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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000498.txt from 2000/09

From: Daniel Leeson <>
Subj: [kl] Re: old is not as good as new
Date: Fri, 15 Sep 2000 19:38:57 -0400

I am grateful that Jim Marioneaux posted his thoughts on old vs new
instrument. I think him for it and respond as follows.

Jim, it appears to me that you accept the belief that, with the passage
of time, improvements in technology will always make the newer better
than the older, at least insofar as clarinet making is concerned. And
yet, we have heard on this list from some of the best repairpersons
going that "so-and-so's bass clarinet made 25 years ago by xyz was much
better engineered than xyz is doing today."

In effect, I suggest that the presumption that time always brings
improvements is false.

Furthermore, although you were referring to instruments, I suggest that
this unquestioned belief in the supremacy of technology may not be true
for mouthpieces, reeds, cases, and all the other impedimenta that
clarinetists use in their trade. People on this list are often willing
to pay small fortunes for mouthpieces made 50 or more years ago. And in
my own example, I feel that case manufacture is going backwards in terms
of quality, protection, craftsmanship and beauty. I admit that these
items were not what you were discussing, but I thought I would throw
them in just to emphasize the point that old is not necessarily
synonymous with bad.

Even old clarinet players can sometimes be very good. Certainly you had
no intent to carry your thoughts on old instruments to mean old players.
I'm said that, not you. But it is all a part of the same syndrome: old
@-----. We see it in today's culture with buildings, forests, employees,
and even related artistic items such as "set design." ("We must have a
new production of La Boheme. The current one is old!")

But let me get back to your letter before I become so maudlin as to be
unable to speak at all. You did not, after all, insult the Marx

Bottom line is that there is very little evidence that an old clarinet
is poorer than a new one, all other things being equal, even though a
reasonable person could conclude that is what you said. For example,
you said, "a professional instrument made in the 50's that has been
swabbed for many years ..." And then you went on to comment that such
instruments might not be good (or as good) precisely because of this

On this matter you are on very thin ice. While a number of people have
made assertions about this very phenomenon, others contradict it
forcefully saying that there is no substantive or objective evidence to
support any statement about the long-term effects of swabbing an

Your statement probably is true if you did the swabbing with sandpaper,
but I don't know the effect of running a silk or cotton swab through an
instrument 10 times a day for 50 years, and, with all due deference, I
don't think that you do either. It's just one of those many stories
that have become part of clarinet lore. And as a person in the
important position of educating another generation of clarinet players,
I don't think you really want to carry the prejudices of a previous
generation into a new one. Instead, you should be generating your own
prejudices!! :))

Now, on the other hand, some players do maintain that their old
instruments do not seem to be playing as well as they once did. But is
it possible that their standards have changed over the years? That is,
the instrument is playing exactly the same, but they hear it differently
as a more refined player should. If one suggests that the pitch of a
clarinet is not accurate any longer, is this due to the fact that the
pitch has changed (was it measured when the instrument was bought 50
years ago?) or has the player's ear undergone change over 50 years?

Bottom line is that there is very little evidence that establishes in
any objective way that old is not as good as new, either in the broadest
possible sense (which is what your first posting suggested), or even at
the level of detail that you attempted to achieve in your most recent

And while you did not give any anecdotes about how this one or that one
hears things that were not there in the past and thus your hypothesis
must be true, such stories do not constitute evidence.

Personally, I was hoping for a fresh look at this very old problem (I
hope that because it is an old problem, it can still be considered as
worthy of serious investigation) because I'd love to understand it

Oh yes, my C clarinet that was made by Buffet in 1890 (and which is now
in Richmond, VA), and my two Buffets which were played at the Met by
Herb Blayman from 1950 until 1975 and which I played until 1995 took
very serious offense that you would consider them unworthy, at least as
contrasted with the new kids on the block.
** Dan Leeson **
** **

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