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Clarinet Reeds

Clarinet reed choice can be one of the most important parts of your clarinet playing set-up but are YOU playing the right Clarinet reed? Further down the page is a chart listing what strengths suit the main mouthpieces on the market, but before you jump to it are you familiar with how reeds vary and how to choose the best type for your set-up? Below we explain some of the differences, its well worth a reed (ha-ha!) to make sure you're getting the best possible combination with your mouthpiece to help your tone. This will save you money, time and improve your tone. We also have a Clarinet Reed Comprison Chart so you can see how each reed manufacturer grades their reeds.

Clarinet Reed

Clarinet Reed Profile

There are two basic schools of reed profile, American and French.
It is very important to understand that this is directly linked to the mouthpiece style you play. Mouthpieces have a similar two schools of facing design and surprise surprise matching up the two schools usually guarantees the best results. Let me explain...

American style reeds generally are unfiled which means the scrape of the reed is directly cut into the bark at production time. This combined with a thinner heart and thicker tip compliments a mouthpiece with an American facing. This is because the American style mouthpiece facing generally has a flat point around two thirds the way up; this flat point can continue to the tip of the mouthpiece or on some mouthpieces it falls away quite abruptly. This flattening of the mouthpiece curve then demands a reed with a thinner heart and thicker tip to speak properly.

In contrast the French facing style keeps a gradual curve all the way to the tip rail. This French style suits a reed with a thinner tip and thicker heart (the opposite to the American style), this is because the thinner tip of the reed plays better on a gradual curve.

What works...and what doesn't!

We have many players come to Dawkes who have experienced a reed that feels too soft yet stuffy on their mouthpiece, or muffled and choked; this is usually because the wrong type of reed is being played with respect to the mouthpiece used. Let's look at some examples of what works, and what doesn't... Most Vandoren Clarinet mouthpieces have a French style facing, that is to say a gradual curve through the facing to the tip.

Vandoren Clarinet Mouthpiece

Because of this you will find that Vandoren blue box classic Clarinet Reeds will work well for most people.
These Blue box Vandoren Clarinet Reeds have a thin tip and thicker palette which suits the gentle curve. The notable exceptions are the M13/15/30 range which is based much more on the American facing curves, the M13 paying particular homage to the great Kasper mouthpieces of years gone by. These tend to work best with Rue Lepic 56 Vandoren Clarinet reeds which are designed with a thicker tip, the thickest of all Vandoren clarinet reeds. It's no coincidence that as clarinet mouthpiece fashion (especially in the US) has moved back towards American style facings that the reed manufacturers come out with reeds to suit. If you try a blue box on these M series they can feel quite weedy and it tends not to work.

Vandoren Rue Lepic Clarinet Reeds
How do I know the Clarinet Mouthpiece type I have?

This is important to know, it would be impossible to list all the types on here but if you refer back to the 'what works' section above that covers in general Vandoren. As you can imagine American mouthpieces like Link, Meyer etc will have American style facings and will suit thicker tipped reeds like Rue Lepic, Rico Orange or LaVoz. Selmer clarinet mouthpieces though will be more suited to blue box Vandoren classic or similar because they have a French facing curve. In short you can often find this info on the manufacturer's website or consult with one of our experts if you're not sure.

Clarinet Reed Strength

Another important and often misunderstood topic.
Reed strength is generally determined by the type of mouthpiece you are playing on. Of course there are exceptions to all rules but when someone asks me "what strength do you play on?" the answer is only really relevant if I relate it to the mouthpiece.

Example:

A Vandoren 5RV Clarinet Mouthpiece has a short facing and small tip opening (gap between reed and mouthpiece), this type of mouthpiece demands a harder reed, and a softer reed will generally sound poor. Conversely a larger tip opening like a Vandoren B40 needs a softer reed, a hard reed will sound very stuffy... It's not to do with how strong your chops are or how good you are!

Trying New Clarinet Reeds

Now we've given you some info about the different reed and mouthpiece profiles why not try some different reeds that may suit your mouthpiece. If you're not sure just ask. I guess that at least 50% of the players out there could find an improvement in tone and flexibility just by matching the correct reed type to their mouthpiece.

Clarinet Reed Advice

Not sure what to look for? Well challenge us to help you! Use the contact form to tell us your current set-up and we'll recommend what might work, or congratulate you on already choosing so well!

Clarinet Reed

Now we've given you some info about the different reed and mouthpiece profiles why not try some different reeds that may suit your mouthpiece. If you're not sure just ask. I guess that at least 50% of the players out there could find an improvement in tone and flexibility just by matching the correct reed type to their mouthpiece. Not sure what to look for? Well challenge us to help. Use the contact form to tell us your current set-up and we'll recommend what might work, or congratulate you on already choosing so well!

Trying Clarinet Mouthpieces - Tips

We've all done it, got a new mouthpiece out of the box in the shop or at home to try with your best reed and...Oh no, it doesn't sound as good as I hoped for £100!
Try these tips below:

Don't use old reeds; they may well be 'bedded in' to the facing on your original mouthpiece. Make sure you're using the correct reed strength and profile for that mouthpiece type (see Reed Strength and Reed profile sections above). This is so important otherwise it's like trying to squeeze the engine of your old car into the new one you've bought, difficult and pointless! If you're not sure when trying a mouthpiece from us please ask one of our experts. Play short musical passages and pay attention to the feel and response, overplaying will only encourage your old habits and make you replicate your current set-up.

Clarinet Reeds - Do's and Don'ts

I had to put this section in because we see some common things that make our little clarinet brains worry!

Summary

We wrote this article to help, hopefully it will. There is a science to this reed and mouthpiece market; there is also a reason for new releases. It usually goes hand in hand with the demands of musicians that can vary as the years go on, and it's usually linked to mouthpiece trends or designs. It's not 'black magic' so start by trying what should work but feel free to experiment as there are exceptions to every rule. There are also many other considerations that we haven't covered but the basics are a good place to start. If nothing else get interested in your reed and mouthpiece set-up because it can help your playing immeasurably. And after all we don't play to get frustrated or sound bad, we play to enjoy ourselves and that's a lot easier when you're happy with your sound.

Extra Information

You may find the following books useful to read to learn more about reeds and Mouthpieces.

Reed Comparison Chart

Each manufacturer grades their reeds differently, and the Mouthpiece comparison chart shows the differences in reed strength against the most popular mouthpieces.

Mouthpiece Type Blue Vandoren Vandoren V12 Rue L'Epic Gonzalez RC Gonzalez FOF Rico Reserve
           
Vandoren M13 3.5 3.5 - 4 4.5 4 3.5 3.5
Vandoren M15 3 3.5 4 4 3.5 3.5
Vandoren 5RV 3 3.5 3.5 3.5 3 3
Vandoren M30 3.5 3.5 - 4 3.5 4 3.5 3 - 3.5
Vandoren B40 Lyre 2.5 - 3 3 3 3 3 2.5-3
Vandoren B45 2.5 - 3 3 3 3 3 2.5 - 3
Vandoren B40 2.5 - 3 3 3 3 3 2.5 - 3
Vandoren B45 Lyre 2 - 2.5 2.5 - 3 3 3 2.5 - 3 2.5 - 3
Vandoren 5JB 1.5 - 2 2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5 2 - 2.5
Vandoren CL4 3.5 3.5 - 4 3.5 3.5 3 - 3.5 3
Vandoren CL5 2.5 - 3 3 - 3.5 3 3 2.5 - 3 2.5 - 3
Selmer C85 115 2.5 - 3 3 2.5 - 3 3 2.5 - 3 2.5
Selmer C85 120 3 - 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3 3
Weinberg Zenith 2.5 - 3 3 3 3 2.5 - 3 3
Windcraft Etude 2 - 2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5 2 2

Making Clarinet Reeds

These fascinating videos show the whole Clarinet reed making process from Rico and Gonzalez.


Reed Tips

Here are some reed tips from Rico's Dan St.Marseille