A Selmer “Centered Tone”, rediscovered

Dear Mr. Friedland:
I have a Selmer Centered Tone clarinet I got when I was about 10, probably around 1956 or so but not played for many years. Picking it up today it seemed to have a number of squeaks which I assume result from loose/leaking pads. Also, the ring on the bell has not been tight for perhaps 40 years. How do I tighten the bell? Can I put it back in playing shape with the kits that are sold for re-padding and lubricating? Is it reasonable to take it apart carefully for cleaning? It has a metal ring at one of the joints but is otherwise wood.

Is it possible to produce a shorter barrel joint so that it will actually play in C, so I can play with my son who plays the flute, without having to transpose?

When I was in high school another student had a clarinet which supposedly had fingering the made the break easier to cross but I can find no info on that system. I think it was a buffet clarinet. Are those better than the Selmer? I have no idea what the quality of my instrument is/was but I think it might have cost around 600 or so back then … is there a way to find out?
Thanks – J W,

Dear JW:
Thank you for your note concerning your “Centered Tone” clarinet. This was at the time, the best Selmer Clarinet; in fact I owned a set (Bb and A) for many years. To determine its value now would be fairly easy, since it is in demand and considered a clarinet good for playing Jazz because it has a slightly larger bore. Its reputation is excellent. To determine what it may be worth, look at an auction site that sells musical instruments and simply compare prices.
Of course the condition is crucial for these 50 year old clarinets.

I would suggest that you have it overhauled by a competent repair person. The pre-packaged kits are not something I would recommend at all.
The keys have to be stripped and the clarinet soaked in oil. All springs and pads and corks should be replaced and any cracks repaired. There should be competent technicians in the Boulder area. They will also tighten the ring for you, which takes a special tool. Replacing the pads is a precise job and requires someone who knows what they are doing, preferably with experience to which you can refer. There are many people who advertise, and when the horn is returned, all looks well, but it will have all kinds of small problems, which will not seem small at all.

It will cost you several hundred dollars, but for the clarinet you mention, it is well worth the price. But do get a reference.

As far as playing in C is concerned there is no barrel that is short enough, for it would take several in use at the same time to get your Bb to play in C and it cannot work. You are best advised to buy a C clarinet, as they are not terribly costly and you are ready to go with the same mouthpiece you use on the Bb.. Transposing to clarinet in C is something which is not difficult to do. For starters. if the key signature is in flats, take away two of them, and in sharps, add two. After that you simply play everything up one step, observing your new key signature and you will be fine.
Most clarinet students learn to prepare their lesson in both the key written and in the key of C, and in fact, sometimes other keys as well. Now, I am not advocating that, but if you can purchase a C clarinet, you will like it as it is fun to play, or you can learn to transpose.

As far as “the break” is concerned, that is basically a misconception, however there was a clarinet which made negotiating between registers much easier. I t was a Selmer clarinet designed by Rosario Mazzeo. There are still many of these for sale, but they must be adjusted carefully.

Finally, as to the squeaks you seem to be experiencing, they may be loose pads, or perhaps something closer to home.

Kind regards,
Sherman Friedland


3 Responses to A Selmer “Centered Tone”, rediscovered

  1. duxburyclarinetguy says:

    Mr Friedland, we have e-mailed in the past. I studied with Larry Mentzer in San Antonio while in high school over 30 years ago and I believe you were classmates with him at NEC. I then studied one year with Phil Viscuglia (another Mazzeo student) and five years with Harold Wright. My question has more to do with Ralph McLane and his relationship Kal Opperman and David Weber. Each of them were close to McLane but they never mention each other in any interviews. Any thoughts?
    Thanks, Rick

    • I don’t really have any thoughts concerning this time and these players except that McClane predeceased them and had only about 7 years as principal in Philadelphia. Opperman and Weber were busy NY players and I would imagine that their closeness was one of mutual respect. McLane was the student who went with Hamelin when he returned to France after having been fired for playing a metal clarinet in the Boston Symphony. He came back and got the Philadelphia job. I think that they all knew each other, it being a much smaller world then , than now.
      Most of what I know is kind of like folk stories. McLane , ill and being held up in his chair by Gigliotti in rehearsals, the metal Selmer of Gaston Hamelin, the incredible technic of Opperman, (my first teacher played an Opera with him in Boston and came to a lesson telling me that Opperman was the “electric clarinet” player, his fingers being so fast and even. It’s a long time past. Take care!

  2. kenwolman says:

    My first clarinet–no, really my second. My first I got in Junior High School for $77.00. The CT nominally cost me nothing. I inherited it from a co-worker whose brother died of a brain tumor. It had a great deal of non-monetary. Once I actually had it overhauled, the sound was such that I realized I’d never played a clarinet before. It was an extraordinary sound: powerful because of the big bore, but capable of modulation and great sweetness. I had to let it go during one of my bouts of unemployment early in the decade. Even the Series 9 I got some time later didn’t measure up. Right now I’ve got a Noblet 4 with a Vytas Krass mouthpiece (itself a thing of beauty) and the sound is remarkably like the old Centered Tone, but that was one of a kind and, like other members of my family, remains greatly missed.

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