One of the defining characteristics of woodwind instruments is that they need a reed or fipple in order to produce a sound, and clarinets are no exception. Reeds, including clarinet reeds, are thin strips of material that create sound by vibrating. Clarinet reeds are made from either wood or synthetic material and located in the instrument’s mouthpiece. Due to the combination of high-frequency vibrating and regular contact with spit and moisture, clarinet reeds do tend to 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, high-quality reeds for their instrument but to be prepared to replace them and purchase new ones as needed. 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 as many as 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). If you’re looking to buy a new set of reeds for your clarinet, here are a few we recommend.
What to Consider in Clarinet Reeds
Here are a few things to think about before buying a clarinet reed:
- 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 just 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 since 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 a good general 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.
Best Low-Strength: D’Addario Woodwinds Rico B-Flat Clarinet Reeds, Strength 2.0
These level 2 strength clarinets are ideal for students and anyone else new to the clarinet 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, each reed is made of consistently high quality. They’re sold in packs of 3, 10, 25, and 50, so if you’re just looking for a few extra reeds to keep around or to ensure a plentiful supply, there’s a box that’ll be just right for your needs. And if you find you like these reeds and want to keep using them even as you advance to harder reeds, they’re available in levels 1.5, 2.5, 3, 3.5, and 4 strength as well.
Rico Bb Clarinet Reeds, Strength 2.0, 10-pack
A box of clarinet reeds that are specially cut and designed for beginners.
Best Mid-Strength: Vandoren CR1025 B-Flat Clarinet Traditional Reeds
If you’ve advanced beyond the softer clarinet reeds up to medium ones, you can’t go wrong with this pack. Made in the traditional style, these reeds are both 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 reeds comes sealed individually in a separate packet to help ensure freshness and to 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.
Vandoren CR103 Bb Clarinet Traditional Reeds Strength 3; Box of 10
Responsive and flexible clarinet reeds that let you hit multiple notes without sacrificing the sound quality.
Best High-Strength: D’Addario Woodwinds Premium B-Flat Clarinet Reeds
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 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 not only helps in this regard but also 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, more uniform 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 high-quality material for better playability and consistent response, severely reducing the risk of finding a “dud” reed in your box. They’re available in all strengths 1.5 up to 5.
D’Addario Woodwinds Mitchell Lurie Premium Bb Clarinet Reeds, Strength 4.0, 5-pack - RMLP5BCL400
Hard, high-level clarinet reeds made of carefully inspected premium cane for experienced musicians.
Most Compatible: Suewio B-Flat Traditional Clarinet Reeds with Portable Case
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 make ensure they’re suitable for a wide variety of music-related tasks. 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. They’re available in level 2, 2.5, or 3 strength.
Suewio Bb Clarinet Traditional Reeds, Strength 2.5, 10 Pack with Portable Case
Flexible clarinet reeds suitable for musicians of all experience levels and music genres.