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Throughout the 19th century and before, it was largely the responsibility of clarinetists and other reed musicians to make their own reeds. Some reeds were commercially available, but supply and quality were inconsistent. Part of being a woodwind musician at the time was learning how to carve a reed blank into a usable reed.
At around the turn of the 20th century, a clarinetist with the Paris Opera named Eugene Van Doren who had a knack for reed-making became overwhelmed with requests from his peers, and at the urging of his wife, began making reeds full time. Van Doren’s genius lay in both his business sense and his reed-making machine, a treadle-operated device that resembled the sewing machine technology of the time. His reeds were consistently good, and as demand grew, his output capacity kept pace.
Vandoren was founded in 1905, and remains a world leader in reeds for woodwind instruments. While most famous for clarinet and saxophone reeds, they also produce top-quality reeds for oboe, English horn, sarrusophone, and both Heckel and French bassoons and contrabassoons.
Vandoren’s reputation began with clarinet reeds, and they continue to be a core part of their identity. Naturally, they serve the entire family, from contrabass clarinets through Bb clarinets. This includes bass clarinet and alto clarinet, as well as clarinets in Eb and Ab. They also make top-quality German and Austrian reeds for Oehler system clarinets.
The most popular clarinet reed in the Vandoren family is the Traditional series, available in boxes of 10. They are popular for their great sound and consistency, and their versatility. From the orchestra stage to the marching field to the jazz club, Vandoren Traditional reeds deliver long-lasting performance.
Many professionals prefer the Vandoren V21 series, which features a thicker tip and longer pallet, resulting in a richer sound with superb body to the attack. This cut is designed for the advanced clarinetist, and is recommended for mouthpieces with longer facings.
Another professionally preferred reed is the 56 rue Lepic, named for the address of the humble shop where Vandoren operated for more than 50 years. The 56 rue Lepic is made from thicker cane and produces a rich, centered sound while providing stability in all registers. Its quick response ensures precision in difficult passages without sacrificing its round, warm sound. Also popular among professionals is the V21 series, which incorporates the shape and thickness of the 56 rue Lepic combined with the profile of the V12.
As with the clarinet family, Vandoren serves the entire saxophone family as well, including bass, baritone, tenor, alto, soprano and sopranino. Vandoren offers a Traditional style and a V21 design within the soprano, alto and tenor selection. The Traditional design extends into baritone, bass and sopranino.
In 1983, Vandoren developed the JAVA series to address the needs of jazz and pop musicians. It featured a thicker tip and a more flexible pallet than the Traditional reed design, allowing vibration over a larger surface area. The JAVA series is available in two styles: the original in the green box and the Filed – Red Cut version, often called JAVA Red. The red is more flexible than the green and carries a little more tonal body. The JAVA Filed – Red Cut has a full, centered sound with great projection and a stinging attack.
Another popular Vandoren reed for jazz musicians is the ZZ series, which for many players solves the battle between response and tonal depth. Vandoren's ZZ reeds balance attributes of the heart of the reed (responsible for tone), and the thickness of the tip (responsible for vibration). The V16 has likewise been a top choice among jazz musicians. It is the thickest of the jazz cuts from Vandoren, lending it a tendency toward a darker sound.
Vandoren mouthpieces have long specialized in hard rubber designs. Where they have distinguished themselves is in producing mouthpieces not from hard rod rubber, but rather from a mold. This molding process ensured consistency and quality at a time when both were in short supply. The first Vandoren mouthpieces were produced beginning in 1935, 30 years after the company was founded. Eugene Van Doren’s son, Robert, a truly spectacular clarinetist, designed the 5RV mouthpiece, and assumed leadership of the company at about this same time. Today, Vandoren produces some metal mouthpieces as well as hard rubber designs.
The most popular mouthpiece in the saxophone line is the OPTIMUM, a favorite among classical saxophonists and students at every level. It is available in three different facings across the most common saxophones.
The V16 design is the most popular among jazz players. They produce a warm, centered sound that blends well and is ideal for sectional and ensemble playing, and also offer a greater explosiveness that allows a player to elevate dynamics for soloing. They are available across the saxophone family, which makes it easy to equip a section for the ultimate blend.
The JAVA series mouthpieces are oriented toward the more electric side of jazz, as well as R&B, soul and funk. They are made with Ebonite, but are similar in sound profile to metal mouthpieces. They have a brute of a cousin in the JUMBO JAVA series, which has a small chamber, a very high baffle and a large bore. These combine to produce a powerful tone with excellent projection, comparable to the edgiest metal mouthpieces.
The V5 and V5 JAZZ round out the Vandoren saxophone mouthpiece selection, which straddles the line across jazz and classical applications. Nice, but not too nice. Rough, but not too rough. Goldilocks might have chosen this one. They are available across the entire saxophone family, bass sax and sopranino included.
The original 5RV design by Robert Van Doren is still produced today. It is a time-tested design that has satisfied professional and aspiring clarinetists since the 5RV first rolled off the line. The 5RV Lyre is for players who prefer a more open mouthpiece with a longer facing than the 5RV.
The BD or Black Diamond series is the most open of the Vandoren clarinet mouthpieces, offering a dark, yet compact sound, appropriate for orchestral or chamber applications as well as solo work. The M15 is more closed than the 5RV or the BD mouthpieces, and is one of the most popular models. It is known for its ease of articulation and broad palette of tonal color.
The process of translating a trained embouchure into a focused tone requires three intimate connections between the player and the instrument: player to reed, reed to ligature, reed and ligature to mouthpiece. Vandoren completes this connection with their line of premium quality ligatures.
Vandoren ligatures are available for clarinet and saxophone in four styles. The Klassic is an adjustable and easy-to-fit woven ligature that is popular with classical players. The Leather series offers quick and symmetrical tightening along with interchangeable pressure plates. The M/O series is designed to allow optimum vibration of the reed for crisp articulation, and the OPTIMUM is, well, optimum for all-around playing.
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