I have written more than several articles concerning thumb rests, their placement, and their purported adjustment possibilities.
I had a hiatus of these complaints when I used a thumb rest called the Thumb Saddle, designed by Tom Ridenour, and used to keep at least two of them in my case always. Their cost is not prohibitive. To pay tendollars for almost anything for your clarinet is almost surprising and makes one feel one is in the time of the Great Depression. Really, what can you buy for ten bucks? Nothing. I am one of these nuts who remembers prices from my early childhood. I will give you several examples: I used to go down the hill each Sunday morning to get six bagels and a quarter pound of Lox. My father or mother gave me .27 cents. The six bagels cost 12 cents, the lox cost .15. Cents, mind you!Smoked Salmon these days, can cost 20 bucks a pound, and bagels can be six dollars for a dozen, especially the best , Montreal bagels. But, I digress. Moving forward on this journey into reverse DScience fiction, let us think of Van Doren Reeds. On a Friday afternoon before my Saturday Morning lesson in Rosarios Resonant Rumpus Room, which is what I called the room where all of us would play for one another, I would go to Rayburns and get 5 boxes of Vandoren Clarinet reeds. They would cost me 3.75 a box. Mrs. Sterberg, Rays mother, would give them to me for nothing. She was always very nice to me. There were 25 reeds in each box. Can you believe that!? Actually in retrospect, it didn’t matter, because none of the reeds played without sanding ,fixing, scraping, and saying an incantation over, the praying to Vanadee, the Reed Goddess. I may have mentioned that when I used to visit Lindas Parents in Long Island, we would always pass the Van Doren Nursing Home. This is true. The colors were purple and yellow, the same as the colors on a Van Doren Box of 25 reeds (which didn’t play). This is a case where the price was totally non consequential, The reeds played the same, regardless.
Back to Thumb rests. Yes, I thought and still think that Ridenours Thumb Saddles were terrific, price and all. I once wrote him a letter about them and he answered back saying, it didn’t seem to matter what shape they were, what mattered was moving your thumb to a different position. It remains one of the great clarinet buys. If it were made by a big company, it would cost at least 99 dollars, on special, and you and I would still buy them. What Ridenour said to me, “MOVE THE THUMB’ was most correct. Moving the thumb almost anywhere will ease the discomfort of the clarinet on your thumb>
Which again brings me back to the subject matter of this piece. Thumb Rests. As I aged, the difficulty pf the thumb rest became more pronounced. Why I didn’t have a clue is almost beyond me. I was getting pain from the weight of the clarinet, not the thumb rest. Almost no mature player plays without some kind of thumb rest help. There are neck straps , large and small thumb cushions, pieces of rubber, all kinds of things available. You can spend a fair amount on some kind of cushion, but one of the better of the free thumb rests are those things on milk machines in schools, the little rubber tube out of which, the milk comes. They are mostly made of clear silicone and , after you cut the piece off, it will stretch to accommodate your thumb. You just leave it on the horn always. I used them for many years. But then, my discomfort worsened and I started to blame the manufacturers of the thumb rests, I found fault with them all, without exception. Actually, the only one I really found perfect was the thumb rest of my C Clarinet. It was perfect. Why? It wasn’t the thumb rest at all. It was the weight of the clarinet, it being much less on the right thumb, it gave me less discomfort. Where was my brain? I have no idea, but feel somehow that there are folks out there who may share my affliction with the shape, placement, and positioning of the clarinet thumb rest. It is not the fault of the thumb rest. It is you and me, and all others who get discomfort after hours and hours of playing the clarinet. Many of our thumbs are not strong enough to withstand the constant weight of the clarinet. So, at present, I play everything on the C clarinet, If it is a Bb part, I get a C part, or simply transpose the part. Much of the standard clarinet chamber music is much less difficult with a C clarinet, and frankly, I hear better on the C, and it seems to have a more pistine purity than does my Bb. But,in actuality, we are talking about less weight being the critical factor, though the C clarinet is really a pleasant experience.
Stay well, and rest your thumb, or?
Yes Sherman, I think Tom Ridenour’s rubber thumb rest is the best thing since sliced bread, I have four of them , one for each clarinet and also for my Oboe which has a special problem as there is even more weight lower down beyond the right thumb because of all it’s mechanism, It’s actually leverage weight. I had to make adjustments to the original thumb rest so that Tom’s rubber thumb rest would fit.
Mr. Friedland, do you play the Ridenour C clarinet?
For about the last 30 years I’ve had my thumb rests moved up the horn about 1.5 inches. It’s made a HUGE difference and completely alleviated my thumb pain. It takes only a few minutes to do, the dust from the new holes can be used to fill and hide the old original holes, costs almost nothing for a repair shop to do and can be easily reversed. Almost all the people who’ve tried my horns have agreed and had theirs modified the same way. Try it, Sherman – you might like it! 🙂