Terry Stibal in 2006 reviews your full Boehm clarinet options. For many years, Selmer offered the complete line of clarinets, as did Heckel, Leblanc and Buffet. However, that has changed and now you are quite limited as to extra keywork.
• Selmer has not listed the options for at least twenty years. I don’t ever recall the Recital being offered with anything more than a LH Eb/Ab lever; if it is, then I’m ready to buy my next set of horns as I really, really, REALLY like the Recital model, even if it does feel like you’re holding an alto clarinet.
• Leblanc has not offered the full spread of options for at least the last fifteen years. You can pick and choose some (like the LH lever and the features of the “Big Easy” horn), but not the whole schmear like you once could.
• Buffet I haven’t been a follower of until the Internet came along (once upon a time, the only way you could learn about stuff involved actual physical presence at the showroom or reading a catalog, believe it or not), but I know that they don’t offer them currently.
• At this point in time, Heckel is out of the clarinet game completely. (At one point they made both French and German style clarinets, with all of the various keywork options; their catalog page is reproduced in Geoffrey Randall’s The Clarinet if you are interested.) Probably something to do with excess maple sawdust accumulation…
• Amati offers the “full Boehm” option, but I can’t say that I’m happy with the quality of fit and finish on my one Amati pro horn (an Oehler “system” top of the line model). Based upon my horn, I’d put the Amati “pro” quality at a level equal to Noblet or Signet horns. Fit and finish is just not as good as on the French horns, and I’m still not satisfied with the tone hole undercutting (or lack of same).
• To my knowledge, Yamaha has never offered anything beyond the LH lever. But, they’ve been too concerned with pianos, sound systems, vibrators, motorcycles and other arcane stuff like Shinyo suicide motor boat engines to worry about funny clarinets.
I have a pair of Selmer Series 9 “full Boehm” horns, and I’ve been happy with them for many, many years. I play a lot of shows, and they are very handy to have in the extreme keys that you find there on a routine basis. Obviously, the Bb gets a lot more use than the A (which is in pristine condition), but both have been nice to have over the years.
While it’s not necessary to often use the low Eb “extension” on the Bb since I have an A soprano right there in the same box, I find that the placing of the emission hole for B/E on the body of the instrument gives a much more “regular” tone to the middle of the staff B. Even the best of R13s have some inconsistency there. The ability to smoothly trill from Bb upwards is just a nice benefit.
For the rest of the features, I find that I use the LH Eb/Ab lever all of the time, the articulated G#/C# all of the time, and the fork Bb/Eb about two thirds of the time.
(The articulated G# comes with two other advantages:
- First, it has the automatic advantage of doing away with the occasional “blips” in fast passages “on the keys” (rather than “on the holes”), where the LH little finger coordination may not be at 100%. Having to move the LH little finger in opposition to the rest of the hand and then rapidly back the other way when playing the sequence B/C# can be a problem. Not with the articulated G#; the little springs do all of the thinking for you.
- Second, the hole for the key operated by the G#/C# touch piece is located in the center of the top of the instrument. No more gurgling and blowing out the perversely located tonehole normally found on French clarinets on the back side of the instrument. (The Rossi (I think) system also has this hole relocated, by the way.)
As the articulated G# setup is duplicated both on all modern saxophones and on all professional bass clarinets (and the Eb/Ab lever is duplicated on professional bass clarinets), they are two more bits of consistency in a largely inconsistent world. You do lose one fingering for high F in the altissimo on soprano clarinets, but as 95% of my time on clarinet seems to be spent below high C, that’s not much of a sacrifice.
Maintenance of the “difficult” articulated G# key would be an issue but for the fact that 99.9999% of the saxophones seen today have the same setup with the same problems. If you are going to a repairman who can’t handle the articulated G# issues, then you probably need to find a new repairman, at least for your saxes.
Overall, I have fewer maintenance issues with my “complicated” clarinets than I do with my “bog standard” saxophones. Other than the occasional misalignment issue with the long rods and keys on the lower joints, they work just fine as is. You can encounter “sticking” with the articulated G# due to the opposed spring arrangement, but a cork pad on the flippy little key will correct that right quick.
Incidentally, if you play a modern bass clarinet, you are already using one of the “full Boehm” features. The low Eb key was added in the late 19th Century to enable bass clarinet players to play A bass clarinet parts without having to tote around a matched pair of bass horns. Bass clarinets from earlier in the period (and some Buffets from as late as 1910) did not have this key.
All too often people forget that, before he came up with the saxophone, Adolphe Sax first made the modern bass clarinet what it is today. Smart guy…
Terry L. Stibal
Leader of Houston’s Sounds Of The South Dance Orchestra
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