Sharp Clarinets

Hi Mr. Friedland.

You may not remember my name, but I wrote to you some time ago inquiring about my full Boehm Buffet, vintage 1952, to ask a few questions regarding some tone holes that were filled in, and some other things. You were so gracious in responding, and I believe you said that you had a very similar instrument.

Well I’m back to ask another question and I’m hoping you can point me in the right direction. My clarinet seems to play very sharp, perhaps as much as a quarter tone, when compared to my R-13. I suspect that I may have a horn that is tuned to A at 442. Does that make sense to you? When I posted a question about my intonation problem on the bulletin board at the Clarinet Pages, I believe you suggested this possibility, but I didn’t follow up on it until now. Can you tell me what it means to have a horn tuned to this higher pitch? Why did Buffet make a horn like that? Can I “correct” for it? How could I ever get this horn to play in tune with others? Any light you can shed on this would be much appreciated. I have great respect for your wisdom and really need some help on this issue.

Thanks so much in advance!!

Hi! Thank you for your letter with its special subject concerning “sharp” clarinets. There are many reasons why a clarinet may play consistently sharp in all registers: the most obvious reason is that the clarinet was built at A=442. Perhaps it is the best reason where you are concerned, for if it is a Buffet that young, you could simply trade it with someone who wants a clarinet pitched at A=442. Many many orchestras play at A=442 and in those cases you must have a set of clarinets tuned at that pitch or else you will have difficulties. But, considering the age of your instrument, I doubt if it is pitched high.

It can be that the bore of the instrument has been swabbed so many times that perchance it had pushed up in pitch. It happens … seldom but it does and can happen.

Then the barrel can be too short, and this reason may be the culprit. You can correct this problem by purchasing a longer barrel. Buffet barrels are fairly easy to come by in the longer length: standard , then a bit longer, and then very long. Of course this will not totally solve the problem because when you lengthen the clarinet by trying a longer barrel, the notes closest to the barrel will be most affected. But then you can add tuning rings which are very good especially in keeping the notes from getting too low.

As I think about the problem, I do suggest trying all of these solutions, however if I can assume that it is “sharp” and old, well that can be the nature of this particular beast and you will be best served by longer barrels, and then if you are still sharp, pull the barrel out, and then pull the first joint out as well, taking care not to pull it out too much because then you will have it all over the floor.I have seen some clarinetists pull even the bell out.

Finally, you can carefully check the pitch of the ensemble in which you are performing. It could be very low, and you may be the only one who’s playing correctly.

So there is a mixed bag of answers, but they all can be of assistance to you, depending upon what is wrong with either your clarinet or perhaps your self. You could be using very hard reeds or taking in much too much mouthpiece. Those can cause sharpness.

The very best of luck to you. Let me know how things go.

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