How long does a saxophone reed last - FAQ saxophone questions

How long does a saxophone reed last?

The saxophone reed normally last for about a week but depending on the reed material it can last for months. Regular cane reeds get worn out a lot faster than a plastic reed.

However, the lifespan of any reed also has to do with how you break in the reed and how careful you are handling the reed. The sax reed is delicate, no matter what material it's made out of. It can break easily. A broken or damaged reed will not play well simply because it has to vibrate freely in order to produce a good sax sound.

With this in mind you should always handle your saxophone reeds with care.

If you are a sax beginner I recommend the article about the best saxophone reeds for beginners where I cover the different types of sax reeds in a short video.

In this article however, I've answered the most common questions about saxophone reeds so that you can find out why a reed isn't working, how long reeds lasts and much more. Here's the list:

How often do I need to replace my saxophone reed?

You do not need to replace your saxophone reed as long as it plays well. There's no expired date on a saxophone reed. It all comes down to common sense. If the reed plays well and you take good care of it then there's no reason for changing it. However, as soon as you start noticing that it becomes harder to play the reed you should at least have on other reed as backup, so that you can swap it out.

When do I change the saxophone reed?

You only need to change the reed once it doesn't play well anymore. This will happen either if you've played it excessively over a period of time or if the reed is damaged due to poor handling. It's also quite common that cane reeds can become unplayable if you do not store the reeds correctly in between practice sessions. A wavy sax reed doesn't work well at all.

How long should a sax reed last?

You should expect a saxophone reed to last for at least a week when practicing every day. Now this will obviously also depend on how well you maintain your reeds but a regular cane reed can last for weeks.
The saxophone reed will become softer over time. This goes for both cane reeds, plastic cover reeds and synthetic reeds. However, the cane reed is more sensitive and will wear out sooner than the plastic cover and synthetic reeds. 

How Long does a cane (wood) Reed last on saxophone?

In my experience you can play a cane reed for a few weeks and still have it respond well. Once it gets more soft you will notice that it can squeak on certain notes. Your sound will also get thinner in the upper register as the reeds gets worn out over time.
If you're an experienced sax player you can tell when this is starting to happen, but for beginners it can come as a bit of a surprise.
That's why it's always good practice to keep and rotate at least 3-4 cane reeds at all times. That way you can easily swap out a failing reed for another one.

How long does a Synthetic Reed last on saxophone?

Based on my experience as being a saxophone player for the past 35 years I'd say that the synthetic saxophone reed can last about  6-8 months. That's when practicing on the saxophone daily. If you only play on you sax a few days per week it can last for a year. However, over time you will start to notice that even the synthetic reed will become softer which finally will make the reed fail.

Do reeds last longer depending on saxophone type?

No, there's nothing to say that a certain type of saxophone will have an impact on how long the reed will last. It comes down to other factors like how much you play and how well you take care of your sax reeds.

Do Saxophone Reeds Expire?

No, used or unused saxophone reed do not expire. There's no such thing as a expiration date for saxophone reeds. In my experience you can find great sax reeds that have been stored away for years just as easily as new reeds that are horrible. If you play cane reeds it's a bit of a gamble buying new ones as cane is living material in comparison to synthetic reeds which is dead. That means you want to make sure you get quality reeds for you saxophone from a well known brand. They tend to have better quality control. 

How can I make a Saxophone Reed last longer?

Yes, if you learn how to handle and prepare your Saxophone Reeds correctly your saxophone reeds will last much longer. Beginner mistakes like pushing and bending on the tip of the reed will surely break it, but if you learn the basics you can play your reeds longer. Aside from that you also need to clean your reed after playing on it and store it in the reed case, so that you keep the flat surface of the reed flat.
If you leave your can reed on the saxophone mouthpiece to dry it will become wavy and unplayable. Sure, you can try reviving it by putting it under water for a couple of minutes but in my own experience that doesn't always work out. 

How can I tell if the Sax Reed tip is chipped?

You will most likely see that the sax reed tip is chipped, but I've also experienced that it's not visible to the eye at first. On the other hand you will hear that something is off with your sax sound as a chipped reed will make certain notes sound thin. A chipped reed can also have really sharp edges, around the chipped area, that can hurt your tongue. I've experienced that myself and it's hurts lika a….. it's not fun at all!
If you hold up the reed to a lamp you will be able to see if there are any cracks or chipped parts of the reed. That makes it easier to determine if the reed in fact is chipped or if there's something else going on.

How can i tell if a saxophone reed is bad?

There are several tells to find out if a saxophone reed is bad. The most obvious way is to try it out. If the reed doesn't vibrate it will not produce any sound. So a wavy reed is always a bad sign. However, there are a few tricks on how to recover a sax reed like that. A couple of minutes in water can breathe new life into the reed, but it doesn't work all the time. Still, it can be worth a try.
If there's visible cracks on the reed or if you can see that it's chipped it will probably not play well either.
The back of the reed should have a flat surface. That surface will match the flat surface on the saxophone mouthpiece. If there are any uneven areas on the reed it will not play well with the mouthpiece as it cannot make the needed seal that prevents air from leaking from the mouthpiece. 
In some cases there could also be mold or a stinky smell coming from the reeds. If that is the case you should throw them away and get new reeds. Also, make sure to clean your saxophone and start using a toothbrush before playing your sax. That will solve the problem and make your reeds last longer too.