Break-in Reeds… Before They Break You

I’m not sure how to start this post without sounding like a cheesy infomercial, so here it goes: Are you tired of reeds sounding bad? Do you hate it when a reed is great one day and completely unresponsive the next? Then boy do I have good news for you pal! With these simple steps, all your reeds will play great, all the time, forever!

Ok, that last line was a bit of an exaggeration, but learning how to break in reeds properly has exponentially improved the consistency and quality of the reeds I use. With better-behaved reeds, practicing is more enjoyable and performing is less stressful. If you feel like you’re spinning the roulette wheel every time you set up to play, read (reed?) on!

The most frequent mistake when starting a new reed is using it too much, too soon. Reeds are made of porous cane, which must seal properly.  During this sealing process, it is crucially that the reed does not get oversaturated and become waterlogged. Waterlogging a new reed is like dropping an ice cream cone on the pavement. There’s so much potential and then…whomp whomp. The solution: only play a new reed for 3 minutes per day for the first full week of playing.

In addition to sealing the reed properly to avoid waterlogging, breaking in a reed is an opportunity to improve responsiveness and consistency for the life of the reed. To do this properly, you will need a piece of flat glass or plastic. Before and after each three-minute session, you will need to massage the vamp and polish the back.

To massage the vamp, place the back of the reed on the flat glass, hold it in place, and vigorously massage the filed part of the reed with your thumb for a few seconds. (Check out figure numero uno.) I find it helpful to focus on any rough patches and smooth them out over the course of the break-in.

Massage the Vamp

Massaging the Vamp

After massaging the vamp, place your fingers on the reed and, applying equal pressure with each finger, rapidly slide the reed back and forth on the glass to polish the bottom.  (Figure deux.)

Polish the Back

Polishing the Back

With this simple process, I hope you will experience the same jump in reed quality that I have!


  1. Only play the reed for 3 minutes per day. Use a timer.
  2. Do this for one week.
  3. Massage the vamp and polish the back of the reed before and after each playing session.


In my next posts, I will go over how to store and cycle your reeds to make sure your reeds are always in great playing condition.


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