As you know, our company manufactures and sells (among other things) saxophone mouthpieces and synthetic saxophone reeds. In the course of talking with customers in an attempt to assist them with their purchase, I have become increasingly frustrated by the lack of standardization in the saxophone accessory business.
We recently published a reed strength comparison chart. The information on this chart was obtained in the course of our research into ways to build a better synthetic reed. If you examine the data, you’ll immediately notice that there is virtually no rhyme or reason to the systems manufacturers use, except for the fact that higher numbers indicate harder reeds. The grading scales are far from even within a given brand, and there is virtually no way to compare brands easily. To further complicate matters, some brands are now offering filed and unfiled reeds, quarter strengths, and sub-strengths within a given hardness number. There’s no mention of the profile (which is really critical information), just strength. On top of all of this, I don’t think you can count on all the number three unfiled hard reeds from any given manufacturer being consistent with one another…..this is why we grade our Hurri-Cane reeds soft, medium, and hard. Clearly, some sort of commonly agreed upon system is needed.
The mouthpiece system is even worse. Most manufacturers use a system of digits that indicates a larger tip opening as the number gets higher. The first problem (among many) is that nobody has agreed upon the amount of increase each successive digit represents. A logical solution to this, of course, is to express tip openings in some unit of measurement ( thousandths of an inch are sometimes used, fractions of a millimeter would be better), and this is done by a few companies, including ours. The difficulty arises when a customer asks for a tip opening “around a number eight” but fails to tell you exactly whose number eight they’re talking about…..of course, there is far more to accurately describing a mouthpiece than just the tip opening. You also need to know the length of the facing curve (there’s a pretty standard system in place among mouthpiece makers using half millimeters), the type of curve (radial or parabolic), the size of the chamber (Berg Larsen had a good system, with 0 being the smallest, 3 being the largest), and maybe the type baffle. I’m sure if we got the mouthpiece makers to sit down one night with a couple of bottles of good bourbon we could easily work this out.
I guess this is my public request to my peers in the industry to act on this problem. We’ll see if anybody else even thinks it’s a problem, or wants to do anything about it……..