I’ve been working on getting better tuning out of my inexpensive Amati C clarinet. As I mentioned in a previous post , the clarinet is supposedly designed to use a regular Bb mouthpiece, but when used that way it is overall quite flat, especially in the throat tones. Through some experimentation, I also figured out that the real problem was essentially too much volume inside the Bb mouthpiece.
The first thing I did was try to shrink the interior dimensions of one of my Bb mouthpieces, but I found this basically too difficult to do without creating other out-of-tune areas on the horn. Then I tried a mouthpiece that is supposed to help with flat throat tones on C clarinets – but I found literally no difference in the tuning. (I found out after the fact that it’s made from a Bb clarinet blank anyway.)
So not finding a mouthpiece that would solve my problem directly, I recently decided to sacrifice one of my Bb mouthpieces to the experimentation process and simply shorten it. I’ve been working a wonderful tech in Meridian, Mississippi named Nichol Kadler. She works at the Mississippi Music store there, and has graciously done anything I asked her to do to my horns, regardless of how crazy it sounded!
Before we get to the pictures, let me first tell you about the mouthpiece we’ve been using. This mouthpiece is from Ben Redwine at RJ Music Group and it’s his most inexpensive mouthpiece (literally only $32!). It’s called the “Mezzo”. He says it’s designed for beginners, but it plays like a much more expensive mouthpiece – it’s almost a dead ringer for my preferred D’Addario Reserve mouthpiece. I was comfortable that if the experiment went badly, at least I’d only lost $32 in the process! And it’s made of plastic, so I figured it would be easy to work with.
Just taking a total WAG (Wild A** Guess) I decided to have Nichol remove the lowest black section of the shank, right up to the cork. It turned out this was about 7 millimeters. Of course the real trick to this was not removing the lower part of the shank – it was removing 7mm of the collar as well. This was an essential part of the process, because the mouthpiece won’t go any further into the barrel until you remove a part of the collar equal to the amount of shank that’s been removed. Nichol had to do this with a file. Here is a picture with the lower part of the shank removed, just up to the cork …
And here’s a picture after Nichol has filed away the excess collar of the mouthpiece …
As you can see, it was really difficult for her to keep the shank completely round. But surprisingly, the mouthpiece is rock solid in the barrel and does not wobble.
So what about the results? Magic! Overall the entire horn is much better in tune with itself, and seems have pitch tendencies that are much more like a regular Bb clarinet now. I still have to voice somewhat higher than the Bb – but then I sort of expected that anyway. It’s a smaller instrument. When I play Eb, the voicing is significantly higher overall compared to Bb, so it makes sense that the C clarinet requires voicing somewhere in between the Eb and the Bb.
Is it perfect? Well, if I had one complaint, I think it sounds a little bit tubby still. My guess is this is because we still have a baffle and chamber designed for a Bb instrument. I have an idea that the ideal solution would be to create a mouthpiece that is essentially a Bb that is shrunken proportionately in all dimensions, including the baffle and chamber. But I don’t know of anyone who makes a mouthpiece blank of this type, and hey, I don’t really want to become a mouthpiece manufacturer anyway!
But am I happy with this solution? You better believe it! Prior to this work, the horn was simply a $600 toy, but now I can actually use this clarinet on gigs whenever I have to play a concert pitch part. (I know, all you real clarinet players are saying “why don’t you just transpose?” – but I’m just not good enough to play clarinet and transpose at the same time.)
So overall I am thrilled with the results of this project, and the low expense of it as well. As always, I hope this post was helpful and interesting to you, and I’m always interested in your comments, suggestions, and insights. Let me know what you think!