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Fiberreed Comparison on Alto Saxophone

By February 13, 2017January 14th, 2018saxophone articles

I’ve been really enjoying these synthetic alto saxophone reeds recently so I decided to do a Fiberreed comparison on alto sax this time. I have also already done one for the tenor as well. You can check out the Fiberreed review for tenor here.

I’ve been feeling like an old dinosaur the way some people responded to my “new” discovery and excitement brought about by synthetic sax reeds. The ones I’m talking about are the Fiberreeds from Germany. Turns out there are more….a lot more people using them than I ever imagined.

Today, as I prepare my alto saxophone setup to do some recording, I was once again totally frustrated in finding that “perfect” cane reed in the midst of 3 or 4 boxes. There were some good ol’ Rico regulars, Rico Royal, and a newer box of Vandoren ZZ. The ZZ’s are usually pretty good right outta the box but not this time. I must have played the one or two good ones to death the last time I played on an alto.

Anyway, the good news is that the Fiberreeds saved my day. This is good since I only have a couple days to spend with this beautiful Trevor James alto saxophone at this time.

I wanted to share this with my alto sax friends since reeds in general can be such a mystery, if not a headache at times. Just because you’re an experienced player this problem does not necessarily go away.

The Hemp and Carbon Onyx Fiberreeds Came Through

The Hemp and Carbon Onyx Fiberreeds not only played as well as a good cane reed but surpassed my expectations. This was great and a really unexpected experience since I rarely play alto and am trying a brand new mouthpiece as well.

The mouthpiece is a Fiber Carbon Guardala MBII FatBoy and is generally speaking, quite bright. I found the Hemp fiberreed not only very bright but also had that “buzz” sound that I really like, especially in the rock and roll style of playing I do a lot of.

The Carbon Onyx Fiberreed felt like the type of reed that I can count on for a more all-around type of playing styles. Still had the top-end brightness with maybe less “buzz” I guess, and a little warmer and fuller on the bottom end of the horn.

A Major Advantage For Beginners Too

I’ve always told my beginner students to play on a cane reed when starting out. I wouldn’t advise that anymore. Not the way some of these synthetic reeds are playing, no way. They sound great and are consistent, unlike cane reeds which are hit and miss. This can be a major problem when starting to play the saxophone.

When we are first trying to get sounds and then certain notes, there are all sorts of inherent problems ranging from air support, undeveloped embouchure and lack of technique. It’s very difficult to know why something isn’t happening the way it should. It can be any one of these reasons or it can simply be a bad reed. How can a beginner really know the difference between a bad reed and a great one?

Therefor, starting off with a good solid reed that will be consistent for many months will put the student at an advantage.

Only a Matter of Time?

With the smart and creative people in the synthetic reed industry one has to believe that it’s really only a matter of time before the synthetic reeds surpass cane reeds in popularity and sales. I blame the cane reed companies. They are well aware of what goes into every box, how many good playing reeds and how many duds.

Consider the same situation with other instruments. Guitar, violin, bass strings used to be made from animal intestines. Natural fibers found in the intestines of animals such as goats, sheep horses and even pigs is what instrument strings were made of.

Now of course most of these stringed instruments have strings made from nylon, bronze and nickel plated stainless steel. Sure, there are some classical players who will still choose the natural “gut” string but by far most guitar strings sold today are of the nylon and steel variety.

Now several synthetic reed manufacturers companies are using natural fibers from hemp and wood to create a true and great playing reed. Not only for saxophone but for clarinet and a double reed for the oboe as well. We can also expect these types of reed companies to keep developing newer and even better products in the very near future. Personally, I’m really optimistic and very happy about this industry and where it’s heading.

Learn more about the Hemp and Carbon Onyx Fiberreeds here


  • How is the price on fiber reeds in comparison to cane reeds? I am very happy to find out about this, (at least if they don’t cost too much) as I am in need of a new reed for my sax right now. Thanks!

  • Jeff says:

    Thanks for the introduction Johnny, these reeds do sound really good.

  • john says:

    ya, I was very happy too!
    the carbon onyx are 18-18 bucks and the hemp is 30-31$
    so I guess you can say one synthetic reed costs about as much as a box of cane reeds (depending on which one of course)
    but the synthetics are perfect out of the box and last for many months….they say a year but I’m new to them so can’t tell you.

  • sxpoet says:

    Johnny as always, your playing both on tenor or alto sounds fantastic! For me your new setup will take me awhile to get used to – no different to when an artist starts painting in a different medium.

  • john says:

    thanks! I now have a few choices (on tenor) which means I will go back and forth depending on how I’m feeling and what I’m playing. as far as mouthpieces go, there’s really no one perfect mp for everything. for reeds I think some of these synthetics can sound just like a cane reed, as long as they “feel” right to the player so not as big of an issue for me at this point.

  • Pete says:

    Just purchased a HEMP FIBER after listening to your demo Johnny,
    really pleased with it never liked synthetic reeds before but I think
    I am converted now. Slight “buzz” with the Hemp as you say, which
    I don’t like for my sound but other than that I like it, I will go for the onyx
    next for that warmer sound which I prefer and you sounded great with that
    carbon mp/reed set you had on the tenor demo you did.

  • john says:

    yup, pretty much my sentiments as well. the buzz does have it’s place depending what and where you;re playing of course, at least for me, but it’s important to have the options and I found them both in these two reeds for now anyway.

  • Pete says:

    Thanks for the e mail regarding the problem with supply of the reeds Johnny,
    not your fault I was going to order a ONYX MEDIUM some time soon, I will just
    wait now until further notice from you. Once again not your fault we all know on this
    site you are honest and reliable.

  • Pete says:


  • john says:

    yes Peter, same news: last week he told us that it would be 2 weeks before he could send out the new batch of Onyx reeds. this was 1 week ago so we’re getting close to receiving them in about a week.

  • john says:

    as of today, March 10 I have sent out all reed orders except some of the Onyx tenor mediums because we need to wait for Harry to receive the materials to produce more of them. so, a few more weeks I believe.

  • Derek says:

    Johnny I was fairly happy with the Carbon Onyx on the alto ( using a Selmer C* MPC). The Carbon Onyx on the tenor sounded good on the normal range of the sax but when I play in the fake range ( altissimo) it chocked up on me (Berg Larson 130/20 MPC). I tried to file it down a bit but I had no success. I have also looked on the web site for a harder reed but there does not seem to be any available. I have used other synthetic reed and have been successful with the altissimo. Do you have any suggestions as I like the tone of the reed and would like to give it an honest chance?

  • john says:

    yes Derek, I will order some medium hard when they are available later this month…that may help. personally I can get the altissimo pretty well with my medium onyx, but I know what you mean cause my hemp feels slightly weaker and it’s a little tougher up in that range.

    • Derek says:

      Thanks Johnny I have been using the onyx a bit more lately and find that the upper range is stronger now. Guess it just took a bit of time to get used to the reed. I have been using them off and on and usually toward the end of a gig as I seem to wear out the cane ones after couple of hours and am pleased with their darker sound.

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