Clarinet reeds: Vandoren

In this series of articles I would like to give my personal opinion on the most representative models of clarinet reeds that belong to different brands such as Vandoren, D’Addario, Lègére reeds, Steuer reeds (1997), González (1983), Alta reeds (2016)… They are all very interesting options available on the reed market which is slowly introducing new ideas and concepts to the reed world to be able to find “the ideal reed”.   

 

The majority of brands make their reeds from the giant cane Arundo Donax, but others, like Lègére reeds, make them with synthetic materials and since February 2016, they also make them in European cut.

Before I start, I would like to congratulate publicly all the brands that make reeds for their contribution to the clarinet world. New ideas and accessories which make the clarinetist feel more comfortable are very welcome.

I will start with the well-known brand Vandoren and its history.

Eugène Van Doren (1873-1940) played the Eb clarinet in the Paris Opera at a time when the woodwind musicians used to make their own reeds. Very soon, Eugène attracted the attention of his colleagues when they realized the reeds he made were of great quality. 

 

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Being aware of the complexity of this job, he decided to design and make a special machine operated with a pedal. With it, he was able to manufacture more reeds and he slowly started to be well-known amongst the musicians. He started making reeds in the dining-room of his house and very soon he set aside his career as a musician and set up a reed factory on rue Lepic 51, in 1905, the same year when his son Robert was born.

Robert Van Doren did his clarinet studies and was awarded by the Music Conservatory in Paris. In 1928 he travelled to the United States to do a tour where he became a soloist at the Radio City, the famous radio station in New York City.

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While being on his tour, Robert left an indelible imprint of the quality of the reeds his father made and later on decided to set aside his musical career to work as a reed manufacturer, like his father had done some years earlier. In 1935 he bought a plot of land on rue Lepic, 56, where the present building of the Vandoren society is. He also commercialised the famous mouthpiece 5RV, which achieved great success amongst the professional musicians.

The third Van Doren generation arrives in 1967 with Bernard Van Doren. He inspired the new generation of mouthpieces, having as a model the B45 mouthpiece. Bernard Van Doren also developed different types of machinery to increase production. 

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At present, Vandoren products enjoy great prestige around the world and are well-known for their high quality. At their premises in Paris, where one can find all sorts of specialised sheet music or try different accessories in special booths, they welcome musicians from around the world.

For three generations, the Van Doren family has been growing the giant cane Arundo Donax in the Var region, in France. This variety of cane is known colloquially as “the musical cane”.

I have based my opinion on two parameters which, from my point of view, are basic to make a good reed choice:

- RESPONSE

- RESISTANCE

TRADITIONAL REEDS

I agree with Vandoren when they say this model is the most common amongst the professional musicians for the superiority shown throughout the years. They are good for all types of music.

They offer an excellent response along the different registers and they allow to attack a pianissimo with the higher notes. Their flexibility allows to carry out big intervals in legato and staccato and their sound is bright and full-bodied due to the rich timbre they offer.

Strength range:

1 - 1.5 - 2 - 2.5 - 3 - 3.5 - 4 – 5

APPROXIMATE MEASUREMENTS

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This is the type of reed I have always used. My personal feeling with the Traditional reeds is:

PROS:

Endurance reliability. Once the reed has performed the typical strength drop of the first days, it maintains a good strength line. This is one of the main reasons of it being one of my favourites.
Good response.
 

CONS:

From my point of view, bearing in mind the type of mouthpiece I use (Viotto B+) and the way I play, this type of reed is lacking a bit of equality between the different ranges, that is, homogeneity in the shape of sound. 

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V.12 REEDS (1989)

V.12 reed for Bb clarinet are manufactured from cane tubes with the same diameter as cane used for alto saxophone reeds. As a result, they have a thicker heel and are cut on a longer palette with a slightly thicker tip than the Traditional ones. The longer palette means that more of the reed is vibrating, resulting in a deeper, richer sound. The thicker tip gives body to the attack and also increases the longevity of the reed.

The introduction of the 3 ½ + strength allows a smaller and more specific gradation, resulting in reeds that are more consistent within the same strength. The V•12 line is expanding with the addition of Eb and bass clarinet reeds, which offer a warm, rich and powerful sound.


Strength range:

2,5 - 3 - 3,5 - 3,5+ - 4 - 4,5 - 5 - 5+

APPROXIMATE MEASUREMENTS

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PROS:

  • Homogeneity. I like the evenness between ranges.
  • Good response.

CONS:

  • Resistance reliability: the strength drop is too pronounced.

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56 RUE LEPIC REEDS (2003)

They are named after the Vandoren “home”. It offers a quick response throughout the different registers, assuring the maximum precision. The tip has a thickness of 0,11 mm and at the heel it is of 3,25 mm.

Designed from thicker cane with a heel taper very similar to German-style reeds, the 56 emits a rich, centred and extremely pure sound providing maximum stability and quick response in all registers. Strength gradations are smaller and more specific, resulting in reeds that are very consistent.

Strength range:

2,5 - 3 - 3,5 - 3,5+ - 4 - 4,5 - 5

 

APPROXIMATE MEASUREMENTS

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PROS:

Endurance reliability. I like the evenness throughout the different registers and the centred sound. I think they offer a good sound resistance and I feel comfortable with them.

CONS:

I think they are missing a bit of vibration freedom, maybe due to the fact that I need to use 3.5 reeds, because with the Traditional reeds I use number 3 reeds, but with the 56 ones I find number 3 too soft. Another factor is that they are Unfiled cut.

It is a pity that Vandoren doesn’t manufacture quarter strength reeds, because in my case a 56 reed in 3.25, would be similar to a strength 3 Traditional reed.

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V.21 (2014)

The V21 reed combines the conical shape of a 56 rue Lepic reed with a V12 profile. This unique combination makes all registers of the clarinet more accessible with warmth and a depth of sound It will allow you to play with amazing presence and immediate response.

The V21 reed is the perfect reed for performances that require the ability to handle large interval leaps efficiently with an even and rich tone.

Strength range:

  2,5 - 3 - 3,5 - 3,5+ - 4 - 4,5 - 5

APPROXIMATE MEASUREMENTS

 

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PROS:

Sound evenness.
Centred sound.

CONS:

It has less spontaneity and response.

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SUMMARIZING:

After lots of testing and tryouts, I will be using a combination of the Traditional number 3 reeds with the 56 number 3,5 reeds. Although these are a bit too strong, I will do a bit of reed finishing to leave them to my liking.

 

I would Vandoren to have 56 reeds in 3.25 strength. Who knows, maybe one day they will be available.

REED COMPARISON TABLE

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