Musings on Reeds

is the stunning choice out there such a good thing?

We all know about the problem of choosing the right reed for a particular occasion or to fit in with your energy levels, or to get just the right sound for a particular piece of music or ensemble … but a new problem has surfaced in recent years. Perhaps the problem has always been there, but I have largely ignored it up until now.

The problem is the sheer number of brands and types and strengths of reeds that are available.

After starting my clarinet playing as a child on Rico reeds (because that’s what the teacher recommended), I eventually became a Vandoren fan and have used Vandoren reeds pretty consistently for 40 years. I have had brief ‘affairs’ with other makes, but they have been short lived, usually because it became apparent that the new reed which I originally thought was so good actually offered nothing more than my usual brand.

However, Vandoren (and other manufacturers) have confused me by producing ever more different profiles … and it is so tempting to want to try them all out (at great cost, of course). I am not sure how much help it is that there are videos by famous artists telling us how good the new V21 reed from Vandoren is - it probably is very good, but will it really make any difference to me? I suppose a video makes you aware of a new product, but you could waste a lot of time for nothing.

You can mess around with reeds for as long as you like, but whatever you do, you won’t get the same improvement as with a bit of practice.

I switched from Vandoren traditional reeds (blue box) to Vandoren V12 (silver box) about 15 years ago and they are my reed of choice. I had a recent go with Pilgerstorfer reeds (which are fine), but again, there are a lot of different profiles to work through to find the ‘right’ one. Should I try out the V21 (cost about £30 for a box) or spend the money on something I know is going to work ok?

A friend of mine, Nick Turner (sadly no longer with us), once said to me, “You can mess around with reeds for as long as you like, but whatever you do, you won’t get the same improvement as with a bit of practice,” (or words to that effect), and I have worked to that mantra ever since. Nick always had a habit of hitting the nail on the head, and I think it’s pretty good advice.

Mike Halliday

Mike is a UK-based clarinet and saxophone specialist and founder of this site. When not out performing, he is usually at the computer composing, arranging, or engraving and editing music.