The Vegan Clarinet

A few years ago, I was talking to someone at a clarinet conference when they began discussing their search for vegan clarinet products. Even though I’ve been a vegetarian since 2004, I had never before considered this subject. According to Forbes, the number of people pursuing a vegan and vegetarian lifestyle is increasing. Even though vegans and vegetarians still comprise just a small percentage of the total population, there is an increased demand for eco-friendly products and transparency for ingredients and manufacturing methods.

The clarinet is not naturally vegan, but it’s very easy to switch products and make adjustments to create a vegan clarinet. (And before anyone can beat me to it, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the carrot clarinet.)

Here are some equipment and accessories which might include animal products, along with some suggestions for replacements:

  • Ligatures. We are so lucky to live in a world with so many different ligature options! Ligatures are made from a variety of materials – plastic, metal, leather, string-style – and our options only increase each year. Make sure you are using a non-leather ligature. My favorite ligature is the Vandoren M/O pink gold (which also comes in several other different finishes).
  • Pads. The most common clarinet pads are made from fish skin (usually bladder skin), Gore-Tex (a mixture of skin and leather-like material), or leather since these are more water-resistant than other materials. (Recently, kangaroo leather pads have become increasingly popular in the clarinet world.) If you’re looking to go vegan, you can have your clarinet repadded using cork, silencer, or synthetic pads. Before doing this, please consult a qualified clarinet repair technician who can advise you of the best solution, as certain pads provide better results in certain placements.
  • Clarinet cases and case covers. Many clarinet cases and case covers are made of leather, so explore your options to find one that doesn’t use any animal products. Some companies now offer canvas or vegan leather cases – just make sure you choose a durable material (ideally waterproof) that can withstand gigging, travel, and protect your instruments in extreme weather conditions.
  • Reed cases. Let’s not forget about reeds! Instead of using a leather reed case, opt for one like the plastic Vandoren Hygro Case (which uses a synthetic sponge to regulate humidity) or plastic Protec reed case.
  • Neck straps. Many neck straps have at least one leather component, so look for neck straps made from elastic or synthetic leather. Just be sure that your neck strap is durable and flexible enough that it doesn’t feel restricting.
  • Cork grease. Several cork grease products are made using beeswax, which many vegans do not use since it’s an animal by-product. (Historically, some cork grease was made using animal fat and tallow, although this is not common today.) Today, common ingredients in cork grease include oils such as sunflower, coconut, and hemp seed, along with other ingredients like paraffin wax, which are all vegan. Some musicians make their own cork grease (there are several different recipes on the internet, both vegan and non-vegan) or use petroleum jelly as cork grease in a pinch, but it’s important to consult a qualified repair tech to make sure your cork grease will not be bad for the cork. Edgware by BBICO makes a quality vegan cork grease.

Other considerations

Some materials used for clarinet repair and manufacturing are not vegan, although the average clarinetist will not often come into contact with these products. If/when/how you use these products depends on your commitment level to a vegan lifestyle:

  • Glue. If you’re not doing repair work yourself, this might not affect you. However, some glue used for clarinet repair is made from animal products.
  • Shellac. This is used to seal pads to the keys, and it is made from the secretions of the lac beetle.

Leading a vegan lifestyle is certainly admirable (thanks for your concern for our animals and planet!), but it’s important to make sure you don’t sacrifice musical quality in your quest for clarinet veganism. Be sure to explore all of your options before switching equipment or accessories so you can play with confidence without sacrificing your vegan lifestyle.

I hope these vegan clarinet recommendations help! If you’re looking for other ways to be more eco-conscious, you should also check out my 13 Ways Clarinetists Can Become More Eco-Friendly.

Leave a comment below with your vegan clarinet product recommendations!

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