Author Topic: Exactly what makes a professional clarinet "professional?"  (Read 72 times)

Offline DaveLeBlanc

  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2834
  • Clarinet-ing since 2012
    • View Profile
    • Watson Musical
Exactly what makes a professional clarinet "professional?"
« on: April 25, 2019, 01:30:46 PM »
Question of the year.

What, exactly, makes a professional clarinet considered professional-level?

There are three main components of a clarinet:
Material
Key Quality
Key System

Most professional level clarinet (except Ridenour) are made of high-quality Grenadilla or ebony wood. This is a given.

Most professional clarinets have strong, sturdy, silver-plated keys. Some are nickel plated, but silver is generally seen as a signifier of higher quality.

How about key system?
In oboes, for example, professional models generally have more keys, allowing for more advanced fingerings.

However, in clarinets, more keys does not necessarily mean a more professional instrument. The most advanced key system possible for Boehm clarinets is the Full Boehm. This includes: articulated C#/G#, Eb bis key/third ring, left hand Ab/Eb, and low Eb key.

However, full Boehm clarinets are actually fairly rare as far as professional clarinets go. Most high end clarinets are "simple Boehm" - with none of the above features, just your standard Boehm.

Buffet, Selmer, Backun, Patricola, and most other high-end, high-cost clarinets stick with standard, simplified Boehm.

So the key system is inconclusive.


Other parts of a clarinet include:
bore type
tone hole type
quality control

Most high end clarinets, alas most modern clarinets in general have a poly-cylindrical bore. Standard bores are usually only seen in very old, or very low quality clarinets. So a poly cylinder can't be a signifier of professional level.

Tone hole type. Cheap clarinets usually have a tone hole insert, which is a tone hole made of either a separate or similar material, and then glued into the tone hole's place. Higher end clarinets usually lack this feature, with the notable exception of the Buffet C13/International which has inserts.


So with all this being said, does it really come down to quality control as the single most important thing one can point to? Most of the other features are inconclusive.

Lower-end materials can be made into higher-end instruments with good quality control (Ridenour) or with modifications (Windy Dankoff's adventures in Chinese clarinets).

What are your thoughts?

David Watson of the original The Clarinet Pages

Offline windydankoff

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 223
  • Into the Black Hole
    • View Profile
    • My solar website ... Find MUSIC tab on top
Re: Exactly what makes a professional clarinet "professional?"
« Reply #1 on: April 26, 2019, 06:38:05 AM »
Dave, you wrote:
"Lower-end materials can be made into higher-end instruments with good quality control (Ridenour) or with modifications (Windy Dankoff's adventures in Chinese clarinets)."

You are refering to hard rubber (ebonite), which is a traditional alternative to wood, used since the 1860's.  It's made from rubber tree sap. The vast majority of professional mouthpieces are made of hard rubber. Many student clarinets and some higher-quality ones have been made from HR, as a non-cracking alternative to wood.

It is stable and durable and has good acoustical qualities. After WWII, ABS plastic took its place for student instruments. HR fell out of favor for pro instruments, in part because after 20-40 years it often, unpredictably, starts turning various shades of brown or dull green. Silver plating cannot be used because the sulfur in the rubber blackens the silver. Keys on old HR instruments are unplated "German silver". Now they are typically nickel plated.

HR has been revived as a quality material for clarinets since Ridenour began to produce and promote it after 2000, for student and pro quality. They have a high reputation for tone quality and reliability and their HR barrels are highly reputed. Chinese makers offer HR too, which they call by its other name "ebonite". I have fine-tuned and upgraded numerous Chinese C clarinets, and a new G as well (see "G clarinet Boehm" topic). After many steps of "fine-tuning", the results are excellent. The tone is superb.

Buffet has an alternative material called Greenline. It's a composite of grenadilla powder (sawdust) mixed with epoxy resin, I think. Some of their great high-end instruments use this material.

I believe that the ongoing dominance of wood may be audible, but largely due to the finer attention and precision that the more costly instruments receive. I think it's also akin to a religious conviction. Don't argue with a believer.

Individual fine-tuning can make a lesser quality horn into a fine instrument, if it's fundamental design is good. Even high quality horns need this kind of attention to make the grade. I refer to excellent but non-prestige instruments as "concert quality". To be called "professional", an instrument must also have prestige based on its brand, who has worked on it, and a high market value. That's my sense of the term "professional".

And finally, it's nothing without a great mouthpiece that matches the nature of the instrument and the player.
« Last Edit: April 30, 2019, 12:54:08 PM by windydankoff »
Windy / BLACK HOLE Clarinets
C & G CLARINETS refined to concert standards
Thanks to The Clarinet Pages

Offline shmuelyosef

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 27
    • View Profile
Re: Exactly what makes a professional clarinet "professional?"
« Reply #2 on: May 06, 2019, 12:27:53 PM »
I believe that the ongoing dominance of wood may be audible, but largely due to the finer attention and precision that the more costly instruments receive. I think it's also akin to a religious conviction. Don't argue with a believer.

...so you believe that it "may be audible"[/]....hmmm

Wood is certainly responsible for much of the variability in clarinets within a particular model (Buffet has done a good job highlighting this). The dominance is audible, but the sound difference is likely not...most of the scientific studies of materials choices (primarily within clarinets and flutes) has shown that (at least) professional musicians cannot tell the difference in blind listening.

My opinion is that a "professional clarinet" is one that professional musicians (particularly the top earners) choose to play. The may or may not have better keywork or intonation, but the are well-liked...there is some cult associated with these choices, as the professionals that I know well say that they sound the same on most clarinets, and choose to play the brand that 'adopts' them and provides them with specially set up instruments to play. Many of them switch brands occasionally, but the biggest barrier is subtle variations in keywork geometry that takes some adaptation.

Many professionals admit to using Vito or Backun student instruments for outdoor gigs or travel to unfortunate climates. Polymers (rubber and otherwise) have pretty substantial advantages.

Many kudos to Tom Ridenour, who has made some wonderful hard rubber clarinets...I wish that he would find a better source of keywork, however. That is the big limitation in performance of his Bb soprano instruments.

Kessler is also to be applauded on their new bass clarinet. They worked with an international collection of vendors (assembled in CHina) to make a wonderful Low C bass that the can't seem to keep in stock! I'm tempted to replace my (admittedly horrible ) Yamaha 221...

...yes, I play wood clarinets. Mostly I play a Selmer Centered Tone, or a Yamaha Custom SE...both chosen because I like the response of the bore design and the keywork design, not because they are made of beautiful wood. However, I also often use a Vito V40 for gigs in parks and bars.

The misinformation about grenadilla (and the ever-decreasing quality of available sources) will eventually cause the emergence of spectacular instruments made of synthetic materials. They will be manufactured more consistently, so design refinements will be more obvious, and they will require less care and maintenance.
Clarinet: Selmer Centered Tone (1 ea 6-ring and 7-ring), Selmer Series 9, Yamaha Custom CS 853, Leblanc Vito V40, B&H 1-10, Leblanc VSP, plus the middle school for sale list (all fully overhauled)
BC: Yamaha 221mkii
Piano: Mason & Hamlin Model A, Fender Rhodes Stage 73 Mk I, Nord Electro
Many saxes

Offline windydankoff

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 223
  • Into the Black Hole
    • View Profile
    • My solar website ... Find MUSIC tab on top
Re: Exactly what makes a professional clarinet "professional?"
« Reply #3 on: May 08, 2019, 11:20:00 AM »
I grappled with this issue when I began to sell Chinese C clarinets, fine-tuned for serious players. I was not pretentious enough to call them "professional". I settled on "refined to concert standards". I feel that sums it up for a fully practical instrument of modest provinence.
« Last Edit: May 08, 2019, 08:17:19 PM by windydankoff »
Windy / BLACK HOLE Clarinets
C & G CLARINETS refined to concert standards
Thanks to The Clarinet Pages