Mouthpieces and Fuzzy Sound

January 13, 2004

I have recently been using a Morgan J7 Mouthpiece for my clarinet that my friend gave me to try, Prior to this I have used the Vandoren B45 Dot mouthpiece. The problem I have is with my Morgan mouthpiece. Because it is a fairly open mouthpiece, about as open as any mouthpiece out there available, the sound doesn’t seem as pure as with more closed mouthpieces. Is this because of the mouthpiece, or is it my embouchure giving me the breathy and fuzzy sound. (The problem is really only there when I play an open G or a mid level B … it is especially bad with the mid B and mid Bb, but I have had a problem with those notes on every mouthpiece I have tried). The fuzzy sound actually isn’t that bad, but it is not what I want to hear. I don’t have any teachers that I can get to right now, but I hope you can help me.”

Thank you for your question. It is a rule never to use extremes in mouthpiece openings. What for? You do not get a bigger sound with open and the opposite with a more closed opening.

But the real answer to your problem, (without actually hearing you play) is that it is you who are making the breathy and fuzzy sounds on the “open” G, mid B and Bb. Here are some possible reasons for your problem with the fuzzy quality:

Basically, we want to keep the throat from being too open when we make the sound of the clarinet. That’s right, the throat should be in the shape of the sound “eee”, not “aaaahhh”. This change will, or can, clear up those problems almost immediately.

A reed that is too resistant will also cause the same problems. Generally speaking a “medium” reed is best, and will give the clearest sound.

Taking too much mouthpiece into the mouth can also cause the same problems, and you will also be quite sharp. Take as little mouthpiece into the mouth as to enable you to play all of the notes, no more. You will have more control.

Don’t try to get a “huge” sound. Get the sound that pleases you, and do not worry about quantity. Quality is what you want, and I know that you want quality because it is you who is finding the fuzziness in those three notes.

Finally, I will tell you a famous story about a great player in a symphony orchestra. A student came up to him after a concert and said that he had the most beautiful sound he had ever heard. The player looked very worried. The student asked him what was wrong. The player responded with, “Oh my, but I don’t remember which mouthpiece I was playing”.

The point of that story is that it is you, not the mouthpiece that makes the sound. Thanks for coming around my corner. I hope that I have been of some help


Metal Clarinets Pt. II

January 2, 2004

I purchased a metal clarinet from a pawn shop for $50 – with a spring repair and a new mouthpiece the total cost was about $75. Well, the man doing the repair said I should turn it into a lamp! It is a silver horn because of the tarnish and the brand is Somco, made in the US. Other than that I know nothing about the horn. Please enlighten me on what I bought and should I turn it into a lamp?


The next time you do something like buy a clarinet in a pawn shop and then let them charge you 25 dollars for a repair, why not just drop the money into a box at church or synagogue?

Do NOT turn it into a lamp. A metal clarinet turned into a lamp will fall over because the bell of the clarinet is not wide enough to support the clarinet-lamp unless you plan to have lamp always on its side, which would make for a fairly dumb lamp!

I have been a clarinetist for exactly a half-century and I know … besides I am the oldest man in the world.

Let me tell you a story, a true story. All my stories are true:

When I yearned to become a player of this noble instrument at the age of 15, I asked my parents for clarinet lessons. They felt willing to give me clarinet lessons, but as to the purchase of an instrument, (and this is true) my mother said that I should write to a Mr. Benny Goodman, and I should ask him for one of his old ones.

Later in life I met Mr. Goodman and we had a pleasant chat about that beginning of mine.

What do you think of that?

Only my mother would say that to a child, may she rest in peace. Anyway, I will write a better response than this, which is meant only to amuse, not to hurt your feelings.

Do NOT purchase something you know nothing about. If it is really .925 sterling silver, sell it for scrap. It may fetch you almost what you paid, but I do not think so.

Metal Clarinets Pt. I

January 1, 2004

I am trying to find out some information about a clarinet I have. Someone told me it is made of nickel (it looks like nickel). It is not quite as tall as a typical Bb clarinet and it is not as big around. On the bell, it says “H. Bettoney, Boston, Mass. Columbia Model”. Do you have any information on this clarinet, or could you please tell me where I could find out more about it?

My first clarinet was a metal Pedlar, but I played on many Cundy Bettoney instruments because they were made in Boston, which is my home town … not a very good instrument, but a student instrument and sturdy enough,;but very sharp and in general not well in tune. If you have a metal clarinet, it could be german silver, which I think is nickel or, if you are fortunate, it could be sterling – but it would be marked that way and tarnishing in the manner in which silver does.

Metal clarinets were wonderful and only discontinued because they hurt the prestige of the companies making them. For instance Selmer made a beautiful sterling clarinet, with a double bore. You took off a screwcap on the top, breathed air into the instrument and kept it warm that way. It had many other innovations, but was removed from the catalog because “it hurt the company’s prestige”. That quote is from Robert McGibbon, one of the best repairmen in the US, who worked out of Milwaukee, where I played in the symphony for a while. Mac was considerably my senior and knew the Selmer company of the 20s. I have also seen some of these truly wondrous Selmer silver clarinets. If you are lucky, you may run into a set of them … and may be able to steal them, if you follow me.

Anyway, that is all I know about the Bettoney company in Boston. I remember where the factory was, and they also published clarinet music … this I remember well, but at that point my knowledge ceases. It is probably a Bb instument; they were slightly shorter than the wood, and certainly thinner.

I will never ever forget the thrill of running my fingers over those metal keys and thinking how wondrous it would be to be able to learn to play the thing. I guess I learned … kind of.