All about the REED

What is a REED?

Basically a reed is a little piece of cane that attaches to the mouthpiece of your clarinet/sax and then sits on your lower lip. As you blow through the mouthpiece this reed vibrates. It is these vibrations that create the sound as they travel down your instrument. As this is the first point of contact when playing a woodwind instrument it is clearly important to choose a reed that works, responds well & gives you the required tone.


There are 2 types of reed :

  • single reed – as used by clarinet & saxophone
  • double reeds – as used by oboe & bassoon

I am going to concentrate mainly on the single reed here.


How to choose a reed

As with most things nowadays there are many types and brands to choose from. All offering different types of tone or sound. There are premium reeds, plastic reeds even flavored reeds ! Then you will be offered different strength reeds and different cuts ! For a beginner the choice can seem baffling. How do you know what to ask for? Some reeds can be really quite expensive so getting the choice right is important. Especially as all you probably want is to play your instrument ! Well here are a few tips to help you make the correct choice and get started. Do bear in mind though that ultimately everyone’s mouth is different and everyone’s instrument is different. What works well for one person may not work so well for someone else.

Choose a brand

As I mentioned there are many brands to choose from, some of the most popular being :

  • Rico
  • Vandoren
  • La Voz
  • Legere
  • Juno
  • Hempke
  • Alexander

To name but a few. Then within each brand you will find different types of reed :

Rico make :

  • Rico basic
  • Rico Royale
  • Rico Grand Concert
  • Rico Plasticover

Vandoren make :

  • Traditional
  • V12
  • 56 rue lepic
  • V21

Again this is just a small selection from two of the more popular brands. The list is quite possibly endless ! In my experience I have found that, for the beginner, the best most reliable and cost effective are RICO both for clarinet and saxophone.

Rico – Saxophone

Rico – Clarinet


I find them to be reasonably priced, reliable and basically do what they say on the box ! (I am in no way sponsored by Rico to endorse their products – this is merely my opinion from 20 years of teaching experience). Ultimately the choice is yours & as you progress as a player you should definitely experiment with different types and brands but for an absolute beginner I find Rico to be absolutely fine. If you are past the beginner stage and looking to select something more appropriate for your sound then here are some other great choices that I have personally used over the years. They all have slightly different character and response so it is definitely worth taking time to check them out until you find a make that is right for you :

Vandoren V12 – Cut on a thicker blank it has a longer vibrating surface for a bigger, darker and warmer sound (file cut)

Saxophone    Clarinet


Vandoren V16 – (sax) A slightly thicker tip produces a more brilliant modern sound, preferred by a lot of the more modern jazz musicians


Vandoren 56 Rue Lepic (clarinet) – a premium reed with a slightly thicker profile whose design offers a woody, round sound with a strong spine. This is the only vandoren clarinet reed that is not finished with a file cut. (This is my personal clarinet reed of choice at the moment).


Vandoren ZZ –  (sax) provides a bright modern sound with great color and response.


Some other things to consider

The STRENTGH of the reed refers to how much “wood” is used in the reed :

  • a softer reed is easier to play and is especially ideal for beginners. It will however produce a lighter/thinner sound.
  • a harder reed is harder to blow – especially for undeveloped embouchure (how you hold it in the mouth) but will produce a bigger/fuller sound.

All manufacturers produce reeds either on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being softest) or Soft/Medium/Hard. This will be indicated both on the packaging and on the reed itself. A beginner should be starting on a 1.5 or possible a 2 (for slightly older beginners).

The final consideration – although for a beginner this is really not too important – is the CUT of the reed. Reeds generally come in 2 basic types of cut (you can get variations but these are the most common) :

French File cut

American or Regular cut

From the pictures above you can see the difference in finish. Again it really comes down to personal preference and of course the style of music that you intend to play but generally for a beginner I would recommend an American/regular cut. It will be slightly easier to blow although they tend not to last as long as french file cut.

Finally, remember reeds come from natural living cane and as such it is not an exact science. All different brands/cuts/thickness will vary and even within the same box you will find some variation. You may even find some that don’t work very well at all. Don’t be alarmed…it is simply the nature of reeds !

Please feel free to leave any comment or ask any questions. I’m happy to help.



How often should I change my reed…..way before this stage…….





Happy blowin’



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