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Buying a new (used) Clarinet & What to Look for and Fix

Steve

Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
#1
So on the heels of the Selmer USA Omega/TS100 thread where I did some home remedies to fix things quickly (then fixed things again later on with more indepth work) I figured I might as well do the same thing to a clarinet.

Recently I got my hands on a Buffet RC Prestige .. and we'll go through some techniques and knowledge which is good to know for the home buyer and hopefully others too.
 
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Steve

Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
#2
Ear Training.

Did I Iose you already ?

Ear training is always good. Practice makes perfect. But what exactly am I talking about. For instance, let's think about a piano. Playing a note on a piano is one thing. Most of the time when a piano is tuned, on the multi strings notes a string is tuned slightly flat. This is to give the note some color especially on sustained notes. Depending where you are on the keyboard the key may have one (lower notes) two or three strings related to that note. One can easily tune each of them to each other to create a pure tone. But colorizing the note is important and one must do that either by making a string sharp (fast cycles) or flat (slow cycles).

But how do notes on a piano differentiate themselves. It’s easier if we think of a short console piano versus a grand piano. On a short console type piano the strings are all fairly short with the longest strings crossing over the other ones to get some length. The sound is not full nor powerful compared to a grand piano. But to an untrained ear it kinda sounds the same. If one sits at two pianos and starts playing them side by side low to high one will start hearing differences and those difference can be quite large.

These are the same sounds I hear between a student clarinet and a professional clarinet. Tonehole sizes affect clarity and fullness of a note tonally. One can also hear differences between an instrument set up properly and one that may have slight issues.

With the clarinet we are going to be playing low C below the staff xxx-ooo
Play low C

Now with your right hand first finger slowly close the cuppad on the lower joint above the first ring. All the way closed. Now very, very … slowly lift it. Do it again and listen intently on the fullness of the tone, the depth of the tone. Do this several times and go as slow as possible. Now play a Bb. Now put a dollar bill partially under the pad cup and play a Bb with light touch. Do you hear a difference. As in the paper bill prevents the pad from closing fully.

You can even do this test by playing a low Bb and very slowly roll your finger off of the ring.

Even very minute tonal variations can be picked up by the trained ear. This is very important as we get into this home repair as it brings up a critical part of professional repair.
 
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Steve

Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
#3
What we have before us is arguably my most favorite clarinet. The Buffet RC Prestige. The Buffet RC Prestige, Buffet Vintage and Eaton Elites are probably my 3 most favorite clarinets.

This RC has a few issues which we will review but the chalumeau notes are so beautiful, woody with a depth and spread though not too spread tonal quality.

Totally divine. Oops, that’s a different Buffet model. But you get the picture.
 

Steve

Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
#4
Doing a quick mechanical check I come across several issues that are obvious to me

the alt LH Eb/Ab key clunks against the B & C# spatula keys
and the Spatula B/E (mid B, low E) key does not close 100% with light effort.

If you play a mid B with light pressure it does not work. You push down hard and it works just fine. So depending who tests this instrument either it works or it doesn’t . Playing fast technical passages one really needs light, quick and fast action which needs light, fast and quick finger technique. This added pressure definitely slows me down.

Everything else looks mechanically really good.

One mistake I need to mention is that who ever set this up did a fully cork upper joint and full bladder lower joint. That sounds good but then the lower joint bridge mechanism works with the upper joint we have a problem. We have a cork pad which will stay true to it's shape over time in synchronization with a bladder pad of the top pad cup of the ring keys on the lower joint. You normally don't want to do this as when the bladder pad flattens or changes the cork one doesn't. And if properly adjusted in the beginning you will start getting a leak when you play Bb xoo-xoo. Such as this case, the upper joint mechanism does not close the upper keywork and the Bb is horrid. Luckily I never use that fingering. So for a home fix this is a non-issue. But I would normally make sure both of these pads are of the same type, such as both being bladder.
 
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Steve

Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
#5
Alt Ab/Eb fix

in looking at the mechanism what happens is when we depress the key it clunks down on the B & C spatula keys. Not good. The first concept is to put cork under the key to keep it above. But this is a connected mechanism so that only fixes HALF of the problem and creates a linkage to be loose.


Looking under the RH Eb key is a rod coming from the post. In short, under high key pressure this rod will bend down.



But is it the best design? Let's look at what's other options are out there.

[1] The rod sticking out from the post is the most highly used in the professional instruments, and intermediate. And student instruments.

Selmer Centered Tone


Buffet E-11


[2] A design may also use no rod, where the key actually uses the top of the post as it's stop. This is represented by a Leblanc LL below:



[3] a vertical rod coming from the body. This is the best design it it just won't bend out of the way as it is taking the pressure on it's length and not on it's side. Oddly enough you find this on Normandy and Noblet clarinets. This is represented by a Normandy 4 below.


So here we have the rod from the post which get a pressure to push it down. Overtime and with enough pressure this will surely occur.

Thus the answer is to bend the rod upwards just a little bit. If we bend it too much then the Eb pad won't open enough and give us a muted tone. Do the ear training exercise on this key as a test before making any changes.

To bend the rod upwards use a needle nose pliers (hopefully without the teeth/grip which will mar/scratch the finish on this rod. Grab the outer half and slightly twist upwards. Very slightly. Start with super soft pressure and increase your pressure slightly to just slightly bend the rod.

Now bending the rod slightly upwards stops the LH alt key from clunking on the lower spatula keys. Success. And a simple fix. Compare this to the first picture in this post.


Of course the next question is why is cork/material glued on the entire underside of the Eb key? Why not just a little circle of where the rod touches? It makes no sense? I'll only agree with you on that .. it's a traditional look.
 
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Steve

Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
#6
Low B key

This is a common problem in clarinets. A note just doesn’t speak out much.

Let us look at the Low B key. We will notice that the Low B key actually does several things. When one pushes it down it pushes down the crows foot. This CLOSES the C pad.

Of course, we HOPE that it closes the C and the B pad completely.

In this short video you can see me tap on the C pad and see that it is not actually closing. If you use light pressure to close the B then use finger tapping to check that both the B and C pads are closed – as the test. You can also look at the crows foot and see if there is any space. ( **** video link to be placed here **** )

In this example the C is not closing all the way with light finger pressure.


For a home fix we are going to do something quick and visual so you can see it.

There are a couple ways of fixing this problem.
1 – we could slightly bend the crows foot . The right part of the crows foot up to the backside of the B key. This would eliminate the space difference.

2 – you could lower the B key slightly. One can accomplish this by adding cork to the underside of the LH pinky long spatula keys. Also doing this one can adjust the venting and the tonal quality. It basically will make the clarinet more spread the more open these keys are or more centered if they are a little closer. You can use the finger test to see what I mean … more ear training.

3 – add cork to the underside of the B key to fill in the gap between the crows foot and the key. One could also add more or replace the crows foot cork and sand appropriately. For speed (and the home fix person, and visual) we will add cork to the bottom of the B key.

First one would think any thickness would do. Looking at the space and placing a couple different thicknesses and testing the key before gluing anything is a good test. But basically 1/64th cork or synthetic cork material would be best here.

For us to see this I simply cut a strip of 1/64th cork and glued on the bottom of the B key. I am going to do a different solution later but for brevity of how easy some of these fixes are this is what I’m doing here.
 
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Steve

Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
#7
The Play Test.

Now with all the various fixes in place we get to play testing the instrument.

For me, play testing is not just doing a scale and making sure everything works properly. I really try to test the speed (spring tension and rebound) of the keywork and the tonal depth of each note. (fixes not listed in this quick "home remedy" thread)

This I start with long tones and close my eyes and listen to each note. I also listen to the intonation of each note. In many places on the clarinet pad height can affect intonation. Use that finger test we did above as an example.

After long tones I’ll do a full chromatic scale. Starting slow then going as fast as I can. This shows the keywork and how quickly it reacts to opening / closing of all the keys.

Then scales, thirds, various clarinet music I haven't played .... now I come across

Rhapsody in Blue. Rhapsody in Blue is one of my favorite pieces. I did a paper on this piece back in college Music History. I just love the way the piece starts out with the clarinet and moves along. Anyways, this isn't a music analysis writeup but a repair writeup.

Anyways, I haven't played this piece in ages. It starts out with a low G. The Low G gets trilled but to makes it colorful one starts out slow and then speeds up before glissandoing up to mid B then a regular run up to Bb above the staff.

First time through the clarinet intro .. okay, shoot me now.

2nd time .. ooh so better but my fingers are clunky, glissando is there but not smooth and flowing.

3rd time .. hey .. what happened to the tone? Remember those ear training exercises?

The low G just is not 100% like the first two times It's like 95 %. Good but it was much better just a few minutes ago ?

So what is going on here.

I also know that there was a crack repair done between the first two trill keys. An expert crack repair. But like most crack repairs, it seems, it is missing an element in the repair which would make it a much better crack repair.

Wood expands and shrinks with temperature. A crack repair is normally done at room temperature. Thus when one plays guess what may happen ?
 
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Steve

Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
#8
The topside of the crack may open up. And in this case the topside did open up which when it is through a tonehole it essentially creates a leak. And that is exactly what we have here. One leak in each of the top trill keys.




When I do a crack repair I will cool the instrument for about 10-15 minutes so that the wood is contracted then insert pins. Thus when the instrument warms surface and subsurface cracks do not appear. Everything stays closed.

One can test this theory easily. A few years ago I did experiments on cooling and heating a bore and I could make a crack appear, then disappear, reappear, etc. You can read about here http://www.clarinetperfection.com/WhyCrack.htm

Of course, a player playing along may have difficulties in a long playing stretch. Then after some longs rests the instrument plays fine again until , oops, a crack opens again. Very frustrating.

This is that same exact problem.

In this case since there are 3 pins installed I simply warm the instrument up and do a sealing process to seal the crack. A variety of solutions can be used but the material needs to be high flowing liquid. Such as liquid shellac or a professional quality super glue. We need to get the liquid as deep as possible while the crack is open. With superglue I use a professional grade to bond the wood. A little lamp heat applied to help the glue "not set" as quickly and flow is good, then off to the cooler to bring the wood together and create a tighter bond. We have to get the crack along the tonehole too. It's just not a surface thing.



Once this is done we put the instrument back together, while maintaining a higher bore temp and then play. Viola, the cracks is now gone and we are back to 100%.



Clean up the excess so it doesn't look like a paintbrush wiped it.(I left it there so the crack is easily visible)
Play for another 20 minutes and no problem.

To keep the bore warm you can simply blow hot air into the instrument. Just make sure you plug the lower bore to force it through the toneholes. I may also employ a variable hobby heater which allows me to direct air directly into the bore. To cool the instrument, the simpliest is to simply put it into the .. ack .. refrigerator or freezer for a short period of time. I actually use the freezer as it cools it quicker and allows the crack to bond quickly with the super glue. We are talking for a few minutes here .. don't let ice buildup occur or anything. We want enough cooling for the crack to disappear, then pull out and let the adhesive bond at normal temperature.
 
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Steve

Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
#9
Now I'm going to go back to the B key (with the cork underneath it) and fix it my way (harder process). I'm going to level the pads at the same time I'll figure out my best venting options .. making it more centered or more spread or in between or about the same ...

My preferred method for this is the get the C & B pads to be level with the mechanism. This assumes that the crow's foot is flat to begin with. Venting is also accomplished by cork under the LH spatula keys which can raise or lower the keys and make them perfectly touch the crows foot. Then the pad height in relation to that setup. Of course one could adjust (bend) the crows foot too but I like to keep things to factory spec.

I'll also be replacing the upper joint lowest pad from a cork to a bladder and then sync up the lower joint bridge key. Bringing these both to the same type of pad is optimal for longer term functionality.

I should also mention that even though I love the alternate LH pinky Ab/Eb lever, it's a bit more than a stretch for my pinky. More pinky stretching exercises otherwise I might not ever be able to use it.

But the end result is a fantastic playing (for more than 10 minutes) RC Prestige
 
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pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
#10
I'm lovin' your series of repair articles. Thanks very much!
 

jbtsax

Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
#11
Now I'm going to go back to the B key (with the cork underneath it) and fix it my way (harder process). I'm going to level the pads at the same time I'll figure out my best venting options .. making it more centered or more spread or in between or about the same ...

My preferred method for this is the get the C & B pads to be level with the mechanism. This assumes that the crow's foot is flat to begin with. Venting is also accomplished by cork under the LH spatula keys which can raise or lower the keys and make them perfectly touch the crows foot. Then the pad height in relation to that setup. Of course one could adjust (bend) the crows foot too but I like to keep things to factory spec.
I am having difficulty following this part of the description---especially the sentence in bold. What mechanism are you referring to?
 
#12
Of course the next question is why is cork/material glued on the entire underside of the Eb key? Why not just a little circle of where the rod touches? It makes no sense? I'll only agree with you on that .. it's a traditional look.
I agree that it's not really necessary but the larger contact area makes the gluing more secure so unless saving the cost of material, why not.

I also second John's question, it's unclear to me too.

Re "factory spec", I find that factory spec is often not optimal. When possible, I prefer to use the materials and adjustments I consider best, regardless of what the factory did.
 

Steve

Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
#13
Fyi - I always put a full area down myself under the Eb key. But many newbies may actually question it ... just trying to show all angles of something. I didn't think about the movement of a small patch from the contact, good point.

I'm also working on a bit more detailed response to the B/C/crow foot / LH spatula key segment. I tend to babble when I just type away.
 
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Steve

Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
#14
BUt whilst playing I found another quick fix that needs to be completed.

The LH pinky C# spatula key, when depressed can clunk against the C key, such as this video shows.
http://www.ClarinetPerfection.com/work/repairs/20.avi

We could remove the key and adjust it off the instrument, but then we would also have to reinstall and check clearance. For players this next solution is a quick and fully capable one.

To correct this issue you first want to stabilize the end of the C# key. The reasoning for this is as you work on adjusting the top of the key many times one will give downwards pressure which, when this key pushes against the body, will also tend to push out and away from the body. This could damage the pin actuator. Thus the thumb here holds this key stable. (in the 2nd picture below you don't see my thumb because I'm taking a picture with that hand, but it would be stabilizing this part)



Next, on the top part of the lever I place a finger to use as a fulcrum point and to minimize the pressure I mentioned above.

Keeping your other thumb on the lower part of the key to prevent movement (removed to take this picture as I only have 2 hands) I then slightly pull up on the C# lever to raise it. The finger position in the picture works fine, I normally have my thumb on the fulcrum point and my fingers pushing up, but taking a picture one can't see anything.


Note: Many times the C lever itself is adjusted up, down, inwards or outwards. So take into account any adjustments done to that key too as to how you resolve this clunking issue.

Note2: Sometimes the clunking may be due to The C# lever "scraping" against the B lever. And this can occur at the touch area or even on the bottom side of the key.

searching for "clinking" noises just take a little watching on the mechanical aspect of the clarinet and listening skills.

Note3: I have found some instrument cases can actually hold an instrument too tight and push the C# lever IN to hit the B lever.

Note4: sometimes when one depresses ring keys on will hear clunks (to be done later). Always check for ring clipping the side of the tonehole too.

Also if there is movement issues, check for a cork slightly touching the other key while moving. Even though it looks harmless it can create other issues. This of course excludes the entire movement of the mechanism and movement issues of the key rod going through the key itself.
 
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jbtsax

Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
#15
Great stuff Steve. Keep it coming. I am looking forward to more information and discussion on the subject of crow podiatry.
 

Steve

Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
#18
CROW PODIATRY
This is a short but lengthy description summary of something that was mentioned above. I hope it is clear. I can see I could spend a bunch more time on it and add pictures and additional text .. I could create a chapter in a book just on this area.

Sometimes people will take a quick fix of this area of the clarinet.

The Crow foot is a delicate mechanism on the clarinet. This is an interaction of the Right Hand (RH) spatula C key, the Left Hand (LH) spatula key, The RH & LH B keys, the RH & LH C# keys. It is the most complex mechanism on a standard boehm clarinet.

This area can be set up in a multitude of methods, such as gaps between the touches which give some play, or very tightly where all keyaction is super smooth.

I do not however, review spring tension nor key binding from key rod or pivot screws. Nor do I review the proper selection of pads and assume they are properly selected, installed and are level and are functioning correctly.

In Short, if the RH B (or C#) touch is not touching the crows foot one can add material (cork/synthetic) to the underside of the touch to make it have immediate contact. Or simply leave it having a gap and the feel would not be smooth and optimal. Or one could simply adjust up one of the wings of the crow’s foot to touch the spatula touch.

= = = = = = = = =
(C back side mechanism)
Even though this is one of the last parts of the mechanism that I adjust, I do make sure that is has play in it when I first start. This allows the C arm (which contacts the LH pinky C lift arm) to be adjusted down if need be.

In this picture the first thing I always try to do is make sure that both the “flat parts” are flat to each other, maybe, it varies dependent upon make and model. But it’s always best when unsure to make sure they are free moving at this point as later we will adjust it to make sure it is always touching with minimal movement. This is of course best done during the assembly of the clarinet. But while it is assembled as can make adjustments using strips of sand paper, or even in this picture example remove the cork disc and replace it later.


NOTE: The lifter mechanism from the LH C spatula touches the flat arm of the RH C key. Normally there is cork at this location. Never use only cork. Cork over a short period will compress or stretch and normally you will get a small valley which this arm can cause response issues on – both opening and closing. I always use a 1/64th bonded cork/nylon on the RH C flat arm. I used to use Teflon (as this example has from someone else’s previous repair) but this increased noise.

Adjust the C spatula lifter up to this key by adding a cork bumper underneath this lifter (older installed have the cork on the backside of the lifter and more modern have a round disk on the body. If one does not like the location/feel of the C spatula touch for the LH pinky then that can be adjusted accordingly (watch out for interference of the C# and B spatula keys if adjusted).

Keep in mind this is normally done last.

= = = = = = =
(crows foot)
The first thing to recognize is that the Crows foot is attached to the C touch.
Thus anytime you press down on the C# or B key it closes the C keypad.

The C# actually opens while it closes the C, this is usually not much of an issue.
But the B, when it is pressed closes and has to close the C both at the same time and fully. This is usually an issue.

If the B or C# touches do not touch the crows foot this can be alleviated by several means

First one really does not want each touch to be at a different level. They should look astetically pleasing and be level. For instance, the Eb key could have a thin tonehole pad which would have the Eb touch raised up a bit from it’s pivot point. A thicker pad would lower it a bit. It’s venting is controlled by it’s travel, which is in essence the thickness of the cork on the underside of the key. One also has the ability of adjusting the touch up and down by bending it.



On the C key the long LH C key can have an affect of the angle of the RH C touch itself, and thus the vertical location of the crows foot. Thus I always set the C “open” when it is not touching the long LH C spatula. And then set the spatula up to touch it (after everything else is completed)

With the B/C key venting is important to tonal quality and in certain instances intonation.
As one can test this by using a finger and slowly closing a pad one will notice that the note can go flat and the tone can also get more centered which can help with projection. Conversely if one was able to open it more one would hear (if the note was flat and stuffy) the note get less flat & less stuffy and the tone could get more spread too and less centered.

The B/C can be adjusted by the amount of cork on the LH spatula keys.. Of course this lowers the crows foot a bit and affects the angle/adjustment of the actuator arm on the backside for the LH C spatula key.



= = = = = =
(LH spatula keys with 2 arrows)
Spatula keys with pin actuator/socket type connection.

In this picture, one uses cork/synthetic to not only stop the mechanism from hitting the body but also for adjusting the pad height to the tonehole and also the spatula touch to the crows foot. This is for both the B and C# key.


In some brands you can put the cork on the horizontal arm (yellow arrow) coming from the RH spatula keys. This would then be a thin strip. Now if put here it theoretically puts less pressure on the actuator pin as the vertical arm would have continuous pressure to push down on the pin. I have no argument either way. Sometimes it just looks better on the vertical arm (yellow arrow) rather than the spatula key (orange arrow), and it can be adjusted before the spatula key is installed.



= = = = = =
(LH spatula keys with 1 arrow)
Spatula keys with lifter mechanism

On some other brands you would put this on the LH spatula key (green arrow). Or even put it here if you have the option of putting the silencing material on the horizontal arm.

In this picture one uses cork/synthetic to not only stop the mechanism from hitting the body but also for adjusting the pad height to the tonehole and also the spatula touch to the crows foot. This is for both the B & C# keys again.

One can adjust the intonation of the bell keys a bit by lowering or raising them. Additionally, you can affect the tonal spread or centered aspect of the instrument by raising or lowering these keys. Note that you can easily get stuffy if the keys are too low and also affect intonation.
 
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jbtsax

Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
#20
Makes perfect sense Steve. Thanks for the time and effort. Great photos as well. This old dog learned some new tricks from you presentation.

My experience working in a music store on student rental clarinets (and even some higher quality instruments) taught me that oftentimes the crow's foot is out of adjustment because the player "D.K." pressed down too hard on the RH touchpice and bent the key down---crow's foot and all.

The "quick fix" I was taught if the quieting material on the crow's foot was intact was to hold the C pad down firmly and then use a regular pad slick as a "prybar" under the crow's foot to raise the key (including its crow's foot) back up to its original position. If you have gone too far, simply put the pad slick between the C pad and its tonehole and press the key down with too much pressure like "D.K." did to bend it out of whack in the first place.

This procedure does not bend the crow's foor or change its angle which I don't recommend. It raises the entire C key as a unit.

The other quick and dirty trick that works on most clarinets to lower the C# touch if it is too high creating lost motion before it hits the crow's foot is to open the key using the RH touch piece and whack the spot it attaches to the RH lever sharply with a delrin or rawhide hammer. If it is too low preventing the B key from touching the crow's foot you simply put the pad slick between that pad and its tonehole and bend the lever up slightly with your fingers.
 
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