Why Vintage Clarinets?
With the holiday (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 grenadilla wood of a quality rarely seen any more and solid nickel alloy keys hand 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. 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) More choices: instead of overpriced Buffets and Buffet clones, there were many fine makes, 50+ years ago, with distinct personalities. Thibouville Freres, SML, Leblanc, Penzel Mueller 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.
5) USA made and played: all of these horns were bought/made 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....
11/22/2012 01:52:19 pm
Hi, Jeremy! I really appreciate what you do; it's hard to find good techs like yourself. This great blog post might be what I need to convince my guardians to buy me a new clarinet. I'm almost done with my high school experience, and I've been playing a Buffet E11 intermediate horn since I started. I'm playing in pit orchestra for my school's musical (which I've acted in for the past two years) and the show is Anything Goes, which is quite jazzy. For a junior in high school looking for a good vintage horn with a robust sound, what do you think would be best out of your inventory?
11/22/2012 03:28:24 pm
11/22/2012 04:59:50 pm
I've taken quite a liking to the Selmer. The Artist's extra keywork would be quite nifty to have for those tricky passages in odd keys, but I'm a bit tight on cash from some travelling last month. I think the Malerne might give me some nice sounds if I use the Vandoren 5JB I'm borrowing from a friend. Thanks for the suggestions! I'll keep in contact!
11/23/2012 11:16:10 am
yes, the Selmer is a sweetie for the price. A full boehm Artist takes getting used to, and then it can be frustrating to switch back, once you've gotten used to the keywork. Malerne made some nice players, but for a jazzier sound, i'd go with the Penzel Mueller Bel Canto, which has the feel of the Artist without the bells, whistles, or price tag....
4/24/2013 03:16:49 pm
Yes, I found out when I got my full-Boehm Selmer that it took a lot more getting used to the extra keys than I expected... about a year or two, in fact! But once I got used to it, I was fully convinced of the value of those extra keys.
11/26/2012 11:23:23 pm
Great blog. And I couldn't agree more about the advantages of vintage clarinets (well, it's all I own, so....)
11/28/2012 01:43:03 am
Al, I know what you mean! The R13's polycylindrical bore created a need for the Moennig barrel to help resolve upper register intonation issues. Aside from improvements in throat tones on some instruments in the last 50 years, I can't think of too much else that is a significant technical upgrade, especially considering the jump in prices...
4/24/2013 03:23:19 pm
I've read that a lot of newer clarinets have been built with so much pitch stability in mind that they've lost a lot of color and dynamic flexibility. I found that with some I've played: they seem kind of inert. Some older clarinets are a bit funky in the intonation department, but I find I can usually compensate, and it's worth the tradeoff for what I get in tone quality and response (not to mention, price!). OTOH, there are many older clarinets with absolutely spot-on intonation, as good or better than new ones. It pays to try a variety of mouthpieces with these clarinets: certain ones will really couple acoustically with a particular instrument and lock-in the intonation and response perfectly. I found that to be the case for a newly-restored Pan American Moderne (metal) with a Vandoren 5JB mouthpiece; a Silva-Bet A also coupled really well with an old Penzel Mueller mouthpiece.
12/23/2012 07:32:38 am
I agree. The artist I bought from you plays like a pro clarinet should. I think you have to go pretty high on the buffet ladder to get the same quality.
4/25/2013 12:17:48 pm
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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.