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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000312.txt from 1997/09

From: Jonathan Cohler <>
Subj: Re: ending the GreenLine plastic/composite thread
Date: Sun, 7 Sep 1997 18:43:56 -0400

Greg Gallant's explanation of plastics is very cogent and to the point.

He also makes an important point that few people are aware of, and even
fewer understand the physical facts (not opinions) that explain what he is

The basic fact is that the material out of which a clarinet is made, makes
very little, if not undetectable, difference in the sound and feel of the

As usual, all of this was carefully studied by Arthur Benade and is
documented in his various writings (some of it is in Fundamentals of
Musical Acoustics, published by Dover).

Here are the basic physical facts (verified by experiment and quoted from

1. Changes in the material or the thickness of the walls (of a
clarinet tube) cannot detectably alter the sound of an instrument
insofar as it depends on radiation by the walls.

In other words, the walls don't vibrate enough to make any audible difference.

2. If the bore of the instrument is smooth and non-porous,
experiment and theory agree that switching materials will
make changes in the damping that are generally less than the
two-percent change that most musicians are able to detect [that
is the players; listeners cannot detect a two-percent change].

In other words, plastic, metal, wood, greenline, etc. does not make a

HOWEVER, an aspect of instrument manufacture that is INDIRECTLY related to
material can have a LARGE effect on the playability and sound that is
immediately evident to players and listeners. The physical problem is
turbulence (or bumpiness) in the air column caused by rough surfaces or
sharp corners. This is related to material only in that certain
manufacturing techniques and tools are (and were) traditionally used with
certain types of materials, and therefore in metal and plastic clarinets,
for example, corners tended to be very sharp.

There is no fundamental reason why metal and plastic clarinets must have
sharp corners. It was a result of a lack of knowledge and consequent
misguided manufacturing techniques. Here is an extended quote from Benade:

I have found historical and contemporary examples of instruments
made by the best workmen in which the corners were deliberately
rounded, as well as those (much more common today) which are left
with sharp corners. In EVERY (emphasis added) case, players prefer
the ones with rounded corners. In the normal course of
traditional instrument-making, rounded corners are most often
produced on wooden instruments. A number of metal and plastic
instruments which I have reworked have prompted musicians to remark
in public that they play just like good wooden ones.

So this leads one to the factual conclusion that a properly manufactured
and designed instrument made of any sufficiently hard material such as
metal, plastic or wood (all woods exhibit virtually identical thermal
losses) will be indistinguishable by players and listeners from an
identical instrument of a different material.

As a footnote to all of this, it is interesting to note that of all the
energy that we put into playing the clarinet, you would think or hope that
most of that comes out in the sound. Sorry, it ain't so. Roughly 99% of
the energy we put into the instrument goes into heating up the walls of the

Jonathan Cohler

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