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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000736.txt from 2004/08

From: "Lelia Loban" <lelialoban@-----.net>
Subj: [kl] Eb mouthpieces?
Date: Fri, 27 Aug 2004 17:09:27 -0400


Regarding a mouthpiece suggestion for an Eb clarinet purchased off eBay,
Curtis Bennett wrote,
>I'll keep those in mind, though I'm not
>sure I want to invest that much in what
>is essentially a toy for me.

I think the budget is as valid a consideration as any other. (I'm an
amateur, too.) See if you can get someone to listen to you while you try
different mouthpieces, but only you can decide. This is one of those
questions that an e-mail list can't answer, because we can't hear (much
less guess) how different mouthpieces sound on that clarinet when you play
it. The best we can do is generalize that a Brand X clarinet of a certain
vintage, that's being used for Type Y music, often sounds good with a Brand
Z mouthpiece. Beware of the product-pushers who get so excited about their
favorite brands that they forget that a mouthpiece that's great on one
clarinet, for one clarinet player, can sound all wrong for another clarinet
played by somebody else; and that the fact that one (expensive) thing might
be *best* doesn't mean everything else is worthless.

At ClarinetFest this year, I had an interesting go-round on this very
subject, with a member of this list whom I like and respect -- someone who
knows a lot. As we walked into the dealer room together, I mentioned that
I planned to choose a Selmer C* mouthpiece for an Eb clarinet. She tried
to talk me out of it. In vain, I tried to explain why I needed that
mouthpiece for a particular clarinet. She told me, rather angrily, that
the clarinet would sound so shrill I wouldn't be able to stand it, and that
I'd regret wasting my money this way. Nothing I said could persuade her I
knew what I was doing. She kept up the pressure on me. She even insisted
on marching me over to the booth of a well-known custom designer of
mouthpieces, after I'd already explained that I couldn't afford his work at
the moment. Finally I just shut up and silently inched backwards, until
she got so engrossed in conversation with the designer that she forgot all
about me, whereupon I made my escape, slithered around a corner, found the
booth I wanted and chose my C* on the sneak. Yes, at age 56, it's still
possible to feel like a kid crawling out of a window in the middle of the
night!

Well, she lit into me later, of course, because I couldn't resist letting
her know I'd disobeyed her. Granted, I'd try to talk me out of the C*,
too, if I'd wanted it to replace the ruined mouthpiece that came to me with
an 1898 Buffet, Albert system (LP, which means low pitch, i.e. tuned to
concert A=440). I bought the second Eb clarinet for its lovely old hard
rubber mouthpiece marked, "France," with a close, classical facing. That
great mouthpiece came with a silver-plated metal Eb clarinet, marked,
"American Standard High Grade Cleveland Mus. Inst. Co." Yeah, American
Standard, probably no relation to the toilets -- the case didn't smell
*quite* that bad. I don't know what's the difference between my "High
Grade" and somebody else's Plain Old Ordinary Grade, but it's an economy
model of student clarinet from the 1930s, not highly sought-after today. I
bought it cheaply and restored it myself. Since the tenon socket on the
Buffet's barrel has a slightly different diameter from the neck socket on
the American Standard, I can't use the same mouthpiece with both clarinets.
Just as well, because the old French mouthpiece was so resistant on the
American Standard that I wasted a lot of time trying to find a nonexistent
pad leak. I was blowing my brains out and turning purple. When I
temporarily fattened the cork with layers of tape and tried the same
mouthpiece on the antique Albert system clarinet, it was much more
free-blowing, and sounded beautiful. The Buffet sounds too soft and mellow
for jazz or for any modern band, but it would be excellent for classical
chamber music (if I can learn to remember to use Albert fingerings).

So that's why I needed a second mouthpiece, preferably not one that a flea
market dealer has dropped, patched together with Gorilla Glue and smoothed
out with a belt grinder (that's what I think happened to the ruined
mouthpiece that was in the case with the Buffet!), but not a custom-made
job for $200 or upwards, either. The Selmer Standard line has been around
forever, has no sex appeal any more, and never had snob appeal, but there's
nothing the matter with those mouthpieces. They're hard rubber and in my
experience, they're reliably well-made. I never put a Selmer mouthpiece on
a Buffet clarinet or saxophone, but Selmer, Bundy and similar clarinets
often play best with Selmer mouthpieces. I've got an HS* (a moderately
close, classical facing) that I like very much on my pro-grade Paris Selmer
Eb alto, that I use with an alto saxophone reed. My used Bundy 1440 EEb
contra-alto (again, no snob appeal, but it happens to be a lot of clarinet
for the money) sounds good with its C*, especially with a baritone sax reed.

So, when I started doing research on what might work with this American
Standard eefer without breaking the piggy bank, it occurred to me that old
H. N. White saxophones often play well with older models of Selmer
mouthpieces. I soon found out that the diameter and length of a modern C*
are exactly the same, inside and out, as the diameter and length of the old
French mouthpiece I'd given to the Buffet. That means the C* probably
would play in tune on the same clarinet that plays in tune with the oldie.
The big difference in measurements is that the tip of the C* is much more
open than the old mouthpiece. I didn't want an even more open mouthpiece
than the C* (at the median point among the options in the Selmer Standard
line), because my opinionated friend was quite right that Eb clarinets tend
to be shrill, and I wanted it for playing jazz, not for stripping paint. I
also figured that, for the future, a C* might be a reasonable,
middle-of-the-road option for jazz (or a reliable backup mouthpiece) on a
better-quality Selmer Eb, if I find a good one.

Glad I didn't listen to the ClarinetFest naysayer, because I found a nice
C* at ClarinetFest, and it did turn out to be the right choice. I like
Steuer French Cut reeds on this mouthpiece, btw. I also bought those for
the first time at ClarinetFest (a great place to find brands of reeds that
haven't turned up in my excellent local store yet). I've now got the
option of two vastly different Eb setups: a mellow, classical tone from the
antique Buffet with the old French mouthpiece and, with the metal American
Standard with the C* mouthpiece, a free-blowing jazz or pop sound from an
instrument I could play outdoors in the rain. Big band? No problema. The
brassholes wouldn't drown out this little banshee. All wishful thinking,
of course, since I don't belong to any band....

Anyhow, the bottom line is: Listen to advice, but then listen to yourself.

Lelia Loban
More trees, less Bush: Kerry and Edwards in 2004!

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