I’ve been playing “Carmen” since I got her new in 1986. She’s a glorious horn. But after decades on the road in nightclubs, symphony concerts, Mardi Gras parades, and 14 years of daily use in a theme park, her wooden joints are worn to the point that—even with new corks—they wiggle loosely. Her already re-plated keys are pitting badly again. It may be time to replace your instrument too. But how do we pick a new one?
Match the material to your environment. Modern clarinet design has brought us some great new materials. In addition to various woods, there are also terrific horns made of hard rubber (just like your mouthpiece!), wood/ resin composites, and even plastics that produce beautiful sounds and won’t crack in cold or dry environments.
Keep It Simple
The standard Boehm system of 17 keys/ six rings is a marvel of ergonomics and repair simplicity. Extra keys—though occasionally helpful—generally complicate repairs and can affect tuning and response.
“Evolutionary change” in design may be better than “revolutionary change.” Those newly shaped bells and barrels on some modern clarinets look cool but may not improve your playing.
Be Open to Change
I mentioned in an earlier article, “Developing Your Sound” (May/June 2012), that after a couple of hours on just about any setup, I start to sound like me—that our bodies seem to do whatever it takes to create the sound we want to hear. The challenge is to find the setup that requires the least amount of adjustment on our part to create that sound.
That mouthpiece/reed combination you’re playing may not be ideal for the new horn. Try varying your reed strength. Try various reed cuts or a different manufacturer. Look through both ends of your fully assembled clarinet to make sure the bore of the mouthpiece is the same as the bore of the new barrel.
And realize that a new clarinet may feel very different than your current one in terms of resistance and tone color. Record yourself and make sure you like what you hear!