Rico Reserve Clarinet Mouthpieces

Building on the success of the Rico Reserve professional reeds, D’Addario (the company who makes Rico products) has introduced the new Reserve clarinet mouthpieces. They help to expand on the Reserve brand and presents itself as professional equipment but at a competitive price. D’Addario employs higher tech manufacturing processes than are typically found in products of their equivalent price range aiming to offer a superior product.

The Reserve mouthpieces follow this model employing CNC manufacturing and “milling” the mouthpieces from a solid piece of bar rubber. Other mouthpieces in this price category are injection molded. I do not believe that either process is truly “better” than the other with both possessing pros and cons from the other. CNC machining has the advantage of precision in manufacturing (assuming a high quality CNC is used with competent engineering for the computer model) while the disadvantage of price. Injection molding has the opposite with its advantage being price at the loss of tolerance.

However, the question is not what process of manufacturing is used that determines the playability of a mouthpiece but rather the quality of its design and the execution of the design. The design is what makes a mouthpiece (or any piece of equipment) perform.

The Technology

Rico is very quick to tout the level of technology used. I find it actually funny that they list the lack of hand work as a benefit stating: “Zero handwork for maximum consistency”. This is mainly just from the fact that we as players are biased to believe that handmade=better. While I still believe this to be overall true, adding hand work to a product does add cost and can add inconsistency depending on the quality of the person doing the work.

Rico states that they actually used CAT scans to analyze vintage mouthpieces in order to “collect all of their best characteristics”… an interesting approach indeed.

However, what will be the most debated aspect of the technology is the 100% CNC manufacturing process. Since these mouthpieces are 100% made by machine, can they REALLY be as good as a well executed handmade mouthpiece? Rico believes so and is betting that you will believe so after playing one.

CNC machining is a great technology. The CNC mills used by Rico are capable of executing their design within a .0005” tolerance. That’s a half of a thousandths of an inch. Rico is quick to state this fact as it is very impressive on paper and in reality as well. While the machining is absolutely able to produce this, I do not believe that the material is able to be made to this tolerance. In fact, one of my brothers is a mechanical engineer who has worked in the medical device & aerospace fields (as well as a sax player) and is VERY familiar with the capabilities CNC machining and the use of materials with it. We discussed this quite a bit and his experience matched my belief that the material is not going to be capable of being manufactured to this tolerance.

However – let me clarify something on this topic: this is not a slam on the product by me but rather a review of the manufacturing process and the marketing associated with it. I personally would like to see D’Addario clarify their statement “Produced to aerospace tolerances (within .0005″)” as I personally find this a little misleading. It’s not inaccurate as the machining is capable of such a feat, but it is implied that the final product is delivered to that tolerance which it is not. I measured a batch of the mouthpieces and found that while they were all excellent, I did find a bit of variance from one mouthpiece to the next.

These issues though are of a technical review nature and are not necessarily of a performance nature.

So How Do They Play?

This is the real issue. If we ignore the technical for a moment and simply focus on the playability of the mouthpiece, how well does the Reserve stack up to other mouthpieces in a similar price range? This is where the Reserve mouthpieces shine!

“All players and observers found that the Reserve was by far the more complex and richer tone”

Our principal testing was done on the X10 model (1.10mm model). We compared it to a Vandoren 5RV Lyre (1.095mm) and a Vandoren M30 (1.15mm). While the 5RV Lyre mouthpiece is the closer specification model in advertised size, I found the actual tip size of the X10 to between 1.12mm and 1.13mm in the several X10 models tested. The same reed and ligature(s) were used on the same clarinet.

All players and observers found that the Reserve was by far the more complex and richer tone with exceptionally richer sound over the break of the clarinet. All players commented that the Reserve simply felt easier to play and enjoyed the Reserve over the Vandoren models tested.

On of my personal favorite features of these mouthpieces is their chambers. I find too many mouthpieces in this price range have chambers that are not symmetric. The Reserve mouthpieces have a very well made chamber that is more in line with the $300+ mouthpieces that we sell. The chamber manufacturing is where I personally feel the CNC machining is most well employed in the Reserve mouthpieces.

Price & Models

Obviously every dealer will set their own price. The Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price at launch is $180.00 – but nobody pays retail anymore. Through my family’s store (Kessler & Sons Music), we sell the Reserve mouthpieces at $99.99 (at the time of this review) and we go one step further by including a Rico H-Ligature with the mouthpiece at that price. I find that this combination of mouthpiece & ligature offers hands down the best $100 clarinet mouthpiece on the market. Click Here to Purchase a Reserve Mouthpiece.

Currently, the Reserve mouthpieces are available in 3 models:

X0 – 1.00mm Tip
X5 – 1.05mm Tip
X10 – 1.10mm Tip

I would not be surprised to see an X15 (1.15mm) and an X20 (1.20mm) model in the future, and maybe even larger sizes for jazz player (X35 anyone?).

Final Conclusion

The Reserve mouthpieces are a GREAT offering for players. They give excellent performance, an affordable price and they are made 100% in the USA… which is a feature that I like to support ANY chance that I can. Furthermore, I feel that they are the absolute BEST value in the clarinet market for the advancing student to semi-professional player. I do feel that there are mouthpieces that are better than the Reserve (Backun MoBa & Eddie Daniels models, Theo Wanne models) but for the money, I feel that the Reserve is absolutely impossible to beat!

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