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LeBlanc low C bass clarinet

Discussion in 'Bb Bass Clarinet' started by jossax, May 28, 2016.

  1. Hi to you all,

    I'm a saxophone player for many years and i'm intending to buy a bass clarinet.
    I've been told Selmer bass clarinets are the best saxophone doublers, but unfortunately they are very exspensive!
    I came across a Leblanc 330 low C bass clarinet, fully restored, the asking price is 3500 euros.
    Are they any good for someone like me, who never played a clarinet before, and could anybody tells me something about a LeBlanc's playability, intonation and sound?


  2. Helen

    Helen Content Expert Saxophones Staff Member Administrator

    Let me start off by saying I don't know anything about Leblanc low C bass clarinets. I will let one of our clarinet experts speak to the merits of those. I just wanted to share my recent experiences when it came to buying a bass clarinet.

    I just bought a bass clarinet after not playing clarinet for about 25 years. Before making the decision about what kind of clarinet to buy, I talked with the bass clarinet player in the symphonic band I play bari in (he plays bass in the symphony as well), and asked him to explain the extra notes to me, and what the advantages to having them was.

    Given the added cost of the extra notes, and their limited applicability in the music that I would play on bass--I am only ever going to be a bass clarinet doubler, it will never be my main instrument, nor will I be playing it in anything other than a Big Band or maybe a symphonic one--I opted to get a decent Richard Keilwerth, circa late 1950s, that my tech had in his back room. It is currently being restored for me. I'm just waiting on a new ProTec case before picking it up.

    Sure I'm giving up D,Db,& C, but I will not miss them. However, the savings were phenomenal. I just can't see myself spending that much money on an instrument that will never be my main one. Personally, I would rather spend the money I saved by not buying a low C bass clarinet, and buy a really nice saxophone--my main instrument.

    I'm not advising you not to buy a low C bass, but I'm just letting you know what my thinking was when I went bass shopping a couple of months ago. Your situation may well be different. For example, we have sax/clarinet doublers on this board who have low C bass clarinets. I just wanted to give you another way to think about it.

    Whichever way you decide to go, best of luck in your bass clarinet hunt!
  3. TrueTone

    TrueTone Clarinet, Sax, Oboe, History

    While I also have never played a Leblanc Low C, I'll chime in a bit.
    The Leblanc low Eb at my school has a rather bad design for its register vent, similar to a lot of student level Basses, it has one vent for throat Bb and another for everything else, and I haven't really played that one extensively so I can't say much on it.
    Now, 3500 Euros is 3890 USD, which seems somewhat steep going by the prices low Eb Leblancs went for on ebay recently (see this for what they went for: http://www.ebay.com/sch/Clarinets/4...mplete=1&LH_Sold=1&_nkw=leblanc+bass+clarinet )
    In the ebay search I linked, most of them went for <$1000 USD for low Ebs, which is about 900 Euros.
    But as Helen said and I've experienced in some bands, you don't really need to have a Low C unless you're mainly performing recent (and all harder) works.
    I personally would recommend a Selmer or Buffet low Eb, as it will be cheaper than a low C, and they (well, at least the Selmer, I'm not sure about low Eb Buffets) will have a better register key system than most other Bass Clarinets. (For the Buffets, and any other basses, you'll see a long rod running down most of the lower joint on the back going from the register key to a part attached to the RH plateaux keys if it has a proper double register vent.)
    But as for the Leblanc, if it plays well, it might be a good deal, as I don't know if they redesigned the register key vent for low C basses or not, as briefly searching about the 330 didn't tell me much on that.
  4. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    I'll also jump on the wagon and say that you're almost certain to never need that extended low range. If you play in a symphony orchestra, that'd be a "maybe" for the low C -- and they'd probably rather have a clarinet player that occasionally doubles on sax, rather than vice-versa.

    I played bass before switching to bari sax in high school -- again, not a Leblanc -- and then switched to contrabass clarinet for awhile -- Leblanc paperclip with range to low C.

    Leblanc is known for having some interesting mechanisms that don't always work very well, but all the Leblanc products I played at least sounded very good and had good intonation. They were, at one time, the biggest name in clarinets and was the only manufacturer to produce the entire range of clarinets, Ab sopranino to Bb octobass. Essentially, if you're talking about a pro level instrument, you can argue that your Leblanc is as good or better than any other pro horn.

    All that being said, if it was me, I'd look into an older pro horn in great shape or even an intermediate or student horn. It just depends on how much use you think it'll get.
  5. The extended range is used regularly with modern wind ensemble compositions and some modern pit orchestra scoring. I don't recall seeing the need in big band doubling.
  6. Gandalfe

    Gandalfe Admin and all around good guy. Staff Member Administrator

    Unlike the low-A on a baritone sax, I have never come across music calling for a low C on bass clarinet. I really wish I'd gotten the standard low Eb bass clarinet because it is both lighter and easier to find the notes for this doubler. I have offered to trade my pristine low C Selmer Privilege for a low Eb Selmer Privilege--my friends have turned me down.
  7. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    That's kinda interesting, Jim. I can understand the weight thing, although it never was an issue for me. Does the low C horn play significantly differently from the low Eb? I know some folks complain about low A saxophones being "stuffy," which is a completely different topic, of course, but I'd be interested to hear what you have to say in the clarinet side.
  8. Gandalfe

    Gandalfe Admin and all around good guy. Staff Member Administrator

    The added three notes speak poorly. Given enough time and effort I could maybe improve the sound. By way of contrast, the low A on my bari and bass Saxes is a thing of beauty to hear.
  9. TrueTone

    TrueTone Clarinet, Sax, Oboe, History

    ...much to the dismay of someone still using a Bass with low E natural.
    The two things I remember playing in the past year that needed low D or lower were Xerxes, by John Mackey (only the Bass 1 part, the 2nd part stayed within normal range,) and Canterbury Chorale, by Jan Van der Roost, which had a few low Ds, but there were cues for the octave above so I imagine he expected someone to not have an extended range Bass.
  10. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    SOTSDO would commiserate with you regarding the range to low E.

    Y'know, that also makes me wonder about Bb soprano clarinets with range down to Eb. I don't think I've ever seen a low Eb in anything for the Bb soprano.
  11. TrueTone

    TrueTone Clarinet, Sax, Oboe, History

    And a Selmer, at that. I'd like to find an old Albert System Buffet eventually, to see what the one he started on was like.
    (Plus my Bb and A are Selmers, the Bb a Series 9)
    ...I miss Terry still.

    On another note, if I recall right Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf calls for a low Eb on Bb.
  12. Without actually trying or at least hearing them, it's hard to say what issue might be. It could even be because of different expectations. FWIW the three lowest notes on good Buffet and Selmer bass clarinets that I've played were generally fine and sounded good.

    Re using the extra notes, that really varies and depends on what each player does. It would be nice to have a low Eb bass because of weight and size, but I actually use at least some of the extra notes in almost every concert.

    Re the Leblanc bass, I remember Leblanc had one model with a double register key but I don't remember if that was the 330 or not. It was IMO significantly better than all of their single register key, all of which are pretty good too, just not as good. They usually sound very nice either way. Check what keys it has and how the low notes need to be played. On some models you can't play the low notes without also adding the low Eb key, etc. which makes it less comfortable. Of course it all depends on what other options you have, how much you want/need the extra notes, etc.
  13. Groovekiller

    Groovekiller Distinguished Member Distinguished Member

    Condition is everything. Overhauling a bass clarinet, especially one with range to low C, will cost you over $1000 if it's done by anyone who is really good. I've owned both Selmer and Leblanc bass clarinets (To low Eb) and I like the Selmer better. However, the Selmer is harder to adjust because of its complex octave key mechanism. Also, I have never worked on a Leblanc to low C.

    The comments above all have their merit. For a doubler, low Eb is probably good enough. I should say up front that after several used bass clarinets, my final decision was to keep my Selmer low Eb bass clarinet, and I play lots of high profile gigs. No popular music act (Sinatra, Steve & Eydie, etc.), have demanded a low C bass clarinet.

    On the other hand, there are Broadway shows on tour that insist on a woodwind doubler with a low C bass clarinet. Sometimes they will relent if they get a good player with only a low Bb horn. Another thing to consider is, low C bass clarinets hold their value very well, and have a higher resale value.

    I've probably made things even more confusing. My best advice is, research prices on ebay. If you can actually play the instrument and it plays well, plus the price is reasonable, buy it. Bass clarinets are a pretty good investment
  14. There are also many desending passages that you can hear land on a low D or C in the tuba, bassoon, and/or string bass part that you can play along with. You can tell that the arranger did not score it for the Low C range but would have if they knew it was going to be available. I probably make more of these rearrangements than I do see actual note scored for the extended range.

    I have a Kessler low C bass clarinet which speaks very well down to low C. The low C# is way flat but I have never used it except while practicing. The D and C are in tune.
  15. Hi,

    Thank you all for your advice and comments. You made it quite clear to me: as a starter i'm better of with a low Eb bass clarinet but Leblanc may have mechanism issues?
    I now got my eye on a Selmer, which is generally overhauled and in very good condition. According to the serial number A1356 this one dates back to 1978. Price 2000 euros.

  16. I did fine for many years on an old Normandy low Eb I picked up on eBay for less than $350. I made sure it was leak free and used a $250 Bay mouthpiece on it.
  17. I once knew a professional reed player --single, double, you call it -- who never made big money but kept busy play weddings, symphony subs, etc. I commented on his great bass clarinet sound and asked what he was playing. With a grin, he said "Vito, but with Bay mouthpiece and neck."
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