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Vandoren and Rico double and single reeds

The reed is the generator of all vibration and thus sound from a woodwind instrument and is crucial in determining the type and quality of sound produced. They are produced from cane, which is meticulously cut and shaved to precise dimensions to produce a reed of a specific cut or strength. The main makers are Rico (based in California) and Vandoren (based in the South of France) who between them make the majority of the world's reeds.

Double & Single Reeds

Reeds can be divided into two distinct categories. "Single reeds" are used for clarinet and saxophone where only one piece of reed is held onto the mouthpiece with a ligature.

"Double reeds" are used with oboes and bassoons. Here two pieces of cane are bound together.

double reeds for oboes and bassoons
single reeds for clarinet and saxophone

Single Reeds

The single reed can be divided into different parts. This picture shows the separate parts of the reed and the different "cuts" for two types of Vandoren clarinet reeds.

Reed Strength

Reeds are graded in strengths (1 being soft, 5 being hard). The stronger the reed being the thicker and harder the cane is. Most student players start on a soft reed - as it allows for easy tone production without the need for a strong embouchure. Stronger reeds require a more developed technique but produce a much greater tonal and dynamic range.

Reed Cuts

Different reed makes are cut (or profiled) to different dimensions to aid particular playing styles. For example the Vandoren Java saxophone reeds were developed specifically for jazz players and are cut with a long flexible tip, allowing vibration across a large surface area.

Choosing a reed

Most student players tend to start on a Rico 1 1/2 strength and as they progress move onto a Vandoren or Rico Royal 2 - 3. Moving up to professional level, reed choice becomes a matter of personal taste and individual playing style.

Double Reeds

Again here Rico & Vandoren both offer reeds in a variety of strengths. Also, (due to the particularly temperamental and fragile nature of double reeds) synthetic reeds are available which are stronger and offer a greater consistency of performance tied with a longer life expectancy for the student player.