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How Long Do Saxophone Reeds Last? (Cane Vs Synthetic)

The saxophone is a woodwind instrument, producing sound much differently than brass instruments.

For saxophones, they use reed vibrations instead of lip vibrations to make a sound. But how long do saxophone reeds last?

Saxophone reeds made of cane can last up to three weeks, while synthetically-made plastic reeds can last up to six months. Saxophone reeds can last different lengths depending on the material of the reed and frequency of usage. 

The rest of this article will explain everything you need to know about the lifespan of a saxophone reed, so you can know what to expect.

How Long Do Wood Reeds Last When Played?

Wood reeds last several weeks when played. Depending on the frequency and intensity of your practice routine, wood reeds might last a bit less than three weeks, but usually no more than that.

If you’re a consistent saxophone player who plays their instrument daily, your reed might only last about two weeks.

If you only dedicate a couple of hours each week to playing your saxophone, your reed can likely last a full three weeks. Either way, wood reeds have short lifespans.

However, playing on a used reed for over three weeks is not a good idea.

The reason is that reeds harbor a lot of mold and bacteria, even if it’s not visible.

It’s advisable to toss out a cane reed after three weeks.

How Long Do Synthetic Sax Reeds Last When Played?

While wooden reeds are the standard choice for most saxophone players, synthetic reeds are an option, too.

These reeds are made of plastic instead of cane and last much longer. But how long do they last?

Synthetic sax reeds can last up to six months when played. They might last around four months if you have an intense practice routine and play daily, but if you’re more casual with your playing, you can expect a synthetic reed to last about six months.

However, as I mentioned before, reeds are the perfect environment for bacteria growth.

You shouldn’t use a synthetic sax reed for any longer than six months for your health, even if it’s still playable and there is no visible damage.

If you’re looking for a decent brand of long-lasting synthetic saxophone reeds, I highly recommend checking out this Legere Alto Sax Reed (available on Amazon.com).

Legere is one of the most reputable brands for high-quality plastic reeds, and they produce a great sound!

Do Unused Saxophone Reeds Expire?

Unused saxophone reeds do not expire if they are correctly stored. Saxophone reeds are typically wood or plastic; both materials last long when kept in cool environments that protect the reed from too much humidity.

Unused saxophone reeds will last very long if you protect them from excessive heat or humidity.

If you expose your wooden saxophone reed to humidity, you can expect it to last only about two or three weeks as long as a used reed. Even synthetic reeds are prone to humidity damage and bacteria growth after enough time if not kept in a cool, dry place.

One of the best things you can do to ensure your unused saxophone reeds don’t go bad is to invest in proper storage methods.

You can purchase a specialized reed storage container or use humidity control packs in any spare airtight container.

I recommend these Boveda 2-Way Humidity Control (available on Amazon.com), which are perfect for keeping your reeds safe from humidity exposure. They’re also very affordable, which is a plus.

What Makes Saxophone Reeds Last Longer (Or Less Long)?

Reeds are pricey, and you will need to replace them more frequently. Unfortunately, this adds up quickly and can get quite expensive!

Is there a way to make saxophone reeds last longer?

To make saxophone reeds last longer, try being cautious when handling the reeds to avoid chipping. You should also invest in a humidity-controlling storage case and rinse out your mouth before every play session to help prevent the growth of bacteria and mold on your reeds.

As I mentioned, the cost of reeds can feel quite overwhelming as you progress in your saxophone learning journey.

It makes sense to want your reeds to last as long as possible.

To ensure a substantial reed lifespan, you must store your reeds properly and be careful not to chip them as you transfer them to and from their storing place and mouthpiece. It’s easy to chip cane reeds, and even the slightest bump can create a crack that severely impairs your overall sound.

While most reeds come with small plastic coverings to make storage convenient, I suggest investing in a container to store them in.

I recommend this D’Addario Woodwinds Storage Case (available on Amazon.com) because it’s affordable, portable, and convenient.

It also comes with humidity control, which is crucial for allowing your reeds to last as long as possible!

How Can You Tell When a Reed Needs To Be Changed?

Unfortunately, saxophone reeds don’t last forever, and there will come a time when you have to change your reed.

But how can you tell when a reed needs to be changed?

You can tell a reed needs to be changed when the wood is greenish or gray in hue or if it smells of mildew. Whether or not there are visible signs of mold, if you chip your reed, you will need to replace it, as chips impair your sound. These splits may also occur in plastic reeds.

It’s easier to tell when a wood reed has gone bad than a synthetic reed because a plastic reed will not change color like cane reeds.

However, both will start to smell and display chips or splits when their time is up.

Do Reeds Last Different Times Depending on Which Saxophone You’re Playing?

Reeds do not last different times depending on which saxophone you’re playing. Whether you use a soprano, alto, tenor, or baritone saxophone, you can expect your sax reeds to last about the same time for each variation.

While the instruments themselves vary in size quite a bit, each saxophone variant’s reeds are very similar.

You should have the same lifespan expectations for every saxophone reed, no matter which type of saxophone you’re playing.

Final Thoughts

A saxophone reed is one of the most vital parts of the instrument. Unfortunately, they don’t last forever, and you need to replace them regularly to maintain good sound and hygiene.

It would be best if you replace your wooden reeds after three weeks, and you should replace your synthetic plastic reeds after no longer than six months.

You can help your reeds last longer by ensuring you don’t expose them to humidity.

Hopefully, this article has helped you better understand saxophone reeds, so you can know what to expect regarding reed lifespan and continue to play the instrument confidently!