Buying Guide for Clarinet Reeds
Why buy clarinet reeds?
One of the defining characteristics of woodwind instruments like flutes is that they need a reed or fipple in order to produce the proper sounds, and clarinets are no exception. Clarinet reeds are made from either wood or synthetic material and are located in the instrument’s mouthpiece. Without a reed, your clarinet won’t sound the way it’s supposed to. One clarinet reed alone won’t cut it, either. Due to the combination of high-frequency vibrating and regular contact with spit and moisture, clarinet reeds will crack or warp over time. And since damaged reeds can’t vibrate as quickly, they don’t produce as high-quality sound. Thus it’s important for clarinet players to not only buy good, first-rate reeds for their instrument but to be prepared to replace them with new ones as needed.
What should you look for in clarinet reeds?
- Strength: Not all clarinet reeds are created equal. They come in various strengths, measured on a scale of 1 to 5 (or, alternatively, they’ll be listed as “soft,” “medium,” or “hard”). A higher number means a harder reed, and harder reeds create higher-quality sound. However, you don’t want to begin with too hard a reed if you’re just starting out; if the reed is too hard for you, it’ll be harder to create sound. Start with a soft reed with a low number and work your way up gradually: 1.5 to 2 is generally a good starting point for beginners.
- Material: Clarinet reeds will either be made from cane or bamboo wood or synthetic material. Some musicians prefer wooden reeds since they often produce a higher-quality, more traditional sound (though not everyone notices a difference when they play). Others prefer synthetic reeds because they’re much more durable and less susceptible to damage from saliva or changes in temperature/humidity. Many people who play in marching bands or at outdoor events gravitate towards synthetic reeds for this reason. Synthetic reeds also have a longer shelf life for this reason and will need to be replaced less often.
- Quantity: Since clarinet reeds will need to be replaced sooner or later, you’re going to want to buy them in as large a bulk quantity as possible. Buying in bulk means purchasing new reeds less frequently, which can help save money in the long run. This also gives you the option of tossing out any reeds that have knots or are uneven or discolored. You’ll want to keep at least three on hand at a time, especially if you prefer wooden reeds, in case one is a dud. A standard box of 10 reeds will ensure most musicians are squared away for at least a month or two. There are also larger quantities available if you’ve found that you go through your reeds very quickly.
How often do you need to replace your clarinet reed?
How quickly clarinet reeds wear out will depend on the musician and how often they play. Beginners who don’t play as much can probably count on their reeds lasting for several months (potentially up to six) at a time. Those who are more experienced and play or practice every day will wind up needing to replace theirs every couple of weeks (likely around every two to four weeks). It also depends on the material the reeds are made from. As mentioned above, synthetic reeds are more durable and thus tend to last a bit longer than wooden reeds.
Our Picks for the Best Clarinet Reeds
D'Addario Rico Bb Clarinet Reeds
A box of unfiled clarinet reeds that are specially cut and designed for beginners.
Pros: These soft, level 2 strength clarinets are ideal for beginners or students and are particularly favored by jazz musicians. They have a thinner vamp than most, which, coupled with the unfiled cut and traditional blank, are incredibly easy to play and produce a nice, crystal clear sound. Made of hand-cut, premium cane to produce that superior sound, each reed is made with consistently high quality. They’re sold in packs of 10 to ensure a plentiful supply.
Cons: While not ridiculously expensive, you will pay a bit more money for the higher quality of these reeds. And, as is often the case with wooden as opposed to synthetic reeds, they are more likely to split or break, especially if not stored carefully.
Bottom Line: Whether you’re just starting clarinet lessons, play jazz music more often than any other kind, or simply prefer softer reeds for your instrument, these will be ideal for you. They’re made of high-quality real wood, and you’ll love the clear, pristine sounds they create.
Vandoren CR103 Traditional Clarinet Reeds
Responsive and flexible clarinet reeds that let you hit multiple notes without sacrificing the sound quality.
Pros: Made in the traditional style, these medium-strength, level 3 reeds are the perfect blend of responsive and flexible. The responsiveness allows you to hit even the highest notes on your clarinet, while the flexibility allows for legato and staccato execution without sacrificing the richness or crystal clarity of the sound. They’re also suitable for all musical styles, from classical to jazz and everything in between. And each of the 10 real wood reeds comes sealed individually in a separate packet to help ensure freshness and keep them from accidentally harming or denting each other. If you’re looking for a lower or higher strength, these same reeds come in levels 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3.5, and 5 as well.
Cons: You will pay a literal higher price for the superior quality of these reeds, as they are a bit more expensive than the usual box of 10. Beginners may also have some trouble coaxing sound out of them at first, even if they opt for a slightly softer set.
Bottom Line: If you’ve advanced beyond the softer clarinet reeds up to medium ones, you can’t go wrong with this pack. No matter what styles of music you prefer to play or the range of notes you want to hit, these reeds will be perfectly suited to them all.
D'Addario Woodwinds Mitchell Lurie Premium Clarinet Reeds
Hard, high-level clarinet reeds made of carefully inspected premium cane for experienced musicians.
Pros: Once you’ve advanced to a harder, more resistant reed for the highest quality sound, you’ll want to pick up a box of these level 4.5 strength clarinet reeds. Each of the five in this pack features a filed, traditional, but thinner-cut tip. The thinner cut ensures a faster response time and clearer sound while playing, and the filed cut helps in this regard and increases the reeds’ flexibility. The tip may be thinner, but the spine is designed to be thicker, which allows your clarinet to produce a warmer tone. All reeds are measured with an optical laser for optimal accuracy, and the cane wood is color video inspected to ensure that it meets the premium grade standards. As a result, each reed is made of the highest-quality material for better playability and consistent response, severely reducing the risk of finding a “dud” reed in your box. They’re available in strengths 1.5 up to 5.
Cons: Unfortunately, these high-strength reeds are only sold in packs of five at a time, a smaller quantity than the usual 10 to 12 reeds per box that many other brands sell. If you want a higher volume of reeds to keep on hand, you’ll have to order more than one box at a time.
Bottom Line: Once you’ve advanced to a harder, more resistant reed for the highest possible quality sound, you’ll want to pick up a box of these level 4, high-strength clarinet reeds. For warm, loud tones from a hard yet responsible clarinet reed, you can’t go wrong with these real cane wood models.
Suewio Clarinet Traditional Reeds
Flexible clarinet reeds suitable for musicians of all experience levels and music genres.
Pros: The cane wood is grown to maturity in full sunlight, producing a premium quality preferred by many professional musicians. Don’t be alarmed if there are some spots on the reeds; this is an occasional result of the wood being grown in direct sunlight and will not affect the sound or your playing at all. The thinner vamp and unfiled cut of the reeds make them easier to draw sound from, and their flexibility offers a richer, clearer sound. Each of the 10 reeds in the box is made with digital technology to provide better and more consistent quality across the board. They come sealed in a plastic case to help keep them fresh and prevent accidental damage.
Cons: These are great, affordable mid-level strength reeds, but they’re only available in level 2, 2.5, or 3 strength. If you want something really soft for novices or are an advanced clarinet player who needs or prefers a harder-strength reed, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
Bottom Line: Whether you’re young or old, a student or teacher, beginner or experienced musician, playing jazz music or classical, these B-flat clarinet reeds have you covered. Their flexibility and high quality ensure they’re suitable for a wide variety of music-related tasks.
Cecilio Clarinet Reeds
Keep spare clarinet reeds on hand with these high-quantity boxes, without breaking the bank.
Pros: Get more value for your money with these mid-strength clarinet reeds. You receive 20 reeds per box for the same price you’d typically pay for a set of 10 or 12. This gives you a better bang for your buck and will save you money in the long run since you’ll be buying new reeds less often. The mid-level softness makes them a beginner-friendly option and easy to draw sound from. Each of the 20 reeds comes with an individual plastic case that fully encompasses the tip to keep it safe and dry and cradles the rest of the reed to prevent chipping. If you want to test these reeds out before committing to them, they’re also available in the more typical 10-pack.
Cons: These reeds are available in strengths of 2, 2.5, and 3 only. Also note that the level 3 reeds can only be purchased in a pack of 10, not the higher-quantity 20-pack. And they do make a bit of a thinner, less robust sound than other, similar mid-level reeds.
Bottom Line: It’s important to keep at least a few spare clarinet reeds on hand in case your current one breaks or gets too old. And with this high-volume box, you’ll be able to buy more reeds at once for the same price, so you’ll be able to go longer without needing to purchase any new ones.
If you want to keep your clarinet sounding as rich and melodic as possible, a good set of clarinet reeds is vital. They’re a small but key part of the instrument that nonetheless has a large impact on how crisp and high-quality the clarinet they’re attached to sounds.