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 Bass clarinet register experiment
Author: clarnibass 
Date:   2006-05-17 09:24
Attachment:  NeckRegisterTubeEnlarge.jpg (37k)
Attachment:  RegisterTubes.jpg (30k)


In the past I posted about the problem with jumping from low notes (low C to about thumb F) to middle clarion (clarion E to C) on the Buffet low C 1193 model.
When I first asked for advice about this people mostly suggested that the problem is the mouthpiece or reed. I thought that could be the problem until I tried the same mouthpiece and reeds on several Selmer 35s/37s and the problem didn't exist at all.

I contacted bass clarinet specialist and advisor for Buffet on low clarinets Jean Marc Volta and described the problem. He knew exactly what I was talking about! He explained how the size of the register tube affects the playing of those intervals (which I'm guessing are rare in orchestral music? which is probably the reason why Buffet do it this way, but I play them all the time).
The instruments with the bigger register hole are harder to control the intonation (according to both Volta and Morrie Backun, who I also contacted) but don't have the problem I described. Like almost everything, it is mostly about compromises.

I contacted a few people about making a bigger register tube for me. Clive Noakes from England, a hobbyist woodwind instruments restorer and engineer for over 50 years was the most helpful. He was as much interested as me to investigate. He had an idea - he made a bigger shorter tube that would fit (by screwing them) several tubes, each with different size hole. That way I could compare the different size holes as accurately as possible.

I wasn't able to unsolder the register tube from the Buffet neck, so I decided to just drill it out. The hole is exactly 3mm, so I started with a 3.5mm drill (I just drilled it without removing the tube from the neck), and planned to do it 0.5mm at a time until it drops. It didn't remove anything with the 3.5mm, but just made the hole bigger. I decided to try to play before drilling the tube completely out.
I played, and what a difference! Now the notes which were mostly impossible are very easy, pretty much as easy as the Selmers! It feels like a 4mm hole might improve it even more and make it very easy to play those intervals (but of course I'd have to change to a bigger tube to have a 4mm hole). The only downside (as both Volta and Backun have said) is intonation is slightly harder to control on some notes for example high clarion A#, B and C (EDIT: after playing for a long time with this big hole, I can say there is actually no significant change in intonation at all).

For example in the 2005 bass clarinet convention in Rotterdam I heard a piece called Press Release composed by David Lang, which constantly has attacks on low notes and legato to clarion E, and when I tried to play it (just the beginning from memory) it was absolutely impossible to play with the smaller hole! I could not understand how someone could play it, until I tried it on a Selmer.
Or, for example, a piece I'm playing now from the CD Double Trio - Green Dolphy Suite which has a fast swing melody where almost every two notes are a big jump. I simply could not play some parts from it smoothly, but now with the bigger hole I can, fairly easily.

I am making a huge generalization here (maybe the exception is the majority?) but I would say that I could understand why an orchestral bass clarinetist, even one who also plays solo but maybe not very modern pieces, would prefer the smaller hole. Maybe the sound is a tiny bit more focused, and I understand why Buffet make them this way.
I think that definitely most jazz/improvised music players, and maybe some "classical" soloists that play modern music would prefer the bigger hole. Notice I only enlarged by 0.5mm! Harry Sparnaay uses a very big register hole 4.5mm! (according to Volta).

I remember from the bass clarinet convention I heard a couple of soloists who played new Buffets, and I think I could hear the tiny delay when they made those jumps. I could hear they were struggling just slightly more than others in those intervals.

Clive Noakes was helpful and kind beyond believe! I also thank Jean Marc Volta for leading me to this information. Morrie Backun also gave me very good advice so I thank him too. I also thank some people from this forum - Chris Peryagh, Gordon Palmer, and David Spiegelthal.

I attached pictures. The first is the 3.5mm drill in the hole when I enlarged it and the second is all the new tubes, and I will report again after I have time to comapre all of them.

I hope this helps!

Nitai Levi
Jerusalem, Israel

Post Edited (2007-01-28 04:56)

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 Re: Bass clarinet register experiment
Author: Chris P 
Date:   2006-05-17 16:37


My idea is a simplified (or semi automatic) version of the fully automatic triple vent speaker mechanism Oehler system basses have - the middle vent (a new addition in between the existing vents) is to help with the E, F, F# and G in the upper register so they can be attacked cleanly without them kicking back, especially the F#.

Though I'm not sure what size the middle vent tube should be.

I'll drill my speaker tube out to see how it affects these.

Back in about 30 mins, I'm going in for the kill!

Right, I took the speaker tube up to 3.5mm but it made F# and G impossible, so I've filled it in with wax to 3mm again for the meantime. I'll have to get some better reeds to try it with next time, but I can melt the wax out to see how the 3.5mm hole works with a slightly harder reed.

Former oboe finisher
Howarth of London
1998 - 2010

The opinions I express are my own.

Post Edited (2006-05-17 17:06)

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 Re: Bass clarinet register experiment
Author: clarnibass 
Date:   2006-05-18 05:18


I'm happy to see it was interesting for some people.

Fuglen - Don't drill your register hole! The hole on the Selmer 37 is already close to (if not exactly) 4.5mm, and you definitely don't want to make it any bigger.
I have played the 37 and also the new Privilege and I think the register hole on the Privilege neck is smaller. When you get the new neck, can you please measure the diameter of the holes on both necks please, and describe any difference in playing between them? Volta said they did a lot of experiments in Buffet and the neck angle makes a big difference in the sound in general.

I'm not going to have the tubes gold plated since I believe this would make no difference, but maybe nickel or silver plated to protect them.

Chris P - What we describe is two different things. You told me you have a problem with attacking certain notes, especially the F# and some around it. Although in my opinion enlarging the hole made it a little easier to attack those notes, it was pretty easy to tongue them with the smaller hole too. They do feel less resistant when attacking them now with the bigger hole, but only a tiny (maybe even insignificant) difference.
The problem I was talking about is almost the opposite, playing to those notes (clarion E to clarion A) in legato, but only from low notes (thumb F and down). With the 3mm hole there was a short air sound and a delay of the clarion notes. The slightly bigger hole improved this a lot. There is still slight air sound that I think exists on almost every bass clarinet but there isn't a delay in the notes. If you have a problem with attacking those notes, it might not be the size of the register hole that is the problem.

For example a melody I am playing now has four 8th notes, throat G#, E (down a third), clarion F# (top line F#), and then G below the staff (under 2 extra lines). The tempo is about 200bmp, and is swing 8ths. It was impossible to play this with the smaller hole. Every time the F# would come out as a big air sound, and maybe by the end of it you would hear some F#. Now it is pretty easy to play this melody.

Nitai Levi
Jerusalem, Israel

Post Edited (2006-11-19 17:58)

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 Re: Bass clarinet register experiment
Author: Chris P 
Date:   2006-05-18 09:06

It's most likely a reed problem I'm having, it's finding the right strength reed that works throughout the range that's the tricky thing.

The upper and lower clarion speaks fine, it's just the middle that I need to sort out.

But my Pomarico mouthpiece is making things much easier for me to get the trouble notes - I can get them (F, F# and G) legato, but tongueing them (both lightly or staccato) is the hard part.

I'll dig out all the reeds I can find to see what works best. All the ones I thought were the right ones now feel too soft and buzzy for me.

Reply To Message
 Re: Bass clarinet register experiment
Author: clarnibass 
Date:   2006-05-18 09:55
Attachment:  BassClarinetPhrase.jpg (23k)

"But my Pomarico mouthpiece is making things much easier for me to get the trouble notes - I can get them (F, F# and G) legato, but tongueing them (both lightly or staccato) is the hard part."

I attached a picture with a phrase - did you try it legato this way (even faster than marked)?

Nitai Levi
Jerusalem, Israel

Post Edited (2007-01-28 05:08)

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 Re: Bass clarinet register experiment
Author: fuglen 
Date:   2006-05-18 11:38


Don't worry! If we all start drilling the hardware store will be out of wax before we know it. (sorry Chris!) -:) My register hole is just fine. Close to (or maybe excatly) 4,5 mm as you described. Ascending legato phrases is no problem compared to descending phrases witch causes problems on all BC´s i think. Especially downward octave slurs.

You wrote:"I think the register hole on the Privilege neck is much smaller..."
It sounds to me like the tube hole needs to be smaller to compensate for the more curved angle, and maintaining a stable intonation at the same time.
I have tried several modified alto saxophone necks (with less curve) and they all went higher in pitch in the upper register.

It might take some time for the frenchmen to ship my new crook. When I get it, I will give you a full report on this thread.

I suggested the gold plating because it would make the air travel faster through the tube. This is probably absolute nonsense but flute players seems to like the effect of gold (or platinum) inside their tube.
Please keep up the good work. If the drill is gone, the thrill is gone.


Reply To Message
 Re: Bass clarinet register experiment
Author: Gordon (NZ) 
Date:   2006-05-18 12:03

Claribass, you wrote earlier, "...Volta said they did a lot of experiments in Buffet and the neck angle makes a big difference in the sound in general...."

Do you know... Was this because of something inherent in the reshaped air column, or because of an altered angle between the mouthpiece and the player's head?

If it was claimed to be the former, then I would be interested in what steps were taken to totally eliminate the possibility of the latter.

After all, is it not right that the different angles are provided purely to enable a comfortable head position for the player when playing with the clarinet in front, or to the side, or sitting or standing?

I'm not criticising here; just asking from a position of relative ignorance of the acoustic effects of bends in the upper body, and thinking of sop saxes, baritone saxes, bent flutes alto flutes, and even tenor saxes.

Any acousticians present?

Reply To Message
 Re: Bass clarinet register experiment
Author: clarnibass 
Date:   2006-05-18 15:30

First, if anyone here with a Buffet 1193 or 1183 model, and with the original register tube, can please try to play the phrase in the picture I attached in my former message and report the result. My experience shows with the original hole basically impossible, with the slightly bigger hole mostly possible.

Peter - I'm not going to gold plate them. Even if the air moves faster, the question is, whether it is something the player or listener can hear, and my guess is no. About your friend and the gold plated neck, I am guessing it is one of the very common cases of psychology stronger than reality....

Gordon - I am not 100% sure if he meant just the angle of the neck or also the angle of the mouthpiece to the mouth. From how he phrased it (but he wrote in French and it was translated to me) I think he meant just the neck angle, but possibly the combination of both. He made it clear they have made a lot of experiments with it.
I have an acoustics teacher who is really a genius in acoustics (master degree in math, physics, music education, music theory, musicology, and is a professor of acoustics). I'll ask her when I get the chance. We learned about some things that happen to sound waves becasue of the shape or material it travels through, but not nearly speciific enough to answer your question.

Nitai Levi
Jerusalem, Israel

Post Edited (2006-11-19 18:02)

Reply To Message
 Re: Bass clarinet register experiment
Author: Chris P 
Date:   2006-05-18 22:44

I can play the phrase as written (though not up to speed) with the 3mm speaker tube - I tried it with the 3.5mm and it proved tricky getting tue upper note around the Bb-F, B-F# and especially the C-G part.

Try playing the following notes repeatedly, and all detatched - upper register F, F# and G to see how they respond. I have the most trouble repeatedly playing (staccato tongueing) F# and G, and I found the 3.5mm hole made these very unstable. Getting the size and position of the upper speaker tube is probably a headache for the makers.

It's a grey area.

Or a black art.

Reply To Message
 Re: Bass clarinet register experiment
Author: bill28099 
Date:   2006-05-18 22:51

I've got a Prestige to low "C" serial 27,XXX using a Grabner CX-BB, Rovner ligature and slightly clipped Vandoren 2.5 reeds. Morrie Backun has set up my register keys and also built me a neck piece so that I can play with the mouthpiece at ~40 degree angle vs Buffet's ~55 degree. This was done not for intonation purposes but to relieve the strain on my right wrist.

I have no problem playing your example. However, this is not to say I don't have have a register change over complaint with the horn. Klose page 17 exercise 50 of "68 exercises for mechanism" drives me nuts as the high G stalls for an instant before speaking. Morrie's adjustment helped some and harder reeds also help (Unfortunately, I'm not into blowing my brains out).

For your information my upper vent is about 2.5mm, I can't measure it precisely but a 2.36mm drill bit goes down the hole with a bit of play and a 2.77mm one does not.

A great teacher gives you answers to questions
you don't even know you should ask.

Post Edited (2006-05-18 22:55)

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 Re: Bass clarinet register experiment
Author: Chris P 
Date:   2006-05-19 12:09

Stall! That's the word I was looking for.

I've gone up to a Vandoren Java tenor sax 3 and this works better.

I've been playing on too soft a reed (for too long) which I thought was the trick, though I don't want to use a harder reed than the Java 3.

With the waxed in speaker hole I've opened it to about 3.2mm.

Recently I have noticed I've gone up to slightly harder reeds across the board - maybe since I've got into doing a lot more clarinet playing recently has done my chops a power of good, though I don't want to go overboard and use floorboards like I once did (Rico Royal 4 on bari sax! I'm using standard Vandoren 2.5 reeds on bari now).

I can play the excerpt much easier though.

I wonder how a conical speaker tube would work (tapering towards the pad)? Maybe with a 3mm hole at the pad expanding to a 4mm exit at the crook end, or maybe an hourglass shape like the throat Bb/lower speaker vent bush.

Reply To Message
 Re: Bass clarinet register experiment
Author: Jack Kissinger 
Date:   2006-05-26 23:31


Finally rememered to try your exercise when I had my bass clarinet out. I have an 1193 made in 1984 with its original register tube. After reading your comments, I was surprised to find that I can play your exercise at tempo without any problem. The design of the 1193 has changed since 1984 so, if there is now a generic problem, perhaps the it stems from the design changes and only occurs on newer models such as you tested. On the other hand, while I realize you have been asking for data points, I think your sample is too small to draw empirical conclusions about the model as a whole (though the analyses of Volta and Bakun would seem to justify your working hypothesis). Testing Selmers to draw conclusions about the Buffet is fraught with problems because there are many other differences in the two instruments. That means that there are many other potential variables involved, some of which may be impossible to identify let alone control for. As a result, it's not clear to me that the size of the register tube, by itself, is necessarily the cause, if there really is a problem. At least, it seems to me, it could be the register tube in conjunction with something else, in which case changing the register tube my solve the problem as it has in your case. It could also be, however, that finding and changing the "something else" would also solve the problem without, e.g., introducing intonation issues.

Keep us posted.

Best regards,

Reply To Message
 Re: Bass clarinet register experiment
Author: clarnibass 
Date:   2006-05-27 15:18

"I was surprised to find that I can play your exercise at tempo without any problem. The design of the 1193 has changed since 1984"

I'm not as surprised as you. Buffet certainly made a lot of changes since then. I didn't even know the 1193 model existed in the 80s. I think Buffet (and other companies) make small (or even big) changes all the time without letting the players know, but almost all players are not interested in those technical things in the first place.
I suspect (but can't be 100% sure since haven't done research) that the companies made the holes smaller in recent years. For example something I am sure about is Selmer only making the hole smaller last year in their new Privilege model (I think it is smaller than the former model). I'm not sure when Buffet changed to smaller holes, or what size holes they had on their older instruments.

"On the other hand, while I realize you have been asking for data points, I think your sample is too small to draw empirical conclusions about the model as a whole (though the analyses of Volta and Bakun would seem to justify your working hypothesis)."

Do you mean you read my past posts on this? In this thread I never mentioned how many samples I tested, so maybe I should.
I played and found this problem to exist on one 1193 Buffet from 1999, seven 1193 Buffets I've tried in the end of 2004, and one 1193 and one 1183 Buffets I've tried a few months ago.
I've tried one Selmer 35 that was bought in 2000, one Selmer 37 that was bought sometime in the 90s, and one Selmer 37 I've tried in the end of 2004. All three without the problem. I've also tried two low C and one low Eb Selmer Privileges a few months ago. As I said I am not sure if the Privileges had the problem or not because I just didn't bother to notice at the time and can't remember. If they did, it was definitely less than the Buffets.
Also, in the bass clarinet convention I've had the chance to hear many soloists on both Buffets and Selmers (and some Leblanc) and I remember hearing some of the players with new Buffets struggling just slightly more for those intervals than the Selmer players.
I have to completely disagree that my sample is too small.

"As a result, it's not clear to me that the size of the register tube, by itself, is necessarily the cause, if there really is a problem. At least, it seems to me, it could be the register tube in conjunction with something else"

Basically, after enlarging my register hole a little, speaking to very experienced people like Volta, Sparnaay and Backun, testing so many bass clarinets, hearing many different bass clarinetists on different instruments, I think I'm half way there, but can already say this is the cause of this problem I have. I still can't explainhow come some people don't have the problem with the regular size hole, but most of those probably haven't made a big comparison with different size hole or other instruments like I have.
A few days ago I spoke with a member of this forum who is a new owner of a late 90s Buffet 1193 and he said he does notice the problem, especially when comparing with his old Kohlert bass clarinet (though in every other way the Buffet is much better).
Chris P. said he can play the phrase with the regular hole. His problem wasn't improved by enlarging the hole, but it is a completely different problem, which I didn't have with the small or larger hole.

The other half of the experiment will be installing the screwed in tubes and have what I think is the most accurate test possible for this, since the comaprison will be done on the exact same instrument with the same neck.

"It could also be, however, that finding and changing the "something else" would also solve the problem without, e.g., introducing intonation issues."

I should have probably posted this sooner - When I originally posted this it was very little after I drilled the hole. Now after I had much more time to play with it I can say there is practically no difference in intonation. I've played with groups and didn't have tuning porblems at all. Also, the problems I did notice were most likely caused by other factors like extreme weather changes we had here recently (for example, the difference in intonation because of the weather between today and just one week ago are huge in comparison with the difference I heard after drilling the hole). I am sure I just played at a day that was sharper and only for a few seconds. Now I can say the intonation is not affected in any way that would even cause me to consider to prefer the smaller hole.

I also received a message from Volta a few weeks after I originally started asking him about this. Volta tries a lot of different things to experiment and maybe somtimes they add/change them to their standard model.
Here is what Volta wrote me (translated to English by a friend): "This morning I tried a neck with a 4-mm tube, the sound is better, the sound in the 12ths is clearer and more powerfull. The intonation is scarcely affected; higher on B-flat, B, and C."

Nitai Levi
Jerusalem, Israel

Post Edited (2006-11-19 18:10)

Reply To Message
 Re: Bass clarinet register experiment
Author: fuglen 
Date:   2006-05-27 23:13

"It could also be, however, that finding and changing the "something else" would also solve the problem without, e.g., introducing intonation issues."

Maybe the "something else" could have something to do with the neck angle.
If the register hole is smaller on the "privilege" than on the "37" they probably did so to compensate for the more Buffet-like angel. As I stated in an earlier post, I have some experience with altering the angel on Alto sax necks. I can guarantee that a change in the angel (on alto saxophone) affects intonation (among other things). Especially in the higher register (Bb and up). My guess is that a smaller register vent is needed on the BC´s with a more clarinet-like angel to avoid those intonation problems. ("the intonation is scarcely affected; higher on B-flat, B, and C." according to Mr. Volta)
I haven't got the privilege neck yet, so I cannot confirm that the inside tube diameter on this model is actually smaller. It would be nice to get some input from privilege owners about that.


Reply To Message
 Re: Bass clarinet register experiment
Author: clarnibass 
Date:   2006-05-28 04:46

OK, I looked up my past emails with Volta which have some answers.

Chris P - about your problem Volta explains how important are the reeds: "The use of reeds that are too soft (or too hard) is especially inadvisable because the attack is much more random/unreliable. The airspeed and the quantity of air used must be exact in order not to saturate the sound (strong reed) or delay its start (soft reed)."

So it seems trying different reed strengths should help your problem, and I understand it did.

Jack Kissinger/Peter - here is a quote from Volta: "As to the shape of the neck, it has no effect on the ease of playing these intervals (we have done lots of experiments) but it does change the general tone-quality a lot."

Regarding intonation and the neck angle: "The earlier Selmer basses, which I know well, didn't have this problem because they used very large register tubes, but the sound was very aggressive and intonation was impossible!!!!"

According to Volta the Selmers (I think he means models 37 and before, since they all have a very big register hole), which had the less angled neck didn't have better intonation. It doesn't seem at all that the more angled neck cause intonation problems that need to be fixed by a smaller register hole. Also as Volta says with the bigger hole "the intonation is scarcely affected; higher on B-flat, B, and C" which means the intonation change that comes with the bigger hole is basically meaningless, and that is my experience too.

I know length and width really affect intonation, but I'm not sure about the shape/angle, as long as you keep the length and width exactly the same. My assumption right now is that it doesn't.

Nitai Levi
Jerusalem, Israel

Post Edited (2006-11-19 18:14)

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 Re: Bass clarinet register experiment
Author: clarnibass 
Date:   2006-07-02 20:00
Attachment:  NeckBrokenTube.jpg (44k)
Attachment:  NeckTubeOut.jpg (41k)
Attachment:  BigTubeOnNeck.jpg (82k)
Attachment:  NeckNewTube.jpg (62k)


I have some updates.

Today I installed the threaded tubes, after I finished with all the important concerts I had lately. I have holes in these sizes: 1mm, 2.5mm, 3mm, 3.5mm, 4mm, 4.5mm. I've played each size for a few minutes, and tested all the problems. I checked the legato intervals problem which caused me to investigate it in the first place, plus all notes that use the upper register hole from E to high altisimo.

1mm hole - Basically non existent. When I play low notes and press the register key the low note keeps playing like there is no register hole at all.

2.5mm hole - Plays the clarion ok, with especially ease of playing the altisimo, they just pop out easily like any other note. The legato intervals problems exists and is very bad. Impossible to play with this size.

3mm hole - Clarion is ok (slightly better than the 2.5mm hole) and altisimo is pretty much as easy as with the 2.5mm hole. The legato intervals problem is better than the 2.5mm hole but still very annoying and the clarion notes have a delay.

3.5mm hole - The legato intervals problems is almost solved completely. The altisimo is just a tiny bit harder than with the 3mm or 2.5mm holes but it fixes the interval problem so good that it is meaningless. I have no problem playing the altisimo notes with this size hole.

4mm hole - the legato intervals problem is solved completely. It is as easy to play low A to clarion E as it is low G to clarion D. Altisimo is a little hard to play. With the smaller holes altisimo just pops out easily, but here I have to be much more focused with the direction of the air to make them play correctly.

4.5mm hole - doesn't really have any advantage over the 4mm hole, except altisimo is even slightly harder to play.

Overall I think I will use the 3.5mm hole for now (but I will keep experimenting). I chose this because I think there is almost no difference with the legato jumps with this and bigger holes, and almost no difference with altisimo with this and smaller holes. The tiny differences I can feel I doubt an audience could hear at all. This is the best middle ground for me.

I might sometimes change register hole size based on the music I am playing (though I'm probably too lazy for that!). When improvising (most of what I play) I definitely need the bigger hole, but if I happen to play in an orchestra I might go with the smaller hole.

In a perfect world it would be something like this: 4.5mm hole for E, 4mm for F to G#, 3.5mm for A and Bb, 3mm for B and C, and 2.5mm (or maybe 3mm) for C# and up.
If at all possible to build, very good would be a triple register mechanism, where the one up to D# is the same one as now, for E to C it will be a 4mm hole, and for the altisimo a 2.5mm hole. I can't really see how that would be possible since some altisimo notes use right hand fingers while others don't, etc.

I attached some pictures. The first one shows the original tube broken in the middle of drilling it out. The second picture shows the original tube out, and the hole on its way to get bigger. The third picture is the big tube on the neck. The last picture is the neck on the clarinet with the big tube and one of the screwed in tube on it.

EDIT: By now I have been playing with these tubes for about six months and I have settled completely on the 3.5mm hole register tube.

Nitai Levi
Jerusalem, Israel

Post Edited (2006-11-25 09:29)

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