With the summer (Clarinet) shopping season upon us, it seems like a good time to broach the question: why should you spend your hard earned dollars on a vintage clarinet rather than a new instrument? Here are a few thoughts...
1) The retail markup has already been paid: Instead of $600+ for a new plastic or $1800+ for a new wood instrument, how about $400-800 for a fully refurbished intermediate or pro quality wood clarinet? The price represents the initial cost of a vintage instrument, shipping, overhaul (buffing, pads, cork, etc), photography, writeup and customer service time. You can speak directly to the technician that restored the instrument, who will take time to answer your questions and find the best horn and mouthpiece for you. Then, you can put the rest of your money back in the bank.
2) Quality materials: Instead of a body made of plastic or cheap dyed wood sporting plated, cast metal keys, you'll get well seasoned grenadilla wood of a quality rarely seen any more and solid nickel alloy keys hand silver-soldered for strength and durability. These old horns were built to last and will give you years of dependable service.
3) Quality construction: these horns were built by craftsmen with pride in their work, not just an eye for the bottom line. Many features that were once common, like post locks, solid nickel keywork and fittings, and extra keys to facilitate challenging passages are rarely seen except on the most expensive modern horns. Wood was seasoned in billet form for over a decade, rather than kiln dried and pressure treated with oil, minimizing cracking and extending horn life. Also, many old horns received more tuning time than modern budget instruments and still play well in tune after many years. I've sold more than a few high end vintage clarinets to players who subsequently sold their modern Buffets after comparing the two...
4) Environmentally friendly: nickel, petroleum products and grenadilla are all finite natural resources, and grenadilla trees, especially, are in short supply! Rather than continuing to mine and harvest to the point of exhaustion, why not refurbish all of the thousands of existing clarinets and get them into the hands of students, hobbyists, and pro players for a price they can afford?
5) More choices: instead of overpriced Buffets and Buffet clones, there were many fine makes, 50+ years ago, with distinct personalities. Thibouville Freres, SML, Leblanc, Couesnon, Penzel Mueller, Orsi and many more offered everything from small to extra large bore sizes, custom keywork, and tones from bright to dark and sweet to brazen. Players of Jazz, Klezmer, and various ethnic musics (as well as Classical and commercial) owe it to themselves to experience the range of sounds and feels available with vintage/antique horns and mouthpieces before settling for an expensive, mass produced modern horn.
6) USA made and played: all of these horns were bought or built here, refurbished here, and the money I earn stays here! How many of the big stores (and bigger websites) can say that? We need to move back to American goods and services to revive our economy and I'm happy to help.
I could go on, but I think the point is made. Let me know your thoughts, experiences and wishes for the future - please just keep it concise and polite, as this is a public posting....
The Licorice Shtick Blog is the creation of the Vintage Clarinet Doctor, a Winston Salem, NC based woodwind instrument repair shop specializing in vintage and antique clarinets, saxophones, and the occasional flute.