Searching for the magic Mouthpiece:Part II

February 26, 2009

Originally, this second part was to include a complte set of measurements for serveral different types of mouthpieces, but that would leave with many opinions of what to play,or what certain of you do or wish to play, but I cn do better, and really ,so can you.
I think a logical series of steps will be the very best advice I can give, mostly because logic is such an important part of learning, especially after you learn to play. How and sometimes if you proceed depends on logic to a large degree.

The first thing you may wish to ask yourself, is what do I wish to sound like, or perhaps whom do I wish to…….? Or you may wish to start with , What can a mouthpiece fix about my playing?

Many years ago Bonade put out a little pamphlet published I think by Leblanc in which he has a few simple things about mouthpieces. I believe them.
He suggested that all students play a medium mouthpieces in all respects. And he also suggested that a mouthpiece selected must immediately play better than that which one was using. I can agree to that largely, but not fully, because my best mouthpiece didn’t attract me in the least when first I tested it; it was my wife, from the next room who asked, “what’s that/” It was a GG-1 crystal mouthpiece, made by the Pomarico in Argentina and it cost me 6 bucks, and it was a mouthpiece that turned me into what I think was a much better clarinetist. After getting used to it, virtually nothing gave me problems and the sound was exactly as I conceived. Was that an exception?Not necessarily.Lots of times, an “extra set of ears”, especially of someone that you can trust completely will better than your own, and in this case it was true. Yes, it was broken during the intermission of a chamber music concert by a guy who played second fiddle in the Concordia Orchestra, but at that time I didn’t care, went home at intermission, got my spare crystal, (which also cost me 6 bucks, and finished the concert).(The second fiddler strangely disappeared and was never heard of or from) Then, I searched for another mouthpiece for the better part of 20 years, which I found in the Richard Hawkins “R”. Hawk is truly a wonderful mouthpiece craftsman.

Anyway, back to choosing a mouthpiece and logic.

One that you choose should immediately play better. Set it aside. Whenever you return to it,it should always be an improvement
Then, choose a mouthpiece which plays more reeds than its predecessor.
Plays better and plays more reeds.
Pitch is indeed quite important and one has to make sure that the thing plays well in tune for you, check with a meter.Octaves and twelfths are good to slowly try, because those intervals played slowly and legato will help with the other criteria already noted.

Somewhere at this point, after being sure that the new mouthpiece does those things in your list, think about also getting a spare which plays the same or almost the same.You will find thatall of the criteria change, and you will find that troubling.However , it is only because a natrually flexible player changes automatically when he changes mouthpieces. One of the hundreds of things a sensitive musicians just does.

That’s why it is good to get that first new mouthpiece and make sure it is the one. You ought to mark it on the cork; you’ll know which it is that way.

To conclude, here is a story shared with me by Tom Kenny, one of the worlds greatst horn players, first for Szell for many years. Tom loves cars, Yes, used cars.
He told me, “you cannot tell if a car burns oil until you’ve had it for 30 days”

Nothing can be closer to perfect truth. Used cars as well as their sellers are unscrupulous to the extrreme. Try the mouthpiece as you would one of Tms used cars.
If it doesn’t burn oil after thirty days, go  to the auditionand win first chair.

best always, Sherman


Selmer Clarinets: BT and CT are not a “matched set”

February 23, 2009

Dear Sir — at the bottom of this e-mail is a copy of your e-mail to L. I am the person wanting to buy the pair of Selmer clarinets he is selling for a friend. I am a 75-year-old and consider myself to know a little bit about Selmers. There is a lot of confusion going on regarding these instruments and it seems to be that the Bb Selmer N8409 was purchased probably in a single case and the key “A” P8301 a few years later so they possibly are not a matched pair. I like the feel of the silver-plated keywork and I would like it confirmed that these two clarinets are silver keyed. I would know in an instant if I saw them but the owner does not trust people enough to courier them to me 450kms away, even though I have assured him I am 100% trustworthy. What does the BT mean in your e-mail please? If these clarinets were silver-keyed then they would both look the same and I am asking that question at the moment. How many years older do you think the Bb clarinet is compared to the clarinet in “A”? I am also wondering if the keywork is standard or has extra keys? Would you be so kind as to help me with these questions please? I would be very grateful and look with anticipation to your reply. Kind regards from NT
Dear N T from New Zealand:
Thank you for your letter about the Selmer Clarinets.
I can tell you with assurance that they are definitely not a “Matched Set”, which is very difficult to define exactly, but one thing for sure is that the numbers are successive usually and these two of which you speak are not, not by by a long way.
The BT is or was called a Balanced Tone, alluding to its supposedly even scale regarding timbre, however this was just a name that was used for advertising as is the case with any designation given to a massed produced instrument. Selmer is a good name and has an excellent reputation, however the Centered Tone Clarinet comes from the 1950-60s and the Balanced Tone from the 30s, very clearly stated in any Selmer catalog and certainly in my many years playing Selmer, and also being a clinician for the company for a number of years. I played a set of “Centered Tone” Clarinets in the 60s and yes, the set was silver plated, but I never really looked at the numbers .
If you have the opportunity to see and play the clarinets you will be able to discern first, if they both play, if they are somewhat equal, and if either one or the other has more than a standard 17 key and 6 ring setup.
I suspect that no one will send you a set of clarinets “on spec” so to speak, so my best advice is to go and see the instruments and to try them.

Best regards,
Sherman Friedland

By and large there is no such thing as a silver-keyed clarinet, as mentioned above. They are always nickel silver keys, which are not silver at all, which are plated with silver, which will last for a long time, unless you have a particular kind of acid in your system, in which case you will wear the keys quite quickly and they need to be carefully wiped after every playing. For some, silver plated keys are a must for either cosmetic or physical reasons relating to so-called comfort. This is entirely a personal issue ,depending upon the owner of the clarinets.

As to “Matched Sets” of clarinets, that is simply more advertising.Defining a Matched set of instruments. considering that scarcity of enough grenadilla wood wood fashion a set of clarinet from the very same piece and then to match them for intonation and timbre, which certainly is the inference one draws from the description defies any kind of logic at all.

Jack Maheu, noted Dixieland musician, UP DATE

February 17, 2009

Hello everyone. I have received the following just this morning from the undersigned professor:

(June 12, 2010)Dear Mr. Friedland,
I spoke to Jack Maheu two days ago – he isn’t dead. He and I grew up together, so we have always been close. The ‘dynamic 2’ thing he told me about – had to hock it for money. I read the article sent to you, so the reason for this e-mail. I can fill any gaps about Jack, if you would like. He is in rehab in New Orleans, can’t play, but lives in the dream he might. I believe he is 80 years old now.
All the best,
Roger McKinney, Professor of Music

Old Posting:

I have a clarinet that used to belong to my father (who died in 2004), and he had strokes and did not play it for at least seven years before that. It is a LeBlanc clarinet that he bought used in 1981. It says “Dynamic 2” on it. It also has a name engraved on the side, “Jack Maheu,” who I believe used to be a great Dixieland player (as was my dad).

My kids don’t want to learn how to play it, and I play flute.

I have seen a clarinet turned into a lamp and I am considering it, as it will remind me of my Dad.

But is this clarinet worth something? Since it hasn’t been played in a while (but it has been in the case), is it probably not good anymore as a musical instrument? A friend of mine tried it out a few years ago and she said it sounded like a good instrument.

I would appreciate any information you might have, and if you have recommendations for me, I would appreciate that too.
Thank you,
You’re correct. He was a very well known clarinetist who played with many many great bands and players, notably Eddie Condon. He had a massive stroke in 2006, and I can not find anything further. (He would be 79 now.)
Concerning your Leblanc Dynamic 2, it could have been his instrument of choice as many players used the Leblanc Dynamic,. an excellent instrument with a big bore which has the reputation of being excellent for Jazz playing.
If, in fact,the horn belonged to Jack Maheu, you may rest assured that is is worth considerably more than an ordinary Leblanc Dynamic 2.
it would depend upon how the clarinet is marketed and where.
If the provenance of the instrument turns out to be authentically Jack Maheu, well, after that, it is your decision as to what to do with it. (There is some problem with your date of owning and Jack Maheu’s condition)
Best of luck.


Wants to change to German system

February 17, 2009

Dear Sir, I am writing to you to find out if you have any information concerning why all the Boehm clarinet makers keep placing a metal tube into the interior of the upper bore which is of course the extension of the speaker hole to prevent condensation running into this orifice. As you may very well know, the German type clarinet has no such obstruction and has instead an extended mechanism around to the front of the instrument thus doing away with the necessary of any internal obstruction, a much more practical solution. This bit of tubing extending into the bore is, I think a real pain in the arse as any standard pull-through will always get caught up with it. Also I am surprised that such an obstruction would not be detrimental to the overall tuning of the instrument. Have you ever heard of any Boehm clarinet owner getting this feature altered to the German system? Yours Truly B V, amateur clarinetist

Hi there:
Concerning your problem: there is no sense in attempting to get the Boehm clarinet makers to change to something else for the register key protrusion into the top end of the clarinet. Many other types f woodwinds have many more complicated obstructions in the bore.
First, always reverse swab, meaning you pass the swab through the bottom end of the clarinet. Then while turning the clarinet make sure that it is tilted in such a way to make the weight on the end of the swab pass away from the protruding register tube. This is very simple to achieve and only takes a couple of times before you’re ready for prime-swab. Or switch to German System, which you may not like all that much.

I had a swab get stuck in my clarinet directly before performing the Easley Blackwood Clarinet Concerto with the Tanglewood Orchestra, conducted by Gunther Schuller. At the time, I was playing Full-boehm Mazzeo system clarinets. The bass clarinet player had a wrench and he loosened the hex screw-top of the register key, took it out and freed the swab. Took all of perhaps 90 seconds, and caused me to rethink the way I swabbed my clarinet, resulting in in my suggestion to you.
Best regards, and keep practicing.

“Immaculate Condition”

February 16, 2009

Yes; I know, it looks like Immaculate Conception. Which is a good way to describe an absolutelypristine clarinet, which are few and far between.Very frequently in lists and descriptions of clarinets that have been played by another or several others, the descriptive words can include “immaculate”.If attracted by the word, scrutinize the instrument very carefully

Immaculate means spotless, or undefiled, “spick and span”, having no discernible flaw at all.If these are the meanings of the word, then why do sellers of musical instruments, always “used”, use immaculate to describe them. I recently had a question from a person who was expressing interest in a clarinet from the 1970s that was described as immaculate.
My advice to readers who are also shoppers is to ignore the word unless it has a description of the spotlessness of the instrument.
First, an immaculate clarinet should be completely overhauled very recently.
This constitutes complete removal of all of the keys and the clarinet body soaked in organic oil in order to clean and redistribute the oil throughout the body of the clarinet. All of the keys, having been removed are also cleaned and polished. All of the needle springs replaced, and of course, all of the pads and all of the corks. This takes at least several days depending upon the particular technics employed by the technician. If done in a professional manner, it is usually quite costly, although prices vary.
Of course after all of this has been done, the clarinet must be completely refitted with the new pads and corks and in order to be able to do this requires considerable skill in seating and placing pads, springs and corks which serve to both aid in action of the instrument as well as making the instrument perform exactly as new.
So, if shopping for a clarinet which has been used , scrutinize the word “immaculate” carefully and take it in the literal sense, for very frequently it is used actually in a general way, and is more hyperbole than actually immaculate.

Best regards, Sherman

Used Boosey 1010 for 1400$. Surely, you jest!

February 16, 2009

Dear Mr. Friedland:
I have found a vendor in England with a B&H Symphony 1010 from the 1970’s which he claims is “immaculate”. He is aking 950 GBP @ $1400 US. Does this sound like a good deal to you?


Dear BL:
$1400 for an immaculate Boosey 1010 is almost viciously overpriced.Not only that, it is also a poor choice fo someone living in your part of the world. Firstly , it has a larger bore than most clarinets made for this country, (the US), and second, it requires a special mouthpiece with a different bore than the usual mouthpiece. While I am sure that it is played well by some, it is also a discontinued clarinet, and frankly, I wouldn’t go near it.
Best wishes

Wants to start the clarinet , but not “on the cheap”

February 16, 2009

Dear Mr Friedland:

I am an adult who wants to learn how to play the Clarinet but don’t want to go cheap as I’m afraid I’ll give up because of sound quality. I’m considering the Leblanc Cadenza. Do you know anything about this one?
Dear Mr. S.
As far as the Leblanc Cadenza , nobody knows anything about it. Not in actuality. It is a clarinet made entirely in the US and Backun caims that he has redesigned every key. There are two parts of the clarinet that are made in Canada: the two barrels, made of different wood, which nobody has proven or even commented upon , though there are some who generalize with comments like, “I picked this one, which is perfect for me” The clarinet is about 1999.99 at most places and probably selling briskly due to the Conn-Selmer publicity. If you are afraid of the sound of any clarinet, the sound comes from you, and a cheaper instrument will not get you a better or a less good sound,just as a more expensive instrument doesn’t come with a better sound or even foster one. The clarinet selling business must be in dire straights these days, what with the downturn in the economy. Actually, if you want the best sounding instrument for the least amount of money, you are doing the smart thing for these days. Do not spend a lot of money. In my opinion, it is not necessary , nor will it give you the best quality.
Honestly, I do not know a clarinet that sounds better or is better in tune or more economical than the Lyrique Clarinet, designed and finished by Tom Ridenour. I have played all of the clarinets out there and his play better than any other,primarily because he has the best ear in the business and knows more about tuning clarinet than anyone. Don’t listen to hype. Listen to reasonable people on this crucial issue.
Good luck and keep practicing.

Sherman Friedland

Searching for the Magic Mouthpiece

February 15, 2009

When beginning to learn to play the clarinet.,mouthpieces are mostly treated with a lack of any real knowledge I can remember absolutely nothing about my first lessons with the clarinet, a metal thing in a long brown worn case which was scary at first. The keys were shiny and looked complicated and important and the smell was not unpleasant, but had the presence of a kind of musty almost mildew quality or one that once was more present. Ruffled, worn velvet feeling and looking, old brownish reeds in paper holders,soon to be thorwn out by my teacher as he got it ready for me to play.The mouthpiece was black and like the clarinet,seemed not new. It had a piece of metal wrapped around it under which was held the reed, which I soon learned was called the ligature although it was months before I learned its spelling. My teacher would affix the reed on the mouthpiece under the ligature and would also position it,letting me see how it was placed on the mouthpiece at least generally, until after a passage of time I was able to make a sound that was acceptable, and then after that in what seems in retrospect to be a longtime, I began the process of discernment as to reed quality and then gradually began to show a sound that was first acceptable and then lauded by my teacher and by the band director who placed me in the band playing third clarinet.
But I knew nothing at all. It was totally a mystery but was soon to become something else again as he began to teach me how to make sounds on this spiny shiny thing.The months and years flew by and by listening to my teacher play I beginning to reproduce his or her sound, or an approximation thereof, and he/she compliments me and gradually the horrible noises begin to diminish as I begin to learn about which reeds to choose and which do not produce, that first, my teacher advises be thrown away, or he fixes some that vibrate more after his various sanding and scraping. All of this goes by with learning to play the various study books, the Rose, Klose, Baerrmann, and of course hundreds of studies by Kreospch, all of which played at half or quarter speed and it ws a long time before I learned to pronounce his name and before then just looked at it on the exercise books, all of the studies in 16th or 32nd notes or faster, but always played one note to a beat. The first thing I learned about my mouthiece was to wash it in warm soapy water every now and again and of course to handle it with care, to swab it out once in awhile and not let the weight which carried the swab down the bore to hit against the mouthpiece. Of course, no student wishes to scratch the inside, which is mysterious and rather precious. The mouthpiece I first played,like many of you, was the Selmer HS*, but one has to remember that learning truly what is possessed by the qualities of any mouthpiece comes a long way down the road, as we are wont to say.We really learn only to select reeds which will enhance our sound, making it smoother and easier to articulate. Perhaps soon after, we learn that placing the reed on the mouthpiece in a slightly different position makes it respond in a differen manner, harder or softer, and sometimes we lern that by placing it slightly off-center, we get a somewhat more responsive articulation, but mostly we don’t know why.It will be years before we know about the so-called advantages of fabric and/or leather ligatures, even more time before we actually try another mouthpiece with a different marking on it, perhaps HS**, or C* or even if we’re daring some of the dozens of Van Doren mouthpieces most of which play better than most Selmers and are just around in droves. This brings up a whole new sub-topic, the emergence of the Van Doren Mouthpiece in the US. Used to be that they were very rare indeed. We bought Van Doren reeds by the hundreds, 25 reeeds used to cost 3.75. Can you believe that? So many used them, but nobody played the Van Doren mouthpiece. What did they do to foster the sales thereof? They simply made the reed order contingent upon buyiing as well Van Doren Mouthpieces. Even though it is an excellent mouthpiece it had no real following until Van Doren made the reeds scarce if a dealer didn’t order mouthpieces as well. It was only amatter of a few years before the mouthpiece caught on as it was actually quite good, came in many facings and was quite consistant, from mouthpiece to mouthpiece, although it should be noted that all mouthpieces of the same measurements play just a little different from the next.It is actually many years prior to one becoming consciousof the possibility that there is a “magic mouthpiece” “Out there”, just waiting to be found.
(end of part one)

keep practising

When silver is not silver at all. (more help in evaluating vintage instruments)

February 13, 2009

Dear Mr Friedland
I have a silver clarinet, the body and keys are all silver the information on the clarinet is as follows: Model number 32262, the name on the instrument is Cavalier, the place it was made Elkhart, IND USA. It does not come apart except for the mouth piece. I would like some information on this instrument and the amount you think it is worth.
Thank You,
Hello D.N.
I am in receipt of the photos of the clarinet in question. It was made by the King Company in Elkhart, Indiana.It is not made of silver but of brass with a plating which is usually called German silver. German silver has a color resembling silver, but is an alloy of primarily copper, nickel and zinc. As a plating on keys, it has little value, nor does the clarinet. These were made in great numbers by the King Company and were primarily a student instrument. There are still many of them to to be found around ,in music stores and on Ebay, where their value is usually from $75 to $100,if that much can be gleaned from these older student instruments. The fact concerning older or “vintage” clarinets, especially those made of metal is that there ae very few which have much actual worth for ay investment purposes. None of the Cavalier models made by King are worth much at all. The only metal clarinets are the models made in Paris by the Selmer Company. Usually these are heavily silver plated and have a more comprehensive system of fingering and have a double wall as well as a tuning barrel whichis adjustable. Not many were manufactured in the 1920s, which when found in excellent condition can be quite costly.
I get many requests fro evaluation . The usual instrument should be in excellent condition whatever the material and in the case oof metal itshould be immaculate.
Wooden instruments are a bit more difficult as there are man who place inordinate value and in many cases he clarinet will not have much value as an old antique.
By in large clarinets do not appreciate as they get older. I have found that the opposite is true.
Sometimes the best value is that which is intrinsic, that is to say, the private value an owner places for personal reasons.
The”fleamarket” clarinets are usually not collecting pieces.
keep practising.
Sherman Friedland

Mouthpiece advice for one returning to the clarinet

February 1, 2009

Dear Mr. Friedland

I am 71 years old and reasonably had the opportunity to resume playing alto saxophone in our community band. My main instrument from years ago was the clarinet but until recently it was being used by my cousin and not available to me. It’s been 42 years since I used either the sax or clarinet. Presently I’m playing an Alto sax using a Meyer #5 mouth piece with Rico #3 reeds and it feel/sound pretty good. When I played the clarinet I used a K*8 mouth piece (if that means anything to you) My question is at this point in my life where would I begin to guess as to which clarinet mouth piece to chose. I live in a small southern Illinois town and there are no music stores that would allow one to try mouth pieces prior to purchasing one. The clarinet I have is a Selmer Paris Center tone purchased in 1953 and I assume it should suffice my playing skills.

I don’t aspire to become a world renowned clarinetist but I would again like to play as well as I can with in the community band.

Thanks in advance for your suggestions.R.W

Hi Mr W.:
Thank you for your note and question. This first I will mention is that you can order mouthpieces online at WWBW (Woodwind and Brass Wind), which is in your part of the country. They give you a 45 day tryout period and then refund you for whatever you return, minus a 4 or 5 dollar cleaning fee, which has always seemed fair to me. I have been dealing them for several years and can vouch for their honesty and integrity.
Actually, you will need that kind of time in order to make a choice of a mouthpiece that will be good for you, for many times first impressions can be misleading and in the end ,disappointing.
I would order the following to try on your Centered Tone Selmer, an instrument with which I am totally familiar having played one for for many years.
Another thing to remember is that each mouthpiece of the same facing plays just a bit differently from any other of the same designation, another reason to try them for several hours, if possible.
Van Doren is the most consistent of the mass produced hand finished hard rubber moiuthpieces. The Van Dorens that work well on the Centered Tone(in my opinin) ,are the following: B45, 5RV,M13, M13 Lyre,B40. Selmer also makes a good mouthpiece for that horn, the C85, which comes in three facings, 105,115, and 120. Many people favor the Fobes “Debut” model or the Hite “Premier”, both of which are less expensive than the others, but none of the prices are unaffordable .
I am sure that you should order several, and even more certain that you should try each carefully and several times within the period of a day.
45 days is more than 6 weeks and that be enough time for you to determine which is best for you.

Best wishes,