Filed vs. Unfiled Reeds

Filed and Unfiled Reeds Explained

Reeds are used in many woodwind instruments, including the clarinet, saxophone, oboe and bassoon. In reed instruments, the sounds or vibrations are made when air is blown across a thin piece of material called a reed. The reed vibrates, making the sound, which is then amplified by the air in the body of the woodwind instrument. Some instruments have one reed that vibrates against a mouthpiece, as in a clarinet or a saxophone. Other instruments use two reeds that vibrate against each other, such as in the oboe and the bassoon.

What are reeds made of?

Traditional reeds

For centuries, reeds have been made from a plant that is a member of the grass family, Arundo Donax, commonly known as giant cane. Reeds made from natural materials must be grown, aged, cured and correctly cut for each instrument. The organic nature of cane reeds means that they break down more easily through contact with saliva and air and no two reeds are exactly the same.

Synthetic reeds

These days, many manufacturers are producing synthetic materials for reeds, most of which are composites made from fibers held together by resins. Reeds made from these composites imitate the visual appearance of natural cane. To produce a synthetic reed, the material is produced in segments similar to the shape of cane, and then machined, cut and shaped the same way as cane reeds.

Learn more about the differences between synthetic and cane reeds.

What’s the difference between filed and unfiled reeds?

Synthetic and cane reeds are two distinct styles of reeds that players can choose from. They can also decide between filed and unfiled reeds.

  • Filed reeds (also called double cut or French cut) are reeds that have an extra strip of the bark removed in a straight line, just below the vamp. This allows for extra flexibility and fast response.
  • Unfiled reeds (also called American Cut, regular reeds or single cut) are identified by their distinct “U” shape at the bottom of the vamp and no line. They produce a powerful tone.

Players who use moderately resistant and darker sounding mouthpieces, such as a rubber Ottolink, prefer filed reeds, like D’Addario Woodwinds Select Jazz Filed Tenor Saxophone Reeds. The filed reed allows these resistant mouthpieces to blow more freely and produce a brighter tone. Players who use easy-blowing and moderate to bright mouthpieces prefer unfiled reeds like Vandoren Alto Saxophone Reeds or Rico Bb Clarinet Reeds.

Players may also select a filed or unfiled reed based on the style of music they’re playing. Using the saxophone as an example, classical music requires a reed and mouthpiece combination that produces a darker, more tonal sound, suggesting the use of a filed reed. Jazz or pop saxophone prefers a combination that produces a brighter, edgier sound, meaning an unfiled reed is likely the best choice.

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