The California Custom Clarinet, (new Buffet photo)

Hi once again, Dr. Friedland.

It must be said that I cannot thank you for your comments and your insights enough.

You have mentioned in the past about the impressivens of the Lyrique from Ridenour, but if the net for instrument selection is casted with less sensitivity for the price, we find other firms such as Patricola, Taplin and Weir and others who makes clarinets geared towards a more niche market. Of course, when one is willing to invest such capital into a Clarinet, the best that the major brands such as Leblanc Symphonie and so forth comes into play as well in selecting an instrument.

I have to ask what would you do when the budget is not of considerable concern and that one is merely choosing an instrument for a lifetime of enjoyment? With instruments at this caliber, having something that is customized to one’s own tastes seems to be of more importance, and this is where one would hesitate on what to choose. It is a rather vague question, but the thought of being amongst those that have to pick a good apple out of a lot of R-13 for example gnaws at me, while the other end of custom order something that you’ve not seen in person is a hair-raising exercise.

What to do to not get lost?
Yours Truly

Dear Franklin:
Thank you for your question concerned with purchasing clarinets, specifically with two conditions: one, not being concerned about budget, and two, how to choose among those clarinets available?

This question brings many answers to mind. As a young clarinetist, I always wanted to play a Selmer Paris clarinet and when I got mine; first a set that had been taken into the country in a suspect manner(the names had been filed off both clarinets), I was for a moment satisfied and happy. However I did not know anything about the quality of an instrument, a particular instrument and not much more about Selmer, other than the desire of ownership. I was perhaps 17 or so, and what could I know? I had a good ear, but most certainly knew next to nothing about response or timbre to say nothing of the tuning of an instrument, three important characteristics concerned with how to judge an instrument.

I knew nothing about the actual selecting of an instrument, and I suggest that this may be true for many many young clarinetists. Discernment in that area comes only after playing for a considerable amount of time in various ensembles. I don’t go to these clarinet festivals any longer and was never that interested. There is always a mob of people looking around and even more sellers of anything having anything remotely to do with the clarinet. So, what can you possibly learn by walking up to a booth, having a clarinet thrust at you, and blowing on it as others jostle past you, or hover around if you are a wellknown clarinet person. It may or may not be a good place to meet other clarinet players, but not for much else.

I have tried literally hundreds of clarinets, but always standard models of either Selmer, Buffet, Yamaha, and/or Leblanc clarinets, but no other, except for one: Rosario Mazzeo had asked me to go to the summer meeting of the Clarinet and Saxophone Society of Great Britain to demonstrate his clarinet, the Mazzeo System, my instrument at the time. During the playing and demonstration, he handed me his own personal clarinet, which he had made for himself and his particular clarinetistic desires. He called it “The California Custom Clarinet“.
I was very surprised to see first, that it was a Buffet. Surprised because Selmer made all of his clarinets, including those he had played in the Boston Symphony, never Buffet.

But there were many more surpises to come: The left hand keys, the g#, and A were quite enlarged, huge in fact. But what was the real surprise was the absolutely beautiful quality of response I thought I felt. Exquisite is a term that comes to mind. (Secretly, I had hoped that he would give it to me, but that hope was dashed. ) It was at first playing an absolutely wonderful instrument, silky in quality. That is my only experience with a custom made instrument. Here is the actual Buffet California Custom Clarinet which I played so many years ago:

Mazzeo System Clarinet in B-flat by Buffet-Crampon and Cie., Paris, 1970

NMM 5834. Clarinet in B-flat by Buffet-Crampon and Cie., Paris, 1970 Upper section of clarinet by Buffet-Crampon Side view of upper section of Buffet-Crampon clarinet Lower section of Buffet-Crampon clarinet

As far as customizing the instrument, you could only change the position or add keys for facilitation. Reboring is the job of only a few specialized craftsmen, those of Ridenours caliber.

If cost is not a consideration, I would rely on advice from those you respect, trying the instrument yourself for a good amount of time, as one can tell nothing about an instrument upon first playing.

I have a dear friend who was one of the great french horn players anywhere, Tom Kenny who played Principal in the Cleveland Orchestra for many ears and the same position in the Detroit Symphony. Tom also collected hundreds of cars. I bought several of them from Tom.

He would always tell me,”you cannot tell if a car burns oil for at least 30 days of driving” If one takes that and changes clarinet for car, I think it works well. It takes a while for one to really know all the quaities of a particular clarinet.

Also, I would suggest that you are in unknown territory when looking for a new more select clarinet. You may like it , but if you acquire it, that feeling will be dissipated quickly, the law here it, the grass is always greener.

There is nobody to ask for advice, as you will receive opinion only. I received a note today and very frequently am given advice about the Wurlitzer clarinet with the German system. I have reports that it has some of the very same so-called problems of the French clarinet, but 10 times more expensive and harder to blow as well. Look here on the site for the report from the performaer who has tried both. So, ask all you can ask, every site, but you will never ever find anything but opinion, sometimes, considered opinions, sometimes just pure emptyness. One thing for sure, you will pay, through the nose, and when it’s time to repair, you are in tiger country.

lots of luck.


I hope I have answered your question.

Best wishes, Sherman


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