Sax and Clarinet Reed Buying guide

Your Guide To Buying Saxophone and Clarinet Reeds. 

Trying to decide which reeds to buy for your clarinet or saxophone? Here we’ll go through the different choices available and how they differ in sound and response!

What does the reed do?

The reed should be dampened slightly then put onto your mouthpiece and secured with a ligature.  It’s important that the top of the reed is lined up to the top of your mouthpiece. It’s fundamental to producing the sound.  The reed vibrates and sends sound waves down the saxophone which are then projected by the bell.


The strength refers to the thickness or hardness of the reed.  The softest usually are 1 ½ which are most suitable for beginners as they vibrate more easily and so it’s easier to produce a sound.

A thicker reed will create more resistance which is harder to play but will enhance the sound produced.  The strengths are usually shown by a number, and go up in 1/2 steps (ie 1½, 2, 2½, 3, 3½).  However, some manufacturers use the terms ‘soft’, ‘medium’ and ‘hard’ as well.

Here is a comparison guide to the different strengths across the popular reed brands:

Saxophone Family Reed Strength Comparison Chart

Clarinet Reed Comparison

Clarinet Family Reed Strength Comparison Chart

Sax Reed Comparison

Tonal Qualities:

Reed Brand Instrument Tonal Qualities: Good for:
Rico (Orange pkg) Full range of Clarinets & Saxophones Designed for ease of play and tone production. Unfiled. Beginner to intermediate players and jazz musicians.
D’Addario Royals (previously Rico Royals – Blue pkg) Full range of Clarinets & Saxophones Produced from a thinner blank and are filed for clarity of sound. Increased response and flexibility allowing better articulation at all dynamics and registers. Intermediate to advanced players of all styles of music.
D’Addario Select Jazz Soprano, Alto, Tenor & Baritone Saxophone – available in 3rd strengths. Thick spine, traditional tip shape. Offers great projection, focus and a vibrant sound. Available filed or unfiled. Advanced jazz players or those wanting better projection.
D’Addario Reserve All instruments Rounded tip for fast response.  Thicker reed which gives heavier resistance for a rich, warm tone. Filed for greater consistency. Advanced players
Vandoren Traditional All instruments Excellent response and flexibility allowing pianissimo attack in high notes and legato or staccato execution of large intervals. Rich tone with clarity of sound. Thin reed tip Beginner to Intermediate players.
Vandoren V12 Bb, Eb & Bass Clarinet; Soprano, Alto & Tenor Sax Feature a thicker heel and are cut longer on the pallete. More of the reed vibrates which gives a deeper, richer sound.  The thicker tip gives body to the attack and increases longevity. Intermediate to Advanced players. Great for music that needs control over all registers whilst maintaining a warm, velvety sound.
Vandoren JAVA Soprano, Alto, Tenor & Bari Saxophone

Filed (Red-cut) or Unfiled (Green)

Bright sound with immediate response and good projection. Intermediate to Advanced players. Designed for jazz and popular music.
Vandoren ZZ Jazz Soprano, Alto, Tenor & Bari Saxophone Medium-thick heart, spine and rounded tip of V16s; flexible palette of JAVA gives a bright, colourful sound with quick response. Intermediate to Advanced players. Designed for jazz players.
Vandoren V16 Soprano, Alto & Tenor Saxophone Brilliant, percussive sound. A thicker tip and longer palette than Traditional’s. Intermediate to Advanced players. Great for all modern styles of music.

All reeds have a different thickness of cane that they are cut from and are cut differently which gives their unique way of vibrating and ultimately response and sound.  Here are the different parts of the reed that affect this.


Filed vs Unfiled:

A filed reed has an extra strip of cane removed in a straight line just below the vamp area.  If you have an especially resistant mouthpiece then a filed reed with allowing for a better response, specifically allowing soft attacks in the low register.  You will be able to produce a brighter tone with darker sounding mouthpieces.  An unfiled reed will give you a richer, more powerful tone if your mouthpiece is less resistant and more ‘easy blowing’!

This proves that the reed is not the only thing that will affect the sound and feel of your instrument. Together with the type of mouthpiece and instrument – each individual player will have a different preference of reed depending on their set up and playing style.

Some further tips:

How to preserve your reeds…

  • Break-in and rotate your reeds. Do not overuse one the first few times of use.
  • Use water to dampen your reeds before use, rather than saliva.
  • Use a mouthpiece cap whilst the reed is still on the mouthpiece, but not in use.
  • Take your reed off the mouthpiece and store in a reed case whilst not using your instrument.

Come and have a look at our range of reeds and woodwind accessories in our Bristol shop, we’re always happy to help if you have any questions about your reeds.

Shop the range of Woodwind Accessories & Reeds