Nikkan Gakki, quite acceptable prior to becoming Yamaha

Nikkan made quite an acceptable instrument. They played well, came in different qualities, and even the least expensive clarinets played quite well. You will see the occasional one in some of the auctions. And some of those look as if they were never played, keys gleamingly new and shiny, intonation, totally acceptable , even on the cheaper models. Having spent a number of years buying and seling clarinets online, I never found a really bad Nikkan instrument. In 1970, they were bought out by Yamaha.Presently, you will come across the Yamaha wooden clarinet, which is also labeled Nikkan. It is the 301.It is similar to the Yamaha Allegro 550, now discontinued. That too was a good horn. It had gold plated posts and came with a cute leathette zippered cover At that time, their best clarinet was the Imperial.(circa 1970) I own one of those, bought for next to nothing from an auction site.There were certain features which are still present in the Yamaha clarinet: They all had slightly less resistance than the usual good quality French clarinet, and they were intune where the European instruments were hilalriously out. On Nikkan, the throat, the lowest notes and the altissimo, all were intune. The intonation on a an average French instrument is good except in the aforementioned places, and the Japanese clarinets were and are astoundingly even in quality. I never knew why, but never had a Yamaha that was out of tune. Let us quantify the models, both owned and/or played, My very first Yamaha was a 64, in Bb. What fun that instruments was to play, absolutely effortless , and very even. Soon I acqired a 65 or 66, which was the A clarinet, then 70s , then 80s, all while I was teaching in Montreal. As I have mentioned ,the music stores were only too eager to allow me to try and use for as long as I cared to. These Yamahas were like Leblancs in Montreal at the time. Nobody bought them. They were the joke of the entire industry. Actually, many Yamaha and Leblanc clarinets were the best instruments ever made. While they didn’t have the Buffet “ping” as they called it, they had other terrific aspects, already mentioned above. At the time, I was also the Conductor of the Concordia University Symphony Orchestra. I did this for 17 years. It was comporised of music Majors from the department and other schools in the area. One time I had a first clarinet who had an absolutely exquisite sound. He was attending the University of Montreal. We rehearsed and played in a big echo-filled Loyola Chapel. That fellow sounded absolutely terrific. I don’t remember his name, but I do his sound. It was beautiful. He was not even a clarinet major. What kind of instrument, I asked him? His answer came innocently back. Leblanc Symphony.
I had had an unpleasant experience with Leblanc while I was playing Principal in Milwaukee.The office for Leblanc was in Wisonsin, and they came forward with an offer to give $25,000 to the orchestra if I would play Leblanc Clarinets, and the Woodwind Quintet of the orchestra, which played many school concerts, was called. The Leblanc Woodwind Quintet of the Milwaukee Symphony. As a young man, this offer , presented to me by the General Manager, gave me an incredible headache and I was stressed out for days, or as long as this business lasted. $25,000 was a lot of money in the early 60s, a big donation. I wrote to my teacher, the late Rosario Mazzeo, who was at the time personnel managaer and bass clarinetist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He was aghast and wrote me a letter telling me how crooked Leblanc was, throwing money at literally every decent clarinetist . The strange things about Leblanc at the time is that They were probably the best clarinet being manufactured at the time. <They still are of extreme high quality.And of course, Larry Combs and Eddie Daniels spread the Leblanc mystique quite far indeed.One other historical connection and that was Professor Stubbins who developed the Stubbins mechanism, which coincidentally, was produced by Leblanc.They were marked Noblet, but I knew a clarinetist who had a lovely looking Symphony ,silver plated, which he admired. Professor William Stubbins taught at the University of Michigan from 1960 to 1975, and is listed in the faculty as clarinet and percussion. Stubbins and Mazzeo, whose clarinet was produced by Selmer had little love for one another. Some of the Stubbins are quite good, though the mechanism for the production of the throat Bb was not terribly reliable

In fact, the Leblanc and the Yamaha clarinets have served to completely change the problem of having to have a technician live with you and tune your Buffet, whch, after an expensive tuning and regulation, will play about as well as the others.I have a few Amatis which are easily comparable to any of the others, and beat them on price by quite a little.

Prhaps the worst aspect of the extensive and intensive advertising is the stress on the sound which the clarinet makes. This of course, is incorrect. It is you, your mouth, ear and brain which does the whole thing. The Sound!
It is called concept. When you first hear the sound to which you aspire, you probably don’t know it, but if and when you begin the study of the clarinet, it is buried deep in your sensibilities, and will develop as you do. As a younger student, I knew(I thought) the sound and the name of every American and Canadian principal clarinetist in every orchestra which recorded or played on radio. It is true that the many advertisements in all the music journals professed that every clarinetist played a Leblanc, or any of the others. Vito Pascucci altered many a Leblanc bore by widening them so they would have a “bigger sound”. There are still many Leblancs which must be carefully scrutinized for scratches in the bore. According to Tom Ridenour, they used the wrong reamers frequently, and he stopped that practice when in charge of the clarinet division, also designing the Opus, the Sonata and others .

Have a happy holiday season.
stay well.


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