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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000001.txt from 2001/07

From: Neil Leupold <>
Subj: [kl] Starting a beginner
Date: Sun, 1 Jul 2001 00:05:19 -0400

'Had the pleasurable experience this afternoon of helping a new
student pick out an instrument for herself -- no kidding, I ac-
tually enjoyed it quite a lot. I showed up at the store (WW/BW
on 23rd St. in Manhattan) 40 minutes early and had the staff grab
as many as they had of each model I had in mind: Buffet B-12, Vito
7212, and the Yamaha YCL-20. By the time my student arrived -- an
adult beginner, approx. 34 years old -- our practice room was popu-
lated with 6 clarinets: 3 B-12's, 2 YCL-20's, and one Vito (no par-
tridges in a pear tree, however).

I had her "mix up" the instruments for me and turn the brand stamps
away so I couldn't tell which was which (although the matte finish
on the B-12's made it kind of obvious in their case, not to mention
the key design when I held them in my hands). One by one, she handed
me an instrument and I proceeded to run up its range, one note at a
time, the tuner showing clearly which notes were questionable. She
found the visual feedback from the tuner very interesting and began
to invest herself in the process, recognizing in her own mind that
wide tuning variances across the range of the instrument were red
flags. We were picking out an instrument, but it also doubled as
her first lesson, and she never actually played a note.

The Vito was a dog from the start and we put it aside shortly after
seeing the tuner needle jump twenty cents sharp between chalumeau Ab
and A. It stayed 20 cents sharp up into the throat tones, and the
twelths above were even worse, except long B to Eb, of course, which
were much closer.

One of the B-12's, I'll call it B-12 #1, was a used instrument, and I
thought, "Hey, maybe it's in good shape and she'll come away with a bar-
gain." Unfortunately, the lowest trill key had been bent upward slight-
ly. There was absolutely no evidence of trauma to the instrument, no
metal fatigue in that area, no scratches on the keys, but it clacked
against the next trill key up. It also clacked against the bridge key
when fully depressed. I thought to myself, "I'll bet Jimmy Yan would
bend this back into place for ten bucks," so I proceeded to check it
against the tuner. It wasn't outrageous in any direction, but it
was just a little inconsistent (i.e., not perfectly in tune with it-
self). I was *very* impressed, however, with the 12ths on all three
B-12's...the needle barely wiggled. I put this one next to me as a

Next was one of the Yamahas (I didn't know that, of course, but I
looked at the brand stamp afterward). It was resistant compared to
B-12 #1, and a little sharp in the lower chalumeau and clarion. I
wondered to myself if a beginner would want to deal with that kind
of resistance built into the horn. This was Yamaha "#1".

The next B-12, #2, had remarkably good intonation, and I came back to it
repeatedly to make sure I wasn't adjusting to any of the other instru-
ments' quirks while measuring *their* tuning. B-12 #3 had a problem sim-
ilar to the Vito (albeit to a lesser degree), and I feared that maybe I
was losing mental focus and starting to pinch. So I immediately switched
to B-12 #2 and the suspect notes were spot-on with this instrument. B-12
#3 was simply sharp in the chalumeau, by a good 15 cents compared to B-12

Lastly we came to Yamaha #2. It was everything Yamaha #1 was not: free
blowing, nicely in tune, with a slightly brighter tone compared to Buffet
#2. It ultimately came down to a choice between these two in-tune instru-
ments: Yamaha #2 vs. Buffet #2. They both had the most even resistance of
all six instruments from low E up to high C (i.e., atop the 5th ledger line
above the staff), with consistent tone quality between the three registers.
Mechanically, they were equally well-adjusted, and (I was shocked with my-
self) I actually found Yamaha's keywork and spacing more fluid for my tech-
nique, even though the Buffet was so "recognizable" to me compared to my
own R-13 Prestiges.

I played a little Mozart, a little Weber, a little Brahms -- the same passages
on each instrument -- awaiting her feedback. After first playing B-12 #2, we
suspected the rest of the comparison exercise was a moot point, especially since
I kept coming back to that instrument for tuning comparisons with the other five
clarinets. Yamaha #2, however, was easily the Buffet's equal in all of the basic
areas -- intonation throughout the range, evenness of resistance and tone quality,
mechanical integrity. Even the alternate fingerings were impressive on both in-
struments. I've heard a lot of bashing of mass produced instruments, but clearly
mass production has come a long way over the years. I swear I was not compensating
for any eggregious weaknesses in any of these beginner clarinets -- tried to stay
as consistent and objective as possible.

In spite of her own leanings toward the Buffet throughout the trial, she ultimately
favored the Yamaha. I had to agree with her. She commented that she literally liked
the Yamaha's sound quality better than the Buffet's, and that it had a "ring" to it
that the Buffet seemed to lack. I never used the word "ring" during that session,
so she didn't get it from me. Despite what I felt were equally lyrical and tech-
nically well-executed excerpts, she said she could hear greater effort from me on
the Buffet, whereas she sensed greater ease on the Yamaha. I was actually quite
comfortable on the Buffet, so this subjective comment from her was valuable in the
decision-making process. They were both very good student instruments and I would
happily play either one in a pinch. The fact that she had a decisive preference
after the final comparison made the purchase decision an easy one, and I suspect
that she will be very happy learning how to play, knowing that she got what she
felt was the best instrument for her out of the six that we tried.

I have to say again: that was a lot of fun. After setting her up with a Fobes Debut,
Vandoren 2's, a Rovner (I'll let her futz with my ligature collection after she has
basic tone production down), and a swab (the instrument came with cork grease), we're
ready for her first "real" lesson next Thursday. In retrospect, I think I should have
pushed for a metronome too, but she'll have no problem springing for one if it comes
up over the next few lessons. Now I need to go to Sam Ash and pick up a method book.
Any recommendations?

Just kidding! :-)


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