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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000192.txt from 1995/03

From: "Dan Leeson: LEESON@-----.EDU>
Subj: Alto clarinets and basset horns
Date: Tue, 7 Mar 1995 08:45:55 -0500

Until recently, when the Buffet's marketing strategy for basset horns changed,
both Selmer and Buffet sold basset horns while LeBlanc sold an alto
clarinet in F and called it a basset horn. I am not being critical here,
just trying to be descriptive.

The LeBlanc instrument had an alto clarinet bore and an alto clarinet
mouthpiece. And I suspect that the manufacturing process used much of
the same equimpment used to make an alto clarinet. The LeBlanc basset
horn was, of course, longer than an E-flat Alto clarinet. It had to be
in order to be able to produce the low notes needed for b.h. literature.

The mouthpiece used by LeBlanc was an alto clarinet mouthpiece.

On the other hand, both Selmer and Buffet made basset horns that
differed from the LeBlanc by virtue of the bore dimensions and
mouthpiece used. Both manufactured narrow bore b.h's. and both supplied
standard B-flat clarinet mouthpieces.

By far and away the LeBlanc was the runaway best seller. It was
suggested by many that its intonation was superior and that the
larger bore and mouthpiece resulted in far less squeaks.

In the face of the fact that LeBlanc was beating its pants off in this
marketplace (not that there was that much to the marketplace in any
case), I am told that Buffet dropped its old style, narrow bore
b.h. and now markets a direct large-bore head on competitior to
the LeBlanc instrument.

I should add that the Wurlitzer company in Germany also made basset
horns at the time I was looking to by a second one, but theirs was
also large bore, big mouthpiece and I did not want to get one so
radically different from the one I already owned (and intended to

One can argue that neither LeBlanc nor Buffet now make basset horns.
They make alto clarinets in F which descend to low C. It is a very
specious argument and I am not sure what difference it makes if it
is true or false.

I have also heard the argument that the LeBlanc and Buffet now sound
differently from a real basset horn by virtue of their larger bores
and different mouthpieces. I think this argument also to be
specious. I have played a number of works on my Selmer basset horn
with a colleague playing a LeBlanc and my tin ear can find no
substantitve difference (but this does not mean there is none).
Roger Shilcock recently posted a note saying that an alto clarinet
sounds "fuzzier" than a basset horn but I am not clear about what
he meant. Perhaps such differences, if they exist, could be
attributed to things other than the instruments such as the mouthpiece
size or the nature of the larger reed needed for a larger mouthpiece.

I think it is wrong to assume that everything that goes wrong in
playing has to do with the instrument.

There is no doubt that a narrow bore basset horn is an acoustically
defective instrument. Its length is incompatible with its narrow
bore size. And the effect of this problem is intonation, intonation,
and intonation.

The Selmer problem is further compounded by the fact that they make
(or made) one instrument and it did not matter if it wound up in
Los Angeles, Sydny, Paris, etc. It was one price, one pitch. So
both of my Selmer basset horns would be in tune if I were playing in
Paris or Lyon, but in San Francisco they are sharp. Attemps to
fix this by standard techniques (such as pulling out at the bocal)
are not successful because the narrow-bored b.h. is far more
sensitive than a clarinet. You pull out a little and the throat
tones go to hell very quickly. I had Selmer make an adjustable
bocal for me and that was an even worse disaster. I keep it to
remind myself how much of clarinet making is a black art.

The mouthpiece for a basset horn is also a problem. It is assumed
that the standard B-flat clarinet mouthpiece is the correct one,
for that is the one supplied by Selmer (and the one that used to
be supplied by Buffet before they went to the larger bore model).
I have come to the reluctant conclusion that that is not so. The
basset horn mouthpiece is similar to the soprano clarinet mouthpiece
but the two are not interchangeable.

Charlie Bay made two special mouthpieces for me, one for each of
my two instruments and he made the bore larger (and faced it
like an alto sax). I like it, but his duplication of this
for other players has not been as successful.

It is not possible to use an alto clarinet in place of a basset horn
for the major literature since the alto clarinet cannot get down
low enough. The reverse of this state is not true; i.e., one can
use a basset horn to play all the alto clarinet literature.

I am told that such a movement is underway at the larger college
and university bands in America.

Dan Leeson, Los Altos, California

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