Synthetic reeds: questions and some answers

Dear Mr. Friedland
I’ve been reading your column for a long time and finally decided to go with it and try out Forestone reeds after all those recommendations!
I play a Selmer 10S with a C85 115 mouthpiece and usually a pretty soft reed (Vandoren V12 strength 2 1/2). I tried Forestone 2, 2 1/4 and 2 1/2 but even the 2 seems harder than I am comfortable with. It also seems to be a long way from the tip of the mouthpiece (ie a big gap). Is this just something you have to get used to? Or is a different mouthpiece
going to help (in which case what would be a suitable one?)
Thanks for any advice,
Dear Mr. Friedland:

I have a question about comparing reed strengths. I want to get a Forestone reed but don’t want to spend money on one of the wrong strength. I presently play some Legere #4’s one of the normal, Quebec and Ontario. The Quebec seems just rite, but I am sure they are no longer as stiff as 4s because I have been playing them an hour a day for about 6 months. I play a different one each day for an hour, so I don’t know their strength now. What forestone reed strength would compare to a Legere 4? Do Forestone’s soften up much? Based on your experience with both what Forestone reed strength might compare to a softened up Legere #4? When the Legere reeds were new they were difficult to play, but after about a month they got softer ( or perhaps I got better). I bought a Ridenour C clarinet per your suggestion and it is great.

Sincerely yours

First and foremost, I find it inconceivable for one to go to synthetic reeds  just for saving  money. It’s the same as going into clarinet for making  money. There has got to be, dear friends, something much more enduring than that.

In addition, let it be a given that there is no conclusive answer for the choosing and  acquisition of reeds, whether cane, synthetic, plastic, the final adjudicator being you, the player.

Dear W.E., and J.

Thanks for all your notes and comments concerning synthetic reeds.
First and foremost, you should try synthetic reeds if you really have a mind to; not just because it seems to be some kind of trend. If you are satisfied with cane reeds, then by all means, continue with them. Satisfied means a couple of things, as when I first tried synthetic reeds so many years ago, it was out of absolute necessity. I just was dissatisfied with all the cane reeds I tried and I was in a professional situation. I felt I had no place to go, and so I tried synthetic, found them reasonably successful and used them for a month or so. I still remember my conclusion, simple as it was: I felt that the synthetic stayed the same , but I felt that I became fatigued by them, so I stopped, plain and simple, forever. ( I was unable to sustain long phrases with comfort)

But then, several years ago, I received a phone call from a fellow in Toronto or someplace near, asking me if I knew Legere, and would I like to try a few?   I said yes, and he sent me a half dozen or so, then some more with dots on the butts of the reeds, denoting what he said was “Quebec” cut, and a couple with three dots on the butt, denoting “Ontario” cut. That was all there was to it, except that I kept receiving calls.
To continue briefly, I started using a regular Legere, the number being 2.75 on my M13 Van Doren mouthpiece on my clarinet. I thought nothing of it. It seemed to play like cane, and people whom I trust told me they noticed no difference. That was that. But only for a while, beca1use as I got into these Legeres, they seemed to be different in miniscule ways, ways which became more important as I continued. Then, I was told to try them on a different mouthpiece, which I rejected, out of hand.(Changing a mouthpiece for a reed is liking changing your car when it is out of gas) Shortly thereafter, I noticed mouthpiece dealers starting to advertise that their particular mouthpiece was “Legere Friendly” By this time I had tried every reed they made, and while I was given several initially, I purchased hundreds of dollars worth . My attempt was to get six or eight which played the same. For a while it was Quebec cut #3, or 3.5, then it was back to ordinary Legere, 3.5. Once for a rehearsal for a concert, I purchased one 2.5 reed from Twigg Music in Montreal and used it for a rehearsal, which was on the A clarinet, this particular A (and most) having had a bit more resistance than the Bb.
I had no time to warm up because I had driven 100 miles to get to the rehearsal, so I played it, and it worked fine.( in an emergency, a synthetic in the case can help. But then, back to trying to get several that were duplicates of one another, just like I did with cane for seemingly forever. I just couldn’t do it, and gave up on Legere forever, especially since cane reeds from South America were proving to me to be much more consistent than the cane from France or Spain.
My frustration, not yet formulated was that synthetics were proving more vexing than cane. And I thought, what is the use of trying plastic when it was and is simply not consistent, which became my big question. My solution was in South American cane, highly available, not too costly which proved quite accurate. Specifically, I used Zonda Classic, finding quite a few in each box that played with little fixing, and most importantly, seemed to last longer. So, that was that, and it would still be if a friend hadn’t called me and told me he would send me a reed.(It was Forestone) Would I comment on it? I said that I would. It was too resistant for me. He told me that the company was working on the principle that most clarinetists prefer a hard #3 or harder. That may be the case, but not me. I have always played a #3, never more resistant. The friend mentioned that they were working on less resistance for players like myself. Time passed, and I received a couple of #3s, and perhaps 1 #3.5.
All of the #3s played, but not with consistency,  My wife, who has been listening to me play for 45 years was surprised that I was able to pick up the horn, and without my endless reed picking and warmups, play immediately, and to my standard.
It was at that time that I began to develop exactly what a clarinetists should expect from a synthetic reed.
It should be as good or better than any cane reed.
It should remain consistent through its playing life. (though the duration is not endless, the reed begins to lose its sparkle somewhere into the 5nd or 6th week.)
The reed should remain consistent from day to day, staying on the mouthpiece, (if that is your wish)

These should be the rules for any synthetic reed because if they are not, then cane will suffice. What is really of importance here is the first statement: that a synthetic reed should play as well as any cane reed. If one has not this experience of knowing which cane reeds play, then how does one discern the quality of the synthetic?

One doesn’t.

For instance , if I pick up six reeds of cane, each will play slightly differently   If a synthetic cannot be inconsistent in that manner, then,why play it?

That really is my story up to the current moment and my reason for my current preference. They play not quite  the same, each #3 that I have, and they are gradually erasing almost 60 years of scraping before the goddess of donax.

So, these are my findings and my reasons for attempting to define the qualities that a synthetic reed must have. Legere plays, but not consistently, and never did. The Signatures are much better and blow more freely, but still somewhat inconsisently.I have found that my ideal choice of strength for the Signature is 2.75. I hope that I have answered your many questions.

Forestone consistency, though not perfect is better than any synthetic I have tried, except for Signature, 2.75……but,I digress.

Stay well, and keep playing,and smiling.

best regards, sherman


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