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Do cork pads change the clarinet's sound

I'm a returning clarinet player. It's been 33 years since I played my Bb Buffet R13 clarinet in the Army Band, and the old baby has a few leaks so I've scheduled a complete overhaul. I was a little hesitant about selecting a repair person, so my husband offered to have his LeBlanc overhauled first. That way I could check out his overhaul and also have an instrument to play while mine when "under the knife" so to speak.

The repair person I selected recommended cork pads (either on the upper or lower part, I forget). I had never played on cork pads but decided to follow his recommendation. We got the LeBlanc back last week and I am very happy with the quality of work; however, I can't tell if the cork pads altered the tone quality of the instrument, or if it just sounds different to me because I'm not used to the sound of a LeBlanc.

Does anyone have experience using cork pads on a Buffet clarinet, and if so, did it change the tone quality of your instrument (and do you like the cork pads)?

- Laurie


Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
I think the best answer you're going to get is a qualified maybe.

We've got a thread regarding saxophone resonators and how they affect sound. A resonator is a disc of some sort of material that's added to the middle of the pad. The overall conclusion was that they do alter timbre. Not necessarily a great deal, but it's measurable. This study could easily be extended to just talking about different types of pads, too. However, you can make an argument that everything can influence tone quality, even what plating you have on the keywork (which was mentioned in a Yamaha clarinet ad, IIRC).

I've had some cork pads on some of the bass clarinets I've played, generally around the register key assembly. They didn't make enough of a difference for me to extol the virtues of cork vs. leather or vs. "foam," like the Valentino pads. There are also a bunch of different kinds of cork. I think that, as long as the material seals the tone hole well enough and has an equal amount of endurance, I don't care that much. I would like to see a study regarding which kinds of pad do the best job, tho.


Old King Log
Staff member
I am of the opinion that the main difference that cork pads makes in the sound of a given horn is in the way that you, the player perceive the sound. Much as key/touchpiece noise and "hissing" is perceptible to the player but not to the listening public, you may get a different degree of reflection (or a different angle at which the sound is deflected to your ears), but to the listening public, there is little or no difference.

With this, as with all perceptions of how horns sound, the person to judge the ultimate effect is not the player but rather the listener. When I was exiled to college in Springfield MO, a group of us put on an "A clarinet mellow/Bb clarinet normal/C clarinet shrill" test with transposed music (to take out the problems of on the fly transposition), a variety of performers, a selection of A, Bb and C instruments, and a screen. Not one of the group of folks involved could consistently identify which horn was being played. Yet, everyone pretty well was of the opinion that the A was mellow, the Bb was normal, and the C was shrill.

What I think was proven by that little exercise was that, when we play an A horn and the tone comes out a half step lower from the same fingering as used on the Bb, we perceive it as being more mellow than what we normally hear; the inverse is true for the C instrument.

If I were evaluating the quality of a given type of pad, I'd play it for someone "blind", without them knowing what type of pad was being evaluated. What you hear is overlaid with too much of the noise incidental to the creation of the sound (hiss, "crackle", key noise), all sounds that others (due to the inverse square law) may never hear.

Of course, if the listening means is much closer (like a microphone or pickup on your instrument), then this additional baggage is going to go through the sound system and be projected to all of the listeners as well. I've got a story that goes with this as well, but I'll not post obscenity here, so it will have to remain untold.


Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
I had my R13 overhauled using cork pads on the upper joint and small keys on the lower, and synthetics on the 4 large lower joint keys 20 years ago and it is still as tight as the day I picked it up. I did notice an improved response and a bit more "lively" sound with the cork pads. I recommend them highly, if done well by a skilled technician on a professional model clarinet.