The Barrel Virus

Hi, My name is M, I’m a freshman in college and a clarinet major.

So I just recently bought a 1971 Selmer 10S Bb Clarinet. It plays wonderfully, however I am not 100% happy with the barrel. So i’ve been doing some looking around for some barrels, and i came across a few that sounded good. But i would like to have your opinion on if they would be fitting for a clarinet like mine.
The first i came across was the (notorious) Backun Cocobolo Barrel. From the looks and sounds, it seems very nice, but is also $225.00. Is it worth it?
The second one I came across was the Clark W Fobes Barrel. My old clarinet tutor Patty Shands uses this one, but she plays on a Buffet, so i didn’t know if they play better on one more than the other.
And of course there are the Chadash and Moenig barrels, but those are Buffet barrels.
What is your personal preference/opinion?

Dear M:
Thank you for your question about barrels. I really don’t think that anyone knows anything about barrels, except that is, for the pitch that they may slighly change. In truth, a barrel does not have a sound, per se. It does have a response, which one may or may not prefer.
Actually, I find that barrels are just another manisfestation of the kind of noodling that clarinet players love to do, but remember this, in order to know if the barrel is changing anythng, one must have a well-used barrel with which one is comfortable, for response, as well as pitch, to say nothing of timbre.
I first saw those brown barrels one year when I was teaching at Crane, the “birthplace of music education”, located in a remote region of New York. Lots of plain boxy buildings and halls, appearing something like the buildings created for the Third Reich, by Albert Speer. I used to call it the CaneSchool because I walk with one, and they had fire drills about every 20 minutes or so.
Anyway , a student came in with one, paid 200 for it and it looked quite ordinary. She didn’t know why she bought it; it had been for sale at one of those flea-market type clarinet festivals, hundreds of stalls, all kinds of equipment, everything touted to solve all yourproblems, make you play better than your stand partner.
For me the barrel was meaningless and changed nothing, so to answer your first question, it is not worth it, not even if they give you one, which is done frequently: it’s a way of selling one to someone else who sees it when you come back for your first rehearsal.
I notice in your letter, you say that the barrel looks and sounds interesting. This is something I would need to be explained. I started on a metal clarinet, and I always wanted a black wooden clarinet. That has remained my ideal.So the brown barrel is simply a way of adding a zero or two to the price.
The Moennig Barrelmakes some sense, and it will work on your Selmer, as it has on mine. The clarinet barrel is very short as you know, and the moenning have a reverse taper making the throat notes a bit clearer. They also have a rubber insert.But, the Selmer 10s, your clarinet, has a much better throat register than any Buffet I have ever played, and some come with a reverse taper in the barrel.
I think that much too much has been made out of cocobolo or rosewood barrels because the very basic nature of thse woods is instability; they are more unstable than is grenadilla or mpingo or whatever you want to call it.
I think the Fobes clarinet equipment is some of the very best available, but it is quite costly, the mouthpieces though, even the 30 dollar Debut is terrific, and right now, it is what’s on my clarinet.
Anyway, I recently wrote a piece called “ligature virus”.
Let us call this response,”the barrel virus”. There are many, and no vaccine available.

Actually, there is. It is called “practicing.”

best regards,
Sherman

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