Reeds – Part 5 of 1000

Hi Mr. Friedland,

I recently discovered your corner, but haven’t seen any new topics lately so I hope you are still doing this. I need some advice about reeds.

I am a 34 yr old born again clarinetist. I started when I was 10 and stopped playing around 1987. I started playing again in 1998. I consider myself at an intermediate level. I play in the local community band and have recently joined a clarinet choir. I will begin private lessons next week.

I used a plastic Vito to start and got a Buffet R13 in 1985. Due to the lack of care when I stopped playing it was ruined and I have recently purchased a Selmer Signature. I use a 5RV Lyre m.p. , a Vandoren Optimimum ligature, and most of the time Vandoren V12 2 1/2 or 3 reeds.

I have been on a reed frenzy for about a year now because I became so frustrated with not finding anything I liked. I have tried many different brands and sizes and still have not been able to find a reed I like. Do others feel this way? The problem is this … when I use Vandoren V12 2.5 I really like the way it plays. I can blow and articulate easily. But I hate the sound. I think I sound very flat throughout the entire range. I also think the sound is thin and not resonating enough when I play with the band. But when I use size 3, it’s airy and hard to blow. I got a book on how to make reed adjustments but every time I try I end up making it worse. I have tried the Legere synthetic reed but I dont like the sound. It sounds “synthetic”. I am wasting a lot of time (30-40) minutes going thru piles of reeds every time I practice just to find something Im not even that happy with but it will have to do. I am so frustrated! I have wasted a lot of time and money. What do I do? Any advice would be most appreciated.

Best Regards,


Thank you for your message and question about the problems having to do with reed selection and choice. By the way, I do answer and receive questions almost constantly, however the site only publishes them according to an arcane system which I have yet to figure out. Suffice it to say that eventually they seem to appear.

Your problems with reeds have been attended in several other articles; however your is a bit different, a different slant if you will.

When you talk about your tremendous output of time and money, I find it to be fine, though completely without organization and certainly any knowledge concerning the nature of these reeds you dispose of so quickly. There is the first clue: You are spending too little time on too many reeds.

You perpetuate your agony and you will never get close to finding a good reed in this manner. A good reed doesn’t just happen, it is more like a fine wine; it needs to be nurtured, cared for, tended like rare flowers. Only this can help you to shape your choice into intellingence rather than panic and repetition. Do not classify any reed, any brand of reed as being something or other, this binds you helplessly into the tethers you yourself have fashioned.

First, try only three to five reeds at a sitting, no more. Your brain simply cannot deal with the many variables you will encounter with more than this number. Carefully and thoroughly wet five reeds and put them on a mirror, or a flat surface, and clear the rest of the junk away, only these five reeds. Check the butt of each reed to make sure it is straight or even on each side. That is the back side. As you look at it, it should be like a small curved wedge, symetrical, never uneven. There, when all are even to the look, you have made a discernment, one of many you will make during your search.

Each of the five need to be soaked in your mouth, then laid on the glass so that the bottom of the reed is up. Pick up each soaked reed and determine if the tip is straight; if it is warped or curved or cracked, you will be lucky to have success. When you have a reed that is straight, check the sides as well. They should be or should be made to be even as well, though this can take place a bit later. Check the color and shade of the cane and/or the bark. If it is mottled or dark, I give it little chance of success. Kind of yellow, never green is what you are looking for.

Now, try one reed. Try it for only about a minute. If it blows terrifically, excellent response, do not trust for the reed will soon become much too easy to play … or it may not. Do not give it the time to make the judgement, just try casually, not with marriage in mind. If it is acceptable, put it aside and let it dry out. Do this with all five reeds. Perhaps you will choose one or two to try later, or perhaps more.

If all are castaways, do it quickly, but do not throw them away, just put them aside away from the choice. These you will try again after a full day of rest. Another discernment.

Limit your sessions to perhaps a half hour at most, then carefuuly save and mark those that show promise, and either do something else , or practise on one of your good reeds. For that it the end of your reed trying for this particular session.

Let me know how things go. You do not know what is next, so just wait. If you have five that you didn’t have before, you have gained something.

I will continue again soon.


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