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Synthetic vs Cane Reeds – Demo & The Stats

1st April 2020

This blog consists of the following information for Sax Players:

  • Playing Comparison: Legere Signature vs Vandoren Traditional (Video Demo)
  • Your Options: Synthetic & Cane options for classical/grade Sax players
  • The Market: Who’s choosing what? Check out the buying trends with our stats

Playing Comparison

We wanted to enlist the help of an expert who has used both cane and synthetic reeds for a period of time. So, welcome Alastair Penman, professional Saxophonist and friend of Dawkes. We asked him to record a couple of examples comparing the Legere Signature vs Vandoren Traditional Blue Box. This example is obviously a more classical leaning one, stay tuned for future jazz examples…

So, did you guess which was which? Honestly?!? We think it’s pretty difficult to hear the difference. So, if we’re saying that for the listener it’s a small difference, if any at all, then it really comes down to how the reeds react for the player, and how you feel playing them and how it suits your budget.

Your Options

This blog is primarily aimed at players using a more ‘classical’ set-up (we’re working on a Jazz one to come soon). Also, although we’re demonstrating on Alto, this applies to all Saxes.

When we say a more ‘classical’ set-up we mean using mouthpieces such as Selmer S80 C*/D, Selmer Concept, Selmer Soloist, Vandoren AL3/4/5 etc. If you’re using these sorts of mouthpieces then your sound will generally be more on the ‘classical’ end of things. You could also use these mouthpieces whilst playing in a concert band, sax ensemble, and many other environments. (TIP: Check out our blog on these mouthpiece options)

CANE:

Within the Vandoren range, most players in this ballpark will be using Vandoren Traditional, Vandoren V12 or the new Vandoren V21. Some other alternatives to consider (if you’re curios or not happy with Vandoren) would be: D’Addario Reserve or Gonzalez Classic. Both are aimed at this market and offer excellent consistency and a different tonal palette.

SYNTHETIC:

We’ve featured the Legere Signature in this test, and whilst they also make a ‘Classic‘ and ‘Studio‘ cut, we’re going to tell you a little secret; for most people the Signature are the best in the Legere range for this sort of set-up. Also, 90% of Legere artists worldwide use Signature reeds – there’s probably a good reason for that!

In terms of synthetic alternatives; we really like the Bravo Reeds, and the G-Reed (specifically Model 2 for these set-ups) are also well worth a a try. The Fibracell are also quite popular, more on this in the stats below. There is also a new D’Addario Synthetic reed coming to the market soon…stay tuned(!) for more.

The Market

Whilst we always support the idea that each player is different, and therefore there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ option, it can be useful to see what the market trend is. You could argue there are various affecting factors such as advertising bias, old habits, hot new trends etc – but hopefully these stats* from the last 3 years will offer some interesting info.

  • *Stats from Dawkes Saxophone Reed Sales
  • 1st April – 31st March (as per years shown)
  • Cane Stats from Box Sales = 1 Unit
  • Synthetic Stats from Single Reed = 1 Unit

Cane vs Synthetic

Firstly lets check out the market share % of cane vs synthetic in the last 3 years:

You can see here that although it’s small increases, synthetic is gradually chipping into the market dominance of cane. If we looked at this over a 5-10 year period it would be slow growth, but continued growth. If things carry on as they are, there’s no reason to expect that growth not to carry on. Thus, big manufactures like D’Addario are keen to have a foot in the ‘true’ synthetic market (not hybrid like Plasticover) with their new VENN reed (coming soon).

Cane: Vandoren vs The Rest

If we concentrate solely on cane, let’s see how the Vandoren market share vs ‘The Rest’ has changed in Dawkes sales in the last 3 years:

You may or may not be surprised to see that (in our sales anyway) Vandoren market share is dropping when compared against other cane options. Again, this trend is probably a longer drip-drip effect to do with increased competition in the market and potentially cost.

Cane: Legere vs The Rest (Synthetic)

We’ve mentioned in the video, and this blog, that Legere are generally the most popular of the Synthetic reeds. Let’s have a look at what percentage of synthetic sales they occupy in the Dawkes synthetic Sax reed sales stats:

So, in the charts above ‘The Rest’ includes: Bari, Bravo, Fibracell, G-Reeds & Plasticover. The popularity in 2019-2020 was:

  1. Legere
  2. Fibracell
  3. Plasticover
  4. Bravo
  5. G-Reeds
  6. Bari

It’s worth noting; of the 58% non-Legere, that Fibracell and Plasticover takes up a good majority. What this shows is that within our synthetic sales, Legere seems to be clearly dominating the synthetic options whilst the other long-established brands (Fibracell & Plasticover) seem to be keeping their ongoing customer base but not attracting more. Within the Legere sales, around 85% are of the Signature series models.

In Summary

  • Synthetic reeds are continually taking market share from cane, albeit steadily
  • Vandoren share of cane sales is slowly decreasing (in our stats)
  • The Legere share of synthetic sales is increasing with new buyers & repeat orders
  • New (often small) synthetic brands are struggling to grab market share
  • There is clear opportunity for big traditional brands to introduce synthetic options

So, what’s our major take-away? There will likely be more disruption in the market in the coming 12-24 months as new synthetic models enter from large suppliers. Looking at all the trends it’s likely that synthetic will take more market share.

There are lots of good reasons to use either cane or synthetic. What we would say is to (a) stay open minded to new options and (b) make sure you’re trying the right type of reed for your mouthpiece. If in doubt contact us for help with this.

Legere Reed Chart

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