Which clarinet brand is best?
Answer: The one you choose and like to play.
All during the time when I was active as a college music major and for eight years as a college teacher, I played a Buffet and recommended them. However I remember loving the way Leblanc clarinets played— the few that I managed to test. Fast forward to 2013, I hear about high school bands in high income regions where— to make it into the band at all, one must play a Buffet R13. In a few other places it is Yamaha. The unfortunate thing is that clarinet brand snobbery has been continued by people who are not even clarinet players. The band directors in most of these places were not clarinet players, and they simply continue what they learned back in music school at the U of X.
Sherman Friedland's (July 25 2013) article is enlightening as to what a professional player would have been hearing at a time when clarinet brand loyalty was shifting. In this and several others of his blog posts, Sherman shows that some things we clarinets have been led to believe and still continue to pass on were simply marketing hype. I agree.
Selmer Centered Tone Clarinets
I received your letter and do thank you for sending it...
I did play the Selmer Centered Tone clarinet for a number of years, including my tenure with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra as Principal Clarinetist. But, I must tell you that I played the full boehm set of CTs , which were Mazzeo System. He was my principal teacher and friend. In fact he gave me my set of Cts. Theywere truly a wonderful set of clarinets, and I say this notwithstanding the fact that were his “system”, which was really a modified Boehm system eliminated the problem of the throat Bbi.It had an articulation wherein any combination of fingers opened the third trill key on the right hand side of the instrument, meaning that Bb was fingered with virtually any other combination of keys. Bb is the worst sounding and tuned note became very simple to play, and was in tune, and not fuzzy as is the usual throat Bb. This is not an advertisement for that system of fingering, merely a brief explanation. The clarinet as such, was a superb clarinet, perhaps the best made by Selmer. Incidentally, its chief failing was the make, Selmer. At the time, in the 50s and 60s, most people played other brands of clarinets, specifically,Buffet. The Buffet was a lovely instrument, which, however was totally inconsistent. If you picked one, you had to be either quite fortunate or have it completely redone by an excellent technician,one who could really hear well , and able to bring his ear to the scale of the clarinet. As you know, Leblancs as well as Selmers were much better in tune from the very first instance.
Leblanc , of which I have played many, the last being the Opus, was a clarinet at first shunned by the community of clarinetists in the US. When I first tried one, an L27. I was truly astounded, as it seemed perfectly in tune, and I like the fingering as well, it being less spread out than was Selmer. Of course, at present both brands are among the best one can buy. The distributor in the US was Vito Pascucci, himself a trumpet player, who knew lttle about clarinets, but was fascinated by the phrase, “Big Sound. He had many of the Leblancs which were imported from France rebored by the worker in Racine in order to make a Big Sound, but they used the wrong reamers and did the job poorly, destroyint the usually good intonation, and hence the reputation. If you examine a used Leblanc from Back then, observe the inside of the bore closely. If, in fct, you see scratches and gouges, walk away.
But, back to the Centered Tones, as you are aware, they were made between 1952 and 1960, and were superceded by the Selmer Series 9, which, at least in my memory, was simply not as fine a clarinet as was the Centered Tone. It ws succeeded by the Series 9*, the 10, and the ten-G, the G standing for Gigliotti, who was principal in Philadelphia. It was copied from his personal Buffet, but in general distribution, it was not in the same league as the original clarinet, from which it was copied. I owned a set for a while, liked them, but ,as you also know, nothing is ever perfect, and I have remained the owner and player of many different makes and kinds of clarinets.
Yes, the earlier CTS were cylindrical, and the later one were indeed tapered. How they perform for you is your, and only your opinion. My CTS were of the earlier models, though I did acquire another set which seemed to play slightly differently, and certainly could have been tapered in the upper joint. I performed on both sets and I like both. As you well know, we can only ordinarily play one clarinet at a time and the player will always adjust to the particular instrument upon which he is playing. I remember both sets with fondness, though my preference eludes me at this time. One thing to remember is that there is not such thing as a clarinet made especially for Jazz. And there is no Jazz made for a specific clarinet. The Leblanc Dynamic and the Centered tone horns were both clarinets played by those who played Jazz, and they were called “big bore” instruments, which they were not. Benny made a lot of advertisement with the Centered Tone clarinet, but then again , in the mid 60s, the entire clarinet section of the Boston Symphony Orchestra played Centered Tone clarinets, save for Gino Cioffi, the principal, who, while playing Selmer, played a model 55, a slightly different bore, long since discontinued. And, while we are mentioning Centered Tones, and Leblancs of all kinds, we come to the logical conclusion that these instruments developed certain names, such as” big bore”, and the term Jazz Clarinet was created to sell horns. Big Sound, mellow Jazz sound, and all the rest of the names are there to sell horns. Only players play the horns and the Jazz. They don’t sound differently regardless of what music they play. The Selmer Centered Tone clarinet was one of the best Selmers ever made and Selmer always had the highest standard of manufacturing.Years and years ago, I used to be taken to lunch by Jean Selmer, to Nantes, or perhaps that spelling incorrect, but the ride out of the city was fun since they drove these Citroens that were very interestingly suspended and looked really kind of spacey. Jean would take me through the d=factory and I remember a special room called the apprentice room where all these youngster were learning their trade. And instead of a Coke machine, that had one which dispensed wine, or am I making that up. Since I was at the time, a clinician for the Selmer Company, for those few hours, I was a big shot, and have pleasant memories of both Jean and his father, Maurice, an old man at the time. It was the time with the trouble with Algeria. There were armed police in front of every police station, and it was exciting to be in Paris, and to be young and on the way up, In the states at the time, Selmers were played in marching bands, and concert bands, and only in Boston did they play the Centered Tone Selmers. The series 9 was a bit like the Centered Tone, but was considered not as fine. This was followed by the 9*, whicn was a better horn and the 10 and the 10G, which was a copy of Anthony Gigliottis horn, Principal in the Philadelphia Orchestra. Many colleagues have told me that the 10G did not play all that much like :Tonys” Buffet. I had a set of them as well, traded them, after a mediocre performance of the Schubert Octet, and have kept trying different horns forever. It is great fun, and the stores would always let me try them for as long as I wanted.
L: I hope that I have answered your questions and that you will find a good Centered Tone, if that is what you want. One other story about my Selmers. I was playing the Easley Blackwood Clarinet Concerto in Tanglewood in the late 60s, and after the first movement, I swabbed out my clarinet and the swab got stuck in the first joint. That was where that hex screw on the register key saved me. It was unscrewed and the swab pushed through, thank goodness.
Stay well, and good luck with all.