An Unfortunate Experience With Clarinet Repair

In this post I would like to share with you an experience that has recently happened to me for the first time in my 25-year playing career. I have had my Bb RC-Prestige clarinet for about 16 years now and it needed a general service (don’t worry, the last service was done only 3 years ago!). Due to several circumstances I basically waited too long to get it serviced and now it needed attention quite urgently.

Even though I had been living in UK for more than five years, I had always taken my clarinet to Spain to my usual repairer to get it serviced. But this time I endeavoured to try a clarinet repairer who a few people had recommended me as one of the best repairers in UK. For obvious reasons I leave aside any names in this post as it is not my intention to criticise anyone but to share my experience.

In the past when I had taken my clarinet to be serviced there were only so many things that a repairer would focus on: cleaning holes, changing pads, replacing corks and springs, and adjusting key positions if required. It never occurred to me that the holes under the rings could actually be re-built, nor that certain keys could be opened more by literally digging a hole in the original wood of the clarinet.

Only musicians who have owned the same instrument for this many years would understand when I say that, for the first time in my life, I couldn’t recognise my instrument when I first tried it after being fully overhauled. It was a weird feeling, I couldn’t predict the flexibility and response of my instrument, it even seemed less controlled. Needless to say that my sound was very different too. Regarding tuning, most notes were much sharper. I understand that when holes have been unblocked from the dirt it affects the tuning, but this time it went a bit too far.

After sharing my first impression with this repairer, I was advised to compensate that easiness by using harder reeds, but the question that then popped into my mind was: If I am using harder reeds for playing my Bb clarinet ‘more comfortably’, what am I supposed to do when changing into my A clarinet?

Thus I was left with one possible solution: to change my barrel. At this point it is worthwhile mentioning that a few months before this happened I had just bought a new RC-Prestige clarinet in A (I was using R13 before) as I wanted to match my Bb RC-Prestige clarinet sound to my A clarinet. I spent some time researching and trying a wide range of instruments to achieve this and now I had a similar problem again.

Therefore I knew that choosing a barrel was going to be a challenge. There are many barrel models in the market nowadays and many will alter the ‘original’ sound of the instrument. I needed a barrel that gave me a sound that is not massively different to my A clarinet but also a barrel that can solve those tuning problems I was experiencing. So that led me to try the many barrel models in the picture below.

*Front left to right: Backun Moba Grenadilla, Backun Moba Cocobolo, Paulus & Schuler, Backun Fatboy, Buffet Chadash, Buffet RC Prestige, Buffet R13, Buffet ICON (silver), Devon & Burgani, Backun Fatboy.

In the end I must admit that the experience of trying those many barrels was quite intriguing as I had never had the opportunity to play these ‘crazier’ models before and, what it is more important, it gave me the answer I was looking for.

However, I would definitely recommend anyone to talk things through with their repairer, especially if it is the first time you are using their service. It is not a very enjoyable experience to find out that your instrument has been completely changed. Personally, I would have probably preferred to have been warned of these alterations before it happened.

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