Thought I’d do a fun little test comparing some of my favorite synthetic saxophone reeds; the Fibracell vs Fiberreed. I started out only comparing the Fibracell to the Fiberreed Carbon Onyx but then also included the Fiberreed Hemp.
Introduction to the Synthetic Reed
These days I talk to a lot of players that have either switched over to a synthetic sax reed or are using it alongside their natural cane reeds. So, it does seem like more and more are doing this but in reality, the reed industry is still selling way more natural reeds than synthetic ones. At least for now anyways.
Some people say they’ll never switch from a cane reed and then there are others who swear never to go back to one! I’m not surprised though, seems like everything else that involves saxophone equipment, the reeds, ligature, mouthpiece and saxophone… it’s all very subjective.
Synthetic materials have really taken over in many of the other instruments that once relied on natural materials. Guitar and bass strings were once made from the gut of cows and sheep. Now that would be pretty hard to find and if so a lot more expensive than the steel and nylon strings we see everyday. Even for us sax players, there’s no more mouthpieces made out of wood! We’re using plastic, ebonite, metal, carbon fiber, and even glass.
So What Exactly are the Synthetic Materials Used in Reed Manufacturing?
Like all makers of synthetic reeds, the whole idea is to artificially mimic how a natural cane reed works. The one who does this the best will eventually be the winner!
All manufacturers will go about this in their own way of course, although there are some similarities.The first Synthetic reeds were made from plastic. Some people still refer to synthetic reeds as plastic reeds but the industry has move on from just using plastics.This is a good thing and the reason there are more and more players using them today. They are much better now than even just a few years ago.
Most are made from several types of polymer-composites such as fibers and then held together with some type of epoxy resin. Also used are the materials polystyrene, polycarbonate, carbon fibers and fiberglass. The Fiberreed Hemp uses the natural hemp material along with natural wood fibers. This actually makes it an all natural reed. Just not in the natural sense as we would think of a cane reed.
Fibracell Synthetic Saxophone Reeds
These guys have been around a very long time now. It’s well established as one of the most popular and best selling synthetics. From the selection the store had when I bought mine to the information that I saw online, they only make one model or style of reed which is called the Fibracell Premier. Their official website fibrecellreeds.com is no longer up so not sure what’s happening with them.
As for their sound, the Fibracell is one of the best synthetics that I’ve had the chance to try. Good intonation and good all the way up and down the horn. Altissimo is easy as well and good tuning up there too. Reed makers size their reeds differently but the #3 that I have is sized perfectly to match the Vandoren canes that I am used too.
How long the Fibracell reed will last is still up in the air for me. I keep one handy but don’t use it nearly as much as my other reeds. I can say I’ve had it over one year and still playing great on a part time basis. Other reports from personal friends and online reviews have been anywhere from a few to six months.
Another good thing about this reed is that it’s pretty versatile as far as being playable on whichever mouthpiece I decide to use it on. Price is under $20
Fiberreed Synthetic Saxophone Reeds
Unfortunately you can’t talk about Fiberreeds the same way because they have several models or types to choose from. You can check them all out on another post I did called the Fiberreed Review.
I didn’t like them all. The very first one called the “Natural” plays too dark for my taste.The next one produced was the “Carbon”. This one plays a little stiffer out of the box than some other ones so it took me a little longer to warm up to it. Now I am really enjoying it but still want to do a little work to it to see if I can get it perfect because there is a lot of tone there.
The next reed from Fiberreed was the “Hemp”. This one is the third one in the comparison video here. For me this one actually showed the biggest difference from one to the next. It has an undeniable “buzz” to it’s sound. I’ve heard some players say they don’t want this from a reed. I like it. The Hemp also feels lighter and easiest to play. It might lack some of the “bottom end” of the EQ spectrum so to speak but what it does have sure cuts through.
The fourth, and newest member of the Fiberreed family is the “Carbon Onyx”. Unlike the Carbon mentioned earlier, the Onyx is made entirely with the carbon fiber material.
I took to this reed right away. It looked the weirdest of any synthetic reed I ever saw because it’s totally black in color. The feel and sound sold me though. It doesn’t have that buzz like the hemp but is the fullest all-round sound of any reed. It also plays great out of the box. This will depend on getting the right strength of course. I am comparing it with the Carbon in that the ones I have are both a “Medium” but the carbon feels a little stiff whereas the Onyx feels perfect right away.
I proudly endorse Fiberreeds and allow their sales directly from this site’s store here:
To try a Fibracell I believe your best price is from Amazon here:
Fibracell Saxophone Reeds
Let me know what you think about the Fibracell vs Fiberreed video comparison…
stick with the onyx it sounds the best for the whole range of sounds.
the hemp sounds like you could go up a reed strength (imo).
the fibracell sounds a bit stiff (imo)
Low and medium pitches, sounded ok for all three reeds,
i have a problem with the very high pitches, a couple notes really bugged me,
i’m not sure if its the sax or the reeds (imo)
The thing i find with the sax, to me it always sounds better with other instruments.
The sax, to me it always sounds better with other instruments.
well, they all sounded like Synth, the onyx won but not a great win, , i wish you would have thrown in a cane reed just to offset the synth sound, but thanks johnny
Carbon Onyx wins my vote. I’ve been using and enjoying them for a few months now on both my tenor and alto. Can’t wait for you to start stocking the soprano! Thanks for posting, Johnny!
regarding soprano, it’s just not being produced…not yet anyway. if/when Harry starts doing that I’ll let you guys know.
Johnny: The Hemp has a more mellow sound. The Carbon is all around best? If you are looking for a edgy tone or, so called dark. We are back to, the ear of the beholder? I have played all of these reeds. Just got the Hemp. MS, sounds nice to me. To me the player has so much to do with our sound. My take. Tim
Hi Johnny I have all 3 and have been playing with them. The Fibercell is good but a bit too weak a tone (from my experience) The Hemp is exactly how you have described it as easy to play with a buzz, if that is what you are looking for ( i prefer to get my buzz other ways lol) but I like the easy of how the Altimisso range come out. The Carbon you used in your video is my favorite tone but i have found it is the most difficult (in my case) to control the Altimisso range. Depending on the gig I usually use Rigotti cane reeds and alternate with the Carbon. (The Rigottii reeds seemed to have deteriorated in their quality. I used to get about 6 to 8 good reeds in a box but now i am lucky if I get 3)
Have the other two, but now I am ordering a hemp
Carbon Onyx is my first choice then comes the hemp reed. However yesterday the java cane 2.5 was blowing nicely with my two rover ligatures, the Versa-X and the Van Gogh.
Johnny, c’mon! You’ve GOT to test & compare Legere reeds to the others. You’re both Canadian!
already did legere, check the blog!
The wife of the founder/inventor of Fibracell Reeds, David Shaffer (b. 6/20/28, d. 2/14/2016), Joyce Shaffer, has a website at https://fibracell.info/about-2/about where there is a set of reed purchasing links….Amazon and FibracellDirect . The actual company is MIRI Corp., 1080 Linda Vista Drive, San Marcos, CA 92078 …Tele: 760-744-1128.
Fiberreed now seems to be selling for the soprano sax…..but not the “FiberCarbon Onyx” yet…. (I think).
I will (hopefully soon) be comparing the Fibracell Premier and the Fiberreed FiberCarbon Onyx for the soprano sax.
Thanks so much for your excellent website from a new soprano saxophone player (Yamaha 875 EXHGS) but an older clarinet player.
thanks for the update on fibracell James. regarding soprano, yes fiberreed do make them but not yet with the new onyx. I think it’s just a matter of time.
I’ve been on the REED journey just like everyone else for a long time! Recently, I discovered the Harry Hartman Fiberreeds and I love them. I am a Blues, R&B, Rock, Funk, Latin, Pop sax player. I also have a 4 piece jazz group but don’t seem to get too many good paying gigs lately. Anyway, I have tried both the Fiberreed and the Fiberreed Carbon Onyx, my choice is the ONYX. However, I am concerned with the amount of play time I have with them. Currently, I am playing with a Pop/Rock/R&B dance group and also with a Bruce Springsteen Tribute band. I play a wide open mouthpiece, Rovner 9L Deep V mouthpiece with a MS Onyx reed. In both of my bands I play a lot of altissimo notes. I find that I get around 4 hours of great reed strength and then not so much. So, I now bringing two tenor saxes to my gigs with two different mouthpiece setups. I use one sax (Silver Yamaha Custom Z82ii) for the songs such as “URGENT” by Foreigner where I have to play the upper range with a new reed. I use my other sax, (1975 Selmer Mark VI) for most of the other songs with a reed that has had more use and is not as “IN Your Face”. Fortunately, I have found that the American website, https://www.thomannmusic.com/harry_hartmann_fiberreed.html sells the ONYX for around $22.00. So, I have been buying 5 at a time and I am trying to rotate them as much as I can to extend their life. Anyway, I am now looking for a reed that is as good as the Fiberreed that has a longer lifetime!
Hey Ken, I have also been playing the Onyx primarily for the last couple years or so since it came out and love it. I also rotate them as I usually have 4 or 5 sitting on my desk. The other one I also like is a newer one called Copper Onyx. It’s slightly different sounding but easy to play….don’t think it has a longer playing life tho.