Clarinet reeds may be a small piece of wood, but there’s a reason why even professional players spend hours testing them out and discussing which is best!

In this article we’re going to dive into the topic of what to look for and round up our pick of the best clarinet reeds for you.

The clarinet reed is crucial to sound production. Indeed, without one, playing the clarinet would be impossible.

Given our passion for jazz, we’ve focused on things that players in this style often look for – along with endorsements from some important clarinet players.

However, a great reed is a great reed, and even non-jazz players should be aware of these top picks.

ImageProductFeaturesPrice
#1 Recommended
Vandoren V12
Vandoren V12
  • Impeccable reputation & tradition of more than a century
  • Preferred reeds by many jazz musicians
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Premium Option
Gonzalez GD
Gonzalez GD
  • Long scraping
  • Designed for deeper and superior sound
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European cut
Legere Clarinet Reeds
Legere Clarinet Reeds
  • Has the properties of moist cane
  • Completely non-toxic
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Five of the Best Reeds for Jazz

Vandoren – V12

Founded in France in 1905, Vandoren has over a century of experience growing, making, selling, and innovating reeds.
Vandoren has an impeccable reputation. Some of the biggest names in classical and jazz use their products.

They make some outstanding mouthpieces as well. A great innovation, and one well worth the higher price point, is that each reed in each box is individually wrapped.

Because they are organic products, reeds can go bad if not kept in a good environment. They can get mouldy if the weather is very wet, or musty if kept in a drawer.

Having individually wrapped reeds eliminates this problem and ensures that each reed is fresh and sanitized when you first open it.

It’s especially useful if you are a professional or band director who needs to keep a lot of reeds on hand.

Vandoren has a handful of reed “models,” all of which are of high quality, but the one that many jazz musicians seem to prefer is their V12 model.

Jazz clarinetist Felix Peikli and bass clarinetist and popular YouTuber Michael Lowenstern both endorse Vandoren V12 reeds.

Clarinet and saxophone legend Victor Goines also endorses Vandoren reeds.

ImageProductFeaturesPrice
Vandoren V12Vandoren V12
  • Impeccable reputation & tradition of more than a century
  • Preferred reeds by many jazz musicians
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Gonzalez – GD

An Argentinian company, Gonzalez Reeds are designed for profound, high quality sound.

It started as a grower, wholesaler, and exporter of Arundo Donax. It began retail reed production in 1995 and rebranded as Gonzalez Reeds in 2000.

It has since grown an impressive roster of endorsing artists. The Italian jazz clarinetist Gabriele Mirabassi endorses Gonzalez GD reeds.

ImageProductFeaturesPrice
Premium Option
Gonzalez GD
Gonzalez GD
  • Long scraping
  • Designed for deeper and superior sound
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Légère – European Cut

Légère is an entirely synthetic reed company.

Although they weren’t the first to try, they are certainly the first to make synthetic reeds at a high level.

The beauty of a synthetic reed is that you don’t have to worry about changes in temperature or humidity. Reed is an organic material and can expand and contract with changes in the environment.

Synthetic reed doesn’t have that problem. Not to mention they last longer. Légère is constantly innovating and adding new cuts and designs to its offerings.

At the time of writing, they currently have 3 different models of clarinet reeds, but many more sax and even double reed models.

New Orleans based jazz clarinetist Gregory Agid, and jazz clarinet legend Eddie Daniels both endorse Légère reeds.

ImageProductFeaturesPrice
Legere Clarinet ReedsLegere Clarinet Reeds
  • Has the properties of moist cane
  • Completely non-toxic
Check Price on Amazon

D’Addario – Reserve (formerly Rico Reserve)

D’Addario used to be known as a guitar string company, but has since expanded and bought out many previously independent reed companies.

Companies like Rico, Mitchell Lurie, & La Voz are now all under the D’Addario umbrella. They are all legitimate reed brands with good products.

Michael Maccaferri, member of Grammy winning new music ensemble “eighth blackbird,” endorses D’Addario Reserve.

ImageProductFeaturesPrice
D'Addario ReserveD'Addario Reserve
  • Traditional blank clarinet reed
  • Engineered for exceptional performance and consistency
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D’Addario – Venn

Venn is D’Addario’s answer to Légère. Now that Légère has proven it’s possible to make a high quality synthetic reed, other companies are trying to innovate as well.

Venn attempts to mimic cane by layering polymer fibers, resin, and organic cane elements.

The New Orleans jazz clarinet legend Doreen Ketchens endorses D’Addario Venn reeds.

ImageProductFeaturesPrice
D'Addario VennD'Addario Venn
  • Unique combination of polymer fibers
  • Natural flexibility, response and articulation
  • Similar to a cane reed
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About the Clarinet Reed

The reed, although small and seemingly insignificant, can make a huge impact on your sound. After the mouthpiece, the reed is arguably the most important part of the clarinet.

You could have the best, most expensive clarinet in the world, but if you have a bad reed, it wouldn’t matter much.

Clarinet reeds, like all reed instruments in the Western woodwind family, are historically made from the cane Arundo Donax.

Today, many companies are successfully making synthetic reeds as well. The reed is an incredibly personal choice.

There is no best reed out there because the choice depends greatly on the mouthpiece, the ligature, the clarinet, and the players themselves.

That being said, there ARE some incredibly poorly made reeds out there. As mentioned before, a bad reed can effectively render a clarinet unplayable.

Reeds can become frustratingly expensive, especially considering that they don’t last.

It can be tempting to go online and just buy the cheapest one you can find. But as the saying goes, you usually get what you pay for.

So, if our guide can at least steer you away from some of the less reputable reed manufactures out there, we will have done our job.

How to Choose a Reed for the Clarinet

Unfortunately, because reed choice is so personal and dependent on so many variables, the only way to truly choose the best reed is for you to try them.

Experiment with different brands and different strengths.

But there is one type of clarinet reed we highly recommend to avoid: generic brands from online marketplaces like Amazon! 

The making of a reed takes a lot of time, energy, and science. Some may think that it is a simple thing to make something that looks so small and insignificant – it’s not! 

Stick with the established ‘famous’ brands and you won’t go far wrong…

What Do Clarinet Reed Numbers Mean?

Each reed comes with a number that designates its strength. A low number will mean the reed is softer and a higher number will mean it is harder. Reed strength usually ranges from 1 to 5, depending on the manufacturer.

They come in half strengths as well, such as 3.5. Sometimes quarter strengths exist, like a 3.5+, which is between 3.5 and 4.

What makes this number system infuriating is that it is not standard.

The reed strengths of different manufacturers don’t correspond with each other. And even the strengths of different models by the same manufacturer don’t correspond.

There are many strength comparison charts available online, but in the end, the only way to choose the right size is to experiment.

A Note on Mythology and Mouthpieces

There is a myth that exists among beginner clarinet students (and even more advanced ones). That is the higher the strength of your reed, the more advanced you are. This is absolutely incorrect.

It is true that most beginner students start on lighter (lower numbered) reeds.

This is because their embouchure muscles are still forming. It is also true that the more they advance, their band directors will usually suggest that they move up in reed strength.

The stronger reeds provide more resistance and stability, which can make producing higher notes easier, and can provide a larger dynamic range.

But this myth is an oversimplification. It does not take into account the vast variety of mouthpieces that exist.

Generally speaking, the more open your mouthpiece is, the lighter your reed will need to be, and vice versa.

Playing a #2 reed on a very open mouthpiece may feel the same as playing a #5 reed on a very closed mouthpiece.

Reed strength and the mouthpiece tip opening are indirectly proportional. It is rumoured that Acker Bilk, Pete Fountain, and Benny Goodman all played on very soft reeds. Reed size does NOT equate to level of talent or ability.

But, if you change your mouthpiece, don’t be surprised if you need to change your reeds as well.

Final Thoughts: The Best Clarinet Reed

Whilst every musician is different, the best brands of clarinet reeds are Vandoren, Rico and D’Addario.

If you’re looking for a starting point, the Vandoren V12 is an enduring classic and an excellent choice.

In truth, there is no standard, there is no secret, there is no “best” – it just comes down to experimentation and practice.

Our recommendation is to experiment and find out what brand/model/size is right for you.

But remember there are some bad companies out there, so begin your search with all the brands mentioned in our article: Vandoren, Legere, D’Addario, Rico, La Voz, Mitchell Lurie, Gonzalez.

Thanks for reading and good luck with your search! 

If you’re looking for more clarinet advice, check out our round up of the best clarinet brands, top jazz players from history and a beginners guide to playing clarinet.

Matt Fripp
Matt Fripp

International jazz booking agent, manager and host of Jazzfuel.
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