What Reeds Do Professional Clarinet Players Use?

by Madonna

Choosing the right reeds is crucial for any clarinet player, especially professionals who require consistent, high-quality performance. Clarinet reeds significantly impact the sound production, playability, and overall musical experience. This comprehensive guide explores the types of clarinet reeds, their strengths, popular brands, professional endorsements, factors influencing reed choice, maintenance tips, a buying guide, and where to purchase reeds.

Overview of Clarinet Reeds

Clarinet reeds are essential components of the instrument, responsible for producing sound. The reed, typically made from Arundo donax cane or synthetic materials, is attached to the mouthpiece. When the player blows air through the mouthpiece, the reed vibrates, creating sound waves that travel through the clarinet. The quality, type, and condition of the reed directly influence the tone, response, and overall performance of the instrument.


Types of Reeds

1. Traditional Cane Reeds

Traditional cane reeds are the most common and preferred choice among clarinetists. They are crafted from natural cane and offer a warm, resonant tone. Cane reeds come in various cuts and strengths, allowing players to select reeds that best suit their playing style and musical requirements. However, cane reeds can be inconsistent in quality, requiring players to sort through multiple reeds to find the best ones.


2. Synthetic Reeds

Synthetic reeds are made from composite materials designed to mimic the characteristics of natural cane. These reeds offer several advantages, including consistency, durability, and resistance to environmental changes such as humidity and temperature. While some players find synthetic reeds lack the nuanced tone of cane reeds, advancements in technology have significantly improved their performance, making them a viable option for many clarinetists.


Reed Strengths

Reed strength refers to the thickness and stiffness of the reed, typically measured on a scale from 1 to 5, with increments of 0.5. The strength affects the ease of play and the sound produced:

Soft Reeds (1.0 to 2.5): Easier to play, ideal for beginners or players who prefer a more responsive reed. They produce a brighter sound but may lack depth and projection.

Medium Reeds (3.0 to 3.5): Balance between playability and tonal quality. Suitable for intermediate players and adaptable to various music styles.

Hard Reeds (4.0 to 5.0): Require more breath support and control. They produce a fuller, richer tone with greater projection, preferred by advanced players and professionals for their refined sound.

SEE ALSO: Everything You Want to Know About Choosing the Right Clarinet

Preferred Brands and Models of Professional Clarinet Players

1. Vandoren

Vandoren is one of the most respected names in the clarinet reed market. They offer a wide range of reeds, each tailored to different playing styles and preferences. Popular models include:

Vandoren Traditional: Known for their excellent response in all registers and full, rich sound.

Vandoren V12: Thicker cane and longer vamp provide a deeper, more powerful sound.

Vandoren 56 Rue Lepic: Named after the company’s Paris address, these reeds offer a dark, rich tone favored by classical clarinetists.

Vandoren V21: Combines the profile of the V12 with the thicker heart of the 56 Rue Lepic for a warm, centered sound.

2. D’Addario Woodwinds (formerly Rico)

D’Addario Woodwinds produces high-quality reeds suitable for various playing levels and styles. Key models include:

D’Addario Reserve: Offers consistency, clarity, and a warm, focused sound.

D’Addario Reserve Classic: Features a thicker blank and more gradual taper, providing added depth and projection.

D’Addario Royal: Popular among students and professionals for their ease of play and balanced sound.

3. Legere

Legere specializes in synthetic reeds, which are praised for their consistency and durability. Notable models include:

Legere Signature: Known for their rich, dark tone and responsiveness, often preferred by professionals in orchestral and solo settings.

Legere European Cut: Designed for classical players, offering a refined sound and excellent control.

Professional Endorsements

Several renowned clarinetists endorse specific reed brands and models based on their personal experiences and preferences:

Sabine Meyer: Uses Vandoren V12 reeds, praising their rich tone and dynamic range.

Martin Fröst: Prefers Vandoren V21 reeds for their blend of warmth and clarity.

Richard Stoltzman: Endorses D’Addario Reserve reeds for their consistency and expressive capabilities.

Eddie Daniels: Uses Legere Signature reeds, appreciating their reliability and ease of play in various environments.

Factors Influencing Reed Choice

1. Music Genre

The genre of music can significantly influence reed choice. Classical players often prefer reeds that offer a warm, rich tone and precise articulation, while jazz and contemporary musicians might opt for reeds that provide flexibility and a bright, vibrant sound.

2. Playing Style

Individual playing style also plays a critical role in reed selection. Players who emphasize dynamics and expression may prefer softer reeds for their responsiveness, while those seeking power and projection might choose harder reeds.

3. Mouthpiece Compatibility

The mouthpiece used can affect the reed’s performance. Different mouthpieces have varying tip openings and facing lengths, which interact with the reed’s characteristics. It’s essential to match the reed strength and cut to the mouthpiece to achieve the desired sound and playability.

Maintenance and Longevity

Proper maintenance is crucial for extending the life of clarinet reeds and ensuring consistent performance:

Rotation: Use multiple reeds in rotation to prevent any single reed from wearing out too quickly.

Hydration: Soak reeds in water before playing to ensure they are properly hydrated and flexible.

Storage: Store reeds in a reed case to protect them from damage and maintain their shape.

Cleaning: Clean reeds regularly by rinsing them with water and occasionally using a mild disinfectant to remove buildup.

Buying Guide

1. Skill Level

Beginners: Start with softer reeds (1.5 to 2.5) for ease of play and quicker sound production.

Intermediate Players: Experiment with medium-strength reeds (3.0 to 3.5) to find a balance between playability and tonal quality.

Advanced Players: Consider harder reeds (3.5 to 4.5) for greater control, dynamic range, and richer tone.

2. Genre and Style

Classical: Opt for reeds like Vandoren V12 or D’Addario Reserve Classic for their warm, focused sound.

Jazz: Choose reeds such as Vandoren ZZ or Rico Jazz Select for their flexibility and bright tone.

Contemporary: Consider synthetic reeds like Legere Signature for their consistency and ease of play in various conditions.

3. Budget

Cane Reeds: Generally cost between $2 to $5 per reed, with boxes of 10 ranging from $20 to $40.

Synthetic Reeds: More expensive upfront, typically costing $20 to $30 per reed, but they last significantly longer than cane reeds.

Where to Buy

1. Online Retailers

Woodwind & Brasswind: Offers a wide selection of reeds from various brands, with customer reviews to guide purchases.

Musician’s Friend: Another reliable online retailer with competitive prices and frequent sales.

Amazon: Convenient for purchasing reeds, with a vast range of options and fast shipping.

2. Music Stores

Local Music Stores: Support local businesses by purchasing reeds from nearby music stores, where you can often get personalized recommendations and immediate availability.

Specialty Woodwind Shops: These stores focus on woodwind instruments and accessories, offering expert advice and a broader selection of high-quality reeds.


Selecting the right reeds is a personal and nuanced process that can greatly enhance a clarinetist’s performance. Understanding the types of reeds, their strengths, popular brands, professional endorsements, and factors influencing reed choice is essential for making an informed decision. Proper maintenance and care ensure longevity and consistent quality, while a thoughtful buying guide helps match reeds to individual needs and preferences. Whether purchasing from online retailers or local music stores, finding the right reed can elevate your clarinet playing experience, offering improved sound, playability, and overall satisfaction.


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