High-Tech Cane Solutions

DOWNBEAT Mai 2014 – Ed Enright

Harry Hartmann’s Fiberreed continues to expand its line of synthetic reeds for saxophone and clarinet with the addition of a Hemp line that’s made of 80 percent organic materials, including layers of nut tree, birch and real hemp.

Hartmann, a professional saxophonist, founded Fiberreed 20 years ago when he invented his synthetic reeds using a special material called Hollow Fiber Foamresin Compound (HFC), which features hollow fibers and a cellular- like structure similar to real Arundo Donax cane. Since the initial release, Hartmann has come out with various incarnations of the Fiber reed featuring different designs and materials, including Natural and Natural Classic, Carbon and Carbon Classic, and now Hemp. Each cut has different acoustic properties and a unique feel. Players looking for an alternative to cane have given the reeds high marks for their durability; consistency and bold tonal properties.

I recently took the Fiberreed plunge and tried three varieties-Natural Classic, Carbon and Hemp-on soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, as well as clarinet and bass clarinet. On saxophones, the reeds provided a lot of extra support at the high and low ends: Altissimo notes came screaming out with ease, and bell tones spoke clearly whether subtoning or bellowing.

For me, the Natural Classics were the most flexible tonally and pitch-wise; they allowed for extreme effects and the most dynamic playing. The Carbons were the most responsive and pitch-stable, producing a solid, bright tone that would be suitable for most contemporary styles. The Hemp Fiberreeds provided the most realistic playing experience and helped me achieve a darker, more earthy sound like I typically get with real cane. I attained the best results with the medium and medium-hard strengths; the medium softs didn’t really respond or produce sufficient tonal heft.

When I put a Carbon Fiberreed on my clarinet, I was amazed at the results. Clarinet is a “doubling” instrument for me, and I found I could pick up the instrument cold and get a great sound in all registers. For bass clarinet (using a tenor sax Carbon Fiberreed), I found that the deep end wasn’t especially strong, but the notorious register above the break spoke louder and more clearly than ever before.

Synthetic reeds aren’t for everyone. But if you’re the kind of player who wants to avoid the pitfalls of traditional reeds-like warping, cracking, waterlogging, drying out or simply dying out too soon-you might find that Fiberreeds are a viable solution.

4 replies
  1. Thomas Slavinsky says:

    Is there a chance you can make a true bass clarinet reed? Whereas it is true that many musicians use tenor reeds on their bass clarinet mouthpieces
    the extra length of the tenor reeds on the bass MP will surely upset the proper balance needed for a truly expressive response in all registers.

    I love your carbon fiber reeds for alto sax and would love to add that same style reed for my bass.
    Thanks for developing these innovative products for our profession

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