The best Clarinet reeds – From Vandoren to Légere So you’ve decided to learn the most wonderful instrument of all woodwinds – the clarinet. You have surely heard that in order to play the clarinet, you need a reed.
The range of different brands and cuts is huge. This article will help you to find the right reed to produce a beautiful sound right at the beginning.
How do I choose the right reed for me?
As a rule, I recommend a reed thickness of 2.5 for beginners. After a year of playing practice and consistent practice, you can change to a stronger reed. Professional clarinetists play on reeds of 3-3.5.
Depending on the mouthpiece opening and the length of the reed, the thickness of the reed may feel different. For example, a mouthpiece with a small opening needs a slightly stronger reed than a mouthpiece with a small opening (For example, a slightly more open mouthpiece is the famous Vandoren B40, a slightly more closed one is the frequently played Vandoren M30).
For my students I generally recommend the «A1» mouthpiece from Licostini-Clarinartis. This mouthpiece is a bit stricter to play and needs an extremely stable airflow, but produces a very sweet and mellow sound with a lot of resonance and an excellent staccato. This mouthpiece is played with reed thicknesses of 2.5-3.5.
Vandoren Clarinet Reeds – the market leader
Vandoren reeds are not considered the market leader without reason. They are extremely durable and offer a great sound quality. You can usually count on 2-3 concert quality reeds in a box of 10 reeds.
To find your favorite among the reeds, I recommend ordering 10 reeds of each cut. Furthermore, I would recommend that you try at least 2 strengths of each model. This way you can be sure that you have tried a good reed from each model and make your own decision.
A great advantage of reeds from the Vandoren company is that each reed comes in an individually sealed outer package. This ensures that the reed will not warp and bend during delivery (cargo hold of airplanes, different climates, rainy weather, sunny weather).
With many other brands, the sensitive woods may arrive at your home already slightly warped, making them more or less unplayable.
I personally have been playing Vandoren Traditional «Blue Box» reeds for many years, with only a few exceptions. They are extremely stable to play, durable and produce a beautiful, warm clarinet sound.
In addition to that, and this is just my own experience (other clarinetists might disagree with you), they tend not to deform and close over time.
Closing = feeling like you can blow less air into the instrument.
The Vandoren V12 reed for clarinet is also very often played. It is characterized by an extremely easy response, a very light and short staccato and a beautiful sound.
From my personal experience I can say that unfortunately I could never create as many timbres and tunings with the V12 reed as with the Vandoren Traditional.
The Rue Lepic reed, named after the street of the Vandoren company in Paris, is another all-rounder from Vandoren. It has a slightly darker sound than the Traditional or V12.
One drawback to these reeds is that there are not very many concert quality reeds in the box. Also, they tend to distort the wood more easily after contact with moisture.
The staccato reed by Martin Fröst. The clarinet reed is characterized by an extraordinary response and easy articulation. In my opinion, the sound of this reed tends rather towards the brighter, more brilliant sound spectrum, which never really appealed to me.
The company D’addario (originally Rico clarinet reeds) advertises mainly with the promise that a lot of emphasis is put on precision in the production of the reeds. Each reed is supposed to be identical to play. Whether this is true, everyone must decide for themselves. Personally, I never really got along with the reeds.
The promise: 10 out of 10 reeds are playable
ALTA Select Reeds represent the pinnacle of reed production and quality for all musicians. The reed is first grown from an environmentally friendly source near the Mediterranean coast. Each reed is then processed with the highest level of craftsmanship to preserve the reed’s natural vascular structure and ensure consistent high quality. The result is a premium leaf with a robust core that exudes a deep and rich resonance. ALTA Select reeds feature outstanding longevity and undiminished sound quality, and their exceptional «10 out of 10» consistency is backed by industry-leading, quality-assured reed replacement service.
At least that’s the statement on Silverstein’s website. It might be worth a try!
The Pl-Class reeds for clarinet offer a very good response in all pitches as well as a full and warm sound.
The very well worked out reed tip area brings highest sound quality with excellent response and reaction.
The only drawback is that the reeds are not supplied sealed. Due to weather changes and environmental influences, the wood can warp before it arrives at your home.
Synthetic reeds are made of composite materials that are intended to mimic the quality and sound of a reed as closely as possible, just like their reed counterparts. Early synthetics were plastics, and the newer synthetic reeds are better sounding and more advanced materials like those used in aerospace.
Légère European Cut vs. Légère Classic Cut
Definitely don’t try to save money here and go for the cheaper «Classic Cut». The «European Cut» is clearly superior and should be preferred in any case. The sound quality, response and intonation of the «European Cut» allows a solid and stable playing pleasure.
Silverstein Ambipoly – Clarinet Reed
Despite extreme efforts in marketing, Silverstein has not managed to make a significant breakthrough with the Ambipoly. I don’t know anyone who «voluntarily» plays this plastic reed, so to speak.
If you come across a video of a professional clarinetist supposedly playing on the Silverstein Ambipoly, this video was most likely made for a decent fee and never used again in private.
The clear verdict is: Don’t waste your money here and order directly the «European Cut» from the Légère company.
Can a reed made of plastic keep up with a reed made of cane?
The answer is yes, but…! In the right combination of plastic reed and mouthpiece, a plastic reed can produce a wonderful, warm and dark clarinet sound.
One mouthpiece that has been developed without exception for plastic reeds like the «European Cut» from Légère is the PlayEasy A2 from PlayNick.
Andreas Ottensamer and Daniel Ottensamer both play on this combination of plastic reed and mouthpiece.
Tip: When you switch from a wooden reed to a plastic reed it takes some time to acclimatize. Intonation, response and lip tension need to be adjusted. Likewise for the switch back to the wooden reed.
Why do wooden reeds vary in quality within a box?
This is because a wooden clarinet reed is a natural product made from reeds and can have different densities and vibration points. Since the reeds are not tested beforehand, it is possible that some reeds sound very bad and are simply unplayable. These you will have to throw away willy-nilly.
I always recommend the wastepaper basket or this creative emergency solution:
Why are there sometimes only good reeds in a box of reeds and sometimes not a single one?
I learned during a visit to Vandoren’s headquarters in Paris that the quality can vary extremely between different batches of Vandoren reeds.
This is because the cutting edges that punch the reeds are very sharp at the beginning, The reeds sound, then very brittle because the pores of the reed are very open and a lot of moisture can quickly penetrate when playing. If, on the other hand, the cutting edge is blunt and must be replaced, the sound quality is also not suitable for concerts. The best quality reeds are made when the edge is neither very sharp nor blunt.
Sometimes you are just lucky or unlucky with a box. That’s life.
If you want to find the perfect reed that suits you and gives you the clarinet sound that keeps you excited and practicing, I recommend ordering a trial package to try all the reeds.
You liked this article? Check this one out: Which is the best reed case for clarinet? – a pro guide
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