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Author Topic: Who was Guy Humphrey and why do some fine clarinets bear his name?  (Read 6938 times)

Offline Silversorcerer

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Stencil brands are interesting for many reasons, but the two primary engaging mysteries are who were/are the people whose names are on the instruments and who made the instruments. The answer to the first question is generally at least as much of a mystery as the second regarding French clarinets made around the turn of the 19th/20th centuries. Once famous names that were easily recognizable by any good French citizen are now faded into obscurity, particularly in the USA.

Guy Humphrey is one of those stencil brands we hear a lot of positive reports about, and the clarinet brand is probably better remembered now than the clarinetist. I now have seen a hard document that tells us a good bit about Guy Humphrey and why the brand was reputable and why and how these French imports became popular in the USA. Guy Humphrey was a French virtuoso clarinetist who played in popular French orchestras as well as toured the USA performing with popular USA bands and orchestras.

Last year I happened to get lucky on a really nice hard rubber example with some assembly required (key soldering, etc.) and after getting the keys working was able to get it to play even with bad pads. This is a great clarinet, a diamond in the rough that will most likely be one of my top playing instruments as soon as it gets pads and corks. I have suspicions about the likely maker, and I think the brand was made by more than one maker depending on the year, but I have ever been curious about who Guy Humphrey was. As usual, the name is not a nobody. It is terribly hard to find documentation on Guy Humphrey. Today I found more information on a post card than there was previously published on the internet.

My apologies for publishing something that might be copywritten, but this is for purely educational purposes.
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Offline Silversorcerer

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Offline Silversorcerer

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Re: Who was Guy Humphrey and why do some fine clarinets bear his name?
« Reply #2 on: July 26, 2017, 09:22:01 PM »
Lafricain's Naval Band? Here is a reference to E.N. Lafricain, a trumpet soloist from Boston who performed in Montreal in 1894. Guy Humprhey played with Lafricain's Naval Band in Boston.

https://books.google.com/books?id=DlzFyuJJZt0C&pg=PA113&lpg=PA113&dq=Lafricains+Naval+Band&source=bl&ots=i-EDG2EUdj&sig=03JTv_aoBjDCNFO2YnOYx6iR-Lk&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjGjLf6y6jVAhWEVz4KHZWTBT8Q6AEIMzAJ#v=onepage&q=Lafricains%20Naval%20Band&f=false
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Offline Silversorcerer

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Re: Who was Guy Humphrey and why do some fine clarinets bear his name?
« Reply #3 on: July 26, 2017, 09:54:58 PM »
E.N. Lafricain was quite active and there are many references to him directing concerts in the Boston area. https://books.google.com/books?id=XSZ4BmtxzgwC&pg=PA124&lpg=PA124&dq=E+N+Lafricain&source=bl&ots=UOcpKCVEoW&sig=9t3oRPx-1N8aV8R4cUgde66jHtg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjQnJT-zqjVAhXG8j4KHWwSDYMQ6AEIFjAA#v=onepage&q=E%20N%20Lafricain&f=false

It is quite without doubt that this is the band leader referred to on the post card.
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Offline Silversorcerer

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Re: Who was Guy Humphrey and why do some fine clarinets bear his name?
« Reply #4 on: July 26, 2017, 10:05:04 PM »
With one post card of information, we can generally reconstruct the career of Guy Humphrey and draw several insights. Rumor has it in published internet sources that the Guy Humphrey brand was imported to the USA by the US government. This is plausible considering that Guy Humphrey frequently performed with US military bands when he toured. His brand might have been popularized with the US military musicians to the extent that the government imported some of these.

In looking over some of the Humphrey clarinets and some of the Henry Gunckel clarinets, I've seen details that point to one maker that at one time produced both brands. I wonder if Mr. Humphrey the virtuoso whose name is on exported French clarinets and who maintained a Paris address might have known Mr. Gunckel, the French trade commissioner who also maintained a Paris address at the same time?
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Offline DaveLeBlanc

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Re: Who was Guy Humphrey and why do some fine clarinets bear his name?
« Reply #5 on: July 26, 2017, 10:51:26 PM »
As always, you never cease to amaze with your research!
David Watson of the original The Clarinet Pages
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Offline Silversorcerer

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Re: Who was Guy Humphrey and why do some fine clarinets bear his name?
« Reply #6 on: July 27, 2017, 07:59:23 AM »
A little more while we are on the topic.... A few web sites that track brands (hornucopia is one of these) lists the source of the Guy Humphrey brand as the US government. That was one of the strangest relations I could imagine, but it might have been the case when the brand first appeared. The best evidence I have so far would have the brand originating in La Couture around the turn of the century, which makes sense because that was when Guy Humphrey was touring and performing and his name was chosen to promote the brand. Whether he endorsed the brand, marketed the brand, got a royalty or a licensing fee for his name is something I don't know. What I do know is that the brand was being made quite early in the brand life by at least one maker in La Couture. The example I have in hard rubber has a flat spring at C# and a shared post for LH5 levers, meaning it is early 20th C. It also has "LP" marks which place it earlier than the adoption of the A=440Hz standard. I'll post a few photos later.

After a short time the production of the brand, like so many other French "stencil" brands, appears to migrate to other makers. I have collected a couple of ads for the brand, one from the late thirties and one from around 1950, and during that period, the US distributor was no longer the US government (if it ever was), but a New York firm, Gretsch and Brenner, Inc.
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Offline Airflyte

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Re: Who was Guy Humphrey and why do some fine clarinets bear his name?
« Reply #7 on: July 27, 2017, 08:41:27 AM »
Silversorcerer, your threads are fascinating. The time and effort you make to connect the dots is greatly appreciated!
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Offline Tinker73

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Re: Who was Guy Humphrey and why do some fine clarinets bear his name?
« Reply #8 on: July 27, 2017, 05:46:25 PM »
Super information on the Guy Humphrey history!  It's always great when you can find information like this on these "stencil" clarinets.  You're lucky, at least alot of the information on the Guy Humphrey is in English and you don't have to try to translate all of it from French! 

Now just find that hidden letter from Guy Humphrey to Henry Gunckel and the rest of the "stencil gang" expalining the relationship they shared with that clarinet maker they shared.

Once again great work on uncovering this tidbit and thanks for sharing your research!
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Offline Silversorcerer

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Re: Who was Guy Humphrey and why do some fine clarinets bear his name?
« Reply #9 on: July 27, 2017, 07:44:38 PM »
I thought I would never find out anything about this Guy. I had run out of places to look for him. While it is clear that he was in the performances listed on the card, there aren't mentions of all the musicians that played in those performances. I had almost as much trouble tracking down M.R. Verney, but once I found him, there was actually a fair amount of information and even some recordings on youtube.

We are lucky Humphrey was sending the post card to an American in New York. My guess is he had French postcards to send out in France. We should get his handwriting analyzed. He has a pretty elegant stroke there. There is an obvious entrepreneurial self promoting side of his personality. It's clear he plans to market reeds to the USA, and that could have been before he became a clarinet/woodwind brand. It is entirely plausible that he hooked up with a maker through Gunckel and then promoted his own brand while on tour in the US. Perhaps he even tweaked them or directed the quality control on the early ones. The one I have is quite good, particularly good in intonation, near perfect. The keys feel great, nothing tripping up my fingers anywhere. The fit of the key work is first class.

I wouldn't bring this up and not have an example to show. I purchased this last fall for a very reasonable price. This one is a hard rubber 17/6 Boehm Bb LP. One difference in this one is that the rubber was buffed to a high gloss rather than left dull or grained to simulate wood. There is no evidence that it ever looked any different. The gloss makes it look a lot like the plastic clarinets but at the time it was made there was no such thing as plastic yet, and it definitely is not Bakelite. It has the weight and feel and sound of hard rubber. I played it some just before I took the photos. It needs regulation, but if you choose the scale and fingering carefully, it will play most of the notes in both registers, and very easily. On this one I am using the mouthpiece that came with it, which is not marked, but is probably original. The only thing that came with it that I am not using is the metal ligature. It also came with a typical French cap and one of the 50/50 hard box cases that is in pretty good shape. One previous key repair is a bit clumsy looking (the bridge key) but it is positioned correctly, a sturdy repair, and I can improve the way it looks.

Over the years these were offered in other configurations and also in wood. Some I have seen are marked quite differently than this one and probably were made by a different maker. I am guessing that this one is representative of the first maker of these, but right now that is still a guess. The timing appears to be about right.
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Offline Airflyte

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Re: Who was Guy Humphrey and why do some fine clarinets bear his name?
« Reply #10 on: July 28, 2017, 03:45:28 PM »
After a short time the production of the brand, like so many other French "stencil" brands, appears to migrate to other makers. I have collected a couple of ads for the brand, one from the late thirties and one from around 1950, and during that period, the US distributor was no longer the US government (if it ever was), but a New York firm, Gretsch and Brenner, Inc.

Sorcerer, it appears that G. Leblanc Cie. also has ties to Gretsch and Brenner, Inc. May not be pertinent to the thread but you may find it useful for future reference.
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Offline DaveLeBlanc

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Re: Who was Guy Humphrey and why do some fine clarinets bear his name?
« Reply #11 on: July 28, 2017, 07:17:08 PM »
Here's an excellent Guy Humphrey with articluated C#/G# for a decent price.
http://www.ebay.com/itm/Clarinet-B-Wood-/112499618643?hash=item1a317ff353:g:7~kAAOSwGLNZe3FY
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Offline Silversorcerer

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Re: Who was Guy Humphrey and why do some fine clarinets bear his name?
« Reply #12 on: July 28, 2017, 08:27:51 PM »
Looking at the shapes of the long upper joint trill keys on that 7-ring, the trill guide and A#/G# layout, that 7-ring Guy Humphrey with the articulated C# is a different maker than the hard rubber one above. SML and D. Noblet/LeBlanc used trills with a similar shape. With separated LJ lever posts for LH5, it's a later made one.

I'd like to see more detailed photos, maybe ask the seller a few questions. It looks like a pretty sweet instrument that wouldn't need much work right away. That is not a bargain price, but not a real steep ask either. It looks very clean, well maintained.

That C# mechanism is also something I'd like to see closer. Most makers do articulated C# mechanisms in their own way.
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Offline DaveLeBlanc

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Re: Who was Guy Humphrey and why do some fine clarinets bear his name?
« Reply #13 on: July 28, 2017, 10:30:17 PM »
Looking at the shapes of the long upper joint trill keys on that 7-ring, the trill guide and A#/G# layout, that 7-ring Guy Humphrey with the articulated C# is a different maker than the hard rubber one above. SML and D. Noblet/LeBlanc used trills with a similar shape. With separated LJ lever posts for LH5, it's a later made one.

I'd like to see more detailed photos, maybe ask the seller a few questions. It looks like a pretty sweet instrument that wouldn't need much work right away. That is not a bargain price, but not a real steep ask either. It looks very clean, well maintained.

That C# mechanism is also something I'd like to see closer. Most makers do articulated C# mechanisms in their own way.
I've run across a few different articulated mechanisms in my travails: Selmer Bundy, Amati ACL-314(?), A. Robert, and *something* else. The Amati has the most unique one, with an articulated pad that was much larger than I was expecting. It was an excellent instrument and I made quite a bit on the sale too :)
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Offline Silversorcerer

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Re: Who was Guy Humphrey and why do some fine clarinets bear his name?
« Reply #14 on: July 29, 2017, 05:55:45 AM »
I noticed a couple of Amati full Boehms recently, like days ago. If I remember right, at least one of them had the articulated C#. I picked up a few of the Meyer Amati 17/6 stencils and finally an Amati marked 17/6 that is identical. Depending on the year, those can be very well made instruments. The key plating varied from unplated (best) to durable plating, but the early ones the plating was not so good. It's pretty easy to spot the difference. I've seen them stenciled under various names, but they don't seem to bring as much unless they are marked Amati.

Some of the articulated mechanisms I've seen didn't hold up particularly well. That idea of putting a hole through the tenon and socket like that;- it begs trouble I think. I know it is supposed to be better for the intonation but it probably holds up best on a unibody clarinet.

I do like the 7th ring, and there appear to be as many approaches to that as well, some better than others. Bettoney's C# to Eb ring key link yields the primary function of a 7th ring practically invisibly. They got it done without adding a ring, or the typical complex mechanics. It's also something that would be easy to add to almost any instrument.

I wish there were closer detail photos of that Guy Humphrey.
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