Idiosyncratic crystal mouthpieces?

August 25, 2010
Dear Mr. Friedland,

Question #1:

After spending almost two years now being unable, virtually, to find a reed that really responds well on my mouthpiece, it occurs to me that perhaps my mouthpiece is worn out, or misshapen, or warped or some combination of all of these.

I’ve been playing professionally (jazz) for about thirty years, practically full-time.  Until three or four years ago I always used crystals.  I broke the one I liked, and haven’t found one that even comes close to being what I want (especially any new crystal mouthpieces).

The best luck I’ve had has been with a Vandoren 5JB (profile 88).  Not only have I used it the past couple of years with fairly good results, but I experimented with it now and then for ten or fifteen years before that (the very same mouthpiece).  So, I’ve had this mouthpiece about fifteen to seventeen years.  I always use a swab (silk), and sometimes I’ll rinse it out with warm water.

Is it common that hard rubber mouthpieces will change dramatically over time, to the extent that it’s nearly impossible to find a reed that will work well on it?  Is a new mouthpiece (same kind) often the answer?

Question #2:

After having purchased most clarinet accessories via the mail from big discount companies for many years, I wonder if there is a difference in quality depending on the source from whom one purchases a mouthpiece.  I don’t mind paying more, if that results in better quality. In other words, might there be companies that sell “seconds”?  How would someone know?

I would value and appreciate any thoughts you may offer concerning these two questions.


Dear Lynn:

thank you for your question concerning mouthpieces and variances. First and foremost, be advised that each and every mouthpiece that you try is different, sometimes only a bit, and sometimes widely in variance with the first one you tried. These mouthpiece are mass produced and so they cannot be exact duplicates of one another, and are not. Consider each as fingerprints, for each is different. I happen to be playing on a Richard Hawkins mouthpiece at present and find it very suitable for my needs. Now,Professor Hawkins of Oberlin uses mostly the Zinner blank which is made in German and is currently very popular with many clarinetists,  Hawkins puts on his own facing, and while I find him the most sensitive of all the mouthpiece craftsman, each mouthpiece of the same facing he makes is slightly different.
I have to insert a personal story concerned with crystal mouthpieces, from which I have drawn a rule: If you have a great one and you drop it, it is going to be very difficult to find another with the same characteristics. This happened to me, and I was never ever able to duplicate the response, tuning and general sound of that crystal.Never. Hawkins comes the closest for an ideal to me, but it’s only close, hence my rule, or admonition, if you will.I will never forget that crystal, which was a Pomarico, made in Argentina, and called a Guigui, after the Argentnian clarinetist who imported them. It was an -1.Guigui and I knew each other and played together in the Boston University Symphony Orchestra. There was or is another Pomarico brother who lives and works on mouthpieces  in Italy. So, that is parhaps a reason why other mouthpiece have not been satisfying.The greater the pleasure of the crystal, the more you suffer trying to replace. And yes, it can last for years.For me, it has been irreplaceable.(perhaps unspellable)
The Van Doren 5JB mouthpiece is known as being a Jazz mouthpiece as it is very open, but I have known classical players who also prefer this mouthpiece for classical playing, the late Jack Brymer being one of note.
Yes, mouthpieces can become warped or damaged or out of tune or not in tune to begin with, and yes, thay can change over time, but it is not their inclination. Big box companies tend to have more stringent rules for selling mouthpieces and will frequently sell what they call ‘blemished”
for less money, these usually having a scratch or something similar on the mouthpiece usually caused by sometone trying same and sending it back. They are however, always marked as such.
I recently bought a Fobes San Fransico mouthpiece, labeled blemished, which only had a scratch on the table and plays rather well, on a Zinner blank, but not as good as my Hawkins. They are always discounted and marked so, if they are blemished. These larger companies tend to be more stringent in their care of equipment and charge less because they are able to buy in large volume. I have no fear of them or of their equipment. A 45 days trial period is nothing to fear. Their merchandise is always reliable has been my finding.
I hope I have been helpful.
Good luck.

That Clarinet Mystique is a mistake.

August 20, 2010

Dear Mr Friedland,

First I would like to congratulate you for sharing your knowledge with the whole world.I think that people like you, with your credibility and exemption, and  William Ridenour, with his technical ability and entrepreneurship, are revolutionizing the clarinet market – hard rubber seems to be the way to go.I have one question for you.Some time ago, the quality of the clarinets made in china was a joke, and now they have improved a lot, specially the hard rubber (ebonite) clarinets.We know too that any one can order one hundred or less clarinets from a Chinese maker and print a logo on it and create her/his own brand. This scenario makes things harder.Recently you post a good review about the Orpheo 450 Pro clarinet, a good instrument for its price. But how much can we trust a clarinet from an unknowing Chinese brand?Like this “JinYin” ebonite Eb clarinet for $ 179,00 “Lazarro” ebonite Bd clarinet from ebay for less then $100,00

I know that you can say specifically nothing about those instruments. But about the overall picture, do you have something to say?
Thank you.

Best regards,
RFS Ps.: Excuse me for my poor writing. English is not my first language.

Dear RFS:

Thank you for your note with its questions about ebonite clarinets from the Orient.
I have played many more than several as I bought and tried and returned perhaps 10 or 11 so-called Allora ebonite Bbs from 23 Music. These were actually Ridenour Arioso clarinets with a different name. They were advertised as such however with the name Allora, and they played just beautifully , by and large. The deviations between each clarinet were very small indeed.I think I probably returned the best one I had, a testament to the ability to machine hard rubber more easily than grenadilla wood.At the time the instruments from the Orient were called CSI, ir Clarinet Shaped Instruments, an obviously derisive term. These instruments shocked me with their really excellent tuning and basic response, and finally when I got the chance to try an Allora A clarinet, I bought it and still it is mine today.Ridenour has said on several occasions that he is not sure which one of his designs is the best, but feels it either his C or his A clarinet.
Then I tried another Bb Ebonite clarinet imported by some music store on the West Coast.  I sent it on to Tom.He wrote back saying it was like a big “Buffet clarinet”, which was taken as a compliment.I still have that one, though it is not being played at present.
Then, for a pittance, I bought yet another, the 450 Orpheo, same strong case, two barrels and a mouthpiece, ordinary register key.  Excellent. Curiously enough, I was able to switch register keys with the ergonomic register key on my Lyrique, and the scews and keys matched perfectly. This is a fine free blowing instrument, though I felt the second register started to be slightly sharp as it went up, but a horn with a nice feel, a good thumb rest and a good response. Cost 133.00, shipping included. I recommend it without reservation.

You see, there is a mystique associated with the French Grenadilla clarinet, and it actually refines into something like “each clarinet is carefully tested and tuned”. I say that statement or inference, is total hyperbole, overspeak or plain BS. I spent some time at the Selmer factory in Paris and visited the Buffet place as well, and to me it looked like an assembly line. I wondered if some of those workmen could even hear. The Selmers were the most consistent and dependable. The Buffets were the least. The years past have proven that to me over and over again.

I think finally, that the clarinets from the Orient made of ebonite are to be taken quite seriously. The Lyrique is clearly best because the designer actually works on each and offers an actual guarantee. The others need to be tried. In the final analyses, one doesn’t mind when the price for the whole deal is about $150. and sometimes that price includes shipping.

All of the advertising you see for all of the many clarinets being offered for sale costs money, big money. Guess who pays it? You, for it is in the price of the horn.

A final Caveat:yes, you can purchase a Buffet Clarinet, and it mahy be a good one, but it is useful to paraphrase Anthony Gigliottis statement” Every year I would try 55 Buffet Clarinets and I would select two and then bring them to Hans Moenig to arrange them sothat I could play them in the Philadelphia Orchestra. Gigliotti was principalin that orchestra for many yhears and Hans Moenig was the techician who was responsiblefor tuning and arranging many top players clarinets.He also developed the “Moenig”reverse curve”barrel, emulated by many makers and played by many. When a director directs a first-year student to buy a Buffet to play in band, one should really think many times and perhaps reread the above. Of course the choice is yours, or your sponsors and/or parents.

Keep practicing.


Three questions of basic clarinet technic

August 1, 2010

Dear Mr. Friedland:

JW wrote:

I have three questions:

One is, with all the problems with the thumb-/register-key B flat, why the default fingering is not what I call the “side B flat,” using the A key and, I think it is the 2nd from the top right hand trill key? On my both my Selmer Centered Tone and Ridenour Lyrique C, it is clear and well in tune. We hear all the explanations about why the thumb B flat is bad, register hole is not a tone hole, etc., etc., but, “Why bother?” is my stance.JW
Answer to one
“Why bother” is incorrect because it presupposes that the Bb using the A and the third trill key can be used for all Bbs.It cannot, regardless of how many times you practice this fingering , it cannot be done with any rapidity on an ordinary clarinet. It must be played in any rapid context with the thumb and the A key. The only way to play it with the fingering which is always correct is with a clarinet such as the Mazzeo Clarinet,wherein any combination of fingers and the A key produces the throat Bb. I played Mazzeo clarinets for many years and it was always possible to play the throat Bb with no trouble. Unfortunately, after Mazzeo passed away and the patents ran out, there was no company who wished to make this clarinet. No ordinary Bb clarinet can make a Bb that is totally clear and capable of rapid execution except for the Mazzeo clarinet. One has to deal with a fuzzy and slightly sharp Bb unless the passage is slow enough to play it with the third side key.

Second, the endless question  of tonguing. When I listen to recordings of top players, e.g., Martin Frost, especially during rapid passages, it does not even really sound like “tonguing,” in the sense that there is no “ta” or “da” character to the sound. In fact it seems more like a huffing or “uh” sound. When I am playing, my notes sound like “ta” or “da” and I’d rather have the “huh”. How does one get that? (Maybe mine would sound that way if recorded rather than listened to “from the inside,” while playing, but I haven’t checked.) How are they doing this?  JW
Staccato is probably the very last skill to be achieved by the clarinetist. Most clarinetists can use either double or triple tonguing for rapid passages and using either pattern makes the attack less discernible. A short pop of a staccato is seldom used on the clarinet and rapid staccato involves air more than the tongue,the tongue hardly stopping the reed, and the staccatp sound indiscernible. A slow and short staccato is something more to the discretion of the conductor or the leader or the clarinetist of the group based upon knowledge and experience with the repertoire at hand.

Third I have figured out why I am getting so much “squeaking.” It happens when I create small leaks by not completely closing tone holes, often very subtly repositioning my finger when reaching for the C# (middle of staff) or other key, or barely nudging one of the adjacent levers, e.g., the G# (below middle C) lever or the E flat (first line at bottom of staff) lever. It is a problem of stiff old fingers. Any suggestions? I’ve tried keeping elbows out, which does help.JW

This has to do with the acquisition of a true control over the keys of the clarinet. Much more practice of scales, chromatic scale and exercises in order to become totally regular in finger placement regardless of the passage. All passages must be absolutely thoughtless for the fingers so as to eliminate all such mistakes of hitting extra keys. I do not think it problem of age, but more of not enough foundation studies.And more as you age.

The problems of age are age.


I hope this helps you.

Best wishes,