Buying reeds for a clarinet is not the most simple of decisions. There are many different manufacturers of clarinet reeds, each with a different method of grading and cutting their products. While it is simple to assume that any old clarinet reed will do the job, it is important to know some specifics about the clarinetist before buying the cheapest box of reeds on the shelf.
Experience and Hardness Are Related
All manufacturers of clarinet reeds grade their reeds based on the relative hardness or rigidness of the reed. The higher the number on the reed, the stiffer the reed is and thus, the more difficult it is to get it to vibrate correctly when fitted on the mouthpiece. Beginning clarinet players often start on #2 or #2 1/2 reeds, the softest reeds that are commonly available in music stores. As the clarinetist improves and develops their facial muscles, a band director will often move the clarinetist to a harder reed. By the end of the first year of playing most clarinetists will be able to play well on at least a #2 ½ reed, possibly even a #3. By high school most clarinetists will be asked to use #3 reeds, with more advanced players using #3 ½ or even #4 clarinet reeds.
Clarinet Reed Materials
Most clarinet reeds are made of a thick woody breed of grass known as cane. In order for the reed to play properly it must be wet, hence the reason most clarinet players will put the reed in their mouth for a few minutes before putting it on their mouthpiece. Some manufacturers also make reeds from a synthetic material similar to plastic. Sold under the brand names such as Fibracell or Legere, these synthetic reeds have the flexibility of cane reeds without the need to soak them. They are used primarily by musicians who play on more than one instrument and by clarinetists who play outdoors. Synthetic reeds also tend to be more uniform in quality than cane reeds (see Buy The Whole Box below). Synthetic reeds tend to be much more expensive that traditional cane reeds but also last longer when properly cared for.
Buy The Whole Box
Professional clarinetists will profess to the fact that out of a box of twenty reeds you will almost always have a few bad ones. Cane reeds are essentially made of wood, and the cane from different plants will have different properties. Whenever possible buy a full box of reeds. Not only will it let you pick through the box to find the best ones but it will also make sure that you have an extra reed when you need it.
Major Clarinet Reed Manufacturers
Cheaper is not always better, however depending on the ability level of the student you may wish to purchase cheaper reeds. Beginners break a lot of reeds, and less expensive brands such as Rico work well since young clarinet students go through so many of them. More advanced players may also do well with Rico reeds, but more expensive brands such as Mitchell Lurie or Rico Royal are often a better choice as the student progresses.