Clarinet Bells, from where they evolved


Dear Sherman,

I have a hobby in studying how clarinets work and at the moment I am writing out the roles of different parts of the soprano clarinet. The part of the clarinet I am stumped on is the bell.
I was wondering if you know its exact purpose? I read from a couple of sources that it helps with the frequencies of the notes played by the right hand (*esp. the low notes) and keeps the consistency of the tone (From what I gathered). Some of the sources I have read sound too scientific to me and its hard to grasp (Might have guessed I’m not a mathematician or scientist, just a fellow musician).
I am really curious about how the shape came about (if there was any type of research on the dimensions of the clarinet bell in the 1700’s compared to now) and if the change of material for a bell changes the timbre of just the low notes?
A while ago also I read that having the bells logo facing a different direction can affect the sound but not sure if I should believe that or not.
Your knowledge in this area would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks in advance, A
Hello A:
Thank you for the interesting note you sent to me regarding bells of clarinets. According to Anthony Baines, “Woodwind Instruments and Their History”, (Dover Publications), the origin of the bell, “bells of cowhorn were attached to the bottom ends of pipes, making a hornpipe.” There is also an illustration that shows the general shape which evolved into the clarinet bell.
Additionally the bell does help to vent and tune the notes directly above the bell , and in some later instruments, there is even a cutout within the bell that tends to brighten some of the lower more dull notes around the bell.
Rosaro Mazzeo with the introduction of his clarinet in the later 50s and early 60s removes the metal ring around the bottom of the bell which tended to dull the midddle B and even the low E. There are many clarinets from the 1700s around or pictures of them that shows the bell gradually getting less of a flaring quality up until the Mazzeo bell is simply a slight flare in the pipe. As far as change in the timbre of the note around the bell, ask any clarinetist and you will get a slightly different answer. Any slight change might make a big impression depending upon the ear of the beholder, so-to-speak.

The logo business and it being lined up with the logo of the upper joint is really stretching the whole idea into the land of never-never, but then again, everyone has a different theory.
Years ago in the 50s and 60s in New York there was a fellow who would take your flute or your clarinet, put it together , put it in an oven for a while under a certain temperature and then take it out. The instrument was then never ever taken apart again, rendering for some people a special sound. There were those who had this procedure and swore by it, I’m told.
There were and are many theories about the clarinet and putting it together, however, I am a firm believer in a perfectly tuned and adjusted instrument being the best key to musical success .good luck,
Sherman Friedland


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