in our reeds would be comparable 🎷

  38. Stephen, Does your JVW Link have the added baffle in it? I have seen very few of those over the years. I ran into one other one that I sold to a good friend of mine and he sounds awesome on it. If you ever want to sell that one make sure to let me know.

    There are a lot of great hard rubber pieces out there to choose from now. Good luck on the search. Steve

  39. Avatar Stephen Young says

    Hi Steve,
    Yes it does. It is with the dark colored epoxy. I bought the mouthpiece from a close friend of mine, Dirk, who JVW mentions in the interview with JVW.
    It had a really nice brightness to it but not edgy. I’ll send you a photo later in the day. Looks exactly like your one which I have read about. Mine comes in around a 7 tip opening and is very focused. It’s not for sale but I will let you know if I ever decide to part with it.
    I am on my double ring BP 110 at the moment. Very different mouthpiece to the JVW, great sound, but the JVW with the baffle plays with ease. Love your articles, Steve. All the best from Australia Steve!

  40. Avatar Cat Rabin says

    I have been seriously playing saxophone nine years now. Mouthpieces I enjoy are a vintage Conn plastic and a number of Chinese made metal ones. It’s my embouchure I need to progress.

  41. a well made MP by a profestional makes a great deal of difference , and reeds in general completely change MPs —food for thought

  42. Just got my BSS 2.5 reeds in and wow! each one looks very precisely and evenly cut,\: my usual Rigottis seem to be consistent and play well out of the box, but the cut and texture seems much more random then the BSS. I’m glad I read the reviews and the comments. I ordered 2.5 since I use 3 light Rigotti on tips .100-.105. The BSS reeds seem pretty hard and stiff making for a tired embouchure quickly, but still very smooth and even out of the box. Because of the comments I am confident they will break in nicely. Very much what I was hoping for when I bought the AW reeds, smoother and darker than the Rigotti, something to add to my mouthpiece collection to get a big full, round tone. The AW were good either in the top end or the bottom end- to get the nice low end of the AW, the top notes closed off for me. These are nice and even throughout, just pure nice tone in all the registers.

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