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

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)

Thanks,Jim
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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
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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.
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For me, that is “case closed”.

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