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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000025.txt from 1994/05

From: Clark W Fobes <reedman@-----.COM>
Subj: Clarinet Materials
Date: Mon, 2 May 1994 17:30:07 -0400

As a new member of this board it seems that I missed a very interesting
(heated?) discusiion of the effect of various materials on the sound of
the clarinet.

I have some thoughts in that area, but I would like to clarify the discuss-
ion around African Blackwood. Bravo to Cary Karp for pointing out that ebony
is not a suitably interchangeable word for grenadilla or African Blackwood.
The wood used for clarinets and oboes is Albergia melanoxylon. Albergia
is a very large group of woods that areknown as "rosewoods". The lighter
brown woods that we see some bass clarinets now made of are a different
species of the Albergia genus. Ebony, however, comes from the group of
woods in the genus Diospyros. As some of you know, I make clarinet barrels
as part of my business and I have run about 150 to date. In the process
of trying to find a good source for wood I have been seen a wide variety
of densities and colors within the species "melanoxylon".

Albergia melanoxylon is generally very dark brown with a pronunced grain
pattern. Some pieces I have used, though, are very dark and when oiled appear
black. Exposure to air and light seems to darken this wood as well.

From experience, I usually prefer the quality of sound produed by very dark,
close grained wood. My barrels are machined by a very fine machinist and then
I hand bore them with excellent tapered reamers and have a specially designed
measuring device too measure the bore. I can make two barrels with exactly
the same measurements and they will play differently, albeit in very subtle

As would be expected, more marked differences are achieved by varying the
bore and the weight of the barrel.

As a further departure I have recently made a run of barrels that have a
delrin insert. Essentially, the insert makes the bore walls so that the bore
will not change over time due to moisture. (Barrel dimensions generally
become smaller over time at both ends due to swelling). The delrine is
only a small part of the entire mass of the barrel, but it does have a
definite effect on the sound. Words that might possibly describe this change
would be: smoother, liquid, darker.

I am also making an Eb Barre now that is made from delrin with a brass

My conclusions from doing this work for about 10 years is that the material
does effect the sound of the instrument, but that bore design and wall
thickness have a much greater effect.

To play the devil's advocate, I believe it is time that the big manufactures
move away from wood as a material for clarinets. Basically we are using a
material that may have the best thing available in the 19th century, but
is certainly not stable or ideal. As we approach the 21st century I think
that if we begin to examine materials available that we will find something
that could be stable over time, that will produce a tone as beautiful as
a fine wood and will be environmentally appropriate.

In fact, this material already exists: graphite. This material has already
proven to have excellent acoustical properties.(See Ovation guitars) and
will absolutely not contort from moisture. I have a feeling that this
material may also prove lighter than wood and could reduce hand and muscle
problems. Think of it. Would it not be infinitelt preferable to choose an
instrument without wondering how it will break in over 6 months to a year
and to know that it will not be blown out, out of tune and essentially
useless in 10 - 15 years? (Yes, Mr. Leeson, despite your furious
protestations clarinets do change over time!!!)

I think Yamaha is the member of the big 4 that could lead manufactures in
this area. They already have the technology within their huge
conglomorate to make a variety of items form graphite. One can only hope.

Clark W fobes

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