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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000025.txt from 2005/08

Subj: [kl] Wurlitzer Reform-Boehm Clarinets
Date: Thu, 04 Aug 2005 12:51:56 -0400

Hi Nancy and Chris,

Having owned a model 185 Wurlitzer Reform-Boehm Bb clarinet with the low
E/F improvement (extra key on the bell) for about 4 months I have had an
opportunity to really get to know a lot about these wonderful

First, with the Dollar to Euro right now, I think the price range that
Nancy mentions may be a little low for their top model (the one I have).
With their least expensive single case and cover (not included in the
price), mine came out to be about 7,000 Euros. With the Dollar to Euro
conversation back in March of this year, that turned out to be close to
$9,000. I did purchase two extra barrels that are made to use with a
French mouthpiece at 110 Euros each, so this added slightly to the
price. I would strongly encourage anyone used to playing on French
clarinets to purchase these barrels so that you can use your French
mouthpiece with it. It will help you over the learning hump so to speak
as you experiment with a German mouthpiece/reed setup.

I do not consider myself by any means an expert on the Wurlitzer
Reform-Boehm clarinets. I have spent many hours now playing and working
on them. I even had Morrie Backun do some work on it while I was at his
shop and am currently trying out two barrels that he had made
specifically for the Wurlitzer clarinets. They are very good I might add
and offer the same kind of improvement to the Wurlitzer's as his other
barrels do for the French clarinets.

The clarinets are indeed hand crafted to a very great degree, but some
operations are done using CNC machinery, just like Buffet uses. You
can't beat the accuracy of these machines for doing intricate boring and
milling work. I was told that the top of the line model 185 takes about
100 man hours to complete from beginning to finish, so this pales in
comparison to about 15-20 hours for the top of the line Buffets.

The keywork for each clarinet is hand crafted from blanks that are
supplied to them from their sister company that is located in what used
to be East Germany. It is my understanding that Herbert Wurlitzer and
his family left East Germany after WWII, and before the Berlin wall was
erected and located in the town that they are presently in. However,
some of the Wurlitzer family stayed behind and continued to run the shop
in East Germany. After the wall fell and Germany was reunited, they
started to work together in some areas like the keywork. They also make
the pads which are used on their clarinets. Each set of keywork is
unique to the clarinet it is made for and will not fit another of their
clarinets because it is entirely fitted by hand like the French used to
do many years ago. When a clarinet goes back to the factory for repair
or overhaul, all keywork is kept separate from any other clarinets to
make sure none is mis-matched. Each wood piece and all keys are
inscribed with a number to show that they also match. The keywork is
heavily silver plated and is the best keywork I have every had the
pleasure to use, both from the quality of finish to the durability of
the metal. It is very hard to bend any of the keys.

The model 185 clarinet has a few extra keys and rings that a standard
French clarinet does not have. Wurlitzer also holds a patent on their Bb
mechanism on the upper joint. This mechanism overcomes the typical
problems that one encounters using the throat Bb by using two register
tubes and two keys that are linked together in such a way that playing a
throat Bb opens up both register keys and gives you a very clear throat
Bb. Whenever your thumb is on the thumb ring below the Bb key, the
second smaller key is prevented from opening up and raising the pitch of
any notes played in combination with the Bb key and thumb ring. The
upper joint also has a ring for the middle C and uses a raised tone hole
unlike a French clarinet. This takes a little getting used to. Attached
to this ring is another key with pad that covers a second tone hole just
underneath the raised C tone hole. This allows for a better venting of
the middle C and also for several forked combinations. The C# key also
has a small extension that allows you to manipulate this key using your
right hand 1st finger which allows for very fast C#/G# trills.

The bottom joint keywork also has some differences. One is that the Bb/F
key ring activates a second key on the side of the clarinet next to
where the alternate B/F# key is. In addition, there are two keys which
are used for the low F instead of just one. When playing a low E you are
using three keys. It is my understanding that Wurlitzer has designed the
model 185 Reform-Boehm around an acoustic principal similar to the
German system clarinets in that each note is vented and tuned by two
tone holes instead of just one. This additional venting adds resonance
to the sound that the clarinet makes and thus is one of the reasons why
they sound more like their German counterpart than a French clarinet.

When I got back from Germany, I noticed after about a week, that the
clarinet did not seem to play as well as when I had tried it out at
their shop. It was then that I realized that the wood was going through
some adjustment. On the advice of another Wurlitzer owner, I just kept
playing on it for about three months until the wood had acclimated
itself to it's new climate and had started to break in. I then started
closely examining the mechanical design of the keywork and trying to get
a better understanding of how to go about making fine adjustments of the
keywork. Many of the key mechanisms have adjustment screws which allow
you to make very fine adjustments which I think is a very good idea. I
know that Rossi also makes extensive use of these adjustment screws on
his clarinets as well.

After a visit with Morrie Backun, I got up the courage to take it all
apart and see what was under the hood. It turns out that all of the
adjustment screws are cushioned against the opposing metal surface with
a very thin cork. The cork is actually glued over the base where the
screw is, so that when you adjust the screw, it actually pushes the cork
down or up depending on how far you turn the screw. Morrie suggested
that using Teflon in place of the cork would take out any slack that
would be caused by the cushion of the cork, and at the same time reduce
friction. He did this in one place for me to try it and see if I liked
the result. This seemed to help in my opinion, so I replaced all the
adjustment screw corks with Teflon instead, gluing it to the base
opposite of the actual screw itself so as to not interfere in the
adjustment of the screw. Once you have all the screws adjusted, you can
use a small drop of locktite to lock the screw in place so it won't move
from vibration. This made a big difference in my opinion and seemed to
take out the little bit of play that was in the keywork and at the same
time allow for a closer tolerance of adjustment than with the corks.

Still not being satisfied with the seal that I was getting on the tone
holes I began to inspect the pads to find out how they were made. I
noticed that in performing a vacuum test of both the upper and lower
joint that there seemed to be quite a bit of air leaking out even though
that pads looked properly seated. I felt that this was adding more
resistance to the clarinet than I wanted, especially since I was trying
to use a French mouthpiece instead of the German one. I removed one pad
that appeared to be leaking and dissected it. It turns out that the pads
are very soft compared to a bladder skin pad. They are constructed using
a fairly thin cardboard backing with a thick piece of soft felt next,
and a very soft vinyl or plastic material pulled over this and glued to
the back just like a bladder skin pad is. The result is a pad that is
very soft, flexes, and will take a very deep seat. The problem with this
in my mind is that the pad will over time seat too deeply into the tone
hole itself and start to drag or stick to the inside of the tone hole as
the key is opened or closed. Second, I just did not like such a soft
pad. When combined with bumper corks built into the adjustment screws, I
felt this added too much play into the keywork and I was just not
getting consistent results when trying to adjust all the different key
mechanisms. Therefore, I removed all the pads and repadded it myself
using a combination of pad types. I even tried using bladder skin pads
on a couple of keys where I wanted a firmer response to the key
movement. After experimenting with various combinations, I finally ended
up with cork on some of the upper joint keys and Valentino Greenbacks on
all the rest. The difficulty in padding this clarinet is that you have
more key combinations that must work together, therefore, any difference
in pad height will be a problem in getting the right adjustment. This is
the most difficult clarinet I have ever repadded. In addition, all of
the keys must be perfectly adjusted or it will not play well. This being
due to the complex way that keys work in combination with each other.

In the end, I now have the clarinet playing the way I want it, with very
responsive keywork that yields the same movement time after time. The
vacuum tests are now 100% better and I have reduced the amount of
resistance when using a French mouthpiece. I would have no hesitation to
test the results of what I have done against a factory set up Wurlitzer
and am very curious how it would compare in peoples opinion. In the end,
all of the many hours of experimentation paid off because this clarinet
has such a unique sound. The resonance is so great that people will
think you are playing one to two levels louder than you really are
because the sound just penetrates and projects. After I finished all the
work, I then compared it to the best of my Buffet's and there is just no
comparison sound wise. The Wurlitzer just has this incredibly full,
resonant sound. My wife said my Buffet's sounded wimpy compared to the
Wurlitzer. Well, no pun intended.

Anyone wanting more detailed information on what I did please feel free
to contact me directly and I would be happy to share them with you.

Tom Henson

<< In my personal opinion, you would be wiser to buy a Wurlitzer
Reformed Boehm clarinet. After sitting and playing these clarinets over
and over at the display tables of the many conferences where I have seen
them, I can't for the life of me, understand why people spend money on
standard French system clarinets when these are available. They are
expensive, yes, but when one considers paying for a standard French
system clarinet and then spending more money to have it properly set-up,
the Wurlitzer makes more sense and is a better instrument. They come
absolutely ready to play when you receive them from Wurlitzer (they are
hand-made), and are so much easier to play. Octaves and wide interval
leaps are obtainable for anyone, the pitch is incomparable and the
craftsmanship is far better than anything=20
you are used to playing on. They come with a Wurlitzer mouthpiece or
can use your own and they also have two barrels. The keywork is right
where you would expect it to be. You do have to become accustomed to
the extra keywork, but in my opinion that is a minor issue. If these
had been available for me to try somewhere close by before I bought my
Patricolas, I would have waited to by them. I have promised my self a
pair and am close to having the money for the first one. Depending on
the model you buy, they cost between $4800 and $6500, depending on the
key combinations you get. If I was in your shoes, I would wait until I
could try one before laying down that kind of money for a Prestige.


Nancy Buckman
Principal Clarinet / Orchestra AACC >>

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