Monday, November 07, 2005

I'm back! So finally...

The epic clarinet adventure.

My teacher had been telling me that I needed to buy a new clarinet for years now. For the last 9 years I have been playing a lovely old Boosey and Hawkes Regent clarinet.
My teacher's son is studying clarinet in the UK, and plays a Buffet RC. So of course, my teacher believes that the only Real Clarinets (tm?) are wooden, made by buffet, and have "RC" written on them.

Seeing as how I live in Cyprus, I'm a bit wary of buying a wooden clarinet, as with the high humidity and so forth, and air-conditioning, I felt that a crack would be more likely than I feel happy with.

Anyway. So read through all the klarinet archives and decided to try out a RC Greenline, when we next visited the UK. So. We came to the UK for a month, my family and I, and I had been in contact with Howarths, in London, and they said they had no RC Greenlines, but did have wooden RC and R13 instruments which I could try out at their Worthing showroom, they also had a professional-line Howarths clarinet which I could try out, which was made from ebonite, which would also appease the humidity concerns.

The people at Howarths were extremely helpful, very patient, and had contacted every available source looking for RC Greenline in the UK, and were even willing to order one from France for me to buy. Unfortunatly, if I ordered one from France, it would arrive after we had left the UK, and also, I would have to pay a non-refundable deposit on it, which, if I didn't like it, might be a problem. Anyway. I tried out their RC and R13 and their own clarinet.

I didn't like the R13 much at all. The sound seemed to me a bit more shrill than I liked, and I also had trouble playing it in tune. I could probably have become used to it, but things like the 12ths seemed too stretched without lipping quite a lot.

The RC I liked more. It seemed to be more in tune (to my ears) than I could play the R13, and the sound seemed less shrill, and more solid. Nevertheless, it didn't grab me particually, and although a good clarinet, I didn't feel it was really special for me.

The Howarths Ebonite instrument was a bit strange. I was expecting to like it, and wanted to like it too, I quite wanted to buy a non-Buffet instrument, just to be more individual, you know. :-) But, I didn't like it at all. The tone seemed shrill and harsh, the scales didn't sound in tune when I played them, and I couldn't play it consistantly well. Sometimes it played quite sweetly, but other times I felt like I was fighting it. My dad commented that it almost sounded like an oboe in timbre, which when I told him about Howarth's being originally more oboe oriented, he thought quite interesting.

The Howarth's employee was extremely helpful, and said that I could phone her back at the end of the week and it would still be in time for her to order for me an RC Greenline from France.

When I asked her about an oboe she was repairing, she gave me freely a bag of 10 or so barkless cork pads!

While we were there, I also tried out a Lomax mouthpiece on my Regent, wow, that made a huge difference, a much more pure and (appologies to Mr. Leesen) rounded centred sound. Even on a plastic instrument. My family were very impressed by it. But as I still did not have a better clarinet, we thought I should not buy until perhaps later.

Anyway. Good shop, very helpful people, but I didn't really like the clarinets.

I had also been briefly in contact via email with Alistair Hanson, asking about their clarinets, as I had seen them online, and I was thinking of perhaps buying a medium/advanced level instrument from them, in their Ecowood or Ebonite materials, as a step up. He told me about their new compressed-grenadilla/composite material, which he said is totally resistant to humidity and temprature problems. He told me I could stick one of these clarinets in a freezer for 6 months, leave it in boiling water, or treat it with as little care as plastic and would have no problems. I told him I was thinking of buying an RC Greenline, and he said no problem, if I tried out one of their clarinets, and didn't like it, I could of course send it back, and that if I wanted, they could find me an RC Greenline from a dealer they knew in Edinburgh. I asked to try out one of their T-5 instruments in this new material, and Alistair said they didn't have any T-5s at the moment, but they had an ex-display model T-6, and if he sold it me without a proper T-6 case, then he could sell it at a reduced price. And of course, if I didn't like it, I could send it back. So I waited (not very patiently) for it to arrive.

Later in the day that I had ordered it, we drove past a small music shop, and so popped in to see if by some random chance they had an RC Greenline which I could try out. They did have an R13 Greenline... so I tried that out, and thought it actually very good. I much preferred it to the wooden R13 which I had played the day before. The sound was still a bit shriller than I liked, but overall the sound seemed slightly solider, more stable, and I could control the tuning without too much effort. My dad suggested that this clarinet, combined with the Lomax mouthpiece would be a good combination, in case I could not get the other.

The next day the Hanson clarinet arrived! I was really excited, of course. I opened the cardboard package, expecting to see the clarinet packed up in bubble wrap or something, but in fact it came in a great sturdy compact backpack type case! Also included was a Vandoren 5RV 88-Series mpc, and Vandoren Optimum lig!

The clarinet itself was beautiful. Smooth and shiny as the best of plastic instruments (bore and outside), but with unstained grenadilla colouring. The keys were all well laid out and elegant. It included a detachable alternate Eb key, and all of the left pinky leaver keys contain rollers at the end (I'm slightly doubtful of the actual effect of these), but apparently it makes the action smoother. There are no flat bladed springs anywhere on the instrument. They use normal pin type springs, and coil springs. The pads are only slightly odd looking bit, as they are yellow (except for cork for register and c#/g#). This is not such a big deal. I asked them about this, and they said it is so they can tell easily which pads they put on, and which have been replaced by other people, later.

I tried playing it, and was blown away. Lovely sound. The lowest notes are much richer and fuller than on any of the other clarinets I had tried, and the tuning seemed to be bang on right the way up to altiss. G and above. Except... for the throat A and Ab notes. They were WAY offscale sharp. More than 50 cents sharp, when I checked with a tuner. The throat G was slightly sharp, but easily manageable with "resonance" fingerings.

Also, that evening, while playing, I heard a strange click, and found that the coil spring on the throat A key had popped out, and no longer would it spring down.

Before actually dismantling the instrument, I bethought myself to phone them in case by doing so I was invalidating the warranty, or something.
It was about 8pm, but Alistair was still there working, and before I mentioned that I knew what I was doing, offered to walk me through it on the phone! He was quite apologetic, this never having happened before. Anyway.
The coil springs are very nice, in some ways, but when putting them back on after taking a key off, be careful! Some of them have to be aligned the right way around inside their sockets, so that when they compress, or expand, they do so in the correct direction, to stop them from touching other pads! Thanks to Alistair, I got it all sorted though. No problems since (4 weeks ago).

A few weeks after that, I was able to go and visit them up in Marsden, and spent the afternoon at the workshop, learning about clarinets, how they make them, and practising stripping down and rebuilding an old flood worn clarinet. Alistair also fixed the two sharp throat notes for me, with some tiny stuck in rubber patches, that sorted them out fine, and I can now play them well in tune. They also lowered the register key a bit for me, rounded off the cork pad on it, and so on.

I have had no troubles with it since then at all. I think I may need to make the left pinky C key cork a little larger, and perhaps add a since layer of paper to the low E/B crowsfoot mechanism to hold the low F/C pad down slightly firmer. I forgot to mention these when I took the clarinet up to them. Anyway, it's not complicated.