For a few years now, I've been using tan or white kidskin/rooskin pads almost exclusively on my older horns. Folks ask why, from time to time, so I thought I'd take a moment and answer some of the implicit questions:
I find that they last longer than bladder and can be oiled occasionally, further extending their useful life. As an experiment, I once oiled leather pads that had been in an early R-13 for 40 years and, after softening and adjustment, the instrument played fairly well!
I find that they take a better impression from aging tone holes. Slight warp-age, small nicks, uneven wear, can all be forgiven by a leather pad, which will take a better seat than the harder double skin felt pads in common use in modern horns. This often saves me having to reface a tonehole made slightly uneven from wear or abuse, which is my preference when possible: the Hippocratic Law for clarinets being "First do no harm".
I find that they give closed keys a feeling more consistent with bare fingers on open holes (especially on Albert/ simple system horns) versus hard felt. I am often distracted by the difference in feel between my fingers and hard felt or cork pads; its somewhat uneven.
Finally, I find that the tan kidskin shows less wear and discoloration than white bladder, keeping the horn looking fresh longer.
I hope that players and other techs will consider these pads and their advantages next time they undertake the overhaul of a vintage instrument of quality!
I've worked on a lot of clarinets in the last 18 years, but admit to having a soft spot for the Full Boehm system: the mechanism solves many technical issues, the tone tends to be fuller and darker (due to extra length and bore size), and, with the low Eb, they can do double duty for an A, thus saving that piddling $4k for another car! Finally, they were made as pro horns and uniformly well constructed.
So, why are they so little used and rarely made? The only company I'm aware of that still offers a standard production model is Amati, which wouldn't be my first choice, given the historical instruments available.... Buffet, Selmer, Leblanc, Malerne, Penzel Mueller, Kohlert, Conn, even Rampone all made Full Boehms at one time, most of them excellent instruments.
Its hard to find a customer who has seen one, a tech who has worked on one, a fingering chart for one, or even a replacement case! What do you folks see as the pros and cons of these horns and do you have any idea why they are no longer readily available? Just asking...
Hi folks! Just finished this old Buffet for a customer and am completely confused as to its fingering system: it seems to be mostly Albert with some Boehm. Has anyone seen anything like this before or know anything about its origin? It plays and sounds great and I am surprised that I've never run across one before....
With the change of seasons, I thought it might be a good time for a vintage clarinet care post - I've been seeing a lot of dried out, neglected clarinets here in the shop!
An older wood clarinet is going to need more care than a new one for best performance, and quite a bit more than that student plastic horn you used to abuse, so let's get to it!
1 - Swab it after you play, but avoid inserts. You want to get the moisture out - not put it back in! Those fuzzy inserts absorb from the body and pads, with regular use, and then it goes...right back in the clarinet! Just swab from both ends and put it away.
2 - Bore oil is your friend. I'm amazed at the number of folks I meet that don't use it and the number of horns I receive that desperately need it! Buy a good quality brand that has some natural oils (not just petroleum distillates) and a fuzzy clarinet bore swab. Put a few drops on the swab and run it through all 4 pieces of the body until you see a light 'sheen' in there: don't soak it! If the horn is really dry, it may be necessary to repeat this a few times in the first week. Eventually, once a month or so will be enough to keep it looking healthy: this will protect it from cracks and warpage and extend the useful life of your instrument!
3 - Humidify. While you don't want a damp insert holding moisture right next to your pads, you do want a little humidity in there, especially during the winter or if you live in an arid part of the country. Take a tip from the old pros and put a couple pieces of orange rind in the bell: it will make the case smell nice and protect the bell in particular from the shrinkage that loosens rings and causes cracks.
4 - Oil the mechanism. A lot of the looseness in old clarinet keys is the result of un-lubricated dirt between the key and the post being rubbed back and forth, thousands of times, until metal gradually wears away. A good way to improve movement and arrest wear is to buy a little bottle of medium key oil (I like Hetman's) with a needle fitting and hit the contact points at each end of the key with a drop, about twice a year.
5 - Watch that thermal shock! Wooden clarinets don't like dry heat, direct sun, or sudden temperature changes. Don't leave it in a car on a hot day, or march with it, or set it near a heat source. No company guarantees their horns against cracking, and I can't either!
Ironically, your old clarinet will probably withstand the rigors of use better than a new one: its wood blanks were aged longer before cutting, and it has had years to stabilize since then. I see many clarinets 80+ years old that look and play great! If you take care of yours, someone might be playing it many years from now, as well....
Yes, there are terrible metal and hard rubber clarinets out there: There are also hideous wood instruments, as anyone who has played a post WWII East German/Soviet made horn with pot-metal keys can attest! However, the mitigating factors always seems to be quality of construction and attention to set-up rather than the material - I offer Tom Ridenour's pro line of Hard Rubber instruments, and vintage metal instruments by Noblet, H. Bettoney or Penzel Mueller, as evidence. Tom's instruments have received a lot of kudos for pro quality detailing (like tone-hole undercutting) and, having discarded increasingly expensive and hard to find grenadilla, they are available for less than half the cost of the fabled R-13.
I suspect the factors that initiated the sub-par reputation of a lot of better metal/hard rubber clarinets were: poor mouthpieces and shoddy pad work. If the mouthpieces that have come stock with a number of my acquisitions are anything to go by, Martin Frost at his best would be hard-pressed to draw good music from their narrow tips and uneven facing! Original pad-work shows signs of being equally hurried, in some cases, with cheap pads poorly seated and opening heights at the mercy of whatever cork was on sale that week. Now, take that same horn, overhaul it conscientiously with leather pads and attention to setup and play it with a decent mouthpiece and I suspect you will be pleasantly surprised!
So, why grenadilla wood in the first place? I wonder about that myself, and encourage speculation from readers. Before grenadilla, boxwood and various fruitwoods were universally used for woodwind instruments but, at some point in the late 19th century, everyone switched to grenadilla. I know that it is hard, mills well, and is attractive. However, it is also slow-growing, in limited supply, and requires long seasoning for good results: according to an interview with the late Hans Moennig, when he started as a repairman in the 20's, Buffet was aging its wood blanks for over 20 years before milling. At his retirement in the early 80's, it was down to about 7 years - I don't know what it is now...
Buffet's experiment with the 'Greenline' model (or 'Greenstick', as I've heard them referred to, based on how the tenons fracture) of grenadilla dust with a binder seems a promising step in a new direction but, like First Act instruments from China, further refinement would seem to be required :)
I look forward to new materials and technologies to bring the clarinet into the 21st century; improving intonation and performance, lowering cost (anyone tried to buy an R13 lately?), and reducing our dependence on, and harvesting of, an endangered slow-growing hardwood. Would love to hear other ideas and perspectives on the subject: anyone feel like guest writing a column?
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.