"As long as we are on
the subject of bass clarinets I thought I would post some thoughts on some of
the new bass clarinets I have worked on and played recently.
Because I am a bass clarinetist and I receive
bass clarinets from all over the map to work on I think I have a fairly good
perspective on what is offered.
As a way of disclaimer I will state,
as I have in the past, that I am an authorized Buffet dealer.
There seems to be a small bass
clarinet war going on right now between Selmer and Buffet. Perhaps it is just a
coincidence that both manufacturers have put new models on the market recently.
At any rate, this bodes well for the consumer. I have seen distinct
improvements in both instruments recently and applaud both Buffet and Selmer.
Selmer discontinued one of it's best
bass clarinets ever in the early '80's when it brought out a revised version of
the model 33. I don't know why they continued calling it a "33" when
it had virtually no resemblance mechanically or acoustically to the previous
model. The most obvious change was in the design of the extended mechanism
which, IMHO, was a rats nest of keys and poor design. With the radical change
in design Selmer had the opportunity to correct the one glaring problem with
the old "33" design - a very sharp 3rd line B natural. However, they
did not correct it and changed the overall tonal quality of the instrument
drastically. I was very unhappy about this change and wrote to Selmer about it
at the time, but they were extremely nonplussed.
For several years I was at a loss to
recommend a good instrument. I had never been a fan of Buffet bass clarinets
because of the short twelfths in the area of A/E2 - C1/G2. Also, the register
mechanism of the Buffet bass clarinets is extraordinarily fickle. The initial
offering of the "Prestige" Low C bass clarinets in the early 80's
were a disappointment as well. I liked the sound, but the tuning schema was
much too compromised.
In early 1990 I was intrigued by the
initial offering of Yamaha in this market. I wrote a review in "The
Clarinet" magazine (May/June 1990). My initial reaction was positive, but
I felt some improvements were needed. I have not played a Yamaha recently, but
from reactions of other players it seems that only a few minor changes have
At about the same time, though, Buffet
began working more seriously on their bass clarinet design and I was
sufficiently pleased that I began recommending them. (My strongest
"buy" recommendation was still for a good used pre 1983 Selmer.) The
problematic twelfths still existed, but I liked the overall mechanism and
sound. I made a trip to the Buffet factory in the summer of 1993 and brought up
the problem. I was glad that they acknowledged the problem and said that they
were working on it.
I am not certain when the design
change took place, but VERY recent models of Buffet Low C bass clarinets are
not only tuning better, but have a much more homogeneous sound. Rene Lesieux,
the head acoustician at Buffet, has also recently incorporated some very
interesting "resonance" keys into the design. I think Buffet
clarinets can now be ordered with up to 6 different options "Mon
In the last two years Selmer has made
some refinements in the intonation of the model "33" that has really
moved them ahead of the pack. After a colleague ordered one from the
"Woodwind and Brasswind" in Elkhart and I had an opportunity to
adjust it and play it I was convinced. I still felt that the mechanism was
clumsy, but the overall intonation and sound was excellent.
Spring 1995 was the announcement and
release of the new Selmer model 37. "OH NO!!" I thought. Typical of
Selmer, just when they get something right they ruin it. (SEE: Mark VI/ Mark
VII, Series 9* clar/Series 10, and mentioned bass clarinet fiasco.)
Well, I have been proven wrong. The
Model 37 has the improved intonation of the last "33"'s and some
excellent redesign in the mechanism. The extension mechanism has been
simplified and the formerly weak right hand linkages have been reinforced and
feel very positive. The only flaw that I have noticed so far is that the lowest
E is very flat. The tone is robust and has an excellent core. In fact, I prefer
the sound in the upper clarion to my beautiful 1976 Selmer 33. I have not had a
chance to play one extensively, but overall my impressions are excellent!"