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Which Reed Do You Need?

Which reed do you need

The reed is what produces the sound for a lot of woodwind instruments. Are you playing with the right reed for comfort and optimal sound?

Which Reed Do You Need?

Single or Double Reeds:

There is a big difference between single reeds and double reeds. A single reed is a reed made from one piece of wood. A double reed is a reed made with two pieces of wood joined together.

Saxophones and clarinets use single reeds. Oboes and bassoons use double reeds.

Reeds For Your Particular Instrument:

First thing, you'll need to find the reed for your instrument. An oboe reed (which is a double reed) won't work on a clarinet, a clarinet reed won't work on a saxophone reed, and even a tenor saxophone reed won't work on an alto saxophone reed. Why is that?

The mouthpieces to each instrument have different sizes. If you compare a clarinet mouthpiece to a saxophone mouthpiece, you'll notice it's a lot skinnier.

Clarinet reed vs alto sax reed

Even between the different saxophones and clarinets, they'll vary from each other from width and length, so if you play tenor saxophone, make sure you buy reeds for tenor saxophone.

Reed Strengths:

When shopping for a reed, you'll notice that the reeds have different numbers on them. What does it mean? The number has to do with the reed strength - and it doesn't mean durability. The lower the number, the softer the reed is. Someone who is first learning their instrument is generally going to want a softer a reed. That's because the student is learning how to form and strengthen their embouchure muscles. Someone who has been playing for awhile might be playing with a harder reed.

Double Reeds are listed as soft, medium-soft, medium, medium-hard, or hard. That makes it easy to know what you're purchasing and using.

Single reeds are listed with numbers, generally from 1-5. It's recommended for a beginner student to play on a reed size from 1 to 2.5.

Reed Brands:

Like almost everything we buy, the brand of reeds do matter. Some brands are made with cheaper wood and cheaper labor, which will result in the reeds warping when they get wet, chipping easier, not being cut straight, and not being able to vibrate properly to make a sound.

The top brands for saxophone reeds are Vandoren, Rico, Hemke & La Voz.

The top reed brands for clarinet are Vandoren, Rico, D'Addario Woodwinds, and Gonzalez.

The top reed brands for oboe are Vandoren, and Légère.

The top brand of bassoon reeds are Andreas Eastman, and Singin' Dog


People will use different reeds for different genres, particularly between classical and jazz. The jazz reeds will have a thicker tip but a thinner heart. The jazz reeds produce a brighter sound, whereas the classical reed is more of a darker sound. It's not only the reed players change with the genre, but they'll have different mouthpieces as well to accommodate. If you are a learning student, I recommend learning on the mouthpiece you have (they're usually classical mouthpieces) and regular reeds. Upgrade as you advance.

Wood or Synthetic Reeds?

There are options for wood and synthetic reeds for both single reeds and double reeds. Beginners should start on wood reeds, but as they become more advanced, some players may be interested in synthetic reeds. This is fully on a players preference, there is no right or wrong when it comes to choosing between wood or synthetic.

Vibration and tone:

Wood reeds vibrate differently than synthetic reeds. It is possible to achieve the same sound, but some players found it more difficult to do so.


Wood may warp or chip and it can be a pain having to replace wood reeds. Synthetic reeds are more durable as they won't warp or chip. Synthetic reeds do last longer than wood reeds.


Reeds definitely have gone up in price over the years, but when comparing the cost to wood and synthetic, a good wood (single) reed cost roughly $3.80. You can get a pack of 10 for about $36. The cost of one (single) reed costs about $25.

So, which reed do you need?

Go off of your instrument and skill level. Don't be afraid to try out reeds for yourself. See which size you prefer, and which brand you like best. As you advance, don't be afraid to try new reeds.

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