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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000801.txt from 2001/02

Subj: [kl] materials for contra-bass clarinet
Date: Tue, 20 Feb 2001 19:44:09 -0500

Scott Stevens asked for tips on his Leblanc BBb contra.

Scott -

I have a "paperclip" Leblanc BBb (to low C) and spent a lot of time getting
it to play reliably.

The most important thing to do is get the pads properly seated and the
register vent mechanism working properly. Most of the pads are held in with
screws and small resonators, and, like flute pads, the seating is done by
inserting semi-circular paper shims. It's really a job for a saxophone
specialist, or perhaps a flute specialist, who is used to working with this
design. Clark Fobes told me that when he used to overhaul these beasts, he
would remove the screw posts and float in kid pads on shellac, in the
standard clarinet/bass clarinet style. The register vent mechanism is
insanely complicated, since it opens three holes -- a special hole for throat
Bb as well as the standard low- and high-clarion holes.

The older instruments often have a lot of slop in the action. They're a real
problem to get adjusted right, but some free play is tolerable on the lowest
notes of the low C model, since you don't use them often.

If you have the "paperclip" model and don't need the low notes, you can
sometimes improve the response by removing the final piece (for low Db and
low C), and putting the bell on the end of the next joint, or by leaving off
the bell completely. However, taking off that piece and putting it back on
always creates the risk of flexing the ascending pieces and throwing the
adjustment out. I therefore leave mine on.

Handle the instrument very gently. I always pick it up using the two
horizontal cross-braces. Lay it down on an old blanket doubled over a couple
of times, and with the left little finger keys pointing up.

The floor peg wing nut is hard to get tight. I got some rubber tubing at a
surgical supply store and cut pieces about 3/8" long to fit over the ears of
the nut. (Moisten the inside of the rubber tube with saliva to slide it on.)
If you have a deep chair, you can make the instrument steadier by adjusting
the peg very short and resting it on the chair between your legs.

When you assemble the instrument, always put the mouthpiece into the neck
tube and put the reed on before you put the neck into the rest of the
instrument. When you take it apart, take the neck out before you remove the
reed and mouthpiece. The bending back and forth of the instrument if you do
it the other way is a sure recipe for leaks.

Leblanc originally made a wide mouthpiece, which takes Vandoren contrabass
reeds. About 20 years ago, they went to a narrower one, the same width as
the Eb contra-alto. Vandoren doesn't make reeds for these, but their bass
sax reeds fit fine and are much better than the brown-box/orange-box Ricos.
Count yourself lucky if you have the old mouthpiece, which works better in
the low register.

Mouthpieces are a problem. Old contras have often been played by "etc."
players, and the mouthpieces get beaten up. It's worth sending what you have
to someone like Everett Matson, who can make remarkable improvements. It's
also worth trying a new one. The Selmer C* is a good, intermediate design.
However, I got one recently, and it was *way* lopsided and took my mouthpiece
man a lot of work to straighten out. Apparently Selmer's manufacturing
equipment has gotten worn, and they sell so few it's not worth it to them to
go to the expense of fixing it. However, rubber is good, and it's worth the
effort to fix them.

Even if you don't normally play double lip, you almost have to use it on
contra if you don't want your brains scrambled. Also, you need to take
plenty of mouthpiece, especially on top. Sometimes it works to use the
so-called "Andy Gump" embouchure that a lot of bassoonists use, with your
lower jaw dropped and pulled back and your chin bunched. Don't puff your
cheeks, though.

Contras take a fairly soft reed. However, the very large reeds tend to warp
on the bottom. I therefore buy them hard -- Vandoren # 4 -- and put them on
a large flat file to make them completely flat on the bottom. By the time I
remove any bark along the edges and get them balanced, they probably end up
around # 2 or 2-1/2. You want them just hard enough that you don't get that
flapping or clicking sound on the low notes. Then blow gently.

As others have noted, Leblanc quality control is not good, and they have no
Francois Kloc to provide aftermarket service. However, contra is too much
fun to let the opportunity pass. Once I got my BBb working, it can both play
ppp and shake the walls.

I don't know of contra-specific exercise books, but I don't think of it as
that much different from soprano. Just play your scales and etudes on
contra. If you don't know about it, there's a great contrabass instrument
site on the web. I think it's, but if that's not it, you
can find it through Anne Bell's sponsor's page on Sneezy or, I think, on the
Sneezy home page.

Welcome to the Low BBb Club.

Best regards.

Ken Shaw

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