How to Compare Models, Bore Sizes, and Intonation Results

Information on Model Comparisons

Clarinets are not like some string instruments, where older instruments are most sought after. The clarinet gets it's unique tone (having only odd partials in the overtone series) by the fact that it is basically a cylindrical instrument with a reed at the closed end. Almost all older clarinets are straight cylinders until one gets to flare at the very bottom. But around the late 1960s, Buffet and LeBlanc (and I don't know about Selmer) started turning out instruments with polycylindrical bore technology. The new bore technology significantly improves the intonation of the clarinet. The new technology involves a reverse taper, that is, some widening in the left hand joint which narrows by the end of that joint. The first improvements in the bore were made in the barrel, and a good barrel can help response and intonation of many intermediate-model clarinets.

The intonation faults common to almost all clarinets are

  • sharpness in the first notes of the lowest register played with the ringed keys of the right hand (Low A and B-flat),
  • sharpness in the throat tones when playing softly, flatness in the throat tones when playing loudly,
    • Often the E throat tone is particularly flat, especially when playing loudly. (For this reason, E is a good note to use in tuning the instrument. Tune so that note is a tiny shade flat and the rest will be fairly well in tune.)
  • sharp high register starting around A above the staff.
  • The lowest F and E are virtually always flat.

The problems above are worse with large bore instruments. Nevertheless, for other reasons, large bore instruments are preferred by many jazz musicians. (See also: Bore Sizes)

Even inferior clarinets can sound great if you have a good embouchure, good reed, plus a good mouthpiece. To improve the clarinet even more, add a high-tech barrel.

Update 17Nov2014: See Tom Ridenour's video: Sharp Low Register This contains great information about bore sizes.

Update 12Jan2015: See Tom Ridenour's video: A boring story. This also has very precise information about bore sizes.

How to interpret intonation testing results

1938 Conn Ad

The human ear is more sensitive to flatness than sharpness. +10 cents (sharp) will still be acceptable to lots of folks, whereas 5 cents flat will often get complaints. In general, sharpness is easier for a clarinetist to bring down, than it is to bring flat notes up. It is a good idea for a clarinetist to know which notes tend to be flat, and pay special attention to tuning those notes.For intonation testing, I play each note long enough to let the pitch settle down, and I test playing “loud and dumb.” By that I mean that I do not attempt to “lip” notes into tune. This is especially true in the high register and for the throat tones. I test the throat tones loud enough to make them flat— if they tend in that direction. When one plays throat tones softly, on most clarinets fingers can be added to make them better in tune. (Good players use what are called “resonance fingerings.”) However if a throat tone E is flat, it is not easy to “lip it” to go higher.2008 results:For the comparisons of intonation on most of these pages, I am playing a good strong forte on a Hite D mouthpiece with a Legere Quebec Cut #4 plastic reed. (If I don't mention the mouthpiece on a page, I used the Hite.) As of 16August08, I am testing on a Portnoy BP02 mouthpiece with a Legere Quebec Cut #4 reed. I may also do some testing with my new Ridenour FRT40 mouthpiece. I changed because the Hite tends to be flatter in the throat tones and not play Legere reeds as well as the Portnoy and Ridenour. Please take flat throat tones in my test results as being suspect, if they are uniformly reported as flat. A different reed and mouthpiece can make a big difference, as can lipping and playing softer. If one throat tone is reported flat while another is sharp, then that is a BIG problem.

Beginning 2009:As of 2009, I have been using a Vandoren B45 mouthpiece, still with a Legere Quebec Cut #4 reed. I like the dark sound I am getting and the free response when still using a rather hard reed. My high G on this combination is flat, and I may still shift to another mouthpiece. When looking at intonation results, bear in mind that with this mouthpiece and reed, I play on a 64.2mm barrel with my Lyrique when playing with the electronic keyboard at our church.

31Dec08: I now have a better tuner via my computer, FMIT (Free Musical Instrument Tuner for Linux). Pages where I use the new tuner will be marked at the top of the chart. The FMIT program shows 2 cent increments and marks the average pitch after one is done playing. See a screen shot of this tuner below.

20Jul09: I am going back to using my old table for showing intonation. The screen shots from FMIT are hard to use.

Dec2010: Now using Lingot. (Lingot Is Not a Guitar Only Tuner, and now I am using MintLinux.)

November 2011: I have switched to using Legère 3 3/4 Signature Series reeds. I am less flat with these. I am still using Vandoren B45 mouthpieces. I am now testing with DaTuner on my Android phone. Oops, Dec2011, back using FMIT.

May2012: Still using B45, Legère Signature 3 3/4, and Android TuneIt Lite. This free tuner and my Android tablet seems to work better for clarinets than any commercial tuner I have tried.

Feb2012: I am aware that using a modern Vandoren B45 mouthpiece for all tests will perhaps not work well for older clarinets that were made to work with significantly different mouthpieces. I was not aware that the B45 was made to play at A=442!

From Greg G:

It's important to note that Vandoren Traditional mouthpieces are constructed to play at A=442, rather than the American standard of A=440. To get an A=440 tuned Vandoren one has to specify the "13 series".

Greg's comment was made in reference to a Pruefer clarinet:

It's entirely possible that the Silver Throat, being such a short clarinet, is built to play slightly sharp at A=442 when using a long A=440 mouthpiece. Using an A=442 mouthpiece on such a clarinet could result in more-than-slight overall sharpness, wide twelfths, and flaky throat tone tuning. It's possible that both Phil's B45 and your Pruefer piece are A=442 units and a mismatch for your particular Silver Throat.

So it is very possible that the same kind of mismatch could be happening for vintage instruments that I review.

1July2012: Huge change! I am switching to a Chedeville Prime mouthpiece. This mouthpiece allows me to get a little closer to using a standard length barrel. Actually I am able to 63.3mm to a 64.1mm. In some contexts I would be able to play a 65mm barrel. I am using Legere Signature 3 3/4 reed. This reed and mouthpiece combination allows me to also gain back one or two notes in the high register (especially high G). The sound is more focused and seems to have a richer set of partials/overtones. The B45 is a hollow sounding by comparison, but I enjoyed the darkness of the sound.

Dec2013: I have found that the Android gStrings app is better than any other tuner I have yet tested. It doesn't get confused as to which pitch it is testing nearly as much as others.


Tuning and Voicing the Clarinet

Clark W Fobes has an excellent article on this at his site. This shows how to modify a clarinet by filling in or undercutting tone holes.