I only play Rico reeds. Yes, I've tried many others and when I'm playing classical saxophone (my undergrad degree), I use Vandoren but I don't play classical sax anymore, I play jazz and other contemporary music so I use Rico. The picture here shows the coveted "orange box" variety which unfortunately, I don't have anymore. These old orange box reeds have taken on a mythical status. Not sure if they actually play better but everybody sure wants 'em and they aren't readily available. Maybe therein lies the neurosis of many a saxophone player when it comes to reeds. Let me know if you have a bunch you want to unload - just shoot me an email. I digress.
The reason I use Rico reeds is they have heart. By heart, I mean cane in the right spot - the middle of the reed. The pic below illustrates what I mean:
Make sure the entire reed is wet by putting both sides in your mouth - the saliva acts as an adhesive - and then put it on your mouthpiece. Take a deep breath and blow. What does it feel like? Too hard? Too soft? Just right? Make a note and repeat the process for another 5-10 reeds. When I say make a note, I mean literally, take notes on which reeds play better to you than others. I actually write on the reed (H = hard, S = soft, check mark = OK) but you can jot down your notes on a piece of paper if you want. The point is to separate the wheat from the chaff. When you have your pile of good reeds together, go ahead and play through them all one more time and put them in order from best to worst. I will number them from 1 to n so I know what I'm working with. Be sure not to discard the other reeds you have tested because reeds have a tendency to change over time. Go ahead and put the reeds you aren't using today back in the box for a later date. Please trust me on this one. It may be that those reeds never play but I bet you'll find a few good ones during your next reed finding adventure.
After I've sorted and ordered my reeds, I then begin a two-step process to make them play even better. This process involves a a technique called "lengthening the reed" and "balancing the reed". Both techniques involve a reed knife and lots and lots of practice. Drop me a line if you are interested in learning more about how to create the perfect reed.