More on the metal clarinet of Gaston Hamelin

Here is perhaps the finest metal clarinet ever made. (see below)

It was the model played by Gaston Hamelin in the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Serge Koussevitsky. In 1931, Hamelins contract was not renewed by Maestro Koussevitsky, specifically because Mr Hamelin played metal. Hamelin went back to France and Ralph McClane went to study with him. (We know that he returned to play Principal in Philly until he died from cancer. He produced some of the beautiful sounds ever made on our horn.)

The clarinet was later taken out of Selmers catalogue with the caveat that it “damaged our prestige.” The late Wm McGibbon of Milwaukee, (who was my techy while I played princoal in that orchestra)gave me part of that information and I trust it to be true.

In any event, that was one of the reasons that the metal horn became extinct.

My first clarinet was metal. It was all shine and spiny and I loved it and vowed that after my first disastrous lesson, I would never squeak again.

I didn’t. At least not for a while.

Of course after this somewhat disastrous event both Selmer and metal becme somwhat of a pariah within the business of orchestral clarinet playing. It is my belief that this event started the move toward other clarinets, (specifically Buffet, by both players and orchestra players) Selmer continued to make fine instruments and still does excelling in workmanship and tuning and consistency but lacking until recently a polycylindrical bore.) The Selmer 10G was supposed to be an exact copy of Tony Gigliotti’s Buffet, but many say it was not and didn’t play half as well.

But McClane and Gigliotti spent hour with Hans Moennig tuning and voicing their instruments and getting them to the level that we still emulate. Of course Bonade, another wonderful player played Buffet. Did he play Buffet because of what had happened to Hamelin? We cannt ask him but we can surmise. Moe recently there have been actual cases where Selmer players wond auditions to major orchestras and then were hooted out with great anxiety when they played Selmer and not Buffet. This is true.

Interestingly, the mantle of the fine clarinet will fall on the heads of those who have designed superior instruments of hard rubber and even grnadilla-dust and carbon fibers, speaking of the Ridenour Lyrique and the Buffet Greenline.

Sherman Friedland


2 Responses to More on the metal clarinet of Gaston Hamelin

  1. danop says:

    This sure brings back memories! As a beginner back in the early 1960s, I was given a school metal clarinet to use (it was not the Selmer). At the time, most beginners were given school metal clarinets with the expectation that the student’s family would purchase an instrument a few months later. That’s what happened to me–I was very thankful when my parents purchased a used wood Evette clarinet a few months later that was a nice instrument.

    I later taught music in that district for many years, and there were still a few of these metal instruments around. They didn’t play badly, but the cases were a problem. It was impossible to get replacement cases, and I remember using a lot of duct tape.

    I remember when a school secretary once asked me to look at an old metal clarinet that had been in her family for many years. I was rather astonished that it had a left hand A-flat/E-flat key. I don’t remember if it had a low E-flat key. At the time, I didn’t think it was anything special. Looking back now, I wonder if it really was one of these fine metal Selmer clarinets!

  2. sampark2 says:

    Hi Sheman & fellow nuts: Maybe 15 years ago Kenny Davern (RIP) found that metal Selmer in a shop in Milwaukee for 100 bucks and passed it on to me. Finally got it overhauled right (don’t even THINK of skin pads)(try Valentino) and lined it up with a really great 1932 Selmer RI – same design/designer (Gaston Hamelin), And the metal won. Woodier bottom, soars up to the highest C with out a bead of sweat. Tuning barrel, which is the secret of life if you go to a club where the piano is 443. I’ve just come off an Loehler jag; stumbled over a marvelous 1910 BUffet with the overhad octave key. Truly beautiful. Kept the German m’piece, kept an Austrian cylindrical barrel. It’s a bloody Strad. Just took out the metal. An almost perfect match Buffet maybe a tad sweeter, but doesn’t race into the stratospher like the Selmer.

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