Today, I am reviewing a new BSS custom saxophone reed released by Jack Tyler 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 Tyler 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 Tyler (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 Tyler (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. Neffmusic also gets a small commission from each sale using this link which helps support this website, so thank you in advance if you use the link.
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