How long do clarinet reeds last?

The lifespan of a clarinet reed varies depending on the brand. Also, how often a clarinet reed is used affects its longevity.

A clarinet reed can be used between 1 week and a few months depending on the brand and the maintenance. The majority of woodwind instruments use reeds therefore for a clarinet player, it is crucial to master how to select, care for and maintain a reed. With the endless reed options sold today, this is a bit challenging. However, in this article, you’ll find all the information about clarinet reeds from how long they last to how to extend their lifespan so, read on to learn more.

The lifespan of clarinet reeds

As mentioned earlier, the longevity of a clarinet reed will depend on factors like cuts and the manufacturer. Some reeds like the Vandoren reeds typically last longer than the entry-level Rico reeds. Reed cuts determine how thick the top, bottom or sides of the reed will be and this thickness affects the reed’s longevity. Rico reeds, for instance, aren’t thick compared to Vandoren reeds therefore the Rico version is preferred for beginners who practice less.

There are reeds coated with plastic creating a cane and synthetic hybrid and these are more durable thanks to the humidity-resistant plastic coat that prevents them from splitting or warping.

100% synthetic reeds like are also durable as they are not affected by humidity and saliva thus they do not crack, chip or warp. Although a single synthetic reed can last between 3-4 months, the sound quality they produce is wanting.

The material of a reed can also affect its longevity. For instance, synthetic reeds last longer compared to cane reeds, but they will cost you sound quality. Additionally, how often the reed is in use will affect its lifespan. Therefore, the best reed for you will depend on your needs like how often you practice and your performance level.

How often can a clarinet reed be used?

A reed can be used for as long as it is healthy and produces quality sound. Provided that the reed is not molded, warped or chipped, it can be played for as long as the player wants. The longevity or durability of a reed is determined by the plant used to manufacture the cane and if the reed becomes molded, too soft or too hard, it should then be discarded.

How to determine whether a clarinet reed is bad and when to replace it

There are several easy ways to single out a bad reed. In some cases, a bad reed can be reshaped with a reed sharper, but in most cases, bad reeds have to be discarded. One way to know a bad reed is if it’s discoloured. This kind of reed should be replaced. Also, if the reed’s structure is not even, that reed is bad and won’t play well thus, a replacement is necessary.

Additionally, a reed with a buildup of black or green mould should be discarded and replaced immediately. After playing for some time, bacteria from your mouth may cause mould to grow on a reed. Scraping off the mould is not advised as remnants of the mould will continue growing.

A reed that produces harsh, bridle and loud sounds is bad as it’s too thick and therefore should be reshaped. In addition to that, a cracked, warped or chipped reed is bad and it has to be replaced. Chipped or cracked reeds cannot vibrate as quickly as they need, to produce sound.

Lastly, if the sound of your clarinet is deteriorating, the issue might be with the reed. Although a bad reed isn’t the only cause for poor sound quality, it is a common cause. If you’re struggling to hit notes with your clarinet that you were previously able to, check your reed.

Do clarinet reeds expire?

Clarinet reeds do not expire, however, they can go bad in the sense that they become worn out or damaged. A clarinet reed is considered to go bad when it chips, warps, cracks or grows mould and ceases to produce good sound when played. These issues are typical, especially with cane clarinet reeds. For synthetic reeds, damage oftentimes occurs during the manufacturing or assembling process. A reed that has gone bad usually produces a squeaky and out-of-control sound.

How to prolong the lifespan of a clarinet reed

The first tip to extend the lifespan of a clarinet reed is to store and maintain the reed properly. Ensure you store your clarinet reed in a breathable case like a reed guard instead of plastic cases. Also, never store away your mouthpiece with the reed still in it.

When moistening your reed to begin playing, make sure to moisten it with water instead of saliva since saliva’s acidity is capable of breaking down the reed. Additionally, try to break in several reeds in rotation and lastly, after playing, make sure to dry the reed before storing it since excess moisture promotes mould growth.

The table below has summarized the tips for extending the reeds’ lifespan.

Tips. How it extends the reeds’ lifespan.
Rotating the reed Prevents over-using one reed.
Moistening with water Prevents the reed from breaking down quickly.
Breaking in the reeds Adjusts the reed to being used.
Storing reeds in a reed case Prevents breaks, chips and cracks.
Drying reeds after playing Prevents mould from growing.


How long a clarinet reed will last depends on the brand of the reed, the material used, the reed’s cut and the care and maintenance the reed receives. Adapting the care and maintenance practices discussed above will lengthen the reeds’ lifespan.


What else is there to know about clarinet reeds?

It is wise to always carry extra reeds as they are prone to breaking easily. It is advised to always store reeds in their cases whenever they are not in use. Lastly, to avoid trips to the store, buy reeds by the box.

What do the numbers on reeds mean?

Reed numbers usually indicate the strength of the reed with 1 being the weakest and 5 being the strongest.

Charlotte Moore is a Clarinetist by profession and has over time offered lessons on how to play the clarinet among other musical instruments. And while a majority of clarinet players are well versed with the process of settling with a good clarinet among other accompanying features. There is little information about clarinets. The reason why Charlotte prepared comprehensive experts touching on the various facets of the clarinet. The consolidated information will offer more insight on everything clarinets including the best stand to use, and the best plastic clarinet that you can invest in, among other information. Charlotte Moore is a devoted mother of two and a professional clarinet player.

Leave a Comment