Kevin Cato

Filed Vs. Unfiled Sax Reeds

During my most recent online teaching session my student was having difficulty playing harmonics that he was once able to play. What changed? He bought a new Meyer 6 hard rubber a few months back and has been unable to play the higher harmonics since. I suggested trying a higher strength reed with a French cut (that is another name for a filed reed), but he wasn't familiar with the term nor the difference. I decided it would be worthwhile taking an in-depth look at the differences between the two reed types and, theoretically, when you should use each. Let's get right into it.

Reeds; a Brief Overview

The reed is one of the most important parts of the saxophone because it, along with the mouthpiece, is responsible for producing sound. Ultimately, your core sound will follow you regardless of what gear you use, but I find having the right reed for your setup can make playing the saxophone significantly easier.

Reeds are typically made of either bamboo cane or plastic, but the French cut is unique to the cane reed. As such, for the remainder of this post we will only focus on cane reeds.

Unfiled Reeds

Unfiled reeds are the most commonly produced reeds and are likely the type of reed you are using right now. These reeds are easily identified by their signature "u" shaped vamp. 

Typically, unfiled reeds are used in conjunction with moderate to bright, open mouthpieces with minimal resistance. My mouthpiece is a Dave Guardala 7* studio mouthpiece, which is fairly bright and open, as such, I prefer to play on Vandoren classics, which are a type of unfiled reed.

Filed Reeds

Filed reeds are characterized by the straight, horizontal strip of can that is removed just below the vamp. This gives the reed, more flexibility, greater room to vibrate, increased precision and added brightness. This type of reed is best used with a dark, slightly closed, resistant mouthpiece, because it essentially balances out your setup. For my setup I find the filed reeds to be too bright and reedy and that isn't the sound I'm trying to go for.

Filed Reed Brands

Here is a short list of some of the unfiled reed brands. This is not a complete list, so if I have missed any please let me know and I'll add them to this post:
  • Vandoren: Java Filed (Red Box)
  • D'addario Select Jazz Filed
  • Marca Jazz Filed
  • Rico Royal: (Blue Box)
  • D'addario Reserve 
  • D'addario Hemke
  • Gonzalez Classic

Which One Performs Better?

This may not come as a surprise to you but, everything concerning sound is subjective and it is ultimately up to the player to decide what is right for them. This post is merely meant to give you an idea of how these reeds are commonly used. There are tons of reed brands and I encourage you to have fun, explore and try as many of them as you can to find the perfect fit!
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