Sunday, April 03, 2011

Vintage bass clarinets...suck.

Figured that title would get people's attention (and get their ire up).

As a whole, I think this is true. I'm sure there are now about 2,000 people out there who are going to write me and disagree. I'll spare you the trouble: I'm sure your 1950's bass clarinet sounds great. I'm sure you can manage its intonation issues. I'm sure it's incredibly free-blowing. I'm sure the wood is incredible.

But, for my money, I prefer having the technological and acoustical advances that have been made over the past 60 years part of my bass clarinet's DNA. I like that the ergonomics of the instrument have improved. I like having a single register key. I like being able to not twist myself into knots to get the thing to play in tune.

Sometimes older is not better.

Let the flame war commence.


Dan said...

OK, I'll bite:

For years, I played a student resonite bass clarinet, and it treated me well. Today I play a 1950s Henri Selmer, and I love it.

I'll concede that my vintage bass clarinet has intonation issues. Even my modern era plastic horn plays in tune more easily. Figuring out all the embrasure and keying tricks I need to play my vintage horn in tune is a perpetual work in progress.

But I'd still recommend a used older bass clarinet to serious students, intermediate players, and doublers with tight musical budgets. (There are tons of us in university and community bands -- and we appreciate that your site and blog caters to us so well.) The real advantage of a vintage horn is a value proposition: the ability to get a quality wooden horn with a double register key -- at maybe 10% of the cost of a new pro horn. So if you aren’t trying to make a career out of it, and can manage your tuning moment-to-moment, a well-aged bass clarinet is the way to go.

Now we just need someone to step up to the plate to make the “aged wood” and “jazz era production” argument for vintage bass clarinets.

Ken Shaw said...

So which bass clarinet(s) do you use? Also, which mouthpiece, ligature and reeds?

Amazing playing, by the way.


earspasm said...


I loved my old Vito (Leblanc) and my old Bundy (Selmer). I auditioned for Juilliard on a 1950's Selmer bass clarinet. (I got in but didn't go)

The point is, yes - there is a place for vintage horns. I just don't believe it's the first thing I'd recommend to someone who claims they are "going to major on the bass clarinet in college" or "buying a horn to begin the orchestral audition rounds." For that, you need a modern horn IMO.

@ Ken

I play a Selmer model 37. I have two of them, one from 1996 and the other from 1999. I love them both.

Right now I'm playing a Vandoren B50 with V-12 reeds, strength 2.5 (yes -- you read that right: 2.5)

For 30 years up until this past fall I was playing on a modified Selmer C*

Daniel McBrearty said...

I just picked up an old Selmer, probably early 70s I guess. It has just the single reg key (thank god!) and seems to have decent intonation. Some of the rods and levers are pretty long and perhaps a newer model has a better mechanical design. I am still getting into it. It goes to low Eb, not C - fine for me.

For the same price I could maybe have picked up a Jupiter or something. Would that *really* be a comparable horn?

Steve said...

I agree with Mike. Older horns have their place but also have limitations that will create barriers for you.

As with all things it depends on what you are doing with it.

I also play a Selmer model 37 from about 1999 - though no one really knows that much about me :). I do not like it as much as the one I had in college, but it is still a great instrument. I wouldn't be able to play as well in the ensembles that I perform with if I had an older instrument. An acquaintance of mine uses an old Selmer with two octave keys. I can't imagine playing this instrument though they profess that it is wonderful. Playing in tune with her is usually extra work for me and the extra skill involved with multiple octave keys give me the heebie jeebies.

Anonymous said...

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