The Selmer “Centered Tone” Clarinet

February 17, 2006

Dear Mr Friedland,
I have read in one of your postings that you were associated with Selmer for 25 years, and therefore it is possible that you can answer a few questions I have about an older Selmer clarinet that I have acquired recently.
It is a “Centered Tone”, Full-Boehm, serial # Rxxxx, therefore dating from c. 1958. It has silver-plated keywork, and all the usual extra mechanics of full-Boehms.
It has the usual Henri Selmer Paris logo on the bell, but does NOT have the very common Sole agents for US and Canada Selmer Elkhart stamp underneath that. Does this mean it was a direct import from France? What mouthpiece and barrel were originally provided with such clarinets as standard equipment? The one I have came with no mouthpiece, and had a 67 mm barrel. Only with a 62 mm barrel will it play in tune, however. Was a particular mouthpiece to match the 67 mm originally issued? If so which? Right now, with a 62 mm barrel and a contemporary (1949) Chedeville mpc, I have a very fine, singing horn.
Where would a clarinet such as mine have stood in Selmers line back then  top-of-the-line or mid-range?
Hope you can find the time to answer

Hi Mr P.
The Centered Tone clarinet was the top of the line Selmer, definitely all French made and with the silver plated keys and full boehm. The clarinet may or may not have been directly imported by the buyer or it could just not have the stamp.
Canada stopped being a distributer for Selmer in 1990 or so and at present there is no distributer for Selmer in Canada, however the point is moot because the company is now called Selmer-Conn and although the clarinets are availble, the Centered Tone clarinet was discontinued in around 1960 .
This was a popular model and has developed a reputation as being a “Jazz” clarinet and was favored by Benny Goodman or he made an ad for it. In any event his name is associated with it.
It is difficult to say what barrel came or was originally supplied with this clarinet but I would say 65 or 66 mm. 62 mm is definitely too short, but bores do change and I would suspect that yours has . Also we play at different pitch levels during different decades in our lives, (an arguable point, but it certainly has in mine)
62mm is considered a short barrel per se, but if that is what plays for you and if the horns sings, then that is all you need.
Selmer clarinets , especially the Selmer (Paris) clarinets were always supplied with Selmer (Paris) mouthpieces, and it would be usual to see an HS* on a CT clarinet, that being Selmers most popular mouthpiece, then and perhaps now as well. You may wish to try a Selmer C85 mouthpiece which is a bit more covered in sound.
The Chedeville mouthpiece is of course one of the better mouthpieces as far as reputation is concerned, however all of these so-called vintage and/or contemporary mouthpieces have been changed or perhaps refaced. They are all different and I feel that no two mouthpieces of the same manufacture and facing play exactly the same, even when brand new.
Once again this was the top of the line Selmer Clarinet for its time and is still very very popular and in fact costly
The dotted line is that you have a “fine singing horn” which is really all there is to say.
Good luck with it.
best wishes,

I have received a message from a clarinetist who purchased a new Centered Tone and mentioned that the barrel supplied was a 67mm.

The Moennig Clarinet Barrel,Ralph McLane and Daniel Bonade,with thanks to David Hite

February 16, 2006

Hi everyone: Since I am a creature of the 1940s as far as my clariducation is concerned, whenever I read something of Ralph Mclane,the most respected clarinetist who was Principal in Philadelphia until he passed away, I get excited. His sound can only be described as exquisite, yes, better than anyones, and Harold Wright studied with him, so when I read the following, by the very respected David Hite, I feel that my readership would be interested in reading it.

“Hans Moennig’s shop in Philadelphia was the center for “state of the art” woodwind repair in the U.S from the late 1930’s through the early 1980’s. Mr. Moennig worked with virtually every major principal clarinetist in the U.S. Much of his work was quite innovative. Not only did he set the industry standard for repadding and key adjustments, he also took great interest in adjusting the acoustics of the instrument: he reshaped tone holes for better intonation and more even scale; he adjusted the bore if it was incorrect; and he fabricated clarinet barrels when needed from his supply of suitable wood.
During the late ’40s, Ralph McLane, then principal clarinetist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, was a frequent visitor to the shop. Known for his wonderful rich tone, Ralph always wanted his instrument to be better, and together he and Moennig experimented with a variety of bore measurements for barrels. McLane would spend hours in Moennig’s shop testing, comparing, and listening critically. (I have heard that McLane’s favorite testing passage was the Brahms Lullaby or a simple tune like Rock-a-bye Baby.)

The outcome of this “trial and adjustment” experimentation was barrel specifications which Moennig reproduced. One by one, clarinetists who came into his shop adopted these barrels and used them exclusively.

After quite a few years as the demand continued to grow, the Buffet company made a Moennig barrel available as an accessory item. Although these barrels were close to Moennig specifications, they were not ideal because of variations in production or changes due to wood instability. Critical players looking for barrels with true Moennig bores had to depend on knowledgeable repairmen with correctly tapered reamers to check and adjust their barrels on a custom basis. Presently, this is still the case.”

Thank you David Hite.

Of course, there are now at least 15 to 25 more barrels available on the market today promising everything from the first clarinet job on the moon to ….whatever.
Chadash is the one distributed by Buffet, describing uncannily adjusted french reamers (sounds risque), but of course not matched to anything but ordinary buffet clarinets.
They all do or attempt to do the same things as Moenning,(thatis to say , gently narrow the taper of the barrel from top to bottom) with slight variations, which incidentally speaks to the wide variance in the quality of the new Buffet Clarinet, an accepted fact by the cognescenti of the business
For those of you who are interested I have received the following reply concerning availability of recording of both Ralph McLane and Daniel Bonade, both available from Amazon:

“You wrote recently that any time you read something of Ralph McLane, you
get excited. I’m hoping what I tell you will excite you, then! My former
clarinet teacher, Larry Guy, recently finished compiling and editing a CD that contains excerpts from the pieces recorded while Mr. McLane was in the Philadelphia Orchestra. The CD is called “The Artistry of Ralph McLane,” produced through Boston Records, and it’s available at among other places.
I’ll never forget the lesson when my teacher first played me a recording
of Ralph McLane playing the beautiful solos in Pines of Rome; it was as
if it was the first time I heard the full potential of the clarinet. It
was a true inspiration. I am very grateful to have had a teacher who
made me listen to recordings of the masters of the past, for it has
enriched my appreciation for the clarinet, especially the potential for a beautiful sound.
I hope this e-mail finds you well, and hope you enjoy the CD, if you do not already own it.
I would suggest that all who can afford themselves of these records do so just to hear what the “sound ideal” was in the 30s and 40s from perhaps the two most revered exponents of the sound.
best as always, sherman

The Myth of the “power “of a pricey horn.

February 9, 2006

Dear Sherman,

Another question for you. I notice that you seem to have a soft spot for plastic student horns. Obviously you didn’t make your career on them, but you don’t automatically dismiss them and even encourage them.

Can you explain to me further your feelings on this subject?I most
certainly would advise any of my students to get the best instrument they could afford, meaning if you can buy a pro horn, then get it right away! I think they need the best instruments mainly so they get the benefit of the precision key action and feel, which helps them reach their potential as far as their technique goes.
Perhaps what you’re getting at is that once a person has arrived and is playing on a truly professional level, they can make any horn sound good, so they don’t necessarily need to play a top-of-the-line instrument?(But making a horn sound well and liking it are two different things or can be.SF)

Hi Jim:
It all depends upon how the judgement is made as to the best instrument that student can afford. Who makes the judgement on what is best? And how does he judge?
No, I respectfully disagree with your idea of the “best” horn right away,or ever for that matter. A young studnet cannot discern what is best and it is certainly not necessarily the most expensive instrument. Everything changes from the moment a student starts to play and practice, and the changes are sometimes gradual , sometimes rather brilliantly rapid.
As far as a “soft spot” for plastic,it is more of a wish than a soft spot, I guess. I feel that if a plastic clarinet or perhaps one made of hard rubber were designed and manufactured with the care of an expensive wooden instrument it would equal the wooden instrument.
I have always wanted to get the big companies to make me a couple of these special instruments, however the fact is that they have not.
There is however proof that it can be done, and I believe that the Buffet Greenline Clarinet is actually a plastic instrument, (carbon fibers and grenadilla dust equals artificial material to me)the instruments play very well, and will not crack(I am told). I think it is because they are manufactured with the care and technics of an expensive wooden instrument. The reason they do not crack is because they are not wood. For me that is proof that it can be done.(But the cost is the same as their best horn)
There is a hard rubber clarinet , a very good one, designed by Tom Ridenour and made in China that I purchased. I found that it had a an interesting quality of sound, but unfortunately the one I ordered was out of adjustment so that I could not evaluate the instrument. The cost was 850US.(that is one quarter of the price of the “top”)
I have also ordered and returned a “forte” clarinet, supposedly equal to clarinets costing much more. I found the one I bought to be a piece of real junk, unequivocally.
The best plastic instrument I have is a new Yamaha 20, which was being sold out, which I got in the box, brand new. That is a decent instrument that came pefectly in adjustment, and while not a new wooden instrument is quite well worth the money. Yes, I would definitely recommend that a student start on this instrument and not on a 3000 dollar French instrument.
One of the detriments of the 3000.00 plus instrument is that they are 1, not terribly well intune, unless you pick from more than a few instruments and 2, they have design flaws which can cost a lot to fix and can go wrong in the middle of a concert. Those flaws are the fact that there are connectors made of plastic that can easily break and stop the player right there. These plastic connectors need to be changed to steel or the system must be changed to a lever which is fool proof and is on many fine clarinets. Also it is simply not true that the expensive so-called “pro” horns have such excellent precision keywork or great tuning. That is a myth. Any fine instrument needs more work in order for it to be considered professional, or before a professional player will use it. Pads have to be changed, corks have to be installed, and tuning has to be dne where possible.
For a student however the horn needs to be in correct adjustment, or better yet, good adjustment and many are not. Yes, I have seen and heard many students who come with so-called pro horns and play out of tune because they have yet to be taught properly or there are simply sharp and flat notes on the horn that have yet to be pointed out to the student. An expensive instrument does not necessarily mean the formation of good playing habits because it is expensive, and that is very important to remember, so for me in the final analyses the instrument needs to be of a certain adjustment and reasonably in tune inherently, and there are many that fall into that category.
I started playing on a metal clarinet, not a good one either, then moved to a cheap Pedlar clarinet, and then I saw my first French Selmer and I was transfixed. That was in Boston and all of the clarinetists in that wonderful orchestra played Selmer and that is what I wanted to play. But…..I digress. I had a teacher with a lovely sound and articulation and that is what I learned. It really didn’t matter on what stick I played.
I do believe that the top French instruments are outlandishly priced and that there are slightly lesser instruments that play or can play as well, and I am against these ridiculous prices, that a young person going to a school has to fork over over 3000.00 for a new Buffet which is simply not worth it and can be a real hardship to purchase. I think this is wrong, hence my “soft spot” But until I find one that plays as well, a good Yamaha or Selmer, or anything can play as well as a new Buffet, quite easly and sometimes can be better. Certainly it has been my experience that they are more consistant.
best, Sherman
Here is a response worth printing from the gentlemen who wrote the above question:

This made me think of my own instruments. I triple on sax/flute/
clarinet, and about 20 years ago bought a bottom-of-the-line Yamaha
piccolo for $245 brand new (plastic body, silver-plated head joint).
I began using it in pit orchestras for musicals. I had a lot of
favorable comments on the horn. Then a few weeks ago I was chatting
with a professional flute player friend of mine about getting a
better picc. I had her try my Yamaha, and she just shook her head
and said that this instrument was fine and if I were to spend $1000
to get something “better,” it just wouldn’t be worth it. And when I
was in grad school, every flute major who tried my picc raved about
its ease of blowing.

Also, I just finished playing in a pit sitting in front of a
tremendous French horn player. I mentioned that I owned a bottom-of-
the-barrel Reynolds horn. She wanted to try it so I brought in to
one of the shows. Again, she raved about how easy it was to blow
into, and that I’d be nuts to spend a lot of money to try and improve
what I had.
For me, that is “case closed”.

Biting,possible solutions,& the best student mouthpiece made?

February 1, 2006

Hi Mr. Friedland,

I am a high school clarinetist in Houston. I seem to have problems with my teeth when I play. After practicing for an hour or so, my bottom teeth would move inward and my upper teeth outward (because I use a single lip embouchure), making my overbite worse. My teeth (especially the bottom front ones that press against the reed when I’m playing) would hurt. I do not have “rolling lip” problems and do not get “reed prints” after I practice, so I can’t think of anything that I could change to make this situation better. Just recently I found out that my friends use floral tape to cover their bottom teeth when they play so it wouldn’t hurt. Does that help? Could you help me out?

My dear friend:
You are biting a completely understandable problem. I would not worry about it. I would practise less, especially stopping before it starts to hurt, then testing everything to see exactly where it hurts.
I would not resort to covering the teeth yet as that may not solve the problem but mask it.
I really would have to see you play.
When I can do this, I usually can fix things almost immediately.
What stength reed do you use? What kind?
Makes a big difference. And of course, do you have a reasonably good mouthpiece? What facing?
By reasonably good, I mean Van Doren, or Selmer.
They really have the most experience in making mouthpieces for young people.
There is one other mouthpiece which plays beautifully and is very inexpensive. Clark Fobes, the “Debut”.
That may be the best student mouthpiece made. (I have 4, and wonder sometimes why I am not playing on it.—-Yes, they all play almost exactly the same.)

best, sherman friedland