Klarinet Archive - Posting 001524.txt from 1998/04
From: Jonathan Cohler <cohler@-----.net>
Subj: [klarinet] Clarinet Material
Date: Mon, 27 Apr 1998 08:59:37 -0400
Lest we get too far afield on opinion based tangents from an area in which
the physical facts are well known, and well documented in the technical
literature, I took the liberty of excerpting one of my messages on this
subject from last fall for the benefit of those who have not seen it.
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 (i.e.
the blowing feeling, not the touch of the hands) of the instrument.
As usual, all of this was carefully studied by the great
physicist/clarinetist Arthur Benade (considered one of the greats of
musical acoustics/physics) 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.
None of this speaks to the aesthetic and marketing reasons/arguments for
some, indeed many, preferring wood. That is a very interesting discussion
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