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 30 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. Firstly, Steve, thanks for all that you do for the international saxophone community!

    Secondly to Jack if you see this: are there any plans down the line to make your products more readily available in Europe?

  2. Avatar Arya Boustani says

    Hi Steve
    Thanks for the review. I was wondering if you can comment on strength comparison for BSS tenor reeds vs. usual ones like DSJ, Rigotti Gold, etc. Would you say 3 is like Rigotti Gold 3M? I use a strength between 3 soft and 3 medium for most jazz reeds. Which strength for BSS reed should I pick? Did you try this reed on a bit longer facing mouthpiece? If so, did you find optimal performance same as short facing mouthpieces? What about trying it on dark mouthpieces? Did you try to see if it makes the sound too dark? Also I appreciate if you can comment on the consistency and longevity.
    Thanks a lot,
    Arya

  3. Arya,

    The BSS run harder than the Rigotti Gold reeds. A 2 1/2 BSS is like a 2 1/2 Strong or 3 Light I think. A 3 BSS is like a 3 Hard to 3 1/2 Light Rigotti I think. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly because the cut of the reed is different and they blow differently. I am mostly using the 2 1/2 BSS reeds on 7* mouthpiece and using the 3 BSS on 7 tip openings. I have used 3 BSS on 7* also but I have had too break them in a bit (play them a bunch to soften them up a bit) When they get a bit softer they rock though and last a while.

    The reeds work great on longer facings from what I have tried. I’m not sure what you mean by long though. I’m talking like 50-52. I’m not sure I have anything longer than that. The shorter facings of 48 are trickier. Some shorter facing mouthpieces played great with the 2 1/2 BSS and were a lot darker but a few of my 48 length facing curve mouthpieces were very midrangy. By that I mean that the ones that played great had a nice dark vibe but the ones I didn’t like seemed to play with more of a midrange tone. They weren’t bright and they weren’t dark either if that makes sense. I love the reeds because they take the buzz and brightness away which can leave a robust dark tone but if they take the buzz and highs away but the tone is midrange it just sounds a bit generic and dead to me. I didn’t really like the reeds on those mouthpieces. Two mouthpieces I felt this on were my Lamberson J7 and an EB metal Otto Link I have. I should try them again as what I am relaying to you was only my first impression from trying them once. On all my mouthpieces with at least a 50 or longer facing the reeds were great.

    I will say that I really dig my Marc Jean ligature on these reeds also. On the Rigottis I felt like the MJ ligature made the Rigotti reeds a little too responsive and buzzy. With the BSS reeds it make them a little less dark and puts a little bit more of the highs back in the sound but they are still what I consider dark.

    I haven’t tried them on what I would consider a dark mouthpiece just because I don’t think of any of my tenor mouthpieces as dark. I do have a Bunte 42 that is on the darker side of things but I haven’t tried them on that yet.

    They are super consistent and last a longer than Rigotti reeds for me. I think the Rigottis get softer quicker which makes them get brighter and more buzzy for me. It seems like the BSS reeds will get softer but they still stay dark from what I have experienced so I don’t see the need to get a new reed as quickly.

    I still love the Rigotti reeds but I like the option of the BSS reeds when I want a darker sound. Depends on what mood I am in. Hope this helps,
    Steve

  4. Avatar Arya Boustani says

    Thanks a lot Steve for your thorough reply. I will get 2 1/2 for my 7* DR Link copy then. Roberto reed is also the darker version of Rigotti but still can have too much midrange if I don’t line up the reed tip to have with enough tip rail covering. It reminds me a bit like La Voz which also works well on short facing but La Voz has a more midrangy and less complex sound.

  5. Avatar Arya Boustani says

    Hi Steve,
    I had James Bunte reface my 7* Double Ring copy. The tip and side rails are thicker (more manageable) and have more flexibility for positioning the reed tip on the tip rail. The curve is shorter than before. I felt it went from too long to a bit too short for my taste. I haven’t measured and James didn’t give me an exact number but I felt the same about too midrangy character with some of the reeds. I ended up adjusting the vamp on my reeds in order to get more low end and balance the tone. I found reeds that have a bit more mass in the middle between the heart and the tip work a bit better because the short rollover baffle and diving deep to the chamber on those early Double Ring mouthpieces creates a hollow sound (not enough mid-range) and that extra mass helps to even out the tone (rather than too short facing). I wish there was a paintable mass-adding food-grade adhesive with springy character (like nail polish but not harmful) to add mass to certain parts of the reeds to adjust the buzz, body of the tone and darkness. I’m not fan of clipping the reed tip. It reduces the distance between tip and the heart which makes it loose its springiness and tone complexity and lushness. The only reed that worked for me with a small tip clipping was Alexander Superial. If they were 100 percent consistent they would be the best reed for me. To me a good reed has a springy quality so with minimal air flow (very soft blow) you get a tone rather than air hissing. It is a different concept that buzz. It could be a good springy character and a very good response but with a darker tone and less buzz. Of course all these qualities can’t add up to one great reed for all because for each mouthpiece depending on the airflow variations along the reed, ideally there could be a perfect reed thickness profile to be the counterpart for that airflow variation for optimal vibration. However I found a good springy reed can stand out from the bunch even trying it different mouthpieces.

  6. Avatar Arya Boustani says

    Hi Steve,
    I forgot to mention: people compare these reeds with Rigotti and say it is less buzzy than Rigotti. I understand if they want to compare Rigotti and Roberto because both are jazz reeds with the same length of cut and only Roberto asks Rigotti company to make a bit different profile of cut (perhaps a bit more material in the front). But based on what I read, BSS is a shorter cut reed perhaps like Vandoren Traditional but with more material in the tip and also the other difference is that it is unfiled. Actually it reminds me with the geometry and design of Gonzalez RC (regular cut i.e. unfiled) which is also short length for the cut, and people call it dark reed because of more material in the heart and perhaps the tip. They also go with half step stronger than jazz reeds (for instance 2.5 works like a 3 in most other reeds). They are also pretty consistent and I’ve used them for both classical and jazz. They have a tailored tone profile. More controlled envelop of sound but it is not boring, just more controlled and stable by means of the relationship between the air flow and vibration.

  7. Avatar Arya Boustani says

    Sorry Steve,
    I’m sending another note. I thought since you mentioned BSS changes the tone of your mouthpiece, may be it is worthwhile if you could do a comparison of the tone for the same mouthpiece. Especially one that BSS compliments (short facing length that you take advantage of BSS shorter cut perhaps), or may be if you like to do two A&B sets with two different mouthpieces. Not to put more work on your shoulders but it is definitely helpful for readers of your BSS reed review to compare the tone and project in their mind what kind of possible tonal shift they can get on their mouthpiece. Thanks a lot.

  8. Arya, My latest reviews have clips with the BSS reeds as well as the Rigotti reeds on the same mouthpieces. That should help as far as a comparison.

    As I mention in one of my prior comments, I find that the BSS work better on 50+ facing lengths for tenor. The shorter facing are more tricky as far as how they work. I have had mixed results on facings of 48. Some pieces played well but others didn’t because of that midrange tone that I wrote about. Steve

  9. Avatar Arya Boustani says

    Hi Steve, thanks for letting me know. Have you already posted a review for the tone comparison (Rigotti vs. BSS)? When I do the search I just see one entry to do with BSS reeds. Would you be able to post the link to the new review that includes the sounds please? Thanks. Also thanks for the clarification. I thought you were mentioning short facing is more compatible. Now I know it is the other way around which makes more sense. I think where the facing gradually takes off requires a good length of reed (from beginning of the facing to the tip of the reed) i.e. acts as the lever (law of the lever in physics) which creates enough displacement at the tip for the given amount of air flow. Longer length of vibration (longer lever) creates lower frequency content and that’s why the sound is more lush, and if there is not enough of that (only shorter length of reed vibrating) it limits the range and it sounds too bright and mid-rangy if the very tip of the reed is thicker. Also thicker tip means it requires more springiness in the vamp to create enough rocking. When we remove the vamp material to make the tone a bit lusher (based on Larry Teal’s guidelines) although it makes it increases the domain of vibration but it reduces the springiness (less material in the back to support pulling back the reed tip in opposite direction) which means it can impact the liveliness of the reed. Creating a proper proportion for tip thickness vs. the vamp thickness and cut length is always the key, but if this is going to be impacted by the facing curve, ideally we should have a category A, B, C for the facing curves as well as the matching reed cuts.

  10. Arya,

    Have you tried these reeds yet? the quickest answer to all your questions is just to order a couple boxes and try them out. We could go back and forth talking about them for many hours but until you try them you won’t have the answers you are looking for. Steve

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