If you have been playing clarinet for a while, you probably have heard from a band director or private teacher that it’s time for a clarinet mouthpiece upgrade. But with so many choices out there, making a decision can be confusing.
So, what is the best clarinet mouthpiece?
Well, that depends on a lot of factors including how long you’ve been playing, what instrument you have, which reeds you play, and even how your mouth is made.
Not to worry though, we have outlined a step-by-step method for picking out the best clarinet mouthpiece for your particular playing needs!
Our Top Picks
|Best Beginner Mouthpiece||Premiere by Hite|
|Best Intermediate /Advanced Mouthpiece||Vandoren 5RV Lyre 13 Series|
- Our Top Picks
- Do clarinet mouthpieces make a difference?
- But my clarinet came with a mouthpiece, why do I need a new one?
- How do I choose a clarinet mouthpiece?
- Beginner Mouthpiece Upgrades
- Intermediate/Advanced Mouthpiece Upgrades
- What to Look for When Shopping for a Clarinet Mouthpiece
- How long do clarinet mouthpieces last?
- How do I clean my clarinet mouthpiece?
- How the Reed and Ligature Influence Sound
- Other Mouthpiece Accessories
- Final Thoughts
Do clarinet mouthpieces make a difference?
This is the number one question I get asked as a teacher, and the answer is YES! If you think about it, the clarinet sound starts with the mouthpiece. It is the first place air enters the instrument. That means your mouthpiece can make or break your tone quality!
But my clarinet came with a mouthpiece, why do I need a new one?
Yes, all clarinets usually come with a mouthpiece, but clarinet companies know that students upgrade their mouthpiece as they grow as a musician. Since the best clarinet mouthpiece for each musician varies from player to player, instrument manufacturers don’t waste money on producing quality mouthpieces.
Did you know that a $5,000 Buffet and a $900 Buffet come with the exact same mouthpiece?
Using the mouthpiece that comes with your instrument may lead you to believe that your instrument doesn’t play well when in reality, your mouthpiece is the problem.
How do I choose a clarinet mouthpiece?
When you decide to upgrade your mouthpiece there are a number of factors to consider (which we will discuss a little later). The most important thing to remember is that mouthpiece selection varies greatly between players. If you play a softer reed, you will want a mouthpiece that has a wider tip opening, but if you play a harder reed, you will want a closer tip opening. The mouthpiece facing length is also a factor.
Ok, how many of you are scratching your head thinking “HUH?”
Let’s make it simple. The best way to choose a clarinet mouthpiece is to actually PLAY them. Playing them will let you know exactly how each mouthpiece feels and which one works best for you.
Wait…Will a music store let you try out mouthpieces?
Yes, most major music stores will let you take several mouthpieces into a room to try out before making a purchase. Don’t worry, they thoroughly sanitize the mouthpieces you don’t select.
Take our list of suggestions into the music store and see how many they have in stock. Try several out and pick the one that works best for you…but more on that later.
Beginner Mouthpiece Upgrades
The Premiere by Hite is a great mouthpiece for beginners. It is easy to play and is better than the majority of mouthpieces that come with your clarinet. It produces a clear sound and comes with an affordable price tag.
Another great mouthpiece for beginners is the Debut by Fobes. After years of manufacturing professional mouthpieces, Clark W. Fobes saw the need for choice when it came to quality student mouthpieces. Intended for beginners the Debut, like the Hite Premiere is affordable and will give you a better sound than most stock mouthpieces.
All of the Fobes Debut mouthpieces are hand-finished and play-tested to ensure quality.
Intermediate/Advanced Mouthpiece Upgrades
Vandoren clarinet mouthpieces are some of the best mass-produced mouthpieces on the market. Like their reeds, they are the gold standard. The 5RV Lyre has been around for years…and there is a reason for that. It is a quality mouthpiece that produces a great sound for the majority of students. The 13 series took this amazing mouthpiece and slightly altered the facing to make it even better!
The Vandoren M13 hasn’t been around as long as the 5RV Lyre but is a quality mouthpiece that is suited for students who prefer a slightly harder reed. It produces a dark rich tone and blends beautifully in ensemble playing.
D’Addario is new to the clarinet mouthpiece and reed market and they are making waves! They bought out Rico and began to revamp their entire product line from the top down. They worked with some of the best orchestral players to create high-quality mouthpieces at an affordable price. We highly recommend their products along with those of Vandoren.
What about the bass clarinet?
Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten about you!
The Selmer C* (that’s C star) is the long-time standard bass clarinet mouthpiece. It produces a high-quality tone with a rich warm sound.
The Vandoren Black Diamond is another great Vandoren mouthpiece for bass clarinet. It hasn’t been around as long as the Selmer C* but as with most Vandoren products, it is a quality mouthpiece at a reasonable price.
What to Look for When Shopping for a Clarinet Mouthpiece
Is it easy to play?
The first thing to consider is how the mouthpiece feels when you are playing. You can spend $500 on a professional, handmade mouthpiece, but if it is stuffy and difficult to play, you are going to be miserable. You should not have to work to make your mouthpiece play. Your mouthpiece should work for you!
How does the mouthpiece sound? Does it produce a clear and pure tone, is it bright and lasery, or is it dark and stuffy? Most clarinet players prefer a mouthpiece that will produce a clear, pure tone without being overly bright or stuffy.
Does the mouthpiece play in tune throughout all registers of the clarinet? It doesn’t matter how good a mouthpiece feels or sounds. Not playing in tune is a deal-breaker!
Mouthpieces are typically made of three materials: plastic, hard rubber, and polycrystal.
The majority of beginner mouthpieces are made of plastic which is less expensive and more durable.
Intermediate/Advanced mouthpieces are usually made of hard rubber. The hard rubber produces a better overall sound but is sensitive to temperature changes. If you spend money on a hard rubber mouthpiece and then use it for marching band, chances are you will be buying a new one soon.
Exposure to extreme heat and cold can cause the rubber to change, affecting the intonation and the way the mouthpiece plays in general.
The final mouthpiece material is polycrystal. You can’t miss it because polycrystal mouthpieces are clear. Polycrystal is a harder material that is better quality than plastic but not as sensitive as hard rubber. These mouthpieces produce a clear, zingy sound that is sometimes hard to blend into an ensemble. They are great for beginners though. The clear mouthpiece easily lets you see if the mouthpiece is dirty and can remind beginners to keep them clean.
How long do clarinet mouthpieces last?
Beginner mouthpieces last until they are dropped and broken…
In all seriousness, beginner mouthpieces are made from plastic that is quite durable. They also come with a much lower price tag because let’s face, beginners drop and break them. Chances are, if your beginner mouthpiece remains unbroken, it will easily last until it is time to upgrade. It may even last through your brother or sister’s first year of band!
Intermediate/Advanced mouthpieces are made of hard rubber. The same materials that give a hard rubber mouthpiece a better sound, change over time with regular playing. Expect to replace a hard rubber mouthpiece after approximately 3-4 years.
How do I clean my clarinet mouthpiece?
We’re glad you asked! Keeping the mouthpiece clean is one of the most important factors when it comes to keeping it in tip-top playing shape and avoiding diseases like Saxophone Lung. That’s a real thing…we didn’t make it up and it is NOT good.
Your mouthpiece should be washed with COOL soapy water at least once a week and then dried with a soft cloth. *Yes, you can get the mouthpiece cork wet.
You know that mouthpiece brush that came in your cleaning kit? Throw it away! Yes, we are serious. The bristles on that brush are far too abrasive to be used inside the mouthpiece and especially cause damage to hard rubber mouthpieces.
How the Reed and Ligature Influence Sound
Remember earlier when we said the sound your clarinet makes is first generated in the mouthpiece? Well, the reed and ligature are players in that very important game too!
When you blow into your clarinet, the reed vibrates against the mouthpiece to produce the sound. Unfortunately, not all reeds are made the same.
Think of reeds like cars. You have your beginner reeds. They are similar to a basic economy car. They get you from point a to point b but that’s about it. These are reeds like Rico.
Intermediate reeds like the Vandorens in the blue box are similar to a basic sedan. It is definitely better than the economy car but still doesn’t have all the bells and whistles.
Advanced reeds like the Vandoren V12 and the D’Addario Reserve Classics are the BMW and Lexus of reeds. Yes, they cost a little more but offer you the smoothest ride. Luckily these reeds are not thousands of dollars…only around $35 – $40 for a box of 10.
Finally, you have the super cheap reeds. Basically, any reeds you purchase that are under $18 for a box of 10 are like the cars you might find at a junkyard. Chances are, they aren’t going to work.
Ligatures are the final element of the three-part sound equation.
Reeds + mouthpiece + ligature = tone quality
If you can only afford to upgrade two of the three, leave this one off, but if you want to go for quality sound, choose one of the best clarinet ligatures we’ve found.
For beginners, we suggest a Rovner clarinet ligature. These ligatures are better than the basic metal ligature that comes with the instrument and since it is synthetic leather, if it gets stepped on, it is less likely to be destroyed…because let’s face it, beginners break things.
The BG Super Revelation may look like the Rovner but it has two gold-plated bars inside that hold the reed in place (hence the higher price tag). These gold-plated bars allow the reed to vibrate more freely producing a clearer tone.
The Vandoren Optimum is really 3 ligatures in one! It features three interchangeable plates so the performer can slightly alter the reed’s response depending on their individual playing situation.
Other Mouthpiece Accessories
Mouthpiece cushions are small rubber patches with adhesive on one side. They can be placed on the top of the mouthpiece to cushion the teeth. Mouthpiece cushions allow the player to get a better grip on the mouthpiece and are especially helpful for students with braces who may find the vibrations caused by the mouthpiece to hurt their teeth.
Mouthpiece caps are essential! They prevent the reed from being chipped if someone brushes against your mouthpiece, and keep the mouthpiece itself from getting chipped when you store it in your case. Just be sure to buy one that fits YOUR ligature.
Which clarinet mouthpiece is best for a beginner?
We recommend the Premiere by Hite. It produces a better sound than most stock mouthpieces and is relatively inexpensive.
Is spending extra to upgrade the mouthpiece worth it?
YES! Since the clarinet sound originates in the mouthpiece itself, having an upgraded mouthpiece is more important than having an upgraded instrument.
Choosing a mouthpiece can be confusing but hopefully we have taken some of the guesswork out of it. If you still aren’t sure which mouthpiece is for you, just go into your local music shop and try some out! Be sure to take a friend, because a second set of ears never hurts!