A New Reed Creed
Forestone Japan recently began distributing through the U.S. with the same immodest goal that it’s pursued throughout Europe and East Asia – to become nothing less than the future of reed manufacturing. Built using real bamboo wood fibers and a brand new refining process, the company’s new synthetic reeds may be just that.
Wind players have wrestled with the idea of synthetic reeds for decades – the temptation to work with reeds that have proven to be durable and consistent is always strong. But many have been turned off by what’s often referred to as a “plastic” tone.
Forestone started from similar attitudes toward reeds in general, says its president, Lars Heuseler. His product inventor first got the bug when he began noticing customer complaints about the quality of reeds while working as a show room manager. He brought the issue up with his suppliers, but eventually decided to work on his own solution.
The Forestone saxophone and clarinet reed as it stands today is based on two innovations – a material created by a mix of polypropylene resin and cellulose wood fiber (which is over 50 percent bamboo fiber), and a molding and refining process that gets the tip down to a pristine 0.1 mm width. The result is a handsome-looking brown reed with a feel that is strikingly similar to cane reeds. The product took decades to develop.
“At that time our inventor decided on this, in the middle of the ‘70s, he decided to develop his own reed which is perfectly consistent and would sound like a good cane reed,” says Hueseler. “He knew natural reeds could never be consistent and players would never have a reed they could be satisfied with unless it’s synthetic.”
Forestone Japan thus began its long and careful development phase. The company’s first mold for a clarinet reed was created ten years ago, which led to its first actual sale in 2008. The growth since then has been spectacular. Hueseler came on board in 2007 as an international marketing manager – he had worked a lifelong interest in Japan into full-time business pursuit, concentrating on Japanese studies and economics through school. “I’m a ‘Japanologist,’ as we say in Europe,” he says. When he joined the company, they had a product, but nothing resembling a logo or even a name. Soon, they had distributors throughout Japan and in China, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, as well as countries throughout Western Europe like Germany, Swizerland, Norway, Sweden, U.K., Italy and Austria. They just began distributing through the U.S. this year.
Hueseler says it couldn’t come at a better time, and points to what he sees as a general decline in reed quality across the board. “Our founder surely didn’t know 30 years ago how low the bad the cane quality could get,” he says. “Synthetic reeds are the future. But not plastic – a hybrid reed which contains wood fiber but has all the advantages of synthetic reeds.”
Which means, in short, that Heuseler’s targeting not just existing synthetic reed players but those who’ve stuck by natural reeds throughout their lives. This is a strategy he’s pursued with his endorsers as well, a group of certified “synthetic reed haters” who’ve been converted by the Forestone blend and construction. The only criticism so far has been constructive – after hearing from several musicians that a wider reed may be better suited to some styles, the company has announced a new “Jazz Cut,” which is a wider reed that’s on its way soon.
The reaction from worldwide distributers has been encouraging and Heuseler notes that so far, the most difficult market to break into has been the company’s native land of Japan. “The problem is that Japanese prefer foreign brands,” he says. “But lately we have gained a lot of media presence and the Japanese have started to appreciate their own work.”
A partnership with St. Louis Music here in the U.S. was given the green light this past summer and marks the next step in the company’s rapid growth. “Since we joined our first big trade show at Musikmesse Frankfurt in 2010, things have moved forward pretty fast,” says Heuseler. “The reputation so far is incredible. We’re extremely excited as the U.S. market was our most desired market and we just needed the right partner.”
Forestone isn’t stopping there. They’re already deep into plans for not just the new “Jazz Cut” reeds for alto and tenor saxophone, but new reeds for bass clarinet and a professional line-up for Bb clarinet. All in all, it’s an aggressive and confident push to send Forestone’s very particular brand of synthetic reeds into the mainstream once and for all. Heuseler is ready for it. “Forestone is the future,” he says.