What’s a Good Setup?

Do you have any special thoughts on the needs of a new/old student of clarinet? I bought a new Buffet R13 / Chadash barrel / Gregory Smith mouthpiece / Brancher ligature (and also have a Harrison, a Gigliotti, and a Bonade ligature) – I hope the instrument set-up is up to par…

Thanks for your listing and reference to an “up to par” set up.

I have to say that I don’t know what that means, but really, I do.

I always wanted to go to Paris with a couple of pieces of ebonite or resonite; (actually I thought a nice grant would help me). I wanted to go and have the people at Buffet or Selmer and or Leblanc and/or anyone else manufacturing a fine clarinet in Paris manufacture those pieces of plastic into the finest instrument possible. You know, careful tone-hole cutting and undercutting, placement and silver keywork customized, all top professional workmanship, as if the plastic pieces were the finest grenadilla grown.

I knew then and now that the result would have been the finest instrument. All of that know-how and slow handiwork in an instrument that is quite stable, will not crack, or get too cold.

This is not to say that instrument is not important; it is, if for no reason than to tune with your partner (if you are in an orchestra). It is said that Bonade would never let a student play an extreme mouthpiece: it had to be medium opening and length. Count the variables on any given day of trying mouthpieces: tuning, basic, and throughout the horn; reed. How many variables does a reed on one mouthpiece make. On two, On three? Are you trying to say that a mouthpiece with a name on it makes a difference? This is NOT true. Or it may be, if you want it to be. There are so many hundreds of anecdotal stories I know about fine players.: They all add up to the fact that the player was great!!!! Or he was not. It was, is and will never be “the setup”.

I have switched mouthpieces a few seconds before starting a live recording where I was the soloist. Scary? You bet it was, and I was a fool, but I have seen colleagues everywhere do the same. Perhaps we can call it “living on the edge”, or “playing on the edge”. I have mentioned the famous hornist story: A student goes up to his teacher after Til Eulenspiegle; “That was the most beautiful sound I have ever heard!” The teacher says, “Oh, my God!! What mouthpiece was I using?”

Please do not tell me that the world of clarinet is still “hide-bound” and all of the birds must sing the same song, because they must be the same. They are not, you know. Every mouth, every embouchure, every clarinet is different.

Then, of course, there is the most important issue of all: It IS the MUSIC. After learning all there is to know about the music, go and play, and as long as you have decent stuff to play, you will do fine. Get the job, make your “bones”, and then play a different setup each day, or hour. You will always sound good, even when you don’t.

Again, my good luck, and best wishes to you.


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