Reeds are such an important part of the clarinet that it’s hard to explain in just a few paragraphs. Some have written entire papers on the subject.
Safe to say that no matter how good you are, if you’re not playing your clarinet with the best reeds for your level and your mouthpiece, you’re not playing at your full potential.
Since Bb clarinets are among the most popular for their versatility, Bb clarinet reeds are very easy to come by. But to understand the subtle differences in quality between them is another matter.
6 Best Clarinet Reeds from Renowned Makers
Check out my favorite picks, followed by a quick buying guide that covers the key factors that you need to keep in consideration.
Table of Contents
- 6 Best Clarinet Reeds from Renowned Makers
- Understanding Reed Strengths
- Most Common Reed Materials
- Acknowledging the Top Manufacturers
- How Many Reeds Should You Buy?
#3 strength reeds are known for their pliability and ease of play. They’re preferred by most intermediate clarinet players.
However, these are not the most beginner-friendly reeds as they are on the harder side. The good news is that these are a great choice for live performances. If you’re an advanced player in a big or small band, or if you plan on playing in public venues, the CR103 #3 reeds are worth your attention.
The Vandoren CR103 traditional reeds promote a bright sound and reliable consistency across all octaves. Of course, this will be affected by your choice of mouthpiece.
These reeds offer a natural harmonic tone that makes you sound like a more experienced clarinetist. They are designed for Bb clarinets and they’re highly recommended for beginner-intermediate players. You can get them in Strength 1.5 to 4.0 and they are available in bulk up to a box of 50.
Rating for rating, these reeds tend to be softer than those of other manufacturers. Nevertheless, their flexibility provides a dynamic range. What’s also very cool is that these reeds come unfilled.
You can shape them to your advantage and create your own signature sound. On the other hand, if you’re just starting out, you may not want to get into breaking in reeds just yet.
Cecilio reeds are among the most popular for a reason. They’re the best budget choice by far. The sound quality may not be on par with the more expensive reeds, but it’s still better than most generic reeds that come with a new clarinet.
Any of the available 2.0 to 3.0 strength ratings put them on the softer side. It means that they’re very beginner-friendly to play and they help maintain a good tonal balance across all registers.
The build quality is reflected in the price. But considering that you get 10 reeds for the money, it’s more than enough for practice sessions and rehearsals.
The D’Addario Royal reeds are great for beginner and intermediate clarinet players. They are available in 1.0 to 5.0 strength ratings. I find that the field cut design makes these reeds equally useful to classical and jazz clarinetists.
From a price standpoint, they offer great value for the money. Not just because of the quality but also because they’re ready to use out of the box.
They’re similar to D’Addario’s Rico line except somewhat superior in terms of durability. On the other hand, they’re less customizable, and that’s just as well since not everyone is looking for the same thing.
These Vandoren reeds do come at a higher price tag but they sound too good to be left out. Especially if you’re looking for something more professional and capable of taking you through a live performance.
The design is a combination of the V12 reed profile and the 56 rue Lepic reed. This allows you to access all registers of the clarinet and maintain a centered, rich, and deeper sound compared to other Bb clarinet reeds.
The response is also very fast, which is why they’re best suited for intermediate and more advanced players. Of course, this may just serve as motivation to study harder and reach the level required to handle this 2-in-1 clarinet reed design.
Each reed comes in its own Vandoren Flow Pack which guarantees their freshness. If you’re looking for a rich tone and consistency, these reeds should fit the bill. You can get them in Strength 2.5 to 5.0.
These high-end D’Addario Bb clarinet reeds are an interesting choice, to say the least. I was surprised by the very thin strip and immediate response, quite unlike anything else, including other D’Addario series.
The one I tried out was the #3 strength, the best choice for making the higher registers stand out during a performance. This thing is available in Strength 1.5 to 5.0, so for just about all clarinet players and all situations.
The filed cut design is as reliable as ever, and the quality control that they go through before leaving the factory is evident in the price. This is not to say that these are superior in terms of sound quality to other D’Addario reeds.
After all, these are tribute Mitchell Lurie reeds. One thing is for certain, these will give you a more unique tone.
Understanding Reed Strengths
This is the first specification that stands out when shopping for reeds, and I don’t mean just clarinet reeds. The strength determines both the life of the reeds and the quality of the sound.
It may also determine, in part, how easy or hard the instrument is to play. But a lot of that also has to do with the mouthpiece.
Nevertheless, reeds have different strength charts, which is arbitrarily set by the manufacturer. This means not all #3 reeds are the same. The good news is that most manufacturers offer comparison charts.
One quick Google search and you can see how manufacturers like Yamaha, Vandoren, and D’Addario compare their reed strengths.
It’s also important to understand that for the most part, sizing reeds is also done by strength. You’re not comparing dimensions but strength, flexibility, and playing difficulty. That’s why harder reeds are recommended for advanced clarinetists and not students.
Most Common Reed Materials
Most clarinet reeds on the market are cane reeds. It’s a reliable material that has been used for decades. But you may also find synthetic reeds. These are not necessarily better-sounding but they are more durable.
Synthetic reeds are recommended for beginners. They don’t need breaking in and they come filled. They tend to be more flexible and thus easier to play.
Acknowledging the Top Manufacturers
Don’t think that the only difference between different brands of clarinet reeds is the sizing chart. The designs are usually proprietary so they can have a unique impact on your sound and play style.
Sometimes, you can’t mix and match reeds, mouthpieces, and clarinets from different manufacturers and expect a perfect fit. There are numerous accounts of Yamaha and Vandoren clarinet components not blending well.
But luckily, this usually only holds true when you’re talking about the clarinets. You’ll find that you can still use high-end reeds on budget-friendly no-name instruments and enhance the sound quality.
How Many Reeds Should You Buy?
This question doesn’t have an easy answer. That’s because some reeds are obviously built to handle the abuse while others are not.
Reeds also come in boxes of three, five, 10, and more. I prefer a box-set of 10 for two reasons. If you know you’re getting quality craftsmanship and a perfect fit for your instrument and level of experience, there’s no reason to test just three and order a larger set later.
Furthermore, no matter how durable the reeds are, they can only handle so much playtime. A student who practices all the time will wear out the reeds fast. The same goes for a professional musician who plays gigs every day for a living. You get the idea.
Variety is the Key to Improving
Of course, the information contained in this article only scratches the surface of how important clarinet reeds are to the instrument and the player.
If you’re really interested in the inner workings of clarinet reeds, I highly recommend this doctoral dissertation – you might find that it explains everything and then some.
Each set of reeds on this list can be perfect for any Bb clarinetist, regardless of experience and technical expertise.