The first question you should ask yourself is basic, but still very important: do you want a quality sound, with tonal depth and harmonic richness, or do you want something that buzzes and sounds reasonably close to a clarinet or saxophone?
The next question is one that the parents of your students would appreciate: which reed will last for a while and not die after three playing sessions, making your parents spend money over and over again?
If you want a quality sound from a reed that is known for consistent playability and longevity, you want a Vandoren reed. Problem solved, right?
Not so fast. Flipping through this catalog or checking it online, you see that Vandoren makes not one, not two, but seven – yes seven! – different cuts of reeds. How do you know which one is right for your students?
To help you out, we have put together a quick overview of each of our different cuts. Hopefully this will give you a good general idea of what they sound like and for which playing situations they are best.
Traditional (clarinet and saxophone): this cut has the thinnest tip with the thickest heart, resulting in crisp articulation with a full, dark sound. This will give you a dark, husky sound with very crisp articulation. These are the gold standard for a concert band or solo and ensemble sound.
V12 (clarinet and saxophone): thicker tip than a Traditional with a longer vibration zone. The attack is slightly heavier than a Traditional and the color is darker as well. Think of the Traditionals with a more solid feel and a meatier, richer tone. These are ideal for the concert band player or soloist that is looking for more color in depth in their sound.
56 Rue Lepic (clarinet only): thickest tip, spine and heel of all the clarinet reeds, with the side bevels shaved down. This reed has a lot of color and tone yet responds very quickly, giving a pure and woody sound. These are perfect for the concert clarinetist or soloist that wants quick and agile articulation without sacrificing tonal color and depth.
Java Green (saxophone only): thicker tip than the Traditional with a very long vibration zone, creating a bright sound with immediate response. They project well while still having a tone – perfect for marching, pep band or jazz ensemble.
Java Red (saxophone only): this one has a thinner tip and side bevels than a Java Green, with a higher heart. The attack is extremely aggressive and snappy but with more color than the Java Greens. These are ideal when more attack and more color are a must. They work really well for marching, pep band and jazz ensemble.
V16 (saxophone only): this cut has the thickest tip, side bevels and spine of all our cuts. The attack is solid without being ‘bitey’ and the tone is big and rich. This is the ideal choice for a big, powerful sound with lots of color for jazz ensemble and combo work.
ZZ (saxophone only): this cut has the same tip and spine thickness as the V16, but the side bevels are shaved down. This results in the same solid attack and rich sound as the V16, but with faster response and more ‘pop’ to the sound. This cut is a jack of all trades and can be used in just about any situation, from marching band to pep band to jazz ensemble and combo playing.
In general, Vandoren reeds run harder in their strengths than practically every other brand on the market. With this in mind, don't be afraid to start with softer reeds, like #2s for example, and work your way up by half strengths until you find the balance of playability, response and tone that you like best.
It's also a good idea to make sure that your students consistently rotate their reeds. It will not only help their embouchure stay in shape, but it will also extend the playable life of the reeds. There are a lot of tips and tricks to make reeds last a long time, but that's a subject for another article.
In the meantime, try the different cuts to see how they sound and feel – you never know, you may just find your new favorite sound!