How to choose a reed for your clarinet or saxophone ?
While every part of the instrument has its own purpose in producing a good sound, perhaps the most important piece is wafer-thin piece of cane called the reed.
Reeds come in different strengths and cuts, and can be good or bad. A good reed is vitally important for a good sound and tone, so it's important to be able to identify one.
1. Select a brand:
There are many to choose from, and all makers produce and sell their reeds a little differently. The two largest makers are D’Addario (USA) and Vandoren (French). D’Addario produce Rico, Royal, Jazz Select, Reserve, Mitchell Lurie, Plasticover…etc. Vandoren produce Juno, Traditional, Java, V12, V16, V21…etc.
We’d like to introduce more varieties of reeds to clarinetists and saxophonists in New Zealand.
2. Decide what strength:
Most reed manufacturers sell reeds in strengths from 1.0 to 5.0, often in half-steps. A 1.0 would be the softest, and a 5.0 would be the hardest. Some brands use "soft", "medium", and "hard" instead. For a beginner, a 1.5 or 2.0 would be the best starting point. Keep in mind, however, that what one brand calls a 2.5 may be another brand's 2.0 or 3.0. Also, a box of 2.5 will have some variants... some that are closer to a hard 2.0, or a soft 3.0. A reed comparison chart can help you see how different brands compare to each other on a strength scale.
A harder reed gives a heavier, thicker, and fuller sound. It's more difficult to correct the pitch with a harder reed, but it also means that changing dynamics won't result in pitch variations as easily. It's also more difficult to play low pitches softly with a hard reed, but altissimo notes are easier to reach.
A softer reed makes playing easier - the reed speaks more easily, and gives a lighter, brighter sound. High notes can be difficult to achieve with a soft reed. Also, fast tonguing can be harder on softer reeds.
3. Decide on a cut:
Reeds come in either "Filed (French Filed)" or "Unfiled (American Unfiled)" cuts.
Cut would not matter to a beginner/starter.
An option to fine-tune the sound, the file is often preferred by players who use traditional, moderately resistant, dark-sounding mouthpieces - a filed reed helps such mouthpieces blow more freely.
For those who play relatively easy-blowing, moderate-to-bright mouthpieces (especially jazz or pop sax mouthpieces with a high baffle) - an unfiled reed is usually preferred.
Filed reed - Provides ease of response, especially in the low register making soft attacks easier. Also makes the tone slightly brighter for use with resistant mouthpieces.
Unfiled reed - Provides a darker tone and more resistance.
4. Buy a box of reeds:
It's okay to buy one or two, but the more reeds you have, the more good ones you have ! A box of 10 reeds should last you a few weeks, though you can choose to buy more.
5. Say Good bye to chips & splits:
The reed is a consumable item and must be replaced often. Do not keep using a chipped or split reed which affects sound, so throw it away !
6. Play-test the good reeds:
Test them to make sure they play well, and always have at least 3 good reeds on hand - Just in case for emergency ! Rotating a few reeds is also recommended, which ensures that players will have more than one reed that is ready to be played on any given day.
There are many different opinions about mouthpiece and reed combinations, and there is an infinite number of combinations. If you are unsure about which reed and mouthpiece to select, consult your teacher or feel free to contact us.