Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Henri Selmer Alto Saxophone Reeds Review

Christophe Grèzes, Mouthpiece & Reed Product Manager at Selmer Paris, was kind enough to send me some of the new Henri Selmer Paris Reeds to try and review. Here are my impressions of this rebirth of the Selmer Paris reeds.

Please take a moment to read what the Selmer Paris company has to say about these new reeds below:

In this 130th anniversary of the company’s founding, Henri Selmer Paris is creating a buzz and returning to its initial activity: the design and manufacturing of Saxophone reeds.

Following tradition, Henri SELMER Paris uses reed cane from the south of France, and stands out by using wild cane. Richer in fiber it offers greater durability and lifespan.

Three years of work, in collaboration with the most demanding musicians, were necessary for the Henri Selmer Paris Research and Development team to perfect the profile of a reed adapted to the needs of artists across the musical spectrum, including classical, jazz, and popular music. Ease of vibration, flexibility, richness of sound, and a unique balance across all registers symbolize this new reed.

High precision machines guarantee a quality and regularity in the cut. State-of-the art reed calibration allows musicians to find more great reeds in each box.

The Henri Selmer saxophone reeds carry the name of the founder of the company and professional clarinetist.

They are available for soprano, alto, and tenor saxophones, in strengths 2 to 4.

So as to make the musician’s daily life a little easier, all while respecting the environment, the reeds are sold in a six-pack and include a reed case made of recyclable plastic, designed by Henri Selmer Paris. A practical solution for every musician’s needs.

A worldwide reference for woodwinds, Henri Selmer Paris works closer with musicians than ever before. Thanks to its comprehensive design and manufacturing approach, Henri Selmer Paris exalts the complementary and inseparable trio: instrument, mouthpiece, and reed.

And the official promo video:

While talking to Christophe, he shared his vision for the Henri Selmer Paris reeds. The goal was to make something that did not exist, something new: a reed that is very flexible, while keeping a round and warm sound. In this sense, the vision is similar to the one that yielded the Concept mouthpieces (the newest classical oriented mouthpieces from Selmer Paris): making response more flexible without sacrificing presence, projection and tonal depth.

I enjoy playing filed reeds as they offer more brilliance to my tone which is naturally not very buzzy. I also find they are more flexible, easier to navigate, and articulate with. However, filed reeds can be tricky at times, especially if you are not used to the way they respond. Not only do they feel softer than their unfiled equivalent for the same strength, but they also offer less resistance, which is an attribute some of us rely on.

All of this to say that it was with great familiarity that I started evaluating the new Henri Selmer Paris reeds, which are offered exclusively with a French file cut profile.

These reeds come as a pack of 6, in a case of amazing quality and functionality. Although it is meant only as reed packaging solution, like the more common plastic single reed holders, and is meant to be thrown away and recycled, it is so well thought out and put together that I would feel bad discarding it. It's actually so nice that it definitely gives dedicated reed cases a run for their money. However, this begs the question of how the premium aspect of this packaging affects pricing, and whether a more simple and economical packaging could be a worthy alternative.

Henri Selmer Paris reeds sealed package front]
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Henri Selmer Paris reeds case closed
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Henri Selmer Paris reeds open case
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Christophe sent me a pack of #2.5 to try, as I usually play D'Addario Reserve 2.5, and I found the Selmer reeds slightly harder. Even though they were slightly harder than what I'm comfortable with out the box, the strength was very consistent from one reed to the other, with minimal variation.

I shared my findings with Christophe, and he was eager to send me a few #2 strength reeds so I could compare and see if they felt more like what I'm used to. Upon playing the #2 reeds, I realized the #2.5 were not necessarily harder. Compared to the reeds I'm used to play, the Henri Selmer reeds have more material in the heart, while keeping a similar profile for the tip. The #2 felt too thin at the tip for my preference, while keeping a less pronounced but similar feel in the back.

On top of this, after breaking in the #2.5 over a longer period of time, while waiting for the pack of #2 reeds, they opened up nicely to where I was comfortable playing them.

The sound and response of the new Henri Selmer reeds reflect my experience with their profile: the easiest way to describe these new Henri Selmer reeds, is that they are a cross between D'Addario Reserve and Vandoren V16 reeds. They have the fast response to air and articulation, and slightly brighter top that the D'Addario Reserve, and French filed reeds usually display, and the centered, resonant tone of the V16. Very nice indeed. I could tell the resonance in my tone was much more pronounced, as there is an acoustic upright piano where I practice, and the sympathetic vibrations of the strings were significantly louder than usual. In this regard, these reeds are typical of what I would call the Selmer Paris sound, and what the brand is famous for: this singing tonal quality, a thick presence and deep richness in the mid-range frequencies.

Some reeds were slightly unbalanced, with more material on one side than the other, but after a few passes of my ReedGeek on the offending side, all 6 of the #2.5 Henri Selmer reeds were ready to play (I'm still breaking in the #2's). I don't know whether I was lucky with this pack, or if this is representative of the brand, but it is unlike what I've experienced from other companies products (and I've tried most of them). Within a pack of reeds, there always seems to be a few unsalvageable ones (reeds that are so out of balance, or so far from the advertised strength, that I would not practice on them, even after heavy adjusting), a few of them good enough to practice on, and finally a few I would perform with. Each of the Henri Selmer reeds in the pack I received were at least good enough to practice with, after minimal adjustments. The back of the reeds were also flatter and smoother than I'm used to; it seems I most often have to use my ReedGeek on the table, but these looked and felt like they were polished at the factory.

Henri Selmer Paris reeds are made from wild grown cane (as opposed to cane "farms") from the South of France. Christophe Grèzes was telling me about his personal experience with how durable these reeds are, and attributed this characteristic to the fact they're cut from wild grown cane. Instead of having to switch reeds after a performance, he could use the same reed again and again. It would be tricky for me to verify whether my experience reflects this, as, thanks to the diligent break-in process and rotation I perform, I usually get weeks of use from the reeds I play. Most of the time, the only reason I throw them away is because they have become just too soft, although they still sound great, and I've never been a fan of clipping reeds (it just requires reworking a reed's profile extensively and I'd rather spend my time playing than scraping).

There you have it. It can be delicate to review reeds, as personal taste, playing style and gear make the experience radically different from one individual to the other. I can't tell you whether you will dig the new Henri Selmer Paris reeds or not; what I can tell you is that they're superior reeds made from great cane, and well worth trying out.



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