Berkeley A clarinet
Thanks to Julius (also called Juliuli) for giving me the opportunity to review this clarinet.
Barrel: 62.3mm and a ‘Backun-style’ fat barrel that was 64.3mm
Bore LH joint top: 14.50mm
Bore LH joint at bottom: 14.45mm
I did not write down the pitch testing before I started tweaking this clarinet. Because this clarinet played terribly flat over its whole range, the first thing I did was to make a barrel that would allow me to play this clarinet in tune. Eventually I made two barrels. One is now 58.65mm and the other 58.52. There is NO WAY this instrument could be played in an orchestra with string instruments. With the 62.3mm barrel, I was 10 cents flat on normally sharp notes in the upper register, and at least 20 cents flat in much of the throat tones and Chalumeau register. There were isolated notes that were 30 cents flat. Most orchestras play sharp. Trying to play this clarinet with the strings would be embarrassing, to say the least! The clarinet came in good playing condition and generally playing in tune with itself, with a few exceptions noted in the chart below. [November2018 update: Out-of-the box intonation results for a similar A clarinet are found under 2018 Cheap Chinese No-Name A clarinet.]
HOWEVER, I have been able to tweak this clarinet to the point that it has good intonation now, and I will be able to eventually get it to the professional level! What I found in this clarinet is basically an instrument that wasn’t ‘finished’ at the factory. It took a lot of work for me to get it in this shape. Here are most of the things I did:
- Shortened two barrels, one from another Chinese clarinet from the same factory, and also the fake Backun barrel. The ‘Backun-style’ barrel does not have the Moennig bore, so is only that style visually. That is the main reason I decided I would chop it. I did this first, as I needed the clarinet to be playing basically in tune, before I could figure out other pitch problems.
- I had to bend the low E pad cup a bit upwards because it would sometimes scrape on the lower shoulder of the tone hole. I noticed that the key bent quite easily.
- I bent the two main left pinkie keys to the left to the position I am more comfortable with. They bent rather easily, but not so much so that I am concerned with this clarinet going out of adjustment with normal use.
- I bent the right Ab/Eb key downward to lower the pitch and make it so the action felt better. I bent the register key downward and added more cork to improve the action, and also to help lower the throat Bb. I could bend those down with just my fingers. I didn’t need to use pliers.
- I put a tiny bit of poster tac in holes to lower the open G, throat tone A, and the terribly sharp side throat Bb key. [Update: But doing this hurt the tone of the Bb throat tone. Since all the throat tones were sharp, and since notes in the upper register with the same fingerings were also sharp, the best way to lower these notes was to introduce a gap in the bore at the barrel. I did this by reducing the length of the top tenon of the left hand keyed joint. Normally, on a clarinet that is in tune in the upper throat tones, one avoids a gap in the barrel by using tuning rings. But in this case, having a gap is your friend. I took out most of the poster tac. With the gap, the sharp tones in the upper register are better, the tone in the throat register is strong, and the throat tones are right in tune when I use my favorite resonance fingerings.]
- I undercut several tone holes. This should have been done at the factory. The lower the note, the more undercutting was necessary. Starting at the bottom, low F, low G, Bb, C, D (hardly any), and both Eb tone holes needed significant undercutting.
- Several springs were too stiff, making it hard for me to be even in playing a chromatic scale. The main trouble point was the throat tone Ab, A and a little bit on the Bb (register key). I lessened the tension of those springs.
- The Bb right side key/trill key needed the spring to give more pressure. And the top two right trill keys tended to rub on each other, which sometimes could cause the second one not to completely snap closed.
- I put a little ball of Teflon in the low E key, in the hole that the pointed screw goes into, in order to stop up-down play in the key.
- I replaced or added to the corks under keys to adjust key travel and eliminate annoying key clicking.
For this test, I pulled 1.3 mm at the barrel (using the fat Backun-style barrel), and 0 mm at the center tenon. Intonation results taken when playing loud and not lipping. See how to interpret these results on the Model Comparison Page.
Intonation summary: Was totally unacceptable. Now it is approaching professional level. I think I might be able to get it to that standard if I keep working on it! I suspect that the Bb clarinets by Berkeley would be better than this A clarinet. So many fewer A clarinets are made, so perhaps they haven’t figured out what things need to be tweaked. I am planning to shorten the barrel a bit more, to give some leeway for playing with sharp ensembles. This test reveals that I have some more tweaking to do. The flat notes can all be improved. The F, however, cannot be completely in tune, but it can be better.
Tone: This clarinet is advertised as having a “Dark Focused Tone.” They aren't lying! This has the same lovely tone as Ridenour clarinets because the material it is made of is exactly the same.
Key work quality: The keys are not nearly as good as the Ridenour clarinets. Their keys are so hard one has to use a lot of force to bend them. Unlike the pictures I saw on the Internet (which had keys appearing like those on Ridenour clarinets), this clarinet came with the Buffet-style top two right trill keys sharing the same rod and posts. There is an adjustable thumb rest. This key work wouldn’t stand up in marching band, but then, this is an A clarinet! A good feature: The small pivot screws mostly have heads on them, but there are about three screws that are headless, so that extra slack can be eliminated.
The leaf springs that are attached with small screws on the bottom could be a problem later on. The metal is not very dense, and those tiny screws have very fine threads. It would be all too easy to strip the little threaded hole in the key! Be very careful in tightening them. I did not like how one needs to exert way more pressure than normal in order to remove or re-install the screws on this clarinet. Oiling the screws did not make it any easier the next time I had to take off the same key. Please don't drop this clarinet.
This A clarinet is most appropriate for: There are mainly two kinds of people who buy cheap A clarinets: Students who don’t have the money for a Ridenour clarinet. Or adults playing with string instruments in a church worship team. But this clarinet must be tweaked before using it in those contexts. A new Allora A clarinet costs $850. Since this one only costs in the neighborhood of $350, it would be worth it to spend $200 to tweak it.
Condition issues noted: noted above. The included no-markings mouthpiece is made of plastic and worthless. Observations only: Only the bell has the maker's stamp. The clarinet comes with a nice canvas-styled, light weight, zippered case.