Clarinet Systems. Origin and Evolution [Part 2]

Clarinet Systems

This historical evolution of the clarinet has defined the different models that can be found in the market today. German and French clarinet systems will clearly stand out as the most popular clarinets, although there are some other derived systems worthwhile mentioning in this section too.

The following chart explains very briefly the main differences between the three most popular systems in the market today:





Instrument maker

Oskar Oehler

H. Klosé & Buffet

Fritz & Herbert Wurlitzer


Narrow bore, shorter barrel. Greater resistance (requires more air to play).

Wider bore, longer barrel.

German bore.


Up to 27 keys.

Ring keys, 16/17 keys.

20 keys / 7 rings.

Little finger keys

Two rather flat, half-round key ends with a small wooden roll for sliding.

Four levers in each side.

Four levers in each side, with a small wooden roll for sliding.

Fingering positions

More difficult and elaborated.

More simplified because of the fewer amount of keys.

Boehm fingering with some slight changes in the altissimo register to improve tuning.

Tone quality

Darker sound, less flexible with a much harder reed.

Sharper, lighter sound. More flexibility that allows to create different colours in sound.

Controlled sound resembling the dark German one. Facility in blowing and tuning.

Below a bit more detail about each clarinet system, as well as some recordings of well-known clarinet players as an example of them.

Oehler System (or German system)

As mentioned in the history section, a step-by-step improvement of Denner’s System, that is currently played mainly in Germany and Austria. Uebel and Warschewski were Oehler’s students and became the main clarinet makers of the German system. Subsequently Wurlitzer started manufacturing German clarinets before 1970. At first they sounded very much like the Uebel clarinets while the bigger bore gave them better intonation.

  1. Dieter Klöcker,German clarinettist who plays Warschewski clarinet model. Here playing Weber ‘Introduction, Theme and Variations’ String quartet.
  2. Karl Leister, another well-known German clarinettist who was playing Uebel clarinet model when he first joined the Berlin Philharmonic and then changed to Wurlitzer. In this recording playing Weber clarinet quintet (last movement).

Boehm system (or French system):

It is used mostly in the rest of the world, which includes approximately 80% of all the world’s classical players, and in many countries like France, UK and USA it is nearly 100% of the classical population. The quickly growing number of classical musicians in nations like China and India use the Boehm system too. As mentioned above, the main instrument maker from the start has been Buffet, although today we can also find the French maker Selmer or the Italian Backun.

  1. Richard Stolzman, American clarinettist that plays with Buffet R-13 clarinets, with gold-plated keys. Here playing Rossini’s last variation and cadenza from the ‘Introduction, Theme and Variations’ for clarinet and orchestra.
  2. Martin Fröst, Swedish clarinettist that plays Buffet Tosca model. This recording clearly shows the flexibility of the French system, as well as the Klezmer style referred in the coming Albert clarinet system.

Albert System (known as ‘simple system’ in UK)

A model descendant from Müller system with the wooden sliding rolls of the German system that looks much simpler. It is still used, mainly by clarinetists who perform Eastern European and Turkish folk music, Klezmer and Dixieland styles, as it allows flexibility in the sound. They are often tuned in G, with a wider mouthpiece and softer reeds that helps to bend the notes.

  1. Unknown Turkish clarinet players. I believe this recording shows a clarinet tuned in G.
  2. Evan Christopher, American jazz clarinettist that plays a Selmer improved version of the Albert system.

 Albert system clarinet

Some modified Boehm-system existing today are:

Reform-boehm system

These clarinets were developed around the middle of the 20th century by Fritz and Herbert Wurlitzer, designed to ‘improve the problems of the Boehm clarinet regarding intonation and tone quality’. These clarinets are mostly used in The Netherlands today, even though they have gradually expanded to other European countries and America.

  1. Pierre Woudenberg, Dutch clarinettist who plays Wurlitzer clarinets.

 Wurlitzer clarinet 1  Wurlitzer clarinet 2  Wurlitzer clarinet 3

Mazzeo system

Invented by Rosario Mazzeo in the 1950s. It included some extra keys which allowed better intonation, like the ones in the following pictures:

Mazzeo system 1            Mazzeo system 2

Mc Intyre system

Patented in 1959 by Robert and Thomas McIntyre of Naugatuck, Connecticut. They developed a new mechanism for control of the throat notes (A flat, A, and B flat), but due to the extra weight and complexity of the mechanism they stopped being produced.

McIntyre clarinet system          Mc Intyre clarinet 2

NX system

Developed by the noted acoustician and clarinettist Arthur Benade in the late 1970s, this design uses a unique bore shape and bell design to blend the focus and cleanness of the German sound with the brilliance and projection of the French clarinet, with superior intonation. Unfortunately this work was never completed because of Benade’s death in 1987. Today, the Canadian clarinet maker Stephen Fox has done further research along Benade’s lines and now offers custom built NX system clarinets for sale.

 NX clarinet system

[TO BE CONTINUED… please check back for an update of this article.]


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