Comparative reed table

Our range

Our range of reeds is based on ninety years of history. Today Voci Armoniche offers musicians and bellow-driven aerophone manufacturers the best of the Italian manufacturing tradition, with its further development in the name of evolution and improvement.

The uncertainty that surrounds reeds is a “historical” constant. This is partly due to the difficulty in technically evaluating the reed, because it is objectively complex, and partly due to the variables to which the reed is subject in the reed blocks and in the instrument, which are equally complex. All this has led to oversimplification in order to have references; and often the over - or underestimation of the reeds.

The most common classification of reeds, which divides them into three groups, industrial quality, hand-finished (tipo a mano) and handmade (a mano), according to price, craft value intensity and quality, is only indicative and risks being simplistic and inaccurate if taken literally. It is also an outdated classification, which does not take into account the changes in the production environment that have already taken place and those still in progress. Above all, it does not consider the differences that exist between the same categories of reeds made by different manufacturers: beyond the definition, or the name, there is the concrete reality of the reeds, of their different quality in terms of acoustic potential.

Voci Armoniche, over the past few years, breaking with the practices of the past, has moved the quality between the different types of reeds upwards, improving the acoustic potential across the range; in parallel, we have further characterised the different types of reeds acoustically. A double qualification, which has increased product quality as well as differentiating it. Today, each type of our reeds has its own more vivid and intense colour.

This comparative reed table only refers to the reeds of our own production. It is in no way applicable to reeds in general. The range is divided into four types of reeds: for each type we have highlighted the main technical characteristics, leaving the acoustic ones until last, which are the most important for the musician and the instrument maker. This is our colour palette: a guide for choosing what best suits your musical needs and taste.

Comparative reed table

Super Durall Tipo a mano A mano BlueStar®
Brief description Reliable, essential reed in 2000 series aluminium alloy, made in Italy with a high acoustic potential and an excellent quality to price ratio. High range, classic, versatile professional reed with excellent acoustic potential: the original “tipo a mano”reed, made in Italy. High range professional, classic, concert standard reed with excellent acoustic potential: the original reed of Italian artisan tradition. Top of the range, professional reed with very high acoustic potential. Excellent, innovative, essential, inimitable, made in Italy.
Plate
material
Series 2000 Aluminium alloy Series 2000 Aluminium alloy Series 2000 Aluminium alloy Series 2000 Aluminium alloy
Tongue
material
C100S
Steel strip of width 120
C100S
Steel strip of width 120
C100S
Steel strip (nastrino) width 8-10
C100S
Steel strip of width 120
Tongue
shape

Slightly trapezoidal

Slightly trapezoidal

Tending towards parallel

Tending towards parallel

Tongue
square base
Medium Large Large Large
Tongue
profile quality
★★★★★ ★★★★★ ★★★★★ ★★★★★
Precision of gap between tongue and plate ★★★★☆ ★★★★ ★★★★★ ★★★★★
Finish ★★★☆☆ ★★★★☆ ★★★★★ ★★★★★
Timbre / acoustic profile Classic, lively, with an intense, rich, defined, brilliant, balanced flavour. Classic, consistent, with an intense, rich, defined, brilliant, balanced flavour. Classic, concert standard timbre with an intense, rich, defined, full, balanced flavour. Classic, concert standard, with an intense, rich, defined, balanced, full flavour, proper to the note pitch, finely balanced in the overall effect of the different octaves.

Handmade, Hand-finished and Commercial reeds

Insight: the reality beyond the common myths
  • Although it is generally true that handmade reeds are among the most expensive types, it is not true that they are completely handmade. As early as the 1920s, the Italian craftsmen who made reeds by hand used semi-finished parts, tongues made from nastrino and plates, industrially produced in factories and left unfinished on purpose, then meticulously adjusted and finished by hand. Even then, completely handmade tongues were very seldom seen.

    The slang term for the profile of a hand-finished tongue was “tirato”. For decades now, nobody has made the tongue profile entirely by hand, using a three square file and starting from the solid piece. And those artisans that performed all the assembly phases of a handmade reed individually have also long disappeared. Today, a reed that is entirely handmade, like those crafted in the thirties, would cost between 15 and 20 Euro, with no guarantee of its superiority over a well-made modern reed.

    Nor does it go without saying that a handmade reed will be excellent just because it is handmade; today, even more so, the fact that a reed has a tongue with a blue edge to the square base, that is, with a tongue made from nastrino, is not in itself a guarantee of high quality. The blue edge of the square base on the tongue of a handmade reed is the element by which it can be most easily identified at a glance: for this reason the blue edge of the square base has become the distinctive characteristic of the handmade reed. The blue edges of the tongue, in the two sides of the square base, are the blue colour of the steel strip from which it is made, which is narrowed to eight millimetres for reeds and so is known as “nastrino” or “narrow strip”.

    It is not true that the steel of the narrow strip - nastrino - used to make handmade tongues has superior metallurgical properties to those of standard steel strip: the only thing that differs is the width. Instead the metallurgical properties are identical. Its use in making handmade reeds was favoured because, given the limited equipment available at the time, it was easier to make the tongues from the narrower “nastrino” than from the much wider strip itself.

    An important aspect of handmade reeds was, and still is today, their acoustic quality content, which was achieved through the craftsmanship of its maker in the past. Indeed, the manufacturers’ semi-finished parts had to be painstakingly fine-tuned and finished in order to obtain a very precise reed in the gap between tongue and the plate, and a perfectly shaped tongue.

    The bombatura – the tongue “convex” shape - of a handmade reed is the result of the finishing process carried out on the surface of the tongue, which is done by hand using a specific method. The finishing process refined the previous work of the file that shaped the tongue, and it was performed with a wooden stick, with a piece of emery cloth attached. Today, the bombata reed is a version of the handmade reed where the surface of the tongue is finished by hand with emery cloth, using a stick, exactly as it had been done in the past.

    Today, a handmade reed, to be classified as such, should be riveted strictly by hand, and have a high level of precision between tongue and plate, and a perfectly crafted tongue in every respect. In addition, aesthetics and form in all aspects of the reed, from the radial design of the rivet head to the polished surface of the plate.

    Sometimes overrated, since the 1990s the handmade reed has lived in an imaginary world, often cultivated for commercial reasons, evoking a mythical past where the present lacks the ideal and creative resources needed for looking to the future. One should be wary of those who offer reeds that share nothing with real handmade reeds but their appearance- the blue edge of the tongue square - but do not feature the same content, i.e. acoustic potential. There are so-called handmade reeds that are barely hand-finished with a tongue made from nastrino; others only bear the name of handmade reeds, and not the substance, the finish, nor the grace.

  • In the early fifties, Luigi Antonelli invented the hand-finished reed because he found it impossible to obtain consistent, constant quality from the artisans who produced handmade reeds. In fact, naturally every artisan had his own personal style, and even when the level of craftsmanship was high, there was no guarantee that the reed would be identical. Additionally, handmade reeds were only available in small quantities that did not meet the demand. Quite rightly, Luigi Antonelli designed and made a valid alternative to the handmade reed, while still continuing to produce it, leaving its original characteristics intact and uncompromised. And for this reason he called it the Tipo a mano – handmade-style finished reed. Even hand-finished reeds needed to be adjusted by the craftsman who assembled the semi-finished part on behalf of the company. Since the semi-finished parts had been improved, the craftsman did not need as many skills to make them and it took him less time, but he was still required to take great care in ensuring the precision of the gap between the tongue and the hole of the plate, in tuning the tone and in finishing the piece, also in the aesthetic aspects, such as the shape of the rivet head with radial facets and the cleanliness of the work. The hand-finished reed was a great success: it offered the market an excellent reed, with a consistent acoustic character, at a lower price than the handmade reed.

    Today, for Voci Armoniche, the hand-finished reed remains faithful to the original idea of a high range reed: a similar, yet different alternative to the handmade reed, with its own excellent acoustic characteristics.

  • As for the cheaper reeds, which can be loosely defined as commercial, it is true that they are the reeds that cost the least, but it is not true that their production, in Italy, was and still is completely carried out by mechanical means. The denomination of industrial or “mechanically produced” reeds is ambiguous, and in the past it probably referred not to the production of semi-finished parts, but to the stages of assembly, the latter being a characteristic of German reeds in the 1930s, and of Czech reeds, which were derived from the German ones. In fact, the mechanisation of semi-finished part manufacturing, introduced in the Castelfidardo area as early as in the 1920s, contributed decisively to the improvement of the Italian reeds. Instead, it was the all-Italian ability to finish and refine the reed by hand, in the organised assembly stages, that made the Italian reeds the best, surpassing their German counterparts in the quality stakes.

    In our case, today, their assembly involves both manual steps that require skill and expertise; and mechanised steps, subject to careful control of the functional aspects of the reed, which ensure the excellent overall quality of the reed. In addition, the semi-finished parts used for our Super Durall reeds are excellent, as they share the same basic structural elements as high range reeds.

    So it is not true that, in absolute terms, the quality of commercial reeds is inferior to the other two kinds of reeds, namely the handmade and hand-finished types. It depends on what is meant by quality. And above all, it depends on who produces the reeds, i.e. the way they are made and where they are made, as is in any case true for all kinds of reeds. And it also depends, very much and always, on how the reeds are assembled and exploited within the instrument.