One of the most purchased items in a woodwind player’s career, with the exception of flautists, are reeds. A product made of cane, this small item is as essential to playing as the instrument itself, while unfortunately not keeping the same shelf life as other items. Eventually, reeds crack, chip, or soften to the point where they are no longer able to be used and must be discarded. With each purchase the number one question we receive is how to keep the reeds lasting longer. The answer is a reed guard.
Reed guards come in a few varieties, ranging from basic plastic to a full close-cased humidifier pack. Most often, a reed player will start with a basic plastic reed guard holding anywhere from 3-5 reeds depending on the manufacturer and instrument. These are a great place to start, as they help protect against external damage that may be caused to the reed while inside of the case or band binder.
For clarinets and saxophones, there is a slight upgrade version to these where a silicone bottom replaces the all plastic base on the basic models. This change facilitates three positive changes for reed storage: mold prevention, breakage, and rotations. Unfortunately, reeds can in fact mold, as they are a wood product that is constantly at a high point of humidity. The silicone base helps wick the water away from the reed to dry them out before mold can set in. The softer silicone base also prevents easier breakage of the reed from removing and inserting into the reed guard. The last aspect, rotations, refers to the process of playing reeds in a set order, rather than constantly playing one reed until it breaks. Rotating reeds allows the reed to be under a less constant stress, extending the lifespan of the reed. Most times, players will have to number their reed guard to remember what rotation they are on, but most silicone bases will have number already put into the reed guard itself.
The highest level of reed guards are those that completely incase the reeds in a protective shell and use humidifier packs to keep the reeds at a constant humidity level. With higher amounts of protection and a stable environment, reeds in these cases will generally last weeks longer than their counterparts. Without the constant flux of humidity, cracks rarely form in the reeds and molding is much less common. This cases also have a higher capacity for storage than others, generally holding 5-8 reeds depending on manufacturer and instrument.