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  1. #1
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    Default just bought a Selmer bass

    Hi Guys

    I remember a few names here from the saxon theweb thing a VERY long time back.

    Anyhow, I wanted to pick a brain or two.

    Just picked up an old Selmer Eb bass clarinet from about 1976 according to the serial number. Condition appears to be very good. I took it to my usual trusted tech who fixed a few leaks and whatever. Then I disappeared off to New Orleans for a 6 week musical break ...

    On return, I am getting back into the beast, but I discover an issue. There is a problem with the double octave vent mechanism, where the lower vent key (on the body not the neck) should be closed once the right hand 3rd finger is lifted.

    Very often that vent does not completely close. Looking closely I see that it seems a very delicate mechanism - hard to make work reliably I would think.

    I also have an issue that it is very hard to play notes around D D# in the upper register (That is with 6 fingers down) - they are quite stuffy and almost impossible to come in with a nice sound pianissimo (which I need for some work I want to do on this).

    My tech is off until feb, so I need to look out someone else locally to have a look - sigh.

    Here's what I want to know - are Selmer (Paris) models of this vintage good horns? Are they particularly temeramental? Or did the old lady just object to being neglected while I went off gallivanting?

    cheers

    Daniel

  2. #2
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    Default

    For the octave key, I would strongly recommend that you deal with someone who deals with bass clarinets regularly. It can be difficult to set up correctly, and while the horn will "work" with it slightly out of kilter, it will never work well.

    As for the problem in the upper register, it's very likely that there is a microscopic leak there somewhere. If I was looking for a place to start, and if the horn works well without the register key in use, I'd start with the side keys/trill keys. In the traditional style of clarinet keys here, they sort of "slide" onto the seats, and can be tricky to set up correctly. And, a leak that would be enough to cause troubles up top may not sit at the same point to cause trouble in the two lower registers.

    (For what it's worth (FWIW in internet speak), the Leblanc brands of bass clarinet (and their clarinets too, for that matter (FTM???)) have a special design (the so called "jump" keys) that fall directly onto their key seats. It's the one thing about Leblanc clarinets that I wish was more highly available on other horns.)

    Bass clarinets are much more susceptible to the kind of "damage" that causes small leaks that in turn lead to the kind of problems to which you are alluding.

    • First off, most people don't go out and buy a new bass clarinet - the vast majority of them are sold to institutions like schools and universities. Even the most careful of school programs do not have students who pay meticulous attention to how their horn is handled, stored, bashed into chairs and so forth. That all happens over a period of years, with periodic maintenance not sufficient to keep up with the bashing. The horns often develop loose posts that aren't corrected during the technician's small amount of time with the instrument, and pads shift around and get cut.

    • Second, the bass clarinet is replete (replete, I tells ya!) with mechanisms poised to go bad. The long register key linkage on the back of the instrument, set so high from the body of the horn, all of those big saucer keys on the lower joint with touch pieces a foot away from the key that they activate - the bass is a much more "prone to damage" instrument than is a soprano clarinet. Be paranoid about how it is picked up, twisted when being assembled, and carried from your case to where you perform.

    ("Single register key" basses are much more suited to students, what with the omission of the register linkage. However, all of the lower joint problems can still occur with them as well.)

    • Second, even the most careful of players (moi included) can't overcome problems like the defect in the Selmer cases that has caused extended range bass player huge grief over the forty years that it persisted. The Plywood cutout, into which the fabric was draped to form the joint pockets, had a protrusion that messed with one of the keys. You could put it away with the greatest of care, but when you set the case down, the joint shifted, the key opened and got "caught" by the Plywood, and then even gentle handling caused it to get knocked out of alignment.

    I (and others) would take the horn in with the problem, get it fixed by a competent technician who would test it and verify that it was properly aligned, and then once the horn was set back in the case and carried somewhere, it would instantly reoccur. Back to the repairman, get it set up again, test it, put it back in the case and not play it for a month or so, and then have it reoccur. It took five times through this cycle before anyone decided to look at the case...

    • Third, it has been my experience that those who use the weird two hook neck strap to play the bass end up with more lower joint problems than those who use a peg. A 1970s bass should have the peg fitting on the bell, but very often will be missing the peg itself. Contact Selmer and get a new one if this is the case. Oh, and lose the neckstrap - drop it in an unsuspecting english horn player's case when she's not looking.

    • Finally, f you play shows, invest in one of those K&M bassoon stands. You can leave your peg in playing position, quickly drop it into the rock solid stand, and move on with no fear of your horn being dislodged or keys being knocked as they would when setting it on a chair.

  3. #3
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    Default

    As a hobbyist, I quickly found that quality, vintage bass clarinets were nigh impossible to play without voicing problems. Terry gave you the most common factors to consider, but there oh so many more.

    The first thing I did was to invest in a decent mouthpiece. I swear by the Walter Grabner ones. Pricey, but instantly most of my voicing problems went away. Then I got Kesslers Music (online but located in Vegas) to find me a Selmer Privledge low C bass clarinet that was used as a demo on the NAMM circuit for a year. Gawd it's awesome--any one can play this instrument, even a drummer.

    If you have hours of time to spend on your instrument, you will most likely make it work. But if you are a doubler like me, with a day job, save your shekels for the best horn you can afford. It is really worth it in my book.

  4. #4
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    Default An opposing viewpoint...

    While the 1970s Selmer "Series 9" basses of the 1970s had some problems, I have to sound off and say that the newer basses (particularly the model that was au courant about five years ago have more problems than the classic ones from back in the day. The newer horns (in my humble opinion) have much more metal on them, and several questionable key design issues, all not present on the older horns.

    The one that I played back then (I don't recall the name, but it was probably the Privilege) was on the demo circuit with a Selmer rep. It was in poor regulation (probably due to the wacky Rice students who had been handling it all day), but there was one long key on the lower joint that just did not work at all (it had a linkage similar to the long keys on the lower joint of the bassoon), and I could see it going bad even with moderate pressure.

    THe horn had good tone, and I liked the angle of the neck - no more custom necks needed. The case was light, and fit the horn well. And, I only had one decent reed during the tryout - it may have been that the reed didn't suit the horn. But, based upon the key work and the expense, I would have opted (and did, by keeping my old horn) not to buy one.

    Besides, you've got a horn now. In my experience, while people may run through five or ten sopranos or alto saxes in a musical lifetime, most settle for only one bass clarinet.

    (Mind you, I have a collection of them, but I started on bass (on an Buffet Albert A horn, no less) and will probably die playing one, so I'm an exception. Besides, I've only had two alto saxes and two baritone saxes, so I'm behind the curve there...)

  5. #5
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    Default

    Good stuff from Terry as always. I acquired an early 60s Series 9 Selmer bass a while back. The single biggest issue with the horn has been the regulation of the octave key mechanism, particularly the connections between the joints. You need to be super careful when assembling and disassembling the horn.

    Terry, I'm wondering about the case issue you mention - more detail? Thx.

  6. #6
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    Default The case issue...

    ...as far as I know, only affected the extended range instruments. The Plywood framework, through which the horn "pockets" are cut, has contoured edges that are a loose fit for the horn joint. That way, when the case liner fabric is installed in same (and pulled down through the slots at the end of each joint), a "pouch" is formed that hangs below the framework when the case is set down on the flat side.

    When the joint (long joint) is placed in the pocket, it lays there just fine. Where the problem occurs is when the case is set down on the hinge edge, as when you are carrying it and setting it down prior to putting it in your car.

    At that time, the lower joint "hangs" down towards the hinge edge of the case, and the restraining effect of the fabric pouch no longer bears on the key cups on the right side of the horn (viewing it from the back). The low C key cups, being sprung open, have to re-descend back into the pouch when the case is again set on its bottom (the large flat side).

    And, that's when the damage (slight though it is) occurs. As the joint falls back into the pouch, one or both (I think it was just one) of the key cups "catches" on one of the protrusions cut into the wavering edge of the Plywood former. The weight of the horn is sufficient to cause the key to twist or bend ever so slightly, and there's your leak, at the worst possible point, coming over the break.

    What Marvin at Saint Louis Woodwind and Brasswind Repair did to fix the problem, once we collectively figured it out, was to pull the case apart, take a Surform plane to the edges of the Plywood, and then put it all back together. Now, the joint falls back into the pouch without catching, and the problem is gone at last.

    I'd love to buy a new, identical case, to replace this one, which looks quite tatty, but they no longer sell them. When I have ordered in the past, with explicit directions as to model and serial of instrument, they persist in sending the same case, cut for a later version of the instrument. After three tries, I have just given up...

  7. #7
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    Default the case issue

    Wow, that sucks. Thanks for the detail, Terry. I don't have an extended range horn, so I don't think I'll worry about it .

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