Reeds, Reeds, Reeds!

Jeff Coffin

Here’s how I choose my reeds, how I get them ready to play, and how I’m able to get every reed to play by balancing them.

Choosing Them

I choose my reeds based on what has worked for me in the past and for the gigs I am currently doing. For years I have played D’Addario Select Jazz #3 soft, unfiled reeds. I love the warmth, the consistency, and the richness of the sound I get. Find reeds that make it easy for you to play and that don’t compromise your sound.

Breaking Them In

Here are the steps for getting your reeds ready.

  1. Soak your reeds for a couple of minutes. Use warm, not hot, water to soak. Let them dry. Repeat this step a few times for a few days.
  2. Soak your reeds and play each reed for about 30 to 45 seconds. Then put them back into the reed guard. Repeat this step a few times for a few days.
  3. Check the balance of the reed by turning your head to one side while playing (right ear toward right shoulder) to block one side of the reed. Play chromatically from middle C to low Bb. Do the same for the other side. One side will usually be harder than the other.
  4. Balance the reed! Once you have broken them in, there are numerous ways to adjust the side-to-side balance of the reed, allowing you to get every reed to play. You have to take a small amount off the top part of the reed on the harder side. I lay the reed on a flat surface, such as a small piece of glass, then use a small hand sander and 400-grade sandpaper and press lightly in an egg-shaped motion against the grain of the reed. You can also use reed rush, a reed knife, the reed geek, etc.

If you balance the reed, you will find that it lasts a lot longer and really sings!

About author

Jeff Coffin

Jeff Coffin is a three-time Grammy Award winning saxophonist, composer, educator, and author. He has been a band member of Dave Matthews Band since 2008.  Jeff also teaches at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Jeff has published “The Saxophone Book,” co-wrote “The Articulate Jazz Musician” with Caleb Chapman, and released “The Road Book” in late 2019. Jeff is a Yamaha and D’Addario Performing Artist and Clinician.  Visit and for more information.