Why Are Saxophone Reeds So Expensive? Rigotti Reed Factory Tour – Better Sax

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Rigotti Reeds

Rigotti Reeds are some of the best in the business. How many times have you bought a box of reeds and think, damn these things are really expensive…

I know I do!

During the summer of 2019, I toured the Rigotti Reeds Factory in the South of France near St. Tropez. After putting this video together, I finally understand why reeds are so expensive.

Once we arrived, our host hopped in the car and we went straight to lunch because… France.

After a delicious lunch, the tour began.

Growing Cane

The cane is really heavy during the summer because of all the leaves. It weighs down the cane causing it to lean quite a bit and block the pathways. With all of the leaves it looks more like a jungle right now than a farm. In the fall, the leaves fall off, and the cane goes back to standing straight up.

This cane is 1 year old and Rigotti will harvest it next winter. 

Jay with Daniel Rigotti and 1 year old cane

This type of cane grows really quickly. You can see that this young cane is only 2 weeks old, and it’s already very tall.

When it comes out of the ground it has definitive diameter. While it’ll get much taller, the thickness itself won’t change. Just by looking at it, we already know that this cane is going to make alto sax reeds. Just by looking at the diameter we know that this cane is going to be for clarinet or alto reeds.

Jay marvels at the 2 week old cane in his hands

Today is a very windy day, and that’s the advantage we have here in the Var since the Mistral blows very hard. This type of cane works so well for musicians because the wind mimics our air stream when we’re playing the saxophone. The wind pushes the cane back and forth like our air stream causes the reed to vibrate. When the leaves fall off and the wind stops, the cane goes back to standing upright and returns to its original position. Just like when you stop playing, the reed returns to its straight position against the mouthpiece.

Cane blowing very strongly with the Mistral Winds

Stages of Production at Rigotti

I’m walking around with Daniel Rigotti. He took over the factory from his father who worked for and later bought the company from Prestini. 

He’s going to take us on a tour of all the different stages involved in producing high quality cane reeds.

Storage Facility where bundles of cane are stored in the dark

Next we’re heading towards another storage facility. Here, large bundles of cane are stored in the dark and aged for about a year.

Dylan Rigotti standing inside the storage warehouse.

Daniel’s Son Dylan is tossing those bundles into the container. Afterwards, the bundles of cane are transported to another workshop.

Bundles of cane getting ready for transfer

The Workshop

First, the cane is trimmed down to its usable parts.

Cane is being trimmed

Then, the unusable parts are tossed into a black bin and what ever is left goes into a white sac to be sorted. It’s amazing how much of the excess cane is sent to the compost.

The excess cane is pushed off of the workstation and into a black bin for composting

In the same workshop there’s a woman doing the same thing for cane that will later become oboe and bassoon reeds.

This woman is trimming down cane for oboe and bassoon reeds

At this point, the cut cane tubes are loaded into a custom built machine fit for a victorian science fiction novel.

The diameter and thickness of each tube are precisely measured, and then sorted by instrument.

The diameter and thickness of the reed are measured

Now that the cane has been aged, we know exactly what kind of reeds each tube will make. A machine trims them down to the precise length necessary, and then split into quarters.

Jay looking like a kid in a candy store

At this point, the white sacs are closed up and taken upstairs to a very dark and dry place.

Bundles of cane are stored here, in the dark, for about a year before they are finally trimmed and shaped into playable reeds

Now we’ve arrived at the last stop in our reed’s journey. In this workshop, the aged, cut, and split pieces of cane are turned into playable, music-making reeds!

The final workshop where reeds are shaped to become playable

The process is highly mechanized. It requires constant supervision and maintenance from a team of technicians that keep the process going 19 hours a day. The temperature and humidity levels must be kept at a constant cool and dry level.

Reed Testing

Eric Fillou is a local instrument repair technician who also works for Rigotti testing their reeds for quality and consistency.

He’s going to take us through each station of this workshop.

We start out with these bins of sorted blanks that have been brought over from the the other workshop.

Jay stands with Eric Fillou as he shows us the bins of sorted reed blanks

Then another bin gets the reed blanks facing the same way, and then feeds them along a conveyor belt into the cutting and sanding machine.

This machine helps to get the reeds facing the same way

First the table is cut, and then sanded down.

Machine that cuts the table
Machine that sands down the table

Next, the rails of the reeds are trimmed very precisely. Then comes the initial bevel cut.

You can see the initial bevel cut on the reeds in the back of the machine

The prepared blanks are now ready to be turned into the different cuts. Rigotti makes a variety of cuts under their own name as well as for other brands.

Jay studies the machine that cuts the vamp of the reed

This machine cuts the vamp of the reed and works the same way as a key copying machine.

It cuts the blank following the exact shape of the model. At this point of the process, the reed will get its individual profile.

The reed gets its individual profile here

Almost Done…

The next machine takes the profiled reed, and first cuts the tip in same way as a reed trimmer you may have. It then tests the flexibility of the reed to determine what its strength and what is printed on the label.

This is the machine that trims the reed

One by one, all of the finished reeds are carefully inspected by hand.

About 30% of these finished reeds end up going straight back to the compost pile because of small imperfections.

Reeds getting inspected by hand

Daniel’s wife Florence is standing behind a desk putting reeds into their plastic sleeves and then into the boxes which get shrink wrapped. This whole process gets done by hand to make sure you get a box with 10 top quality reeds.

Florence Rigotti sits behind the desk putting reeds in their plastic cases

Final Thoughts

So yes, reeds are expensive to buy. But clearly, they’re also very expensive to produce.

The process takes years, AND it requires large amounts of land located in a very expensive part of the world.

It’s labor intensive and Employees in France actually cost a fortune.

So if the thought ever crossed your mind that saxophone reeds are priced too high, just keep in mind that the Rigotti family is doing the manual labor themselves to produce these reeds for us, at the highest level of quality.

So my hat is off to them! Thank you Daniel for taking the time out to give us this inside look at the reed making process. 

If you haven’t ever tried Rigotti reeds I encourage you to pick up a box to try out they are fantastic, very consistent and made with pride.

If you’ve ever visited the Rigotti Reed Factory or have used Rigotti Reeds, let me know in the comments below!

Want to purchase your own Rigotti Reeds? Here are links to the Rigotti Gold Jazz Reeds for Alto and Tenor.

Interested in more content on reeds? Check out my comparison of Cane Reeds vs. Synthetic Reeds.

Also be sure to follow BetterSax on Facebook, InstagramLinkedIn, and YouTube to stay up to date with us for news, giveaways, and other saxophone tips and tricks.

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