Reeds: of all the equipment we have as clarinetists, reeds probably win the love/hate relationship award. I know clarinetists that could argue all day about how to break in, store, rotate, and care for reeds. In the end, it's always down to personal preference.
Personal preference in equipment is why variety is so important. Looking at several websites (Woodwind and Brasswind, Muncy Winds, Just for Winds, etc...), there are really only a handful of options when searching for E-flat clarinet reeds.
However, we have a new option - the D'Addario Reserve E-flat clarinet reed!
A few months ago, I was contacted by D'Addario to test their new E-flat reed. As someone that has played a wide variety of reeds over the past several years, I was really interested to try their reeds - especially since I have frequently preferred B-flat reeds on my E-flat clarinet. In this post, I'm going to share my experience testing the Reserve reeds, as well as some of my thoughts on the product - I hope all of you have a chance to try them!
One of my primary reasons for playing B-flat reeds on my E-flat clarinet is the actual size of the reed. Many E-flat reeds feel thin and a little narrow on my mouthpieces. The Reserve reeds are a bit wider at the tip, which I really like. As E-flat reeds, they are still thinner than most B-flat cuts. I was skeptical that they would provide me with the strong core feeling I like from my reeds, but I was pleasantly surprised after playing them.
My process for testing the reeds started out by breaking them in slowly for several days. I numbered both boxes of samples, and made a chart to keep track of the response and tone of each reed. This can be an extremely helpful tool as you break in any reeds, but I find it especially useful when I am experimenting with a new brand or cut of reed. In this case, I wanted to keep track of how each reed felt to play, along with my overall impressions of tone, dynamic control, articulation control, and response. I use letters to represent some qualities of the reed (H: hard, S: soft, F: fuzzy) and a check mark to represent reeds that have potential to be good enough for regular practice and performance.
Day 1: I played each reed for about a minute - a couple long tones and scales, with nothing too high. No altissimo. Most of the reeds had a nice sound right out of the box, and even the reeds that were a little too hard weren't impossible to play.
Day 2: Similar to day one - two or three scales played slowly, without playing too high.
Day 3: Scales plus a few lines of finger exercises for each reed. Introducing some altissimo notes. The reeds stayed fairly consistent from my impression on the first day.
Day 4-5: I started playing small sections of pieces and excerpts. Some of the reeds felt a little softer at this point, but overall still fairly consistent. Most of the reeds continued to be very clear in response and articulations.
Day 6: This is the first time I will flatten any reeds that don't seem to be sealing. At this point, I'm starting to rotate the reeds into my regular practice.
After a week, I was fairly impressed with the Reserve reeds. I like the sound that I get on them, and the response was excellent (even on the harder, slightly buzzy reeds). I had similar results on my old Hawkins mouthpiece.
Here's a sample of me playing the Reserve reeds. I'm using a 3.5 strength on an M30 mouthpiece. I chose Till Eulenspiegel for the range and articulations, and Bolero for tone and control.
Given my general preference for B-flat reeds, I have to say that I really liked the Reserve E-flat reeds.
About half of the reeds were ever so slightly fuzzy on my setup, however they responded well and had a very consistent sound. The response is probably the highlight of this particular reed. I felt like I could articulate clearly in all registers with a secure and consistent tone. I played a variety of pieces and excerpts, and the reed did allow for some flexibility in tone color - necessary when so many E-flat parts require different characters and sounds!
On the best reeds, the sound was clear and strong, without being overly bright or piercing. The reeds held pitch in the upper register without any extra embouchure pressure, and responded well at different dynamics.
I believe the Reserve reeds are a great option for E-flat clarinetists! If you have any additional questions about my experience playing the reeds, please comment here or contact me through the website or the E-Flat Clarinet Project facebook page.