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Bundy Alto going over the break!

Discussion in 'Eb Alto Clarinet' started by Brian, Jun 24, 2011.


    SOTSDO Old King Log Staff Member CE/Moderator


    ...by and large, the alto clarinet (like the bass saxophone) is one of those few modern musical instruments that has been allowed to "go extinct". In the case of the bass sax, it's more likely a case of its limited availability, something that I've written up around here somewhere before. In the case of the alto, it may be that it's in the initial stages of the same process. Regardless, the end result is the same.

    My parents both attended high school in Saint Louis MO in the 1930's, going to three different high schools in the process. In the high school annuals for those years, all three of the bands had bass saxophones - different bass saxophones, as distinguished (under a high power industrial microscope) by stuff like the dent patterns in the horns.

    I did a little mental gymnastics around these three data points, the population that they covered, and the population of the US at the time, and the presumed wealth of the three schools, and then projected a total (probably on the low side) of several thousands of such instruments nationwide. (I biased the universe of schools possessing bass saxes downward in an intentional effort not to overestimate things.)

    The question remained: where did they all go? The three high schools in the annuals had lost theirs somewhere along the line - I know this because I actually checked. But the rest?

    Well, some are no doubt in the hands of bass sax collectors. But, for the vast majority, they are probably where all the old sousaphones went to die, wherever that is.

    (In the case of Saint Louis, I found (and then promptly returned off of a rent to own program) the only bass sax that I or any of my musical friends in Local 2 knew of, it being secreted in the storage barn belonging to St. Ann School Music Service, the elephant store at the time. I kept it for two shows, and then reluctantly gave it up, figuring I'd never need it in the future and a sailboat would get more use.)

    But, how does this apply to the alto clarinet? Well, what did the bass sax in was probably logistics (they cost a lot, are hard to transport, and very hard to march) and changing tastes and technology in music. In the good old days, banjos and bass saxes both filled a musical niche due to the tastes in music and the need for a bass and rhythm instrument that could penetrate on their own. Once Les Paul started working his magic and amps came along for the bass, they dropped by the wayside.

    The alto clarinet came about through a desire to form a regular "choir" of the clarinet family. The soprano was the soprano voice, the alto intended to be the alto, the incorrectly named bass was the tenor voice, and the "contra alto" the true bass of the family. However, the coincidence of bore and range of the alto was (for whatever reason) judged to be "vapid" (not my term - it comes from several orchestration books of my acquaintance). The soprano came down low enough, and the bass high enough to fill in all of the portions of the spectrum, and it was ho! for the instrument storage room for the poor alto.

    They're still out there - check eBay on any afternoon for five or six pro level horns going begging for next to nothing. But, the parts seem to be more limited, the players few and far between, and the two chase each other's tails into obsolescent disuse, if not absolute oblivion.

    There's nothing stopping folks from wanting to play the things. I've got a pro Selmer mouthpiece (D facing) and ligature somewhere that I would give away if only I could find them, and I'd be glad to help someone out once it turns up. But, absent the parts, they are pretty much doomed to free-form jazz. And, with a "vapid" tonal quality, they're not going to crowd out the Chu Berrys anytime soon.
  2. Was actually hoping for a solution on this!:p
  3. tictactux

    tictactux Distinguished Member Distinguished Member

    Either a spring has come loose, or a pad is sticking, or the Bb adjustment screw needs tweaking.
  4. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    I'm trying to decide if the Bundy design is elegant or overly complex.

    Anyhow, Brian, listen to TTT. He knows what he's talking about. I'd also bet that if you can't immediately see if one of his options is your problem, you could go to a woodwind repair shop and they'd probably charge you shop minimum to just take a look.

    That's sort of a running joke in this forum. SOTSDO has a bit of an aversion to the alto clarinet. My opinion still is that, at the very least, you're playing something. SOTSDO is correct, however, that you'll never see a job posting asking for experienced alto clarinet players.

    There are, obviously, a few pros that have a pro-level alto clarinet. Either that or Buffet, Selmer and Leblanc have been playing an elaborate practical joke on all of us for years with Photoshopped pics of pro alto clarinets. However ... let me think about that. Hmm. I've never seen a pro alto clarinet in person, just in pictures.
  5. tictactux

    tictactux Distinguished Member Distinguished Member

    I think it's pretty standard among register-pip-on-body instruments - the Bundy bass has the same setup - two rockers (only one shown in the pictures, the other one acts the opposite way) and an aux (compared to Soprano clarinets) Bb vent. Leblanc and Yamaha work the same, albeit their 2nd rocker design is a tad different (with the same function, though).

    Selmer Omegas had a similar mechanism, and SK mechanisms operate along the same paths.
  6. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    I think I've got my answer :D. I had a Centered Tone about a thousand years ago, but I don't remember that mechanism. Hmm.

    "Selmer Omega" is the European name for the Signet, right?

    SOTSDO Old King Log Staff Member CE/Moderator

    On the Centered Tone model, the pro model of its day, the alto probably had the same "connected to the lower joint with a bridge key, upper register vent on neck" system that is found on professional bass clarinets of that era.

    I have played one of two Selmer (Paris) Series 9 or the equivalent alto clarinets. That was on the occasion of my first pay for music work, a demo gig at a band director's clinic. Our district's musical director, Bob Tobler, brought a group from his school to flesh out the "host school's" somewhat anemic band, and the two of us (Lynn Biggings and I) were drafted in to play alto clarinet and contra clarinet, since the school already had a (horribly incompetent) bass clarinet. We were, in effect, ringers who were brought in to play horns that Selmer wanted to sell, but which few districts employed.

    I got some money (an awful lot for the time and place, far above scale), the mouthpieces that I used and two professional mouthpieces for bass clarinet - all in all, making out like a bandit.

    I think what opened the largesse in my case was a gen-u-ine interest in the then-relatively new Mazzeo mechanism. I had always played Bb in the staff with the A key plus the B trill key, a manual way of working Rosario's magic, and I saw it for the true clarinet breakthrough that it was. However, instead of setting it up so that the A key and the register key opened the B trill key, Rosario had to get all clever and set up the fingers down on the lower joint trick.

    The guy that I dealt with was not the marking guy (who may have been Stan Garber on his first assignment, if my memory is good) but rather someone from their shop staff who had been sent along to ride herd on the horns. Before he packed up for the evening, he called me aside and slipped me the two bass mouthpieces. I still use them to this day.

    So, as you can see, I have a bit of a sentimental soft spot for the alto clarinet. Mind you, I shudder at the thought of playing a basset horn these days, much less an alto. But, the money and the bass clarinet stuff (there were a few other things thrown in that I split with the lovely Lynn, my partner in crime) sure were nice for the time and place.
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