A Fight to the Death-Legere Signature Synthetic Reeds Versus Cane Reeds

Ladies and Gentlemen,  today we have an epic showdown between two heavyweight champions!  In one corner, we have the undisputed heavyweight reed in Steve Neff’s reed drawer.  This is the formidable master of disaster the “Rigotti Gold 2 1/2 Strong Reed”.   In the other corner, we have a new comer to Steve Neff’s drawer. The Legere Signature Reed! Although a newcomer for Steve, some say this reed’s strength and stamina are far superior.  Rumors are that this reed was invented in a lab and grown from a test tube.  Some say it’s average life expectancy could perhaps surpass hundreds of cane reeds.  Could it be true? We will put these two reeds to the test today and the truth will be revealed!

All jokes aside, I received some samples of Legere Signature reeds and I thought it would be interesting to do a head to head comparison with them and a cane reed.  I was playing on a Rigotti Gold 2 1/2 strong reed on a new D’Addario Select Jazz hard rubber tenor mouthpiece this week and thought it was a good time to try this experiment.  The Select Jazz mouthpiece has a 7 (.105) tip opening and the 2 1/2 strong Rigotti was perfect on it.  I have four Legere Signature reeds to choose from,  a strength 2, 2 1/2, 2 3/4 and finally a 3 1/4.

Legere Signature vs. Rigotti Gold Reeds

I first tried the 2 1/4 and it played nicely but I thought it was a tad soft so I went to the 2 3/4 strength.  This one felt great but after going back and forth,  I realized that the 2 3/4 felt stiffer than the Rigotti reed so I went back to the 2 1/4 which felt closer in strength.  I don’t have a 2 1/2 Legere Signature but I’m guessing that might be even closer perhaps.

Although there are some differences between how the two reeds blow, I was surprised more by the similarities between the two reeds than the differences.  I am not a synthetic reed “guy”.  I have never really liked them in the past when I have tried them.  These new Legere Signature reeds are quite a bit better than the synthetics reeds I played in the past that is for sure.

In general,  the Legere played surprisingly well throughout the range of the horn.  The synthetic reed seemed to vibrate and buzz more on my lower lip than a cane reed (at least that is how it felt to my lower lip.)   There were some notes that didn’t seem to have the same resonance  as they do for me on the cane reed. The primary one for me was middle “E”.  With the cane reed I always feel like that note is a bit more “alive” and “resonant” but with the Legere it seemed more “average” to me.  I also noticed that my high G in the second octave had a tendency to be easily overblown (that’s when you get this sorta raspy sound that seems like a mix of high G and low G together-great for rock n’roll solos). After a little bit of playing time I was able to control this for the most part.  As a side note, the G did not get overblown with the Legere 2 3/4 reed at all so maybe that is an aspect of the softer reed?

I did try the 3 1/4 Legere reed but it was way to hard for me on this mouthpiece.  I never took the size 2 out of the package as the 2 1/4 was great and I just assumed the 2 would be too soft.

Now,  I am joking a bit with the title of this article, this is not a fight to the death or battle royal but more just an interesting experiment to see how similar or different a Legere synthetic reed would be from an average cane reed.

I’ve included 7 sound clips below.  For each one I have three versions.  The first clip is the full clip with something similar played on both reeds.  You can listen to that if you want to see if you can discern the difference between the two reeds and where it occurs.  The two clips after,  are the full clip broken down by reed for those of you who can’t tell the difference and maybe want a hint. The second two clips work well if you want to compare clips by going back and forth.

There are certainly differences between the synthetic reeds and the cane reeds.  The purpose of this post is not to say they are equal but more about testing to see what those differences are. As someone who just spent about $500 on reeds, I can say that if I can use a synthetic reed and cut down on that cost it would be well worth it for me!

Although I can hear the differences in the recordings below, I am pretty confident that I would be hard pressed to recognize a Legere Signature reed when listening blind.   Matter of fact, I had a Skype student a few weeks ago and I asked what mouthpiece and reeds he was using.  I was shocked when he said he was using a Legere reed as I had no idea from listening to him over the course of the lesson.

Let me know what you think in the comments below.  I have my own thoughts and opinions based off the experiment but I am curious what you hear.  I’ll post my thoughts and answers to any questions in the comments below as people start responding.  Thanks,   Steve

1.)Bb to low Bb Chromatic

Bb to low Bb Chromatic Full Clip-Can you hear a difference?

Bb to low Bb Chromatic-Cane

Bb to low Bb Chromatic-Legere

2.)Full Range Chromatic

Full Range Chromatic Full Clip-Can you hear a difference?

Full Range Chromatic-Cane

Full Range Chromatic-Legere

3.)Slow Donna Lee

Slow Donna Lee Full Clip-Can you hear a difference?

Slow Donna Lee-Cane

Slow Donna Lee-Legere

4.)Fast Donna Lee

Fast Donna Lee Full Clip-Can you hear a difference?

Fast Donna Lee-Cane

Fast Donna Lee-Legere


Tonguing Full Clip-Can you hear a difference?



6.)Funky E

Funky E Full Clip-Can you hear a difference?

Funky E-Cane

Funky E-Legere

7.)My Shining Hour

My Shining Hour Full Clip-Can you hear a difference?

My Shining Hour-Cane

My Shining Hour-Legere

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 Mark Gomez says

    Nothing like a reel reed in my opinion. I have had great experiences with Rigotti reeds. The vibrato and tone is much better on a real reed as compared to the Legere reed in my opinion. Legere is not bad on Tenor and Alto but no good on Soprano. I have tried several sizes and this was my personal experience. I believe that Legere is the best synthetic reed on the market if one is shopping for one. I believe that Legere reeds can maybe give different results depending on the type of mouthpiece. I believe that some mouthpieces can get better results with the same Legere reed. For me the Legere reeds are for emergencies. Investing in such great instruments and playing synthetic reeds is a deal killer for me. Just doesn’t make sense! Staying with my cane!

  2. I played several “Legere” along with my usual Vandoren several years and noticed that Cane reeds are producing richer sound while Legere were sort of “empty” in certain parts of a spectrum. But what a convenience that they last a way longer and you don’t have to worry if the reed get dry on the gig break. I didn’t have a chance to try Legere Signature yet, but hopefully they are even closer to cane. We will see.
    Thank you Steve

  3. The tonal difference sometimes favors the Leger-ie.richer, at times and sometimes the cane sounds richer. There might be a difference in articulation noticeable. The player would notice that. As far as tone goes, I didn’t think the tone was so different that it really mattered. I have bought Leger reeds in the past. I personally prefer the richness, response and even feel on my tongue of a good old Java Red 2.5.

  4. I’m hearing a buzziness to the Legere accompanied by a robustness (different overtones?) in the overall sound. I can hear in the cane a more evenness in tone throughout the horn, less buzz and more of the pure “fundamental.” I don’t know. That’s what I hear anyway. I tried to listen objectively to the first clip of each set and tried to guess. I was spot on on each.

  5. Although I have never enjoyed playing synthetic reeds I could seriously tell very little difference between the two on your clips! They are pretty much identical! I’m sure if you played on the Legere regularly you would overcome any hesitancy you have about them …… in going to order a couple and try myself! Think of the money you’d save on reeds if there’s such an imperceptible difference!

  6. Avatar Vincent gaglio says

    I play the Legere Signature Series. I love them ! There is a brightness to it that I like. I will pay more attention to it and record myself using cane and the Legere as well. Vinny

  7. Avatar Kevin Ledbetter says

    Just a hint brighter in the mid register but depending on what mouthpiece you are using I doubt if the difference will be night and day. For some of my hard rubber pieces a little extra edge would be a good thing. I do play cane, but now I am really trying to spend time with the Signature reeds. I use a 2 1/2 on tenor with a Navarro Mintzer BeBop mouthpiece.
    It does feel a little different than cane, but to me very, very, useable. Listening to your clips I would probably not guess correctly each time if it was a blind test. Players should check these out.

  8. Avatar Olle Löwgren says

    Listening to your clips I hear that the Legere reed gives a better response to your playing intentions. There is also a clear difference in tone quality. Which is better? A matter of taste
    I find the Legere reeds excellent for tenor sax, but useless for clarinet.

  9. Excellent as usual Steve. I find the legere so handy as a doubler and woodwind teacher. You can produce a beautiful tone with them but the ease of just picking up an instrument and it plays is priceless
    In a lesson l won’t be playing with the student all the time so just being able to pick up my instrument and blow straight away when I need it without spending time adjusting my reed is invaluable. Doubling in a pit is made so much easier as well.
    Thankyou for your demos and blog

  10. Avatar Grahame Easthope says

    Well I must admit this has turned my head a little. Perhaps more than a little. I was re trying a handmade MB1 copy I’ve had for some time. I had moved away from metal high baffle mcps on tenor (I usually play a Drake NY Jazz 9 with Java Red Box 2.5). While fussing with the MB1 copy I was looking for a reed that worked and the Javas were OK. I always kept a Legere Signature 2 in the reed case – a just in case, in the case. I tried it on the MB1. Wow. Not only was it very very good, it also took some of the edge off the Guardala MB1 copy. The edge was one of the reasons I moved away from high baffle pieces. I have an MBII aswell, but way too bright for my taste. The Legere smoothed out the sound and suddenly the MB1 was giving the sound I had hoped for but didn’t deliver. Strange. With Legeres perhaps it not just about replicating cane but also giving another option in certain circumstances.

  11. The Legere reeds are nice an easy to play, but I can’t say I like the sound much from playing them. Do they sound like cane reeds? Maybe edgy ones and I think the sound is quite dark, so that would depend on your choice of reed. Soundwise ,I prefer the Forestone Hinoki, but Legere are slightly nicer to play. I keep the Hinoki as a backup which means the Legere is the backup backup. So in other words I’m not really sold on them, but I know more than a few who are, but not sure whether they’re sold on the reed or the convenience.

  12. I hear more evenness from the Legere; especially in the mid register. The natural reed may have a more complex tone, i.e. more harmonics, fuzz, air…..by air I suppose I mean a strong fundamental with spaces between it and the surrounding harmonic content. I would love to see them both played this way with a spectrum analyzer for comparison. I suspect the Rigotti will have a more dense scan but with “holes” surrounding the fundamental at several db deep. I am currently using an Otto Link new issue New York #5 with a Legere Signature 2 1/2. That’s all the air I’ve got as a re-start after 50 years away from the sax.

  13. I’m a fairly new player. Started with cane and then tried the Legere, basically for ease of use as there’s no need to wet the reed or get substandard reeds in a package. The Legere is consistent; wonderful to just pick the sax up and play. I tried all three of Legere’s reeds and the Signature series is, for me, the best. It’s about $7 more than the standard Legere or Studio but is definitely worth it. I’ve used the Signature non-stop for a month, at least three hours a day and love it. With respect to Steve’s sound comparisons I can’t tell the difference. And I’ve listened to others that use them and also can’t hear any difference. Pete Thomas has done the same test and he’s a convert. Interestingly, just before we received this test by Steve I switched back to cane for about a half hour the other day and vastly preferred my Legere in every respect; sound, feel, response and the ease of “plug and play”. I think the Signature is fantastic and am sold on this reed. (I can certainly understand the differences to long term cane users compared to a new comer like me…maybe like a pair of one’s favorite old, beautifully worn in jeans compared to a new pare.) Also, every pro player that I meet and talk to about this sticks with their cane reeds and some say it’s just familiarity and habit. Thanks Steve, it’s great to see this sort of thing.

  14. Avatar Ian Nevins says

    Your clips sound pretty darn close Steve. I’d say there is a difference in the core of the tone – more of a hollow kind of sound on the Legere clips, almost reminiscent of an English horn type of sound. It’s subtle though for sure. There’s a slight difference in the buzz too. Like the buzz is there with both cane and Legere, just at different frequencies.

    My experience with Legere is a bit different than some comments above. I love them for clarinet, but the bigger the instrument the less I like them. Kinda hate them for jazz tenor. However, I think ive only tried the “original” Legere, not the signature series. Steve, do you have any experience with the difference between those two? I’ve been wondering.

    Two of my concerns with Legere are: how long they last and finding the right strength without buying many different strengths and being stuck with $80 worth of reeds that are the wrong strength for me. I haven’t wanted to mess with sending them back to Legere, etc. Also, these reeds last longer than cane, but the dying process seemed a little bizarre to me if I remember correctly. Some just go from great to useless immediately, but some go through this incredibly long and drawn-out dying process where you don’t know if “it’s the reed or if it’s me” I guess if I had several of them laying around then I’d be able to compare a dying one to a new one.

    Anyway, thanks as always for your contributions to the saxophone playing world!

    • Ian,
      I can’t compare the two but I know that I tried a Legere reed many years ago and hated it. This is the first time I have tried the Signature reeds. I was expecting to hate them also but was surprised……. Steve

  15. Avatar Larry Weintraub says

    Steve: The cane reed responds faster to my ear every time on the clips I heard. SOme clips would not play. I have used Legere Studio Cut Reeds but mostly for practice or teaching. Btw – I think their sax reeds work better than their clarinet reeds, at least for me.

  16. I think the Legere reed sounds quite full and rich. I have been using a Legere Signature #3 for a year now. After listening to Steve’s reviews of the Phil Tone mouthpieces, I moved on the an Eclipse with a 6 opening. I was quite surprised when I first tried the Legere reed, with its responsiveness and richness of sound. But this is a very personal choice. I fully understand why any particular player would be a cane devotee or a synthetic fan. I now find myself strongly in the latter camp. Thank you Steve for this excellent and very fair review and demonstration!

  17. Avatar Mark Peotter says

    I agree with Victor Hugo (see below). For my experience, I have also been enjoying Rigotti Gold (I like the #3 Light) for saxophones. But, due to the very dry weather in Phoenix, I keep experimenting with every synthetic reed I can find. After years of trying everything, I still think the cane is best! The main differences are: 1. When playing very soft, the breathiness of cane is replaced by buzzing of plastic. You can achieve breathiness with a firmer synthetic, but then the whole horn needs more air. 2. I notice more embouchure adjustments are required in the synthetic reeds to achieve altissimo, or to leap up and down. Sometimes I find a synthetic that performs the leaps and altissimo easily, but, in every case, the sound is horribly “plastic”. 3. If I am playing medium loud in the normal registers, no one notices the small difference in sound quality.

  18. Avatar Antonino says

    Hello Steve, excellent . I could not tell the difference. I ‘ll buy one see how it goes. I’ve tried them before . There might be a chance. My problem is they do not seem to last over a week.

  19. Avatar Courtney Nero says

    I have seen Rigotti is your reed of choice. WWBW has them at $36 for a box of 10 compared to Java green $21 for a box of 5. So Rigotti is a shade cheaper as well. I’ll have to try them.

  20. Avatar Grahame Easthope says

    So now it’s been a few days since I tried the Legere Signature 2 on tenor and I have to say it’s been good. Very good. I think I bought the Legere in 2014 but never really used it. I was devoted to cane, and recently to Java red box 2.5.
    Up to now I’d never really been convinced on synthetics. I’d played various but meh….not great and not good enough to ditch the use of cane. Now on a different mouthpiece since I bought the Legere, and very used to and happy with Javas, this was a different ball game. Like many would I started to think about how long the Legere would last so I ordered another of the same Legere. Then I worried about if it would sound and feel the same as the one I already had. The one I ordered arrived today. It’s exactly the same. That’s it, I’m hooked. I’ll keep all my cane reeds, but Legere is going to be first up from now on.

  21. Avatar Walter George says

    Thank you for your reviews of the Legere reeds and Gaia2.
    Have you tried a Legere Signature clarinet reed on your Gaia2 ?
    Have been experimenting with this combination when I saw a deal on these Legere clarinet reeds and got their dimensions from Legere ( 13mm width which is about the same width as the rails on the Gaia2).( Had to trim the butt end as it is longer; no big deal.)
    Was listening to Branford Marsalis playing Pavane and Gymnopedie and wondered how he got that sound and with this combo thought I was getting closer.
    Admittedly, the soprano ver 2.75 is more freely blowing, louder and fuller than the clarinet 3 but the clarinet reed sound is still got me hooked at this moment in time.

  22. Avatar Walter George says

    As others have mentioned, the Legere soprano reed sound is highly dependent on the mpc and ligature combination. While the clarinet Signature reed with the Gaia2/TW ligature did work and was liked because it reduced the brightness sound, I think it is possible to get an even better sound with the Signature soprano sax reed and the right mpc/ligature combination, so it is worth continuing to experiment. Thank you for this Legere review.

  23. steve,
    I like your site, greetings from brazil. I seek legere same the rigotti gold 2,5 strhg. What do you indicate in model, signature or studio cut? I read the sdio cut more bright, what strength you indicate?

    • Pedro, I think the 2 1/2 Signature would be a good match. I found the 2 1/4 a bit soft compared to the Rigotti Gold 2 1/2 strong and the Legere 2 3/4 a bit harder. I think the 2 1/2 would be a good match. I didn’t try the studio cut but just the signature reeds. Steve

  24. Great comparison. I can usually tell the difference between synth and real, but these examples sound very close! I’m gonna order a few.

  25. You can’t possibly make the assumptions you are stating about synthetic reeds after one day or one session.

    You “grew up” and “grew into” cane reeds. As you learned to play you learned how to get the sound you wanted to hear out of the cane. You can’t play synthetics the way you play cane. And if you would play synthetics for five, ten or 20 years, as you have been playing cane, I am sure with the Legere Signature or new Carbon Onyx by Fiberreed you would sound just as good or better.

    I am a designer, welder, and cyclist. I’ve been using the same bike frame for ten years, the same welder for 15 and the same graphics program for 20. Whenever I try a new bike frame, superior as it may be, I can’t ride it as fast as my old aluminum. The newer high tech welders seem just a bit strange in my hand, and I struggle to get the same output from the new illustration programs as I do with my 20 year old (but updated) software.

    You can’t expect to get the same performance from a tool you pick up for the first time as from a tool you’ve used for 20 years.

    I’m lucky in that regard, as I just started to study sax and clarinet – I’ve been a piano player only for 15 years. I started out with synthetic reeds and switch back and forth between cane and Legere weekly, depending on what I’m doing and where I’m playing.

    With the new Signature Series and the new Carbon Onyx by Fiberreed, I’ve decided to spend the money and replace the cane reeds on all of my instruments. You have to have an open mind and spend time with the new tools – they can take you places you did not previously consider or try to go.

  26. Avatar Steven Charles says

    I could really hear the difference on the tunes, not as much on the scales. The synthetic has what I can only call a “metallic edginess” that both feels (when I play it), and sounds counter to the sound I have, and like to hear. I 100% wish I could find a synthetic reed I loved, for obvious reasons, but until I find one, it’ll be cane, and I do pretty well with making most out of the box work.

    I wonder if Sanborn has switched, for you’d think a little bit more edge wouldn’t detract, although I’d bet he’s still using La Voz… It’s tough going from the warmth of real cane, & as he (& I agree) says, how the reeds “sing”, to using a plastic feeling thing, with sharp edges, and in the case of Legere, the hassle of lining up a translucent reed on my mouthpiece. So whether it’s very noticeable or not to most listening, we as players have to like how a reed feels, plays, and sounds. And I guess for me, it’s cane until I find that synthetic that can match it…

  27. I was surprised. The Legere seemed to have a little more presence to me, a more intimate sound. How ever in the articulation I felt that it had a distinctive click at the start of each note, not unpleasant but……
    Great review, as level a playing field as one could get.

  28. Avatar Mario Lafrésière says

    Only minor differences noticeable according to me Steve. You sound excellent on both reeds. I could not tell the differences if blind tested. Thanks and best wishes

    • I made this comment in the forum, so this may be redundant.

      Most of these players reviewing synthetic reeds are being inherently unfair. This is because most players have been using cane for ten to twenty years. After all of that time they have learned to adjust for the inefficiencies and shortcomings of cane because that was their ONLY option.
      After 10 or 20 years of doing something with the same tool, grabbing any other tool to do the same thing is going to take some time to figure out how to get the best out of it.

      I am a mechanic and I grew up with Craftsman tools. Everyone tells me SnapOn are better but when I put them in my hands, they feel strange and I revert to what I know. I also play piano with very heavy keys. When I play on a piano with lighter action, or an electronic keyboard, it takes some work for me to coax my sound out of those instruments.

      I have just started sax – nine months in – and I started with synthetic reeds. I never played with a cane reed. But when I came across this post, I gave cane a try. To me the cane reed feels soft and unresponsive and they take too much effort to control and make the sounds I want to hear. I can’t play worth a damn on cane, but I never used cane before.

      So I say if you give synthetics the same amount of time you have committed to cane, you will play the synthetic just as well and you’ll get the best out of that reed as you are doing with cane. In reality, a few of the guys in my circle who have been playing for 15 or more years adapted to and now prefer the synthetic after about a month of regular use.

      My point is, you play best on what you know best.

  29. I listened to all the clips and, in all, I feel difference: a relatively small difference, but also relatively considerable: in my opinion the sound of the reed in cane is more “full-bodied”, more “thick”, not necessarily darker, while that of the synthetic reed seems me to be more “crisp”, “frizzy”, “fuzzy”, more “thin” (I hope the translator from Italian to English has translated well what I feel!).

  30. Avatar Larry Weintraub says

    Victor P. Hugo: How long have you been back from the PI? What are you up to these days?

  31. I reply to Gio:
    you have tried one – or some – reed in cane.
    The problem is:
    “Which” reed in cane has happened to you?
    The synthetic reed always sounds the same and the synthetic reeds of the same brand all sound the same; those in cane sound different one from the other and, each one, even of the same brand, is different from the other: already this thing for me is stimulating: I’m bored with a reed that always gives me the same sound!
    I like to change, because also the new, different sound of a new reed just pulled out of the box, gives me, anyway, a new sensation and new emotions and, consequently, new musical ideas.

  32. Avatar Leo Roeleveld says

    Hi Steve,
    Which synthetic reed do you like better, the Hinoki or the Légère Signature?

    • Leo, I have no preference between the two. I prefer cane and have always played cane reeds. I did play the Hinoki and Legere for the review but have been back on the cane since then. I have not played them side by side up to this point to compare so I’m not sure how they compare to each other. Steve

  33. Hi Steve,
    Can you tell me something about Henkel reeds?
    In 1987 I used them with a Dukoff Florida metal 7 S and I liked them a lot; currently I asked a music store and they replied me that they are not the same as they were then.
    It’s true?

    • I never heard of Henkel reeds. Do you mean Hemke? I played them a little in college for classical sax but haven’t played them in the last 30 years. Steve

  34. And some information on AW reeds?
    Perhaps they are similar to the old, or new, Henkel?

    • I really like the AW tenor reeds I have tried. I think they have a thicker heart than the Rigotti reeds and have a thicker darker sound.

  35. Yes, sorry, I wanted to write Hemke reeds!
    The AW you use are the 722 jazz, I guess.
    Thank you.

  36. Hi Steve, excuse the multiple questions:
    to have the same effort as a Rigotti gold 2 1/2 medium, which AW 722 do you recommend: AW 2 or AW 2 and 1/2?
    Thank you,

  37. Thanks,

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