Hard Rubber, pure as wood,and as natural

June 28, 2006

Hard rubber is a wonderful material for a clarinet. This material has a lovely dark sound, is totally impervious to changes in temperature and will sustain itself without the terrible binding that those who play in ensembles daily experience. I have seen so many students with barrels of wood that cannot be gotten off without using a reamer.And the cracking and the helpless feeling of seeing an expensive clarinet with a crack down the side of the top joint. This does not happen to an instrument of hard rubber.
The best person for advice on hard rubber and its use for manufacture of clarinets is Tom Ridenour. He has a website easily found. Read his essay “The Myth of Grenadilla”. He is a master clarinet craftsman.
The history of the Arioso clarinet is interesting and if considering the purchase of an Arioso, write directly to Tom Ridenour. His website is easily found.
The old arioso company is moving in a direction more for students, early students at that, and Ridenour has no further releationship with the old company, rather he is producing a new and much better Arioso himself and offering an interesting package of extended care as well. I suggest that you get in touch with him directly for all the particulars. Rest assured the highest standards of professionalsm will be adhered to any clarinet which Mr Ridenour produces.

Stay well and play well


Adult Beginner seeks a single clarinet to play and enjoy

June 24, 2006

Dear Sherman:
Thank you for being such a terrific resource.

Adult beginner seeks a single clarinet to buy and enjoy. Based on your comments, and others I am focusing on the Leblanc Sonata(pre-owned- refurbished) or a similar state L7. The Sonata suggests ease of play and the “non-quirkiness” as even back pressure through the registers. Is the L7 similar and is there any downside to the much older L7?
Regards.Thank you ,John. It is my pleasure.
Of the two Leblanc clarinets you mention, the L7 is clearly the better of the two as it was the top line of their instrument at the time of manufacture. I have found that all of the Leblancs with the letter L are very fine instruments, though the Sonata is also good, and similar to the rahpsodie, the espirit, etc.

I had an L27 which I especially prized, and was recently sent one to try and found it as well to be very good, the only difference being in the fact that mine had been new. The LL is considered the best of them and I have found that true. The Opus and the Concerto have come along since the aforementioned L’s and may be better, though clearly more costly.

The Leblanc Company has been sold and is now a part of the Conn-Selmer group, which I believe is part of the Steinway Company. The clarinets are still made and sold and finally(curiously) Leblanc has come into its own, because for many years it was the most reviled brand around and few players , especially symphony players ever played them, preferring the more inconsistent and out-of-tune Buffet clarinet.

It is still the case where one gets several Buffets to try and usually picks the better of the three, meaning of course that logic dictates that most are not really great; one only picks the best of the bunch .

I have never found Leblancs to be anything but consistent and I worked as a clinician for Selmer for 30 years. (irrelevant, but true)

I have always felt that Selmer has the best and most bautiful keywork, the sound being somewhat less liked than that of Buffet with at least one notable exception, rather two, and those are Gino Cioffi, Principal of the Boston Symphony and Manuel Valerio, principal of the Boston Pops. Both played selmers and Gino played a crystal mouthpiece and Manuel a selmer “A” facing. Never have I heard such beautiful sounds coming from the clarinet.
Nowadays people are talking about the art being in the facing of the mouthpiece, and I would beg to disagree. The art has always been in the performer regardless of what reed, mouthpiece or instrument brand he played.

Godd luck in whatever you choose.

Don’t talk to me about gadgets, please.

June 18, 2006

Hello again. I hope I can bother you with another question. I have been playing now for about 2-1/2 months. I play a YCL 450 that is in very good new condition and has been checked and adjusted by a tech but I am having a terrible time with high notes. When I play high notes especially middle B all is well for a few minutes of playing but then I start getting squeeks and squawks and notes that just won’t play at all. To be specific, I was trying to play the beginning of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, 2nd movement and everything was ok at first but after a few minutes the trouble began. I am using a Yamaha 4C mouthpiece and Rico Royal 2-1/2 reeds. I have also tried VD #2 trad but they are worse. I have tried a VD 5RV Lyre mouthpiece but it is much worse than the 4C. Do I need more playing experience to try the higher registers? I am at a loss and hope you can help.
Hello Paul: Thanks for your letter and the first thing I can think to say is congratulations for playing the Mozart Concerto after playing just a couple of months!
Now that is amazing, and it is also amzingly wrong and will lead you being
extremely frustrated with whatever progress you can make, and you may make much progress ,however it will be fraught with building many many bad habits of incorrect playing. In short, you will not play very well and you will have also deluded yourself for no good reason.
The reason I say repeatedly “playing correctly” is not just something to say, but is based upon spending a lifetime learning and playing the clarinet. And the best way to learn to play is to play correctly,
embouchure, fingers,tongue and all the rest. Any deviations from the way of correct playing will lead you to a dead end and much frustration.
You must have a teacher ,if possible, something which is almost always
possible, someone to guide you to correct playing.
The reason we do not start with Mozart is that it is one of the most
difficult works to play for a clarinetist, and because the melody is easy to hear, we fool ourselves into believing that it must be the same to play.
Any movement of the Concerto must be played with the discipline of practice, the correct kind of practice.
Do not talk about equipment, please, for changing mouthpieces, clasrinets, reeds, ligatures, literally everything is the worst
trap, known usually as a slippery slope
The more gadgets you festoon your clarinet with , the more you are just diddling, nothing more. Diddle diddle diddle, this is whats done at many so-called schools of music. No listening to music, no studying of scores, nothing as simple as that. Just diddle diddle diddle.
Any medium Van Doren mouthpiece can be played upon in order to learn correct embouchure, breath control tonguing and all the rest. Using many will get you a headache quickly.
Teacher is one thing, a clarinetist and or student of clarinet is best.
Second is a method book, even Klose, the large comprehensive volume will last you for years, and you will always have something to practice.This small list of suggestions , you must take literally.
You may learn to blow the horn a bit without them, but you will lay the foundation for a good technic, sound, articulation and beautiful playing with them.
Take me seriously please.
best of all good luck and play well, my friend.

Nikkan Imperial.Yamaha 62,64,82,84,550,etc, and up.

June 14, 2006

Being of a certain age,and being obsessive-compulsive, I have owned all of the above, meaning I have played and tried them all, many for lengthy periods.I have found the differences, and can qualify them. But in the total sense ,the differences have been miniscule. I have also tested bells and barrels ,made from different and colorful and rare woods. I was especially moved by watching a well-known clarinetist in a large well-known Major Orchestra playing a long clarinet solo, with a barrel and bell made from brown wood. The most striking thing about his playing was the intonation, as colorful as was the wood. The Emporer has fewer and fewer clothes,and sales is the name of the game.
I can think of no more trying task for a student or for the parents or guardian of a student than purchasing an instrument, whether it be a new or used instrument.
Used is no more difficult than new, for very frequently you will be buying an instrument that is not completely adjusted for instant play or practice right out of the box. They are seldom in perfect adjustment, and the price you pay for new can be expontentially more and not worth the purchase much less the adjustment price you may have to pay, if there is no warranty which will be covered by the seller. And frequently the seller simply evaporates at least in service , especially if you are buying on that place, called the internet, an auction.
All or most auctions tell you CAVEAT EMPTOR, meaning buyer beware, and they mean it, those words, take them literally
Of course there are many many dealers of both used and new instruments that are completely reliable and many who will give you even more for your money that if you purchased new.
For instance, I once got a a cash allowance for a case that had come with an inoperable side latch.
And I once purchased a brand new Leblanc Sonata Clarinet for 269 dollars, from a pawn shop.
It had no case and came wrapped in enough plastic to wrap myself in, but after inwrapping, the horn played like and was a new instrument. Beautiful, and from a pawn shop, a business usually not associated with reliability.
Make sure you do not buy a cracked grenadilla instrument. It is a wonderful very hard wood and can be machined, but is also crackable, caused usually by rapid and extreme temperature changes. expensive to pin and repair. Price should be commensurate with condition.
However the rule remains, Caveat Emptor
I have also had the opposite happen: buying from a dealer, a representative of the manufacturer, and receiving a clarinet that was adjusted improperly, and even was defective, by my standards.
Now, this is doubly dangerous: if you buy on an auction, you know the biggest auction, and you don’t like what you have purchased, then you complain to the auctioneer, not to the manufacturer, so kiss your new money goodbye.
My best advice, have a clarinetist aid you in your choice and pay then for their advice.
Used instruments can be excellent. Any used Leblanc (Paris) instrument is very good, to excellent, never bad.
Almost the same for Selmer (Paris).
Yamaha wooden instruments using numbers 52-62-72-82 are professional level and are clones of buffets, but better in tune. Even the Nikkan Gakki instruments, which was Yamaha prior to 1970 are very good, and yes, they are Buffet clones….good ones.
I have friends who have purchased other french-made instruments which they say are good, however I cannot vouch for them.
For English instruments, you may have to have a special mouthpiece, although the newer models can be quite good, though with commensurate price.
So, for the parent, get profesional advice, or for the student, the same. Many times a clarinetist will have horns he wishes to sell, and many times they are excellent. I had a student who purchased a Leblanc Opus II for 1000, a terrific instrument at a terrific price from a teacher. It is doubtful that a teacher will sell a bad horn to a student, for obvious reasons.
Caveat Emptor

Good luck and play well.


The Lyons C Clarinet, Recommended highly for young and not so young.

June 14, 2006

Dear Mr. Friedland,
I have appreciated very much your replies so full of experience and good
sense, so I ask your advice for my problem.
I studied clarinet for 3 years about 50 year ago (I’m now 67) and have
decided to start again at my age: it seems it’s never too late and just want to see if that is really true…
My first idea was to buy a Eb clarinet, but it seems very difficult to playit and in any case not the best thing for a beginner, so I bought a YCL 250 but it’s too heavy for me now. I read about a Lyons C Clarinet, which should weigh less than one third of the weight of a standard instrument,> but has no additiona keys. Is its tone good enough to have pleasure in playing it, or is it just a poor clarinet for beginner? And in the latte case, what do you advice me to buy?
Many thanks for your time. Paolo
———————————————————————-Hi Paolo:
Thanks for your note.
Considering all of the information you have given me, I will suggest very strongly that you invest in the Lyons C clarinet which will allow you to play anything at all and is an instrument that comes complete with a good mouthpiece and a very strong case, and is easy and inexpensive to repair.
I received one while I was ill, with my leg in a cast and I found this instrument to play and sould very well indeed.
That it is pitched in the key of C makes is compatible with any music
written for flute, or obow or voice and of course, piano. It is an excellent instrument.
good luck to you.best regards,

In Leblancanese, the Clarinet models/differences?…..well

June 9, 2006

Hi Sherman

I always enjoy reading your web site and have found many helpful suggestions. I am writing to you now because I am curious to know your opinion about the differences between various models of the same make of clarinet, most specifically Leblanc clarinets, one of which I am thinking about buying within the next couple of months. Is there really such a great difference between, say, the Opus, the Concerto, the Esprit and the Sonata clarinets, or is the rather big difference in price between these different models just some kind of marketing ploy? One clarinet maker I spoke to some time ago seemed to be of the opinion that the difference between various models of the same make is not nearly as big as the price difference seems to indicate, and that clarinet makers do this only because there’s a market for it, and that it’s at the top end of the market where they make the biggest share of their profits.

I am an amateur clarinettist, probably at the mid-intermediate level, and at present I am playing a Buffet E11 B flat clarinet. It might seem logical to upgrade to a Buffet R13, but I am not so sure. I am considering a Leblanc clarinet because I have read many reviews that praise these clarinets, especially their good intonation and evenness across registers. What I am looking for in a clarinet is that it should be easy to blow (little resistance), that it should play in tune across all registers and that the tone is clear and centered. I know from experience that the choice of mouthpiece is a very important factor as well, and I am using a Vandoren B45 at the moment, which I am reasonably happy with. I presume that Leblanc pro clarinets come with proper quality mouthpieces. The Opus model is probably a bit too expensive for me, so I am thinking maybe the Concerto model would be suitable. There’s also something called Pete Fountain Big Easy B flat clarinet from Leblanc, which looks interesting, but it doesn’t seem to be available where I live (in the UK). Your comments on the above would be most appreciated. Thanks very much in advance for your help.

Below please find the descriptions of their various high-end models of clarinet in their own Leblancanese

“The next logical step in the evolution of the Leblanc artist line, the remarkable “Concerto II” offers the same rich, expressive tone and ease of play as the original Concerto model, but with the added advantage of a revolutionary keywork design based on that of the highly acclaimed “Opus II” model introduced in 2001. Its gracefully sculpted keys lie perfectly under the fingers for increased dexterity and endurance, and numerous enhancements, such as its adjustable bridge mechanism and E/B and F#/C# keys, save trips to the repair shop. The Concerto II was designed in collaboration with jazz legend Eddie Daniels.

Leblanc offers the “Opus II” clarinet, designed in collaboration with Larry Combs. Based on the highly acclaimed Opus acoustic, this instrument provides the rich, dark sound and playing ease you’ve come to expect from the Leblanc line of professional clarinets. Its beautifully sculpted keywork is as pleasing to the eye as to the touch, and numerous enhancements, such as its adjustable bridge mechanism and E/B and F#/C# keys, save trips to the repair shop. Larry Combs says, “The Opus II has redesigned keywork that is ergonomically superior, decreasing muscle tension and stress. Ultimately, it may extend a player’s career.”
( The player must however, get a job, in order the have a career…or?))

The newest Pete Fountain model is the embodiment of the rich musical landscape of the city for which it was named. Pete collaborated with Leblanc to produce numerous design enhancements that give the Big Easy even greater flexibility, more accurate intonation and better note-bending ability than its acclaimed predecessors. Players will find that this model sounds as good on the symphony stage as it does on Bourbon Street—its unique distribution of overtones allows effortless blending in ensemble playing while also providing a vividly expressive solo voice. Most important, this new Fountain model gives Pete plenty of the famous “fat” tone that has become his trademark. Says Pete, “True to its name, I find this horn easy to play, and it has a fantastic scale line from bottom to top. I don’t even to have think about it—this clarinet just sings.”( I wonder if it sings under water)

Crafted at the Leblanc facility in La Couture-Boussey, the Rapsodie is a further example of Leblanc’s dedication to quality. Featured are silver-plated keys, aged grenadilla wood and, most important, expert construction resulting from 250 years of French woodwind-making experience—an incomparable advantage now available to advancing students.

What makes the Rapsodie such an effective performing and learning tool is that it is equipped with Leblanc’s polycylindrical bore design, very similar to that found on Leblanc’s top-line artist models. This sophisticated bore configuration gives the instrument seamless response, consistent tone color and even wind resistance throughout all of its registers.

The Sonata is an entry-level professional instrument and considered to be the best instrument to be offered at its price level. The Sonata is remarkable for its roundness of tone, perfect scale, playing ease and agility. Its extraordinary evenness and “non-quirky” playing characteristics make it ideal for the advanced young player or the professional who doubles but has limited time to devote to the clarinet.”
(I bought a brand-new Sonata without case, arriving in a tightly wrapped plastic bag for 269US. At that price, it seemed perfect)

Curiously, in actuality there are only similar sifferences, bores are almost the same, some key configurations differ, but the biggest differences seem to be the prices. I have always however been a bit more put at my ease with the Opus, of which I owned a pair. The Rhapsodie and Sonata are different in that they are both seemingly tight to my playtest, and I feel that their barrels would need to have perhaps more of a taper.

Mostly then, the competition out there is extrmely fierce. I feel that the Leblanc is the better of the mass-produced clarinets from France.
Why, because the sound is prettier, and if you will, a bit more melifluous. Selmer is the most beautifully finished with the finest keywork. Buffet plays pretty but has rafts of mechanical and intonational problems. Yamaha is the dark horse, a very beautifully playing instrument,of which I have played many.It may be the best clarinet made.

So, dear friend, I hope I have been of some help to you.

best regards, sherman

A Letter from Ivan, retired musician,survivor of mouth cancer

June 7, 2006

Dear Mr. Sherman,
I read your article about Benny and I completely agree. Although I spent most of my professional life conducting in the company of Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Brahms, Verdi, et al, I never divorced from my roots in school bands, and later professional dance gigs. And I never forgot, and still marvel at the magnificent artistry of Goodman and Shaw. The tone, intonation, ideas, and phrasing are incomparable. Many stuffed -shirt musicians do not recognize the kinship of great classical music and great classical jazz. The embodiment of both is anacrusis, upbeat phrasing, cross-bar, cross-beat. Jazz musicians know NOT to play a group of eighth notes evenly, or in strict dotted followed by sixteenth rhythm, but somewhere in-between. And that, among other things, is what drives the music to “swing”. The same sort of understanding is demanded by Bach. One would NEVER play consequtive Bach triplets accenting the first of each. Oversimplification? Yes. Truth? Also yes.

And we have the recordings of Benny and Artie. Wow! And we have Pete Fountain, Eddie Daniels, Larry Combs. And I have Buddy DiFranco and his charming wife living in my town. And I was recently introduced to the fabulous playing of Allan Vache’. My cup runneth over!

All the best, Ivan

Always nice to hear from this gentleman

The VD 5rv is OK, but Richard Hawkins has a better idea

June 7, 2006

I currently play on a Selmer Centered Tone Bb clarinet which I purchased new in 1958 when I was in the USMC First Division Band. I guess I wanted to emulate Benny Goodman (still my musical “hero”). I more recently purchased a Selmer Centered Tone A clarinet, to have somewhat of a matched pair. Both are in excellent shape, though I would like to turn them over to the hands of a expert repair-reconditioning guy. I’ve tried various mouthpieces, but I keep coming back to the VanDoren 5 RV Lyre. Do you have any suggestions as to another mouthpiece I might consider for these instruments?
As far as mouthpiece is concerned, I will recommend the  Richard Hawkins of  Oberlin College and the Cleveland Orchestra.He has designed mouthpiece for many fine professional and orchestral players. The two facings he makes are S and R, the R being the latest. I have both facings and one he refaced for me, a G. Smith.  I recommend him highly.

Best , Sherman

The best “effect” on clarinet is discipline

June 7, 2006

I’m a high school student who has been playing the clarinet for almost 5 years now. I have two question: Lately, I have developed a habit of playing with my instrument crooked (to the right side)…and I’ve done it so long my mouthpiece now has a crooked bite mark in. I’m not really sure what to do as I’m not really in any financial position to buy a decent mouthpiece. I don’t want to buy something extremely cheap that won’t be worth my money. Do you have any suggestions on fixing this issue without somehow raising 70 dollars or more for a good mouthpiece ? Secondly, I’m also involved in my school’s jazz band (the only clarinet player doing it!)…I’m currently working on exploring more effects on the clarinet that I can use…I’m working on the portemento (also incorrectly dubbed the “glissando”??). Gliding up in pitch without any breaks. Well, I can’t find any good resources on learning this technique. I’ve scoured the internet and rummaged through my band’s music office…but I found nothing about how to actually do it. I’m really interested in learning and was wondering if you could give me some suggestions on that as well. I realize that there has to be
a coordination in how your fingers come of the keys and how you “bend” it..I just can’t figure it out. Any and all advice will be greatlyappreciated.
Thanks in advance.
Hi John:
Thank you for your interesting letter and questions.
Regarding your playing position, there is nothing really incorrect about it. Everyone has a different position which is dependant upon the shape of your mouth and especially your teeth. If your position also entails raising one of your shoulders or any other strange or unusual movement, I would try to correct it, however there are many players who play their clarinet at a slightly different angle than straight out. The operative word here is “slightly” If your position is completely strange, then some change might be necessary. Do you have a teacher who plays the clarinet? You should have, and it is he who should answer these questions.
There is a mouthpiece called the “Debut” made by Clark Fobes which works very well for students and only costs about 30 dollars. It is really excellent. If you really wish to play the clarinet, it is not without cost, but that mouthpiece is really good and is inexpensive. What you really need is a teacher of clarinet.
You speak of”exploring more effects” on the clarinet.Young man, I suggest that the best effect is discipline. Learn to play correctly. After that epoch of work you will be able to do all. Start with a teacher.As far as portamento is concerned, there are many ways and steps along the way of a smooth and seamless portamento and most of them require as a beginning the chromatic scale going from one note to the next very rapidly and opening your throat to a considerable degree as you gradually learn to “gliss ” as they say.
Many different players employ different steps in learning to achieve a good portamento, but certainly all invlove as a basis, the chromatic scale and the careful and gradual relaxing of the embouchure. It is not necessarily a technic for the younger, less experienced player. I might suggest listening to the Rhapsody in Blue by different orchestras for a good model to carry around in your ear. Much learning is done by imitation, however a good clarinet instructor,one who plays can help much more, that is perhaps your main route.Best of luck to you.
sincerely, sherman