Reed replacement - When?

by Brian
(Pontypridd South-Wales UK)

When do you need to replace a reed?


Hello Brian,

Thanks for writing again. Make sure you always have a minimum of four playing reeds. Always rotate your reeds and never rely only on one reed. Each time you put the clarinet together, rotate to the next reed. If you play for long amounts of time, rotate through your reeds.

If you have an outstanding reed, play on it some and save it for lessons, solos, concerts, or other important event. Kalmen Opperman used to call this the “Sunday” reed.

Anyway, back to your original question, when do you need to replace a reed?

1. When it is chipped
2. When it is cracked or split
3. When the tip is warped
4. Before it is discolored (don’t play if it is turning green or black)
5. When it squeaks too much (squeaks are not always the fault of the reed – see embouchure)
6. If it is extremely light to play
7. If it is extremely hard to play
8. If it sounds fuzzy
9. If it sounds like scrambled eggs
10. If it is just plain dead
11. Sad to say, some brand new reeds right out of the box might have the 1-10 physical or playing features

Besides chipping or cracked, it is possible to ‘help’ a reed play better (either out of the box or after it has been played a while). This is by adjusting the reed with a knife, sanding out the ‘warp’ on the back of the reed with fine sandpaper or a file, or clipping the tip with a reed clipper.

If you can find the Opperman “Handbook for Making and Adjusting Single Reeds: For All Clarinets and Saxophones.,” I highly recommend it as a reference to adjusting reeds. You will find numerous other references on the web about adjusting clarinet reeds.

Rotating your Clarinet Reeds will help your reeds last longer. I usually keep two boxes of ten reeds working that I play through. One box is a “performance” box and the other is a slightly older “practice” box.

Oh well, this might seem long-winded, but believe me, fiddling with reeds is a lifelong passion among clarinet players. Just remember this, fiddling with reeds is practicing fiddling with reeds, not practicing clarinet. Keep a good balance.

Now, best of luck finding a well-balanced, playable reed.


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