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 The Downside of Light Reeds
Author: SecondTry 
Date:   2022-11-16 00:02

I recently tried 2.5 strength Vandorens from my usual light 3.0s. Is there a downside to playing lighter reeds?

I play a Vandoren M15 mouthpiece: which many of you will know is more on the closed end of things that all else equal would, for most players, involve the use reeds on the stronger side of the spectrum. Even 3.0 strength pushes Vandoren's guidelines https://vandoren.fr/en/vandoren-mouthpieces/m15-bb-clarinet-mouthpiece/ for this mouthpiece on the weakness side of things.

Okay---many factors go into mouthpieces, tip opening being only one. But if there's something we might actually develop some consensus on it's that a player is apt to find more functionality with lighter reeds on, say, a more open mouthpiece like a Vandoren B45.

Additionally, I definitely expect my reeds to be slightly resistant for me out of the box. Removing material from reeds to adjust their resistance, both overall and to better achieve left side/right side symmetry for my setup (anatomical and instrument) is part of my approach.

As I get older, and maybe this is something I should have adopted years ago, I find that anything I can do to make clarinet playing less exhausting, without compromising artistry, is a good thing. It's not uncommon for me to switch between double and single lip embouchure, the former that much more taxing I feel when playing strong reeds.

While I have no aspirations to being a professional, is there something about more resistant setups that is attractive to pros, like better projection?

Resistance is one of the things for me that allowed me better reliability on stratospheric notes in the C7 range---for the limited repertoire necessitating this. But so does taking in more mouthpiece.

Rephrase: why don't you or pros play weaker reeds. What happens when you do? Do they squeak, do you choke them off, does the strength of your airway overpower them, do they not last as long, etc.? Is it just that after years of play that their muscles have grown so strong that what they see as "light" weight reeds because stronger over their life of play?


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 Re: The Downside of Light Reeds
Author: Paul Aviles 
Date:   2022-11-16 01:47

Firstly it must be understood that using a set up that is as easy to play as possible IS the priority as long as you are able to play competently.

My more recent bouts with strength were about five years ago as I was finding the right strength for Legere reeds. The issues that came up for me were that the strengths that were just too weak caused the system to "collapse" within hours. Once I reached a strength that lasted for a full day of rehearsals and performances, I felt I was there. That did included a few concerts where I pushed beyond the limit of the strength I was using and things closed off at high volume. I adjusted up another quarter strength and was back in business. It all comes down to finding what works.

If you are playing for yourself and you can achieve all the musical requirements that suit your needs......that is the correct reed strength for your set-up.

..............Paul Aviles

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 Re: The Downside of Light Reeds
Author: Dan Shusta 
Date:   2022-11-16 08:02


I found the following sentence from Brad Behn's website page:
(Under the section entitled: Best Reed, Best Sound

"In an attempt to produce a beautiful sound, we believe many clarinetists use harder reeds than necessary."

My interpretation of the above sentence is rather simple: For a better quality sound, many players resort to stiff, harder reeds.

This leads me to the conclusion that if a player uses a softer reed, the quality of one's sound is possibly or probably going to suffer and the stratospheric C7 altissimo range will also probably suffer.

This appears to me to be due primarily to the design of the mouthpiece because Brad's next sentence after the one above is: "We recommend that you try our mouthpieces with a thinner-cut, free, and vibrant reed. You may be pleasantly surprised by the results."

I believe, from comments on this BB, that it is common knowledge that Brad designs his mouthpieces with a slightly higher internal resistance which allows a player to use a softer, thinner-cut reed to achieve a beautiful sound over the entire range of the clarinet.

So, again, as simplistic as it sounds, it appears that the Vandoren M15 is designed in a specific way as to require the use of rather stiff, hard reeds.

p.s. I know that what Brad Behn said in the second sentence is true because I played his Prescott with his Brio 2.5 reed and I was able to produce the most beautiful tone ever on my plastic Vito clarinet.

Post Edited (2022-11-16 08:49)

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 Re: The Downside of Light Reeds
Author: Tom H 
Date:   2022-11-16 09:43

What Paul said. I've played on Vandoren 2.5s for almost 50 years now, after doing a lot of experimenting in college. For 25 years I used the extinct Vandoren V360 mouthpiece and the last 25 the VanD 5RV (very similar). I find the 2.5s perfect for my playing, which is limited to a summer series now, but were also fine when I was playing all over the place all year before leaving the NY area. No problems with C7 (such as Artie Shaw Concerto) and at times above that (actually, I can get to Eb on my Selmer student model clarinet using my 2.0 Legere-- it was suggested that for the plastic reed to use a half strength lighter). Whatever works.

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 Re: The Downside of Light Reeds
Author: Jarmo Hyvakko 
Date:   2022-11-16 10:28

For harder reeds among professionals there are several reasons.

First, it's easier to get stability to the sound. It's easier to get tuning up in loud dynamics, we all know the challenging feature in the clarinet: it tends to get flat when played loud, when most instruments get sharp.

It's easier to get altissimo register notes in tune (not flat) with a reed hard enough. My professor used to teach a simple test: you should at least be able to play clarinet register A to altissimo A octave effortless with no need to pinch altissimo A sharper. Otherwise your reed is too soft.

I find it easier to get a good core to the sound with a reed hard enough. Too soft reed easily produces a sound that is only bright with no core and thus no projection.

I find it equally exhausting to play with a too soft reed than a too hard reed. You need a lot of energy to keep the lips in a stable position with a soft reed to get a good sound. There is no such good sound as "just put your lips together and blow".

With a too soft reed there very easily are undesired upper partials in the sound that make it unpleasant

In cane world it's easier to find good sounding reeds from slightly harder ones. Professionals need lots and lots of reeds whole the time.

I am not saying the harder the better. Too hard reed easily produces a too dark and dull sound.

My equipment just now is Playnick Nommos M mouthpiece, Legere european cut #4 reeds and Yanagisawa Yany Sixs ligature

Jarmo Hyvakko, Principal Clarinet, Tampere Philharmonic, Finland

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 Re: The Downside of Light Reeds
Author: Johnny Galaga 
Date:   2022-11-17 05:00

It's harder to get the high notes out with a softer reed and they'll be more flat.

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 Re: The Downside of Light Reeds
Author: allencole 
Date:   2022-11-17 20:28

It's that age-old battle between sta-bility and flexi-bility.

Allen Cole

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 Re: The Downside of Light Reeds
Author: Paul Aviles 
Date:   2022-11-17 20:42

Probably not necessary to say.......but I will anyway

We should probably say SOFT(ER) and HARD(ER).

I wouldn't want anyone to think that just grabbing a #5 Vandoren will make you Ricardo Morales.

Mr. Hyvakko's comments are spot on.

...............Paul Aviles

Reply To Message
 Re: The Downside of Light Reeds
Author: Dan Shusta 
Date:   2022-11-18 08:18


You mentioned that "Mr. Hyvakko's comments are spot on."

This, however, leads me to the following, rather simplistic question: Does this mean that the Vandoren M13 is a preferable mouthpiece to the 5RV solely because you can more easily play harder reeds on it (due to its long, 38 facing and closest tip opening) and therefore obtain all of the positive items that Mr. Hyvakko mentions?

I have a few more questions:

Because the 5RV requires a softer reed due to its medium short, 32 facing and more open tip:

Does this mean that the 5RV:

1) Has less stability?
2) Has less core to it's sound?
3) Plays flatter altissimo notes?
4) Has a tone that is too bright?
5) Has too many undesired upper partials?
6) Makes it harder to find good sounding softer reeds?

I think this could possibly make for an interesting discussion.

Post Edited (2022-11-18 08:46)

Reply To Message
 Re: The Downside of Light Reeds
Author: Paul Aviles 
Date:   2022-11-18 20:47

I need to back up to the basics.

You can play a really open mouthpiece with a soft(er) reed or a really closed mouthpiece with a hard(er) reed WITH EXACTLY THE SAME EFFORT (or embouchure or air or whatever you want to call it). The difference? You can have more control over tone and pitch with a more open mouthpiece. But there is a down side. What is the down side? You have more control over tone and pitch. What I mean by that is you find yourself "working" or thinking more moving around the horn by virtue of that flexibility just to maintain constant pitch and tone. As a classical clarinetist, I'd rather have more constraints on the sound and pitch and concentrate on phrasing, articulation, dynamics, changes of pacing etc etc.

Within one's SOLUTION to what mouthpiece, reed, clarinet and job to get, Jarmo addresses the ideas of fine tuning for various circumstances (if I may speak freely for someone else) :-)

Once you start talking about different mouthpieces and different reed strengths as an absolute, you've not only lost the battle, you don't even know what war you're in.

...............Paul Aviles

Reply To Message
 Re: The Downside of Light Reeds
Author: Micke Isotalo 2017
Date:   2022-11-19 01:52

Dan, your questions would imply that harder cane in itself would be desirable. That's however not the case, but all is instead about how a certain reed strength matches a given mouthpiece.

A reed with suitable strength for the M13 (whether the player prefers a somewhat softer or harder reed) would be too hard for him/her on a 5RV (too resistant, wheezy and airy in sound quality, unresponsive especially at softer dynamics, shorter phrases due to a need to breathe more often, encourage biting to mitigate the poor sound quality and unresponsiveness, etc).

Put that same reed on a Viennese facing with a tip opening of say 0.75mm and it will be way too soft for him/her - with all the qualities of a too soft reed (lower general intonation, still flatter going up the scale, a thin, trembling or shaky tone quality, dropping even more in intonation at louder volumes, even closing completely off against the facing when trying to keep up the pitch on higher notes, etc).

Reply To Message
 Re: The Downside of Light Reeds
Author: Dan Shusta 
Date:   2022-11-19 05:06

Thanks Paul and Micke Isotalo, I appreciate both of your responses.

I already knew almost all of what was written. I was hoping someone would touch on the playing and tonal characteristics of the 5RV.

I do realize open mouthpieces allow more flexibility of pitch, but I didn't
know about changing tonal qualities. I've heard some jazz players on open tip mpcs, however, the only thing I've noticed is that they can indeed change pitch but that was pretty much it. As they changed the pitch, I didn't notice any change in tonal quality.

Yes, I do know that classical players usually prefer a fixed pitch. I believe this is pretty much what a closed tip mpc offers.

I looked up the specs on the Playnick Nommos M mouthpiece and with its 1.25mm tip opening and a 20mm or Brand 40 facing, these specs don't signify a typical classical mpc to me. The Nommos M tip opening is larger than the Vandoren B40, B45, and B45 dot which have a 1.195mm tip opening at a 36 facing. However, the Playnick has a longer facing length of 2mm. I believe it's the 20mm facing which allows Mr. Hyvakko to play a Legere European cut #4 reed. He appears to be playing a very flexible mpc.

Yes, I'm familiar with the Austrian and Viennese ultra-close tip openings. My understanding is that the tenon size is not compatible with the French barrel specs. Too bad because I would have bought one of them a long time ago.

I ask questions because, even at 75, I want to know more.

I really don't think that should turn out to be a condescending experience.

Reply To Message
 Re: The Downside of Light Reeds
Author: Paul Aviles 
Date:   2022-11-19 06:18

I didn't mean to sound condescending, I only maant to clarify.........more to the general audience which might not have that overarching perspective.

You can have someone bring an Austrian tenon down the 1mm that represents the difference, OR what I had done for my Wurlitzer mouthpieces was to have a barrel or two reamed out another millimeter to accept the larger, unaltered tenons.

.............Paul Aviles

Reply To Message
 Re: The Downside of Light Reeds
Author: Johnny Galaga 
Date:   2022-11-19 08:35

What does "32 facing" mean? I don't understand the terminology.

Post Edited (2022-11-19 08:37)

Reply To Message
 Re: The Downside of Light Reeds
Author: Dan Shusta 
Date:   2022-11-19 10:08
Attachment:  New photo of gauges.jpg (702k)

A 32 facing represents a facing length of 16mm.

This measurement system was developed by Eric Brand and measures the mm facing length measured from the tip of the mpc to a point where a 0.0015" metal gauge stops reading on the glass gauge. This stoppage point is actually twice the mm measurement. This, as I understand it, was done to make facing measurements easier by "stretching" or "expanding" the mm reading by doubling it. For example, a measurement of 2 on the gauge actually represents 1 mm. All commercial glass facing measurement gauges use the Brand system.

For more information, please click on the link below and go down response #29 by Vytas Krass:


A short synopsis from Vytas Krass' response:

15mm = Brand 30 = short facing
16mm = Brand 32 = medium short facing
17mm = Brand 34+ = medium facing
18mm = Brand 36 = medium long facing
19mm = Brand 38 = long facing
20mm & up = very long facings

Note: (* in other countries the 17 mm facing length is considered to be short).

Please see photo for help in understanding the system.

p.s. Others may respond with a better explanation than mine.

p.p.s. Please do read Vytas's #29 response. He goes into great detail of how different facings affect the sound and playability in lower and upper registers.

Post Edited (2022-11-19 21:59)

Reply To Message
 Re: The Downside of Light Reeds
Author: Micke Isotalo 2017
Date:   2022-11-19 14:50

Dan, though the tip opening size is almost always strongly related to the proper reed strength (closer = stronger, wider = softer), there are some exceptions - because of other characteristics in mouthpiece design also affecting response and resistance.

A personal experience about this was when I compared the Playnick Verdi Traviata (tip opening 1.3mm according to Thomann, 1.28 according to a Eric Black video) with the Puccini Tosca (tip 1.15mm). The Verdi was indeed more free blowing in comparison, as also indicated by the larger tip opening - but to my great surprise it demanded stiffer reeds than the closer Puccini (to get an equal playing experience, concerning resistance, tone quality, etc)! As I remember from a K├╝ckmeier video I watched later, also he is telling the same.

A comment also about the Playnick Nommos, which is primarily targeted at synthetic reeds. At least some mouthpiece makers believe that mouthpieces for synthetic reeds needs larger tip openings, as well as a different kind of facing curve compared to mouthpieces for cane. A representative of Maxton explained it to me by a wider vibrating amplitude and also differing pattern for the synthetic reeds (that must be at equal volume, wouldn't make sense otherwise). Thus all the Maxton mouthpiece offerings for synthetic reeds has a wider tip opening than those for cane reeds (as well as a differing facing curve). The same seems to be true about Playnick.

Concerning Viennese facings, if you get such a mouthpiece either with an altered tenon or barrel, also be prepared to take in a lot more than usual - because of the very long facings.

For my part, I'm extremely pleased with my Viennese Maxton Alban which I've played exclusively for over a year now, with an advertised tip opening of 0.864mm and a facing length of 28.5mm (the opening measurement isn't probably fully comparable with the Brand method, since Maxton themselves measures it "backwards" - as I understand, with a standardized reed size object held flat against the tip rail and the measurement then taken at the other end of that object, from how much it raises above the facing!).

I play on Reform Boehm instruments, with German/Austrian size sockets on the barrels, but some time ago I also ordered the same Alban facing on a Boehm-sized mouthpiece - both as a spare (its tenon actually fits German barrels, but because it's shorter there is a gap inside the barrel) and for possible future testing on Boehm clarinets.

The very long facings also makes Viennese mouthpieces a lot less resistant than what just the tip openings alone would indicate. Still, everything less than 0.85mm is too resistant and restricted in loud dynamics for me personally. On the other hand, some of the slightly more open Viennese facings can be lacking the more typical, Viennese kind of sound.

The Maxton Alban is for synthetic reeds, but I use it actually almost exclusively with cane - and it works better for me than other cane-models that I've tested. For me it's also far superior concerning tone, intonation, tonguing speed and air consumption compared to the Playnick's I've tested and also played previously on (the Brahms was the latest, before that a Viennese A' and a German Solist M).

When thinking about it, it could actually be that an "Alban" for you Dan could be less resistant than what you are used to - if that's somewhere in the M13-M15 range. I would probably rate the resistance of the Alban closer to a M30 or BD5 (with cane reeds and proper intake, of course).

Post Edited (2022-11-19 14:59)

Reply To Message
 Re: The Downside of Light Reeds
Author: Paul Aviles 
Date:   2022-11-19 21:11

I have been looking at this post more closely and what I read initially (in my head) was, "Why do pros use harder reeds."

Yes, you do find yourself in situations where you may need a harder reed than you had been using successfully for a time.

Then there was the part about the Vandoren suggested reed strengths. I would NEVER take that into consideration and quite frankly have made it a point not to bother with suggested strengths anywhere by anybody. It assumes absolutes and not reality. Also, some great players (pros) use a very physically demanding set-up while others have nearly effortless set-ups and both sound amazing (I will refrain from being judgmental regarding the unnecessary effort wasted by the former).

Here is one other consideration for strength. Once you have the right strength for you, if you find yourself at a different elevation for an audition or performance you may need to bring SOFTER reeds with you for higher elevations (5100ft above sea level for Denver Colorado) or HARDER reeds if you're traveling from a high altitude down to a sea level location.

So I would suggest using RESULTS as the determining factor in finding the right strength of reed. And that is a suggestion that goes double for brass playing band directors out there!

..............Paul Aviles

Post Edited (2022-11-19 21:12)

Reply To Message
 Re: The Downside of Light Reeds
Author: Dan Shusta 
Date:   2022-11-19 21:53

Mr. Isotalo,

Thank you for your very extensive explanation. Much appreciated.

I remember playing a Pomarico Sapphire several decades ago. With its 1.15mm tip opening and 21mm(?) facing, it presented to me little to no resistance to play. However, I distinctly remember trying to play a pianissimo note in the upper clarion and I couldn't until I pressed much harder with my lower lip to get the reed closer to the facing in order for a tone to be produced. This is what concerns me about all open to very open mpcs. The longer the facing, to me means my lower lip is going to be on a much thicker part of the reed necessitating more jaw pressure to center the tone.

Due to my having embouchure dystonia, my quest has been in the opposite direction. I, along with a fellow retired symphony player who is a few years older then I am, have been searching to find ultra closed tip mouthpieces. It doesn't take too much "blow back" or "resistance" to overwhelm my damaged right side embouchure muscles which then go into its usual self-contraction mode and I wind up with a semi-permanent "smile" on the right side of my face the next morning. However, after a few days of no playing, the muscles (thankfully) relax and my face looks normal again. So, for me, the resistance as well as the jaw pressure needs to be at a minimum.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has noticed that European mpcs always seem to have very long facings. On this side of the pond, the long 38 (19mm) appears to be the usual longest facing length. Yes, I know, there are a few with 42 and slightly longer, however, they seem, to me, to be in the minority. Personally, I have trouble "tip of tongue" tonguing with anything much longer than a 38. I tried playing a German mpc designed for the Boehm system and found that the facing length was so long that "anchor" tonguing was far easier than "tip of tongue" tonguing.

I do have a Selmer "A" which my crude measurements reveal have a 0.89mm tip opening and a 30 (!5mm) facing. Due the short facing, the resistance for me is just to high. My plan is to have it refaced for a 34 (!7mm) facing which should, hopefully, lower the resistance to a tolerable level.

I wonder...how are those players who have very long facings able to do a fast staccato?

Reply To Message
 Re: The Downside of Light Reeds
Author: Dan Shusta 
Date:   2022-11-19 22:17


When going from a high elevation softer reed to a sea level harder reed, do you notice any change in the tone? Is it brighter at higher elevations and darker at sea level? If the change in reed strength is small, i.e., like from a 3.25 at high elevations to a 3.5 at sea level, does the darkness of the tone change much?

How much of a strength change do you usually make?

All of this goes back to Jarmo Hyvakko's assertions of how sound quality changes with wide variations of reed strength. (My interpretation.)

Just wondering...

Reply To Message
 Re: The Downside of Light Reeds
Author: Paul Aviles 
Date:   2022-11-20 03:56

From what I personally recall from Fort Carson, there was just the slight adjustment of reed strength and all other things seemed to be equal. I was also using cane back then and cane reeds are more forgiving of many issues (as long as they are broken in ok and are not reacting violently to a severe lack of humidity). I only wanted to mention that there are other factors that can be involved with reed strength.

...............Paul Aviles

Reply To Message
 Re: The Downside of Light Reeds
Author: Johnny Galaga 
Date:   2022-11-20 06:39

I have five or six different mouthpieces and if I rest each one against a flat surface to see how open or closed the tip is, I can't tell the difference from one mouthpiece to the next just by looking at it.

Reply To Message
 Re: The Downside of Light Reeds
Author: donald 
Date:   2022-11-20 08:25

I have 2 German system mouthpieces (both with tip openings under 1mm) that have the larger socket but fit perfectly fine on my Clarke Fobes barrels. (See attached photo).

Post Edited (2022-11-20 08:27)

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 Re: The Downside of Light Reeds
Author: donald 
Date:   2022-11-20 08:27

Trying that again...

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 Re: The Downside of Light Reeds
Author: Dan Shusta 
Date:   2022-11-20 09:03


I wish I could remember where I read the following: The great majority of clarinet players play on mouthpieces where the tip opening difference is less than 0.5mm. (That's 0.0197".)

The smallest tip opening of the majority of French mpcs is right around 1.00mm. (Think Vandoren M13, Fobes Debut, etc. )

The popular B40, B45 and the B45 dot all come in at 1.19mm.

The 5JB mpc dubbed by Vandodren as "THE jazz mpc" is 1.47mm.

So, here, the maximum difference is just under 0.5mm.

IMHO, the majority of players using French mpcs don't go over 1.20mm.

It's extremely hard to tell the difference between 1.00mm and 1.19mm.

That's less than 0.2mm or 0.008".

I'm not surprised at all that you can't tell the difference between your 5-6 mpcs.

I wouldn't be able to do it either.

Reply To Message
 Re: The Downside of Light Reeds
Author: donald 
Date:   2022-11-20 10:41
Attachment:  20221119_160214_resized.jpg (449k)

I believe these are from Wurlitzer, but not stamped as such (they come from the collection of Ken Wilson, who arranged the Paganini Variations, and I believe are from his visit to Wurlitzer in the very early 1980s when he got his Wurlitzer RBs overhauled). As you can see, they fit a Boehm system tenon perfectly well (although it's true many other German mouthpieces don't)

Reply To Message
 Re: The Downside of Light Reeds
Author: Micke Isotalo 2017
Date:   2022-11-20 13:20

Also all the Vandoren German mouthpieces can be fitted to a French barrel socket (surely also their Viennese one, but haven't tried it myself), since the tenons themselves aren't too wide for that. The tenon cork will compress enough to allow a fit - with lots of cork grease. After a few fittings though the cork will have compressed too much to still give a tight fit on a German barrel, so in that case the cork needs to be renewed.

Still the tenons on German/Austrian mouthpieces are about 1mm longer than on French ones, so there will be a visible gap of that size between such a mouthpiece and a French barrel (can't however see that on Donalds photo above, so either the socket on that barrel is deeper than usual or the tenons on the mouthpieces are shorter than usual).

As also Donald says, on some German/Austrian mouthpieces the tenons themselves (apart from the tenon cork) are too wide to fit a French barrel.

Post Edited (2022-11-20 13:26)

Reply To Message
 Re: The Downside of Light Reeds
Author: Paul Aviles 
Date:   2022-11-20 15:13

Yes, the tenon itself is 1.00mm longer and 1.00mm larger in diameter. These are modified at request by Viotto to fit their German mouthpiece atop ANY Boehm. I think Wurlitzer has the modified tenon available as well but never completely confirmed that.

..............Paul Aviles

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