Friday, June 12, 2009

Clarinet Equipment (June 2009 column)

In this column, we decided to explore resources on the Internet dealing with clarinet equipment. With a seemingly insurmountable number of web sites selling every type of mouthpiece, barrel, and clarinet imaginable, it can be hard to find honest information that will help you to make an informed decision. We have compiled a list of sites that offer more than just a selection of merchandise. Specific web addresses can be found at the end of this column.

Finding the right mouthpiece to match your setup can be quite challenging. The mouthpiece alone greatly affects sound quality and effort needed to produce optimal results. Some of us look for a mouthpiece that lends flexibility while retaining resonance, while another player searches for the one that will let the sound soar over the orchestra. Choosing the right mouthpiece is not a simple process, and several web sites can help you understand which make and model best suit your needs.
Although we do not wish to endorse any particular manufacturer, several expert craftsmen have gone above and beyond by using their websites to share knowledge about mouthpiece acoustics and design. Brad Behn's site discusses mouthpiece nomenclature and selection, the manufacturing process, and the specific qualities which made Chedeville and Kaspar models so highly sought after. Information on Clark Fobes' site includes articles on Frank Kaspar, intonation, and mouthpiece nomenclature. For a comparison of Chedeville-style mouthpieces, visit Terry Sterkel's personal site, and for an extensive list of links to tip opening charts, check out the "Keepers" thread at listed below.

Several sites deal with the selection of a clarinet and its subsequent care and maintenance.'s "Equipment" section, accessible from the homepage, is a great starting point for advice about care and maintenance, with information about cleaning clarinets, oiling the bore, and basic repair. The "How old is my..." section contains lists from a variety of sources that can help to determine the manufacture date and other information about a clarinet using the serial number (particularly useful when buying used instruments). Clicking on "Has anyone heard of..." takes you to an extensive listing of trade names that may be found on clarinets, matching them with their parent companies. "What to buy a Beginner?" is a section devoted to answering that very question, with input from several professional clarinetists.

Several other sites provide information about older clarinets. Nophachai Cholthitchanta, professor of clarinet at the University of Arkansas, is a collector and researcher of 18th and 19th-century clarinets and has a website detailing the contents of his collection. Here, you will also find links to replica period clarinet makers and major clarinet collection museums. Sherman Friedland frequently answers questions on his blog from readers looking for answers about a clarinet they have found. And on the personal pages of Bill Fogle, you can find excellent photos of vintage clarinet advertising artwork and manufacturing marks.

Repair technician Steve Sklar's is a wide-ranging, detailed site that encompasses nearly every subject related to clarinet equipment. The site has pages about serial number identification, mouthpiece specifications, care and maintenance, and much more.

Tom Ridenour is another expert who has contributed articles and videos about clarinet equipment. His articles include "How to Select a New Clarinet" (a fantastic article for first-time buyers), "The Grenadilla Myth" (about the advantages and disadvantages of various woods and hard rubber clarinets), and "You Picked it, You Play it" (about the importance of having the right equipment in combination with the right playing techniques). His YouTube channel features videos about clarinet lubrication, noise reduction, mouthpieces, and standards for testing clarinet equipment. Ridenour's quirky and informative videos are especially relevant for anyone who does work on their own clarinet, or wants to learn repair basics.

This list of equipment resources is just a beginning. If you know of a site that should be included in this list, please e-mail us as we will be continuing to add to this work in progress.

Brad Behn

Nophachai Cholthitchanta's Clarinet Collection

Clark Fobes Articles Page

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