The Leblanc Opus Clarinet, (my history)

July 28, 2013

images-2 images-1(the upper photo shows the resinator in the low notes of the clarinet, . The second is the Opus A clarinet)

During the late 80’s I used to subscribe to Musical America, or perhaps it was International Musician. It was informative and advertisements for all kinds of things abounded in these publications and I have always been an avid looker, and buyer. In one of these publications, I came across an advertisement for a set of Opus Clarinets. They were offered by the Principal Clarinetist of a major symphony orchestra at an attractive price which interested me immediately. I purchased this set of clarinets which came in an attractive double case, a couple of case covers, and they appeared to be brand new. I had read about recent advances in clarinet manufacture and was especially interested in the fact that the owner was unhappy with the instruments, mentioning that he felt that they did not project enough, at least for his taste. Upon opening the case, I found a small card which said that these instruments had been designed by William Ridenour and had been tried and adjusted by him. At the time, it meant very little to me as I didn’t know much at all about Mr. Ridenour save for the fact that he worked for Leblanc and had designed these clarinets. They were called Opus. I knew that perhaps my favorite clarinetist was Larry Combs. He had played principal in Momtreal, and then went to Chicago as Eb clarinet, and finally moved to the principal chair. I had known him and of him for years as we first met in 1959 when we were both members of a wind ensemble in Pittsburgh, the American Wind Symphony, conducted by Robert Austin Beaudreau. This was the first year of its existence. At the time I was a student at the New England Conservatory of Music when I auditioned for this summer position.

I arrived at the first rehearsal, was seated in the third chair of the clarinet section , which numbered 6 or seven. The other players included Larry Combs, Peter Hadcock, and Elsa Ludewig. Those were all students at the Eastman School of Music and are quite well known in the clarinet world, presently. Larry sat behind me and was very young, maybe 20 .At the time I played Mazzeo System full boehm selmer clarinets, and there was a whisper around the section as I passed through, “He’s a Mazzeo Student” and from Boston, and he plays Selmers”. All true, and remembering, very exciting. It was a fine ensemble, all student players, and all excited about this new summer position. I remember that Dale Clevenger was in the horn section, and was very young as well. He Became Principal horn in Chicago. We were all young kids and  very green. Larry stuck out as an incredibly talented clarinetist, and although we spoke frequently, we were not close. However, as the years passed, I heard him play many times in broadcasts and heard that he had been Principal in New Orleans, then came to Montreal, where I happened to be at the time, teaching at Concordia University, where I played many concerts, taught chamber music, and had a chamber music ensemble which made broadcast recordings for the CBC. I also conducted the Concordia University Symphony orchestra.

Then, Larry was in Chicago where he became principal and stayed in that position for many years. A terrific player, one of the most gifted I have ever heard. Then, the Opus clarinet started to attract attention across the US and Larry was playing on this new Opus Clarinet which became an interest. I bought the set, and heard for the first time about William Ridenour, who I came to know, is probably the foremost clarinet designer of our time. Tom, as I came to know him, has an incredible ear and is one of the very few who is gifted in the art of design , bringing his sensitivity to the clarinet. It was he who designed the Opus and many other of Leblanc clarinets. He left Leblanc and I came to know him as the designer of the Lyrique, an instrument made of hard rubber. This had been of interest to me because of the comparative stability of the material and the ease of working on this material. But, I am getting ahead of myself. The Opus was the horn that first attracted my attention.I tried them, read the note from the original owner and decided that they were superbly in tune and whatever the problem with projection was, it certainly was not mine. I played only chamber music at the time. These horn were the most ideal instruments I had ever played.

(A question for the ages for every clarinetist)Why did I sell them? They were the most even instruments I had ever played and the most in tune, by far. Many of the works recorded on this site were played on the Opus Clarinets. The Brahms Quinet was recoded on my Opus A, And I remember it as the most beautiful Brahms performance I had ever played. It was a live concert, and is my best playing. Check it out, if you wish.

After a time, I wrote to Tom direclty . I had heard that he was designing and manufacturing clarinets made of ebonite , hard rubber. For many years I had been interested in playing on an instrument that was made of something different, something more stable than any wood, and I found that it was hard rubber. Then again, it was designed by the best ear I have experienced, Tom Ridenour. I play on his Lyrique clarinet now.

I have played and tested his new wooden clarinet and found it to be very similar in tuning and projection to my Opus of years ago. I have become an admirer of his and am amzed with his achievements in bringing the best tuning to any clarinet I have ever played. I have tried and played many many hard rubber clarinets designed by him and they have a remarkable consisrtency. Another reason for my admiration is that he has made an absolutely affordable instrument that is as good as anything made today. This is not an ad. I believe it, truly. The thousands of dollars one pays for an instrument made in France is for me, outrageous. I have had many students families have gotten into useless debt in order to get something which holds a false promise.

This has been my belief and my purpose.


Stay and play well.




Selmer Centered Tone Clarinets

July 25, 2013

SelmerCT_emblem_smallDear LZ:
I received your letter and do thank you for sending it, and directing my attention to the fact that as email, it was not able to be delivered. I shall try to remedy the situation in case there are others who have had the same problem. The address is

I did play the Selmer Centered Tone clarinet for a number of years, including my tenure with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra as Principal Clarinetist. But, I must tell you that I played the full boehm set of CTs , which were Mazzeo System. He was my principal teacher and friend. In fact he gave me my set of Cts. Theywere truly a wonderful set of clarinets, and I say this notwithstanding the fact that were his “system”, which was really a modified Boehm system eliminated the problem of the throat Bbi.It had an articulation wherein any combination of fingers opened the third trill key on the right hand side of the instrument, meaning that Bb was fingered with virtually any  other  combination of keys. Bb is the worst  sounding and tuned note became very simple to play, and was in tune, and not fuzzy as is the usual throat Bb. This is not an advertisement for that system of fingering, merely a brief explanation.  The clarinet as such, was a superb clarinet, perhaps the best made by Selmer. Incidentally, its chief failing was the make, Selmer. At the time, in the 50s and 60s, most people played other brands of clarinets, specifically,Buffet. The Buffet was a lovely instrument, which, however was totally inconsistent. If you picked one, you had to be either quite fortunate or have it completely redone by an excellent technician,one who could really hear well , and able to bring his ear to the scale of the clarinet. As you know, Leblancs as well as Selmers were much better in tune from the very first  instance.

Leblanc , of which I have played many, the last being the Opus, was a clarinet at first shunned by the community of clarinetists in the US. When I first tried one, an L27. I was truly astounded, as it seemed perfectly in tune, and I like the fingering as well, it being less spread out than was Selmer. Of course, at present both brands are among the best one can buy. The distributor in the US was Vito Pascucci, himself a trumpet player, who knew lttle about clarinets, but was fascinated by the phrase, “Big Sound. He had many of the Leblancs which were imported from France rebored by the worker in Racine in order to make a Big Sound, but they used the wrong reamers and did the job poorly, destroyint the usually good intonation, and hence the reputation. If you examine a used Leblanc from Back then, observe the inside of the bore closely. If, in fct, you see scratches and gouges, walk away.

But, back to the Centered Tones, as you are aware, they were made between 1952 and 1960, and were superceded by the Selmer Series 9, which, at least in my memory, was simply not as fine a clarinet as was the Centered Tone. It ws succeeded by the Series 9*, the 10, and the ten-G, the G standing for Gigliotti, who was principal in Philadelphia. It was copied from his personal Buffet, but in general distribution, it was not in the same league as the original clarinet, from which it was copied. I owned a set for a while, liked them, but ,as you also know, nothing is ever perfect, and I have remained the owner and player of many different makes and kinds of clarinets.

Yes, the earlier CTS were cylindrical, and the later one were indeed tapered. How they perform for you is your, and only your opinion. My CTS were of the earlier models, though I did acquire another set which seemed to play slightly differently, and certainly could have been tapered in the upper joint. I performed on both sets and I like both. As you well know, we can only ordinarily play one clarinet at a time and the player will always adjust to the particular instrument upon which he is playing. I remember both sets with fondness, though my preference eludes me at this time. One thing to remember is that there is not such thing as a clarinet made especially for Jazz. And there is no Jazz made for a specific clarinet. The Leblanc Dynamic and the Centered tone horns were both clarinets played by those who played Jazz, and they were called “big bore” instruments, which they were not. Benny made a lot of advertisement with the Centered Tone clarinet, but then again , in the mid 60s, the entire clarinet section of the Boston Symphony Orchestra played Centered Tone clarinets, save for Gino Cioffi, the principal, who, while playing Selmer, played a model 55, a slightly different bore, long since discontinued. And, while we are mentioning Centered Tones, and Leblancs of all kinds, we  come to the logical conclusion that these instruments developed certain names, such as” big bore”, and the term Jazz Clarinet was created to sell horns. Big Sound, mellow Jazz sound, and all the rest of the names are there to sell horns. Only players play the horns and the Jazz. They don’t sound differently regardless of what music they play. The Selmer Centered Tone clarinet was one of the best Selmers ever made and Selmer always had the highest standard of manufacturing.Years and years ago, I used to be taken to lunch by Jean Selmer, to Nantes, or perhaps that spelling incorrect, but the ride out of the city was fun since they drove these Citroens that were very interestingly suspended and looked really kind of spacey. Jean would take me through the d=factory and I remember a special room called the apprentice room where all these youngster were learning their trade. And instead of a Coke machine, that had one which dispensed wine, or am I making that up. Since I was at the time, a clinician for the Selmer Company, for those few hours, I was a big shot, and have pleasant memories of both Jean and his father, Maurice, an old man at the time. It was the time with the trouble with Algeria. There were armed police in front of every police station, and it was exciting to be in Paris, and to be young and on the way up, In the states at the time, Selmers were played in marching bands, and concert bands, and only in Boston did they play the Centered Tone Selmers. The series 9 was a bit like the Centered Tone, but was considered not as fine. This was followed by the 9*, whicn was a better horn and the 10 and the 10G, which was a copy of Anthony Gigliottis horn, Principal in the Philadelphia Orchestra. Many colleagues have told me that the 10G did not play all that much like :Tonys” Buffet. I had a set of them as well, traded them, after a mediocre performance of the Schubert Octet, and have kept trying different horns forever. It is great fun, and the stores would always let me try them for as long as I wanted.

L: I hope that I have answered your questions and that you will find a good Centered Tone, if that is what you want. One other story about my Selmers. I was playing the Easley Blackwood Clarinet Concerto in Tanglewood in the late 60s, and after the first movement, I swabbed out my clarinet and the swab got stuck in the first joint. That was where that hex screw on the register key saved me. It was unscrewed and the swab pushed through, thank goodness.

Stay well, and good luck with all.