The question of when to change your reed has been an ongoing debate amongst saxophonists for decades. Every saxophone player and teacher will have their own opinions, here’s my hot take…
Firstly, if your reed is chipped, split, warped, or turning a different colour, do yourself a favour and chuck it in the bin. When your reed remains in good condition that’s when things open up for debate.
Technically, you could play a reed for as long as it works – I’ve heard of pro saxophonists who have played 6-month tours on a single reed! However, this is only achievable if you practice regular reed maintenance. You can find loads of advice on the internet about prolonging the life of your reeds, and nifty products such as the.
As a professional performer, I personally find cane reeds are only fit for performance for a limited amount of playing because after a certain point they loose their response and brightness. However, a reed can continue to ‘work’ for a long time after this initial honeymoon period. I find the first few sessions playing a new reed offer the most bright, clean, and responsive tone. This figures as the reed will be in peak condition and unlikely to have deteriorated from moisture and temperature change during this limited time.
So here is my golden advice for those saxophonists searching for a rule of thumb; if you play daily change your reed once a month, if you play a few times a week change your reed once every two months.
The main justification is that reed’s wear down over time and become softer. This will be unnoticeable over time and you will acclimatise to an increasingly softer reed, until six months later when you put on a new reed of the same strength and find it requires much more puff than you are used to! You can maintain your ‘reed strength tolerance‘ by limiting the life span of your ‘performance’ reeds. More than anything, regular reed changing ensures good hygiene.
Of course, you can avoid many of these issues by switching to a synthetic cane. However, synthetic reeds still wear down over time, they just take longer to do so. I’d recommend changing your synthetic reed every 1-2 years depending on how often you play.
The cane vs synthetic reed is a debate for another time…