Bass Clarinets

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An interesting page describing a few unusual Bass Clarinets is at http://www.contrabass.com/pages/compendium.html

There is a Bass Clarinet group "dedicated to the prevention of cruelty to composers who write music for the bass clarinet...", the Castle Bass Clarinet Society. From their Web page: "We are interested in the promotion of the bass clarinet as a solo and chamber instrument, through the performance, recording, and preservation of music for that instrument. "

In January 1995, Syd Polk wrote:

"The ~$750 range plastic-student horns like Vito and Yamaha. Actually, the Vito and Yamaha are essentially the same horn. They play mostly in tune, have a decent sound, and are a good deal. My alto and bass are both Vito, and I can play all the way to super C and beyond. I am very very happy with them both, and do not plan on buying replacements until I need a low C instrument. The Bay neck is supposed to make these horns play better, but I have not tried it. This is what I recommend for people who are not going to orchestra auditions for bass clarinet.

The ~$3000 and up range that includes the professional Selmer, Buffet and LeBlanc instruments. From what I have seen and played, they all three sound great. They all have low C models available, although they each have their own system of fingering notes below E, which is annoying. Every one of them has to be treated with kid gloves and they still have to go to the shop frequently. Great scales, you can play real high, Buffet has left hand and right hand for low Eb, etc. These are serious orchestral and recording instruments. If I had one, I would still use my Vito for pits and jazz band."

Clark Fobes wrote the following in July 1995:

"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 been made.

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 Dieu!"

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!"

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