Students playing clarinet for the first time go through a lot of reeds. As a result many parents want to know where to buy cheap clarinet reeds. Unfortunately there are many places that people can buy clarinet reeds more cheaply than in the local store and often these cheap reeds wind up being just that... Cheap!
Recently I was working with one of my beginning clarinet students who until this lesson had been doing quite well at producing a tone. On this occasion though she just could not seem to get anything but squeeks and very weak sounds out of her instrument. After a few minutes of checking her embouchure and other things I finally asked her to let me have her clarinet. Immediately I could tell something was wrong because the reed simply looked odd while on the mouthpiece. I took off the reed and noticed that the cane was way too thick and the cut on the reed seemed very irregular. I also noticed that the hardness number on the reed was in a strange font that I had never seen on any commercially purchased reeds I had seen at the music store.
I put the reed back on her clarinet, spritzed the mouthpiece with disinfectant, and then tried to play on it myself. As I suspected, the reed was the problem. Not even I could get it to play decent. I asked the student where she got the reed from and the response gave me a sinking feeling. Her family had bought a box of reeds off of a well known auction site at the bargain basement cost of 100 reeds for just $50. Considering that good quality name brand reeds by companies like Rico or Vandoren average around $1.00 t0 $2.00 per reed, this seemed like a wonderful deal to this student and he family. Even synthetic reeds such as Fibracells would be far more cost effective in the long run over these generic reeds that she had purchased. I explained to her that the reed she had here was simply no good and that she would need to go through the big box and try different reeds until she found one that would respond properly for her. My gut feeling is that she will be lucky to get one or even two decent reeds out of the whole generic box of 100.
For all of you teachers out there be aware that these shoddy reed deals exist and that like most things you will get what you pay for if you try to buy cheaply made clarinet reeds. I have no idea what the brand name is on them (the reed had no label on it other than the hardness). My personal preference for my beginners is to use Rico reeds