Reeds can be one of the most challenging parts of mastering a woodwind instrument. Just when you think you’ve got everything under control the tiniest change can cause a huge difference in the response and sound. Reed players have become accustomed to this, but what if there was an alternative to adjusting reeds? What if you could spend all that time practicing and playing instead? Clarineat reviews the new Légère European Signature reeds and offer some insight into this issue.
What’s Légère’s story?
Finding a solution to this problem is what inspired Guy Légère and Mark Kortschot to co-found Légère reeds. The duo combined their experience working with food-grade polymer materials with their aptitude for invention. The result was an unique product that they took to a trade show in the late 90s. The product was an immediate hit, and the rest is history!
Since selling out the trade show with products essentially made in their garage, Légère has grown to become the world leader in synthetic reeds. They use world-class equipment, technology, and materials to bring the very best synthetic reeds possible to market. What’s more? The company remains 100% Canadian! Everything from the day-to-day operations, design, and manufacture takes place right here on Canadian soil. It’s also one of the few companies left where when you call a real person answers the phone. A nice touch in our modern, digital, impersonal world.
So, what’s new with the Légère European Signature?
Recently Légère has been making international headlines with the introduction of their innovative Bassoon and Oboe reeds. These products are the world’s first symphonic quality synthetic option for double reed players. But amid the hype, another product has quietly made its way to market that clarinet players are sure to find intriguing: the Légère European Signature cut reed. This new product offering joins the Classic and Signature reeds in the Légère product lineup.
What’s the Difference?
The Classic series features a slightly thicker tip and simpler construction, which means that it is not only incredibly durable, but also the most affordable option. It is recommended for students, but some professionals (myself included) enjoy the thicker tip for certain playing situations. The Légère Classic is available for all clarinets from E-flat all the way to Contrabass. They are also available in standard cut and “German” which, of course, is designed to fit German system clarinet mouthpieces.
The Signature series revolutionized the synthetic reed business when they ere first introduced a few years ago. This model features a synthetic “spine” that runs the full length of the reed and does a fantastic job of mimicking the properties of moist cane. It has an incredibly thin tip and is the preferred synthetic reed choice by professionals and advancing students around the world. The Signature reeds are available for the B-flat and bass clarinet.
The brand new Légère European Signature model features a wider design with a shorter vamp that was, interestingly enough, modeled after the Soprano Sax reed. There is an extra band of spine material that allows for greater rigidity, fantastic blowing ease and incredible high register stability. European Signature reeds are only available for the B-flat clarinet at this time.
Synthetic vs. Cane Reeds
Synthetic reeds do not require moistening, do not have a break-in period, and are not susceptible to warping or changes in climate. They also offer increased durability and lifespan when compared to traditional cane reeds, and can even be washed with a mild soap to keep them clean. Another hidden benefit not often discussed is that some people have an allergy to cane, and of course this product alleviates this problem entirely, allowing people who otherwise could not play reed instruments to enjoy their music. The reeds are also an especially attractive for instruments whose reeds warp easily, or are not played as often, such as the contrabass clarinet.
However, they cannot be adjusted by normal means (in fact adjusting will void your warranty), but this is why they are available in quarter strengths from 2 to 4.5. Cane reeds are only a few dollars each, and at a price of $30-40 the reeds are not cheap, but given the different life spans a fair comparison regarding price is hard to make.
Further, many players still prefer not only the intimate connection between cane reed, reed care and their instruments, but also feel that they offer the best possible tone, projection and response. Of course, most players also grew up with cane and naturally will find it to be “better,” but all this is subjective anyways. Not everyone will necessarily switch, but there’s plenty of room in the world of reeds for everyone, which leads me to my next thought.
To each his own… (But why not both?)
So you’ve heard of both options, and perhaps you’ve even tried both. And now you’re trying to decide which “camp” you’re going to stake out in. But this has made me wonder… why can’t synthetic reeds go hand-in-hand with one’s current cane reed setup? Why do people feel compelled to use only one or the other?
Personally, I’m in both camps. I love the feel, sound, performance, and taste of cane reeds (the taste of new reeds that is), but there are many instances when I do use synthetic options for performance because of their consistency and immediacy. Even if you aren’t sold on synthetic reeds, the fact that they are ready to go at all times–even when your cane reeds aren’t–makes them a compelling option for doubling, teaching, traveling, outdoor performance, marching band, and even as backup reeds if nothing else!
What are new Légère European Signature reeds like?
The first thing I noticed about the new Légère European Signature Reeds was their unique size and shape (see the above image for a comparison with the standard Signature Model). They are quite a bit wider than the traditional reed, and the vamp of the reed is noticeably shorter. Upon close inspection the “spine” of the reed is also clearly visible, and looks like a thin lattice running through the material.
In spite of the wider size, they fit perfectly on my Vandoren BD5, M15 and new D’Addario X25E (review coming soon) mouthpiece with my Peter Spriggs, Vientos Bambu, and Ishimori ligatures. Some people were mentioning on an online forum that the size did not fit their mouthpiece, but I did not personally have this issue at all.
I was fortunate to have the chance to try all strengths ranging from 2 to 3.75 and I was surprised to find that I preferred different reeds on different days. No one reeds stands out as “perfect” for me. For teaching or jazz playing the softer reeds allowed for ease of playing, articulation, and projection and they made pitch bending and slap tonguing a cinch. For classical and general playing I preferred the harder 3.25 to 3.5 reeds, but the 3.75’s were a bit much for my taste.
What about durability?
After one extended slap tonguing session (I was trying to see if I could break the reed tip to be honest) the reed was a bit warped. I was able to bend it back a bit but I would recommend using the classic series with the thicker tip for this type of playing since it’s not really advisable to ruin a $40 reed simply for the sake of fooling around with extended techniques for an afternoon.
Reaching the high register was effortless as advertised, and the tone was rich and dark as one would expect with cane reed when using the harder strengths. I found anything below a 3 was too easy to overpower and sounded a bit mechanical. But of course, your experience will vary depending on your playing style, setup, and preferences.
What do students think?
Some of my students tried the new Légère European Signature and one declared that it was the “best reed ever” and looked “space aged.” I can appreciate his sentiment, since they do look really cool and they are sufficiently technologically advanced enough to back up his claim! Perhaps a concert on the moon is in order?
Which Strength(s) Should I Consider?
The reeds play very close to the Vandoren Blue box, and Légère does provide a handy strength chart for reference (see here). If you do buy the wrong strength they also have a very good exchange policy. You simply mail the reed back to them and they send you a new one, no questions asked.
I find, though that some days I prefer slightly harder or softer reeds than others. My suggestion to anyone considering synthetics is to consider purchasing what I call a “gradient” of reeds. If you are thinking of buying a 3 strength, for example, grab a quarter strength harder and softer. It might seem like an expensive option at first, but this will give you a palette that will allow you to pick the perfect reed for the occasion, but also rotate the reeds for the longest life. Don’t be surprised to see these three reeds last over a year when rotated and cared for properly.
What could be improved?
I’ve been playing Légère reeds since 2000 when I was in my high school marching band. Let me tell you that these reeds were a godsend back then. I’ve always had one or two in my case since that time, and although I tend to normally use cane, I almost always teach with the Légère and incorporate them into my practice. The European signature is, to my taste, the best Légère yet and I look forward to incorporating it into my everyday playing.
That being said, there are a couple things that could be improved with the Légère European Signature. The reed brand and strength has been displayed as a sticker for years. This means that once the reed has been used for a while it falls off and you can’t tell which strength is which! It’s worth noting that Légère has partially fixed this issue by stamping on their brand name now, but the reed strength remains a small circular sticker that surely won’t last the life of the reed. A minor detail, but it can become a major nuisance before a performance if you can’t tell your reeds apart!
Why are they still Blue?
Something else I’d love to see is a shift away from the clear blueish look. I’m not sure why they have to be this colour, but I feel it detracts from the overall beauty and elegance of the instrument. This is a pretty minor detail, to be honest. But I bet if it were coloured closer to cane it might have a placebo effect on the naysayers. To be fair, though, this blue has become an iconic Légère appearance.
As much as I would prefer a more traditional look, I can see a market for “fun” colours as well. Can you imagine students’ excitement with pink or red reeds? Especially for marching bands! How cool would it be to match your reed to your school colors along with your favorite Vientos Bambu ligature, or the new line of “urban play” mouthpieces from Buffet, and even 3D barrels! I’m positive students would go crazy for this, even if adults might scoff at the idea.
The Légère European signature is a great reed and presents an exciting new offering for synthetic reed fans. Of course, it’s not a perfect fit for everyone, but nothing is! And for those skeptical of the synthetic reed product category it presents a fresh perspective that is definitely worth re-consideration.
Overall, I think that people really need to stop taking sides on this issue. Both cane reeds and synthetics are here to stay. And advancements by manufacturers from both “sides” provide modern players with access to the best playing experience and opportunity in the entire history of woodwinds. We live in a truly amazing time!
Thanks for reading and happy playing!
Host and Founder
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Disclaimer: As with all Clarineat reviews, this product was provided by Légère for review purposes. However, the review was not influenced or edited by the manufacturer in any way. It conveys the author’s subjective, personal opinion.