‘Reed’ all about it…Part 1 of 3. Vandoren & Gonzalez (Clarinet Reeds)

19th July 2020

Clarinet reeds have developed a long way since the old days when the choice was either a blue box of Vandoren or orange box Rico reeds. There are multiple brands that are worth your consideration. Within all brands there are also different models. In this blog we have a look at some of the more popular options (Vandoren & Gonzalez) in Part.1 of our Clarinet Reed ‘State of the Union’…

Vandoren Clarinet Reeds:

Vandoren make 4 main varieties and it is a simple choice as to which might be suitable for you:

The original blue box/traditionals, with a strong heart and very thin tip, are still available, but now we have also the V12, the V21 and the now famous 56 Rue L’Epic’ variety. The V12 is made for long lays so it is cut with a longer heart in the reed and also from lower node cane. If used on a short lay it can therefore have an unclear sound. The 56 Rue L’Epic is cut rather like the American reeds; that is to say with a thinner heart but a thicker tip to compensate; this makes the reeds quite vibrant and ‘instant’ to play.

The new V21 clarinet reed is a combination of both ideas and therefore has a thicker heart than the 56 but also a thicker tip than the standard blue box.

WHAT SELLS? All Strength Comparison

We looked at our sales stats for 2019 (Jan-Dec) and you can see the results below. This chart is the % of each Vandoren model against other Vandoren models in that time period.

Vandoren Clarinet Reeds
  • Traditional: 53%
  • V12: 20%
  • Rue L’Epic: 19%
  • V21: 8%

There are some factors to consider when looking at these stats:

  • The Traditional blue box have been around a looooong time, many players and teachers know them and have used them for years and there is a “better the devil you know” mindset sometimes.
  • Many players use French style lay mouthpieces (5Rv, B40, B45 etc) as such the Traditionals are commonly a good choice, whether they know that or not!
  • Often reeds are bought by parents for players who are using softer reeds (1.5 or 2), only the Traditional are available in those strengths.

WHAT SELLS? Strength 2.5 Upwards

Suspecting a majority of the Traditional sales were based on strengths 1.5 and 2 which are (a) highly recommended by Teachers for new players and (b) not available strengths in V12, Rue L’Epic and V21, we re-formulated the stats to only look at sales in boxes of strength 2.5 upwards. Arguably this shows the choices made by more experienced players, less influenced by historical market trends and is a fairer like-for-like comparison:

  • Traditional: 38%
  • V12: 27%
  • Rue L’Epic: 25%
  • V21: 10%

This brings the stats much closer together and shows that the Traditional are still the #1 choice for a good number of players, but the V12 and Rue L’Epic have settled fairly evenly in the last 2-3 years. The V21 at just 10% of the share is still new and therefore trying to establish itself.

IMPORTANT: At the end of the day it is a personal choice as to which one the player prefers, but it is important to note that the ‘American’ style reeds vamp; that of the 56 and V21, is really most suited to American style lays where the curve of the lay develops into a straight flat finish towards the tip – for example the new BD Vandoren Mouthpieces and M15/M30 Vandoren Mouthpieces. With the French style, the lay curve carries on right to the top of the tip rail and the famous 5RV is a classic example of this (as well as B40, B45 etc). These types of mouthpieces will more commonly suit Traditional and V12 reeds.

If you are unsure as to the design of the lay on your own mouthpiece please get in touch with us and we can help advise.

Gonzalez Clarinet Reeds:

Now we also have other makes of reed available, many not sold previously in this country. The Gonzalez reeds (made in Argentina) offer the same range of possibilities as the Vandoren range but have slightly different names and designs such as the FOF, GD, RC or Classic – they are also slightly more affordable.

The Gonzalez FOF clarinet reeds have proved popular with professional and advanced players. With an American cut they have a thickish tip and actually a thick heart as well. Because of this design they give a strong, rich, dark sound but do come up feeling harder than you may be used to. Advice is to come down 1/2 a strength on what you expect. The American cut, as mentioned above in the Vandoren section, is more suited to mouthpieces with a straight flat finish on the lay. For example the Vandoren M30, BD5, Rico Reserve X5 etc.

Vandoren equivalent to FOF = Rue L’Epic/V21

The Gonzalez GD reeds are made from a cane with a classic French Cut, not totally dis-similar to the Vandoren V12. They are made with a thicker blank and a larger diameter material than the standard clarinet reeds. This material is normally used in the manufacture of Alto saxophone reeds and can give a richer sound. They are the first Gonzalez reeds with a French Filed Cut, the GD’s have a longer scraping area and more wood in the heel, therefore they are quite vibrant and long lasting.

Vandoren equivalent to GD = V12/V21

The Gonzalez RC reeds* have proved to be very popular since we took them on. Priced very sensibly and as a direct competitor to the Rico ‘orange box’ they have proved to be arguably more consistent and better playing than the Rico’s, and at a more affordable price, ideal for educators. The reed itself is quite bright compared to the other Gonzalez equivalents and also unlike it’s ‘brothers’ they come up softer than you would expect. So for example if you use Vandoren Traditional #2.5 you’d probably want a Gonzalez RC #2.75 or #3. Yes! They do 1/4 strengths, but only from 2.5 to 3.5, not either side of that.

Vandoren equivalent to RC = Traditional if you had to pick but it’s fairer and more accurate to say Rico Orange box.

The Gonzalez Classic reeds are designed for the musician to quickly adapt to it, because they have a cut that has been used by most manufacturers (i.e. Vandoren Traditional – oops, did I say that!), but using the slightly longer aged cane that is present in all Gonzalez production. They have a typical filed French cut, with a thin tip, that will be suitable for those types of mouthpieces with French style rolling facing curves (5RV, B40, B45 etc).

Vandoren equivalent = Traditional Blue Box

What Sells? Gonzalez Models

Again, we looked at our sales stats from 2019 (Jan-Dec) and you can see the results below. This chart is the % of each Gonzalez model against other Gonzalez models in that time period.

  • Gonzalez RC: 39%
  • Gonzalez GD: 30%
  • Gonzalez FOF: 21%
  • Gonzalez Classic: 10%

There are some factors to consider when looking at these stats:

  • We sell a fair amount of Gonzalez RC #1.5 to music services etc who want a reliable reed at a good price, this does somewhat skew the figures above.
  • If you compare from strength #2 upwards it gets a lot closer and we’re seeing growth in the FOF and GD especially for advancing players as they suit a lot of the mouthpieces being sold these days. (Vandoren M30/Vandoren BD5/Weinberg etc)
  • We’ve not really given the Classic model much attention, i.e. in shop displays, newsletters, teachers etc. As such I think it’s a bit of a sleeping giant. Consider it’s very similar to a Vandoren Traditional reed but 20% cheaper and you can see the potential…

The staff will help you with your choices but note that the Gonzalez cane is arguably more vibrant than the Vandoren cane we feel more consistent. In many of their varieties they offer a stronger reed (except on the RC range, and to a degree the Classic range) so therefore we recommend you choose a half strength less than your usual choice if trying FOF or GD. We have a Gonzalez reed strength contact form you can use for advice on which type and which strength would be suitable for you.

Both Gonzalez and Vandoren produce reed strength comparison charts, however neither is totally up to date, and neither takes into account how the mouthpiece lay will affect this ‘feeling’ of relative strength. They also slightly contradict each other on various listings. For interest though they are shown below:

carte comparaison anches

Clarinet Reeds: SUMMARY

All reed makers have basically followed the Vandoren idea because clarinetists now use a range of mouthpieces which have become easily available due to the development of the internet and the ability to also purchase online. It may seem a complex process but is no more difficult than buying a pair of new shoes; several styles may be in your size but how it feels when you take those first steps usually settles the choice very quickly. Apply the same criteria and you will not go too far wrong. The first impression is most important as after about 60 seconds you unconsciously use your technique to make the results what you would like them to be. Therefore to fool this natural tendency always gives heed to that first impression and how it feels to blow.

Please contact us for any reed queries you may have, or to get advice on what’s best suited to your mouthpiece. Shop our full range of Clarinet reeds here.