Clarinets, Ligatures, Perceptions

I am going to buy a new clarinet. I an going to be getting a Buffet R-13. This will be my first Buffet. I have played Leblanc and Selmer in the past. I am 61 years old and have played clarinet since I was ten years old and plan on doing about two hours a day on this instrument. I am thinking about getting this instrument from Carl Marks Music in PA. He has someone, a symphony player, test each instrument before they are sold to the customer.

Can you give me any advise or suggestions? Thanks,


Pt. II

Since my first letter I have been to a local dealer and played several R-13s. I like the response and tone I get with the Vintage R-13. My next problem is my journey down that long slippery slope to mouthpiece and ligature hell. I am using a Bay mouthpiece (30 years old) that I bought in the early 70s when I was studying with Alan Balter. I like it a lot but it has a small chip on the right side rail. This is only a small nick that does not go all the way through the rail. I presently use a Bonade ligature and have tried a Rovner. Now I am beginning to question what might be the best set up for me. Oh my aching back!!!!

Any insight from you would be greatly appreciated. Are you ever in the Atlanta, Georgia area? I would love to buy you a steak dinner and talk clarinet …

Pt. I


Many thanks for your question. I try to answer quickly, especially to someone who is in the same decade as I. The only thing you should be very careful with in buying an R-13 is the following:

They are indeed a wonderful and sweet playing and responsive instrument. The problem is that many hundreds are made, thousands, and with that amount the quality can be uneven, especially as to intonation. (Problems with response are almost always improper installation of pads. Get the seller to put cork pads in the top joint trill keys – it will save you problems.) You have to try as many as you can stand to pick the one that YOU feel is the best, whether it be the easiest, the best legato, the intonation or all of the above.

Who knows, the tester could have actually played in a symphony … or maybe he set up the chairs. No denigration meant; YOU are however the best judge.

Best of luck on the purchase and in all your clarinet playing.

Sincerely, and with good holday wishes

Pt. II


First of all, I accept your invitation for steak and clarinet talk, except those things go deep into the next few days.

You can avoid the slippery slope to mouthpiece and ligature hell by knowing that it is part of the welcome disease of clarinet-playing, or as I frequently call it, obsessive-compulsive behavior. You see, we have to be somewhat OC to stand the repetition of practise and simply not having everything go well at once. We like our lot … well.

Bonade told his students to “use the middle-of-the-road” mouthpiece, that is to say one that is not extreme, but more importantly, he (and I) said that a mouthpiece must immediately play better than the one you are changing from. You do not “get used to” a mouthpiece.

One last hint: work on the mouthpiece first, get the above prior to the ligature hassle which is a lot more than it is worth. Not cracked up to what it has been touted as: the “great saviour” out there.

Rule of thumb: A ligature must be tight enough so that you can change clarinets comfortably and quickly when in the orchestra (from Bb to A) and loose enough that the reed vibrates freely. When I was a young boy (15) and just had started, everyone used these very neat ligatures made by George Bundy: there were no screws, just a series of very light metal slivers,connected to each other, but not tightly so that you slid the ligature down the mouthpiece until it was snug, and that is all there was to it. You could not tighten the screws until your hopelessly warped the reed, melded it to the pouthpiece so that it vibrated too little and the ligature would only go to a point and then stop, period. NEAT.

Then there those who took ligatures and put them on the mouthpiece crooked, then there those who put the screws on the top of the mouthpiece, then those who installed rails facing the reed that seemingly kept the reed vibrating better. It is all perception, even the hearing, something to make you ask your wife or significant (or insignificant) other “How’s this sound?” then “Howi’s this one?” then “Compare the two” and then wondering how good the ears were in the first place and perhaps you need an additional “other significant or insignificant other”. ENDLESS. Then came the fabric, then the plastic, then the combos, then the silver. Oh gosh, it is really enough to make one lose ones breakfast to say nothing of patience. Believe me, I have done it all, and I like it, but it is part of the symptoms and should not be mistaken as being more important then the beautfiful sound of the instrument and the gorgeous music written for it.

I have perhaps ten thousand stories and as many steaks and I do like Atlanta, so tell me when. Ohhhhh, what about Mad Cow disease? And here we are at the beginning of a controversy enough to make you have french fries and M&Ms instead, and those are killers, so there.

Look, the moluthpiece I like so very much is a Vandoren L113, or maybe it is M113, came out a few years ago and it was just terrific on my horns. I also used German White Master VD reeds as well because they lasted so much longer than the rest of the garbage. Hard to get straight on the mouthpiece because they are narrower than ze french ones.

Good clarinets are all over the place now, you do not have to play Buffet or Selmer, or Leblanc, not with the Yamaha-ha-ha-has around. There are zillions of them and they all play well, but some are a bit less resistant than the R-13, but still there are plenty of them.

The clarinets I play are Opus (but they are too expensive), but the most in-tune clarinet I ever played and one that I should have kept strapped to me, was the Leblanc L27. Every note from the low E to the top of the horn was perfectly in-tune, and it had a nice resistance and lay of the keys, small, and it was great.

Good luck. Gotta take my wife to breakfast. We have bacon and eggs … but we save the bacon for our dog who waits for it in the car.



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