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 30 years. He is the author of many effective jazz improvisation methods as well as founding the popular jazz video lesson site Neffmusic.com.


  1. Avatar Arya Boustani says

    You can buy old reeds on eBay. If you find Rico V Style (Vintage) they are really good. They last long, sound fantastic from the beginning and years after (I have one that was given to me as a gift and it still sounds great after 4 years or so). I don’t use it often but I had it in wet or dry environment and it plays the same and tip looks the same (no waviness).

  2. Avatar Kane Taylor says

    Am seriously looking at investing in another plastic cane reed because of the cost of bamboo reeds now. I have used the one by Bari, which is a bit simplistic, and I don’t like the ones coated in black plastic because they taste awful and don’t necessarily last as long. Will be checking out more options. New products seem to be appearing. Even a $30 reed would be cost effective if it replaced a whole box or two of tenor or baritone sax reeds!

    “Live Music is Best”

  3. Arya, thanks for the information, who confirms my memories: “no waiviness” for old reeds!
    About ten years ago I was looking in the shops for someone who still had the old boxes of reeds in the shop, because I realized that the new ones sounded bad; then I discovered that, some shops, put in a basket, on offer at 5 euros, instead of 35, the boxes of ten, or five, reeds with old graphics of the old models because, perhaps, I thought, they had to sell the boxes with the new graphics: then I thought that, perhaps, over time the reeds were ruined: but no, as you inform me. This still happens. The basket with boxes of ten or five reeds on offer at 5 euros.
    So the stores follow a commercial logic for which they sell cheap the old best reeds and high cost new ones worse?
    Crazy stuff; but good to know!
    Greetings, bye, Arya,

  4. Hello Arya, since I do not know if the Listerine for sale in Italy is the same that they sell in Canada, you think the “Classic” would be good, if I find it here, to clean the reeds instead of soap and water, not to close the pores of the cane of the reed, and then wash the reed under water? I don’t know what is Ziploc, and if they sold it in Italy. Or, another idea of mine, that would be to clean, after playing, reeeds with alcohol at 90 degrees, the edible one, used to make liquor at home, and then wash the reed under water, do you think it would be good? You think it would also be good to wet the container sponge  for Vandoren humidifier reeds from six reeds, or would it ruin the sponge? Leave the reeds soaked in such edible alcohol for twenty minutes do you think it would hydrate the reeds or that the alcohol would eliminate traces of humidity from the reed cane?
    Thanks for a reply and a greeting from Rome,

  5. Avatar Arya Boustani says

    Hi Giuseppe,
    Ziploc is just an air tight bag with a plastic zipper.
    Edible alcohol is pretty close to original listerine but alcohol dries up in the vamp area faster so I prefer Listerine. You don’t need to wash the reeds after use just wipe on the sponge soaked with listerine or alcohol. Sponge will be fine with either Listerine or alcohol. Wetting reed with 20 to 30 percent alcohol and purified water or using Listerine would keep moisture in the pores.

  6. Ayra, you are very kind and helpful. Now I understand what the Ziploc is, they have them in the musical instrument stores to put the reeds with humidifying sachets. I thought it was a disinfectant! I will follow your advice: I see if I find original Listerine in the supermarket (mouthwash), otherwise I will use edible alcohol on a sponge rubbing the reed on her and, to moisturize the reed, I will bathe with 25% alcohol and 75 % of denatured water! Thanks, greetings,

  7. Avatar Joshua Liebman says

    Hey there, was that by chance Pure Imagination that you started out with?

  8. Joshua, Probably, I love that tune!! Steve

  9. Avatar bob howell says

    All reeds are bad.

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