The best _____ for woodwind doublers

flute and clarinet
Photo, Jope 1978

What are the best instruments, mouthpieces, reeds, headjoints, method books, and other products for woodwind doublers?

I often see this question asked on online message boards (“I’m a saxophone player, so which clarinet mouthpiece should I buy?”) or answered in advertising copy (“The perfect flute headjoint for the woodwind doubler”).

When aspiring doublers ask this question, I think often what they are really asking is, “What product can I purchase that will save me having to really learn a new instrument?” If you’re serious about playing the flute, you’ll want to use the kind of flute that a good flutist would use. If you’re serious about the clarinet, you’ll seek out the kinds of reeds, mouthpieces, and instruments favored by fine clarinetists. In other words, the best clarinet for a woodwind doubler is… the best clarinet.

To double successfully, you have to abandon the idea that you can double on flute and clarinet (and so forth) without having to commit to being a flutist and a clarinetist. There are no shortcuts!

5 thoughts on “The best _____ for woodwind doublers”

  1. Same is true for the quality of the instrument. Just because it is a second or third instrument, don’t consider getting a cheap instrument. I have tried to get many vintage and used instruments to work such as with the bass clarinet.

    This didn’t work. Got a new top of the line bass clarinet and suddenly I could play from top to bottom of the range.

  2. I really appreciate this topic. I am not serious doubler, by that I mean I still have one very strong instrument and then weaker instruments, but I do want to sound like I know what I am doing. With some of the equipment I’m playing on it makes it difficult, and this article made me realize, yes if I’m going to play clarinet it’s time to break down and buy one that is worthwhile.

  3. Bret, I agree with the assertion that there’s really no substitute for time spent practicing your second or third (or fourth or fifth…) instrument but there are some ways to make the your life easier. For myself, as a flutist, I have a real issue with the pressure needed to get a good tone on the clarinet. I recently got a Walt Grabner K14 (his ‘Klezmer/jazz’ style mouthpiece) which has made a world of difference for me. Not as robust as the Backun, but it has made tone production, articulation and just plain embouchure comfort much better for me. I would also agree with Gandalfe that a high quality instrument makes a world of difference. While I don’t feel it’s completely necesary to get an absolute top line instrument, I would highly recomend finding a good repairman (or woman!), nothing can make your life worse than an instrument that’s out of adjustment.

    So basically my advice would be to get the best instrument you can afford, get a good quality (and easy blowing) moutpiece or headjoint, and make sure the darn thing works. Then practice!

    • I’m glad you found a mouthpiece that makes things easier for you. But why should “easier” equipment be reserved for doublers? If a mouthpiece makes the instrument easier to play, wouldn’t clarinetists-only also benefit from it? Or have you selected this mouthpiece because it lets you recycle elements of your flute technique, rather than learning proper clarinet technique (“pressure”)?

      I agree 100% with your advice—buy the best you can afford, then practice—for doublers and non-doublers alike.

    • I’d like to add that equipment works differently for everyone, headjoints, reed/mouthpiece combinations, instruments, are all subject to everyone’s individual standards. Because we all have different bodies, each piece of material will react different for us. I play on a setup that both my teachers probably wouldn’t play on, but they both say that it works for me.

      A lot of this will be trial and error, and working with someone else on how it sounds, whether it’s a teacher, or a colleague.

      Bret, I really love what you’re saying about equipment here. I think mindset should be added also. To double on flute, you should think and approach it like a flutist, not like a clarinetist who plays flute. I strive, in all my doubles, to get the characteristic sound of that instrument, rather than an oboist playing clarinet. I think we should all strive for that same characteristic in sound.


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