Author Topic: 1956 Selmer Centered Tone - Factory Prototype  (Read 71 times)

Offline el3637

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1956 Selmer Centered Tone - Factory Prototype
« on: April 12, 2019, 12:36:56 PM »
Both of my parents played and taught clarinet.  I have dabbled with it here and there but mostly play saxophone the past 20 years when I got back into music.

In 1956 my dad was given a Selmer prototype, apparently one of only six made.  It has nothing to indicate it is anything but a standard Centered Tone.  I called Selmer almost 20 years ago, and the only information they could give me was that it was a Centered Tone made in 1956.  Selmer gave these prototypes away to symphony players.  My dad was with the Indianapolis Symphony at the time.  He fell in love with this unique instrument.  It was only in the sixties that one of my mother's students tried out dad's clarinet and found it was a fabulous jazz clarinet.  Dad passed away in 1972, and this guy started bugging us to sell him the clarinet ever since.  Unfortunately there is not much information available, but it is a standard bore of .300" for a Centered Tone.  It supposedly has undercut tone holes and other modifications.

I took it to my saxophone teacher, who also played clarinet and his first comment was oh, I don't like Centered Tones (he was an R13 guy and mostly a jazz player).  He played dad's clarinet for a few minutes - it hasn't been repadded or worked on since the early 70s - and said kind of under his breath and then out loud that it "blows away" his R13.  Time and time again anyone who ever played this clarinet wants it.  Even beginners can tell the difference.  A woman I dated for a bit was wanting to learn an instrument.  I let her play my new Yamaha clarinet a bit and then handed her dads and once she blew a few notes her face lit up "Oh I LIKE this one!"  This has been the reaction of everyone who ever played it - I have to pry it out of their hands.

It is not for sale.  I am 61 years old, my brother is 58.  We have no kids and probably won't.  I will keep this clarinet the rest of my life - or my brother will.  It is all we have left from Dad, as he was pretty much penniless when he died and his clarinet was the only thing of any value.  I would really like to document it somehow so that when we're gone, it can go to a player who really appreciates it - a jazz player.  The other 5 prototypes are lost completely, apparently the other symphony players who got them as freebies didn't like the loud and dominant sound - it could be a problem for section playing - and probably sold them and they are out there somewhere lost among all the other Centered Tones. 

Since no one at Selmer knows anything about it, and apparently no record exists of these prototypes being made, I have no way to document it other than just saying PLAY IT!  It has a bottom end to die for.  I'm sure I could sell it right now to anyone who tries it out, but I don't want to ever let it go as long as I'm living.  I was on the phone to mom one time about 18 years ago, and my brother was just sort of doodling on the clarinet in the background and Mom immediately recognized the sound of it.  Over the phone.  I know that most people will not believe this but playing is believing.  I almost think I should find a young jazz player that I really like, let him try it out and if he really really likes it, leave it to him in my will. 

This is my first post.  I would assume the "captcha" verification will not be a requirement of EVERY post I make?

Offline DaveLeBlanc

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Re: 1956 Selmer Centered Tone - Factory Prototype
« Reply #1 on: April 12, 2019, 11:21:20 PM »
It's absolutely incredible that you have such a rare and unique piece! Most manufacturers did not keep good records back then. Heck, most of them either did not keep serial number records or records were destroyed in fires. It's too bad that you can't get "official" confirmation of its existence, but still, the story behind it is absolutely spectacular. Your father must have been truly something else!

Centered Tones are AMAZING. I've had the great fortune of restoring three of these for clients and I'm always very tempted to purchase them off the client at the end of the overhaul.

Like you said, the bottom end is INSANE and certainly blows away pretty much anything else I've played.

About a month ago, I restored both an R13 and a Centered Tone within a few days of each other. The R13 sold for a cool $1300 while the Centered Tone was only able to fetch $750.

For the massive price difference, I simply did not feel that I got "twice the clarinet" from the R13. Given a choice, I would rather pay for a good Centered Tone than be offered an R13 for free, if I was trying to get a real good player with an excellent tone.

David Watson of the original The Clarinet Pages

Offline DaveLeBlanc

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Re: 1956 Selmer Centered Tone - Factory Prototype
« Reply #2 on: April 12, 2019, 11:23:53 PM »
And a gracious welcome to our forum! You will find an excellent community of knowledgeable players, collectors, and historians here. It's a clarinetist's paradise!

Sorry about the Captcha thing - after a certain number of posts it won't be required anymore. Around 2012 or 2013 this forum was actually completely shut down by a massive spam attack, and we had to basically purge and restart the entire site. After that we instilled some security measures to ensure that wouldn't happen again.

If the Captcha becomes too much of an irritation, feel free to contact me directly and I can probably use my powers to help out.

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Offline el3637

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Re: 1956 Selmer Centered Tone - Factory Prototype
« Reply #3 on: April 14, 2019, 01:55:11 AM »
My dad unfortunately went down with the bottle as do so many musicians of all walks.  It's not just the rock n rollers who succumb to alcohol.  Dad was a good musician, if not fantastic, and he was a patient teacher who taught at least one symphony pro who may still be active although he's not mentioned in the guy's resume.  But his drinking and smart-ass attitude eventually got him fired from the Cincinnati Symphony.  Mom showed me the article about it and I read the 8 names and remembered thinking geez, most of these guys are dead now prematurely from alcoholism.

Dad never mistreated us kids, perhaps neglectful at times and he made promises he couldn't keep, but who doesn't.  I have his clarinet case pretty much as we found it, with reeds he had fixed up for his long time friend and drinking buddy, his music glasses, and a mouthpiece wrapped in fishing line, which was his trademark.  He could change a reed almost as fast as somebody with a metal ligature and he often would wind up a mouthpiece for others because they just couldn't get the hang of it.  I don't think he ever said where he learned it - if it was from his old teacher in Philadelphia in 1932, or some pro he met along the way or what.  I actually taught myself to do it but you can't get that kind of fishing line any more - a thick braided line. 

He had a great and wicked sense of humor.  One other item he left us was a scrapbook he kept of cartoons he found funny - many from the New Yorker and Saturday Evening Post.  To this day if I see a cartoon he would have liked, I think of that book.  I should probably just put it in a new binder and put a divider in and start adding to it.  He would have loved The Far Side.  He also loved musical humor.  He had a record of the Hoffnung Music Festival, which is about 10 times funnier but every bit as intelligent as anything Peter Shickele ever did.  Gerard Hoffnung died very young but contributed many outrageous cartoons to the music lore.

My musical heritage isn't clarinet.  It's more to my dad's repair business that saw every kind of instrument you can imagine showing up at the house especially when school was out for the summer.  He didn't do strings and didn't like to do dent work - if he had a lot of brass he had an assistant to do that, one of which was the guy who has tried to buy the clarinet.  But every kind of horn you can imagine on up to trombones and sousaphones.  I got to try them all out.  So now my wife and I have a whole menagerie of instruments.  She's mainly playing banjo, dobro, and resonator guitar right now.  I'm playing mainly bass guitar, Hammond, and a little guitar but I'm really a total beginner at it.  I also have my bari sax, but our band doesn't have a horn slot right now.  Strictly amateur stuff for fun.  I'm kind of a semi-retired computer programmer.  Like dad, I found my skills in somewhat reduced demand in my late 50s, but have somehow survived.

My brother has an old Selmer newsletter and my dad's endorsement published in it.  He really wanted to be a Selmer headliner - he was totally loyal and had already gotten free stuff I think. I will see him tomorrow (we're going to order pizza and watch Blues Brothers - his wife has never seen it!) and see if I can scan a copy of it to post here.  There's not anywhere near enough space to talk about my dad... lol.  I have stories about him, and some of his own stories.  I guess his best kept secret was his two daughters from a previous marriage... I found out when I was six that I was no longer the oldest.  Bumped from #1 to #3 of 4.

Offline el3637

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Re: 1956 Selmer Centered Tone - Factory Prototype
« Reply #4 on: April 14, 2019, 02:22:42 AM »
I have never played a standard Centered Tone.  It seems that the players who don't like them say they have intonation issues compared with the R13.  And the latter is unusual as it's still considered "the" clarinet for both symphonic and jazz players, although jazzers are more likely to lean toward a larger bore.  Mom never knew the particulars about the clarinet, only that Selmer had created the modified CT prototypes to compete with the R13, and I guess they considered the experiment unsuccessful.  Too bad, but it makes mine all the more unique.  I had hoped Selmer would have a list of the serial numbers that were modified, just so I could keep a lookout for one to turn up probably anonymously on ebay or something.  I suppose I should just look for adjacent serial numbers - if they were taken off the line in Elkhart, they could have been six consecutive numbers.  Nowadays they have digital cameras and I can run one down the bore for a look-see without risking any damage.  My brother thought it might have been bored larger but it's .300 - same as most Bundys, all CTs, and the LeBlanc Pete Fountain - one of the few clarinets I saw being marketed for jazz in the 90s.

I've never played an R13 either.  I have Mom's Selmer, which is a much earlier model.  It is not a CT and it blows like a tire iron.  I don't really like it.  I have a Yamaha I bought just so I could have one to play without risking any damage to the heirloom.  One thing I noticed is that the entire upper joint has corks for pads.  Repadding was his specialty, and he would not have done that without purpose.  In the last years of his life his only paying gigs were summer park concerts, so he probably corked it just to make it resistant to the Cincinnati humidity and pop-up thunderstorms that often ended park concerts early.  Oh have I got a story there... lol.   Anyway, the Yamaha is wood not plastic, and it plays decently.  It's a wood student level I suppose.  I found I could not play a classical clarinet mouthpiece after playing saxophone with fairly open pieces - so I play it with a Vandoren mouthpiece, I forget which model.  And a Rovner ligature - those probably didn't exist at all back when my dad was wrapping reeds up with fishing line in 7 seconds.  His technique might be rendered obsolete by the Rovner type ligatures.  I know when I started playing sax, I switched to them immediately.  It took me a lot longer to switch to plastic reeds.  I tried most of them, but I didn't like them - wound up playing classic VanDorens but due to the vice-grip chops I inherited from my dad, I'd wear them out in no time.  I finally discovered Legere plastic reeds about 10 years ago and that's what I've played ever since.  Even on clarinet.  It's so nice not to have to keep the damn thing wet.