Review and blindfold test: Légère Signature Series clarinet reeds

January 22, 2010

A few months ago, I posted about plastic reeds, and reported some of what I had read on another woodwind blog about the Légère Signature Series and Forestone clarinet reeds.

For reasons unknown to me, the post from which I originally quoted has been removed, but there are similar thoughts expressed in a more recent post.

Anyway, I got a kind offer from someone at Légère to send me a few samples.* They asked about my current cane reed preference, and sent three reeds in different strengths close to what I currently use.

Goodies via Canadian mail

As I mentioned in the previous post, I have used Légère reeds (not the Signature Series) on the largest clarinets, but have not, until now, experimented substantially with the smaller Légères.

I am pleased to report that the Signature Series are highly playable reeds. In fact, they respond nearly identically to my current cane reeds of choice (a popular, leading brand).

I mention response first because I think it’s the most important aspect of how a reed plays, but of course the question on everyone’s mind is tone. I have been playing the Signature Series reeds exclusively for the past week, and I find the tone of these reeds to be clear, dark, flexible (but not overly so), and characteristic of good cane reeds.

The reeds are very well-balanced. Since the reeds I received are of different strengths, I don’t think I can comment conclusively on consistency from reed to reed, but they strike me as having identical playing characteristics other than a predictable difference in resistance between the strengths (which isn’t always the case with cane reeds).

With the usual traffic of students and colleagues in and out of my studio, there have been a number of raised eyebrows at the sight of a plastic reed on my clarinet. In casual demonstrations, the consensus is that these sound like the “real” thing.

Here’s my exhaustive list of what I find to be different between the Légères and my cane reeds:

  • Inside my head, there seems to be a little more articulation noise with the Légères. However, after recording myself, I’m convinced that it’s not audible to a listener. Still, perhaps it will push me to further refine my tonguing.
  • The flat side of the reeds seems slightly more slippery than cane, which means I have to take a little extra care to get them positioned just right on the mouthpiece.
  • The plastic, at least in my studio in January, feels just slightly cool against my lip. I find this minor thing to be vaguely pleasant.
  • That’s it.

I would tend to choose the Légère over cane reeds in doubling situations and in my teaching studio, where the advantages of stability and non-warpage are clear. I also wouldn’t hesitate to use them for ensemble playing. As I do have a solo recital coming up, I’ve been doing a little soul-searching about whether I will use the Légère in that situation. At this point, I think I can find and adjust a cane reed that will outplay the Légère by a small (very small) margin. But in a pinch I would gratefully fall back on the Légère, and I think no one would be the wiser. I think these are worth keeping on hand for just such an eventuality, even if you’re not convinced that they’re right for normal performance situations.

On the Légère website, you can take the blindfold test with Richard Hawkins playing the Légère against a cane reed. I figured I might as well offer my own blindfold test, so you can gauge whether the difference is audible with a clarinetist rather less accomplished than the esteemed Mr. Hawkins. Can you tell which is the plastic reed?

Sample A:

Sample B:

See the answer

I understand that Légère is in the process of releasing a Signature Series reed for tenor saxophone, which I am anxious to try as well. Since they are releasing a tenor reed and not an alto reed (yet?) I assume that the saxophone Signature Series is geared more toward jazz players.

*In the interest of full disclosure:

I received three reeds from Légère at no cost, but I was not asked to do anything, including writing a review, in return. I am reviewing the reeds in what I believe to be an unbiased manner. (Phew!)

Comments

  1. Ron Pimentel

    I guessed wrong on the blindfold test.

    Reply

  2. Michael

    I actually thought the Legere sounded noticeably better than the cane reed.

    Reply

    • Ginger Pullen

      So did I, especially on the slurred interval leaps. (and I guessed right—I’ve been playing legere tenor reeds)

      Reply

    • Jackie

      I did as well.

      Reply

  3. Sarah Dale

    I also guess wrong on the blindfold test! They both sound great, but with the Legere I notice a richer core / less of the upper partials in the sound as compared to the cane recording.

    For me personally, that makes me happy because if I could really hear a better sound with the cane, I don’t know if I could keep playing my signature. But alas, I feel even better about playing it.

    Reply

  4. Steven Hugley

    I too, guessed wrong. From that playing sample, I would have to go the the Legere.

    Reply

  5. Niklas Uhrberg

    I didn’t guess at all but more importantly to me, the quality of the tone in clip [# – edited!] is better.

    Being a Signature player I was a bit afraid that this is the cane reed so the answer was a relief!

    This need not in itself be important because it might have been a less than optimal cane reed. Question then, is the cane reed what you consider a good one?

    Cheers, Niklas

    Reply

  6. Bret Pimentel (Your host)

    Hi Niklas,

    I hope you don’t mind that I have edited your comment so as not to give away the answer.

    “Question then, is the cane reed what you consider a good one?” This is an excellent question and one that I didn’t really address in the review. The cane reed was the best that I had at the time in a pretty average batch of broken-in reeds. I considered looking for a really excellent one for the side-by-side comparison, but it seemed to be a better real-world test if I used what I had immediately at hand.

    On a related note:
    As I mentioned in the original post, I thought it was likely that I could find/adjust a better cane reed for my recital, and keep the Légère on hand as a backup. This is indeed what I ended up doing. The cane reed that I chose felt/sounded better to me than the Légère, but only by a very small margin, and I do still believe that no one but me would have detected the difference.

    Reply

  7. Don Mark

    After listening to :20 of sample A, I then played sample B. I was absolutely sure that Sample A was [edited] within ten sections, the difference to me was not even subtle. I am surprised by the several who picked wrong. I use Legere and Hahn reeds on soprano, alto, and tenor saxophones, therefore feel I am fair in judging a product category of which I am familiar. I continue to use my cane reed of choice on my R13 Prestige. In this test, the [edited] produced the more rich, complex, and desirable tone.

    Reply

    • Bret Pimentel (Your host)

      Thanks Don—I have edited your comment so that it doesn’t give away the answer.

      Reply

  8. Steve

    I have been using a Legere reed on bass clarinet and was so impressed I bought a reed for soprano clarinet. I mainly like the way I can pick up an instrument and play without worrying that the reed has dried out. It gets abused on my practice clarinet by being left on the mouthpiece and put away wet etc. Not things I would risk with reed.

    Reply

  9. Garth Libre

    I thought that clip [# – edited!] sounded happier (in the sense that the player seemed to be having a easier time of it). Either cut shows a delightful tone, sensitivity and good intonation. The [# – edited!] cut does seem woody and natural. In tests such as these where both results seem professional, the small differences could easily be explained away by player variations and not equipment. I would be much more likely to ask the player which he preferred. Only he can know what his ideal sound is. We can only know what our goals are, and any two artists have different desires. The musician here says that he could get a slight edge with a well adjusted cane reed. For me the consistency and peace of mind that the Legere offers would be more than enough to go with the synthetic choice. I have not yet tried the Legere but I probably soon will.

    Reply

    • Bret Pimentel (Your host)

      Thanks for your comment. I have edited it so as not to give away the answer.

      Reply

  10. Carmelo

    I have only recently discovered the Legere reeds, and they seem easier to play with in that they seem to have a consistent even sound, unlike the cane, which can vary according to whether it is dry or wet, or whether it is evenly spaced to produce a good sound overall. The Legere reeds seem to give a good sound first time with hardly any additonal effort, which is relative to the cane reeds.
    I think I will try the Signature Series.

    Reply

  11. Daniel

    I played the legato piece for a solo, and I wasn’t that good; the legere’s amazing!

    Reply

  12. Mike

    Okay, so we all agree that the right hardness of Legere reed can sound just as good as a cane reed, and be considerably more consistent. Let’s discuss the drawbacks.

    They aren’t adjustable. If you don’t know which hardness us right for you, you can easily spend $100 for a few useless pieces of plastic that will just sit in your case. I have yet to find a distributor that will allow me to try them before purchasing. Let’s face it, the wrong Legere reed feels and sounds awful. I feel that this experience is what keeps most skeptics away.

    My other complaint is that they do have a break-in cycle. The first several hours on a new reed sound and feel awkward, and the moment it get soft, it’s unplayable.

    And how about value. As I mentioned, finding the right reed for you will break the bank. The price one one reed is the same as a box of cane reeds but I’ve never had one Legere outlast a box of cane.

    This being said, I use Legere reeds on bari sax and bass clarinet. Everyone should. And all those wrongly sized reeds in my case? I pass them over the guys next to me who are struggling with their warping cane reeds an they thank me.

    For the middle reeds, I soak them 24 hours a day. Say what you want, they play just as consistently as a Legere, they’re completed adjustable, they last 6 months of constant playing, and they’re cheap.

    Clarinet and soprano, I just suck it up and deal with a few wrinkles here and there like everyone else.

    Reply

    • Bob Trachtenberg

      “If you don’t know which hardness us right for you, you can easily spend $100 for a few useless pieces of plastic that will just sit in your case. I have yet to find a distributor that will allow me to try them before purchasing. Let’s face it, the wrong Legere reed feels and sounds awful. I feel that this experience is what keeps most skeptics away.”

      Mike,

      Did you know that Legere (the factory) will happily exchange your “wrong-strength” reeds for different strengths until you get it right? You just email, send the reed you don’t like back and they send out a new one of a different strength at no charge. And with a smile. I was very impressed.

      I’ve tried to do the same with Harry Hartman reeds, and they won’t even respond to my emails.

      Bob

      Reply

  13. lorentz

    I guessed wrong on the blindfold test too as so many others did…..

    Reply

  14. Tomson

    I’m shocked too! :) Still can’t believe I went wrong … Very impressed.

    I have a question for anyone playing bass clarinet, which is better; Legere Bass clarinet reed or Tennor Sax Signature reed?

    I tried Tennor Sax Signature reed for 15minutes and I was quite happy with it, so my question is, is Bass clarinet reed better or worse than the TennorSax Signature?

    Reply

  15. clayton

    This was a great review. I just ordered a legere contra alto clarinet reed because of the mostly good i have heard about them like the consistancy and durability. For the hearing test i couldn’t really tell much of a difference.

    Reply

  16. Tommy

    Good review, but I actually guessed right – there was a really small difference in sound. The cane, in my opinion, actually had better tone, projection, and smoothness. The Legere really came close, though.

    Reply

  17. Jimmy

    I just got my clarinet 5 days ago, and I’m still struggling with how to blow to produce a sound at all, and learned that the strength reed 1.5 and 2.5 that I have aren’t “strong” enough for the high register – right or wrong… I don’t know so I am looking at trying out stronger reeds… and in my research stumbled on Legere and this site. I guessed it right (might be a lucky guess). At around 00:18 the cane reed produces a bit more of a vibration whereas the legere produces a more “stable / smoother” sound, with less “vibration”. Not sure which is “better” sounding.. a matter of taste, but I certainly notice it quite clearly – although without such a close “side by side” comparison where I can replay a certain section, it would probably be much harder to tell.

    Reply

  18. Jimmy

    I just went to Legere’s web site and tried their comparison test challenge and I guessed it wrong :(

    On a separate note, I’m curious – how long does this reed last?

    Reply

  19. Amy Meyers

    I am glad to see some recent posts, so that I might actually hear back about this. I have been using a Forestone B-flat clarinet reed for the past 2 1/2 months and love it!! My only complaint with it is that it isn’t as wide as my mouthpiece which makes it a little hard to put the reed on correctly. It plays beautifully, but I am wondering if the Legere might be slightly wider and/or a better fit with my mouthpiece. I have a Genusa “Exellente” GE (star) Z – which has greatly eased my problems with upper register issues. I haven’t seen a review with this mouthpiece combination for either Forestone or Legere – so maybe someone will comment???

    Reply

  20. T Shuffield

    Abandoned playing for over one year because of 100 hour/week job. Sold and/or gave away Buffets and everything. Quit old job for new 40 hour/week job. Now playing Ridenour instruments (an improvement, I think …) and decided to exclude cane reeds from my life if possible. Used regular cut Legere #3 with Vandoren M30-lyre and later #3.25 signatures. Nicer sound and better articulation. I’ve dug some left-over V12s out of my archives (some still in flow packs) and just can’t use cane reeds again! Life is beautiful with Legere!

    Reply

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