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My old Conn wood clarinet OK for beginner son?

#1
I played clarinet starting in 4th grade, continuing through 12th, which would be, uh, 1970-79. I went to public schools with strong music programs and got to be pretty good. Some time in 5th grade, my parents replaced my school-issued clarinet with a used Conn wood clarinet. Serial number is E22518, which, from some Internet research, appears to make it produced in 1964, which sounds about right. I always felt it was harder than it should be to move air through the instrument while playing. Somewhere along the line - maybe more than once - I had my music teacher test it out and they invariably declared it to be fine. Nevertheless, I remember once in high school trading instruments with my friend (he and I played first clarinet, first and second chairs) and my recollection is that he could barely get a sound out of my instrument and his was easy for me to play.

Fast forward to now and my second son has started playing clarinet (son #1 plays alto sax and son #3 - second grader - has declared his intention to play trumpet ... and keeps nagging me to buy him one). Son #2 has just started 5th grade and began playing in 4th. He has been using my old Conn clarinet. Before he started, I took it to the shop where I bought son #1's alto sax and had them fix/replace whatever they deemed needed fixing and replacing. As best I could recall my childhood days, the refurbished clarinet did play more easily than when I played in grade school. But maybe that was just wishful thinking and, carrying memories of the "difficult to blow" clarinet from my youth, I am concerned about whether this clarinet is appropriate and sufficiently easy to play for my son to learn on. He seems to do OK with notes not requiring the octave key, but those requiring the octave key are very difficult for him to play (the music program at his school is not particularly rigorous and I have been completely derelict in getting him to practice, which no doubt impacts this). I know he dropped his instrument some time late last year, causing some damage that impaired it's playability; that got fixed, though I can't remember now whether I took it to the shop or was able to bend the damaged key(s) myself to make it playable again. I've been playing it recently. I imagine that it may be slightly harder to play than last year, but I may be wrong and, in any case, I'm pretty confident it's no harder than I remember as a kid. Not sure his maintenance and cleaning has been all that good either; don't know if that may have significant effect.

I never got into equipment as a kid, and so know little about various makes of clarinet and their relative merits. I've been reading various threads on this forum (and other stuff elsewhere) trying to educate myself, but it's very much a work early in progress. Apart from any particular need for maintenance/repair, which I think is minimal or non-existent, is this an instrument that I should expect to be adequately easy for my son to learn on? Is that even a question on which anyone can opine without actually playing the instrument itself? Might changing the mouthpiece help (current mouthpiece is a Conn Precision)? Any thoughts appreciated. I just don't want my son to get turned off because he's playing an instrument that is harder to play than it should be and I'd like to do whatever makes sense to make sure that doesn't happen.
 

TrueTone

College Student who likes wind instruments & music
#2
Changing the mouthpiece as you said might help, I have no experience with Conn Precision mpcs, but I do know that the quality of Conn Clarinets kinda went down after the early 50s.
Does your son take lessons? His lessons teacher will probably be able to help identify the problem easier than any of us can, as it may be related to embouchure or reed strength.
 
#3
I recently bought an oldish Conn clarinet on EBay. I'm not certain of the age, but the seller can place it in his family just before ww2, so say late 30's-early 40's. It needed a repad and some TLC, but with this done I'm amazed at how well it plays and how easy it is to play. I'm using a Fobes SF CF+ mouthpiece, but it plays easily with a Vandoren B45 as well. I suspect that either you have a leak somewhere, the reed is too hard or your mouthpiece is not best suited to the player and/or the instrument. the
 
#4
We've been using Rico #2 reeds. That's what I remember using when I was young (though there are some reeds left in the case from when I played and I see a couple #3s). That should be soft enough, correct?

As I said above, the clarinet got repaired about a year ago when he first started. I know some pads got replaced then, among other things (not sure where the repair bill is now or even if I got one - repair guy might've just detailed to me what he did). I feel unqualified to assess whether and where leak(s) might exist. (Should I be better at that having played 9 years in grade school? I just played and didn't think too much about equipment.) The repair person seems trustworthy and competent, but what do I know - it's like with a lot of things where you mostly have to trust that the person doing something for you knows what they're doing and is actually doing what they're supposed to be doing. Safe assumption on my part or should I try again with a repair assessment somewhere else? Also, assuming things were done well the first time, how likely is it that something's gone awry in a year (considering the "accident" and fix I mentioned above, which I don't think is the cause for this issue - and keep in mind I'm not certain that there is an issue). I came across this thread - http://www.woodwindforum.com/forum/...sistance-of-different-makes-and-models.22938/ - regarding playing resistance of saxophones, so apparently there's something to the idea of some makes of instrument being harder to blow than others?

Mouthpiece .... I found a few things at various places that suggest to me that the Conn Precision we've got now was (is) a mediocre mouthpiece. I've also read a number of things that echo what Tony says above about the mouthpiece being suited to the player/instrument, but I really have no idea how to go about figuring out how to suit a mouthpiece to a player/instrument, just as I have no idea how much or what kind of effect different mouthpieces have on sound. (To tell the truth, before spending some time recently, I just assumed the mouthpiece was a fungible piece of the instrument that doesn't matter much or at all in comparison to the rest of the clarinet.) I've been looking around at different mouthpieces and giving some consideration to buying a new one. As you all know, and I've just learned, there are A LOT. Yamaha seems accepted as quality student fare - the 4C is $25.11 on Amazon. Vandoren seems recognized as better - the B45 is $84.76 on Amazon. Is it worth paying that much more for a mouthpiece for my beginner son? Can I reasonably expect either to make playing easier for him and/or produce better sound? Is this, again, something that no one can assess online and that you have to figure out by playing the various types of equipment yourself (which may not be feasible)?
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
#5
The 4C isn't a bad mouthpiece at all, for a plastic. IIRC -- it's been quite awhile -- it wasn't great going over the Bb/C break and that's what set it most apart from the Vandoren. Other than that, the tone quality was better.

I'd suggest, first, talking to his instructor to see how it's going. It might be that there's something else going on. It's the cheapest route :).
 
#6
On the instructor front .... As I indicated above, his school's music program is not rigorous. It's an after-school program. It's been done different ways since son #1 started 3 years ago, but the current approach is to have the "advanced" (hah! - and again, hah!) band students meet one day a week for about 45 minutes. ("Advanced" means that this isn't their first year playing - or, for some of them, I gather, sitting in band and pretending to play.) All instruments (flutes, clarinets, alto saxes, trumpets, trombones, percussion) meet together and I doubt there's a lot of instrument-specific instruction going on, much less attention paid to individual students. Last year's instructor was a trumpet player by training and this year's I've forgotten, but I don't think she's a clarinet player. (She seems very competent and motivated, though, given the limitations of the school's music program.) So I don't think I'm going to get a lot of help from his school instructor. He does not take private lessons; for now, the most we will do is have me try to work with him some (and, more importantly, practice more).

In our school system, band starts to become "serious" in middle school, when it is an elective (band class each school day) and students take it for a grade. Son #1 has to practice 600 minutes a month to get an A on the practice part of his grade, so he's making some progress now. The significance for me is that, as he's had to get more serious, I'm getting more interested in playing again, rediscovering my clarinet and the tenor sax I learned to play in 10th grade so I could be part of the jazz band (which didn't end up happening, though I did learn to play tenor sax). And that means I'm not so put off by spending some money to buy equipment for one of more of us to use as all three boys start to get their music on.

One of the things I was especially looking for feedback on in this thread is whether old Conn wood clarinets are known to have more playing "resistance," a la that thread I linked above (and also this one - http://www.woodwindforum.com/forum/...xophone-has-EXTREME-resistance&highlight=conn, which also concerns playing resistance of different makes of saxophone). In the vein of the previous paragraph, I'm also thinking of buying another clarinet, not with a view toward scrapping the Conn, but with a "the more the merrier" mindset, as I can see myself getting drawn into the idea of beginning a stable of instruments in our house (one clarinet, one alto sax, one tenor sax so far).

Thanks for the responses so far. They're helpful to me, as well as to future surfers who find their way here looking for clarinet information; I've learned a lot already reading threads with responses to other people looking for help with their particular questions.
 
#7
For a decent mouthpiece well suited to a student that won't break the bank I would suggest that you look at either a Fobes Debut or a Hite Premier. Personally I would prefer the Fobes. They're available for a lot less that the B45 and I think is probably as good. Pomarico also make a very good student mouthpiece at a very reasonable price.
 
#8
Thanks, Tony. The Hite and Fobes were two more I'd been considering. I'll also take a look at Pomarico. A new mouthpiece is definitely in the cards for us - just a matter of deciding on one now.
 
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